One of Malaysia’s best islands for a quick - and quieter - getaway in paradise
While not as bustling and touristy as Penang and Langkawi, and far less seasonal in nature than say, Redang and Perhentian (you can visit Pangkor nearly all-year round) — Pulau Pangkor probably has just as much to offer. Just ask the throes of locals and neighbouring Singaporeans who make up most of the island’s visitors nearly each school or public holiday season.
Located across Perak’s Manjung Strait, the main island of Pangkor is surrounded by smaller islands of Pangkor Laut, Giam, Mentagor and Tukun Terindah as well as the Sembilan cluster of islands. The island’s location off Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast shields the island from strong monsoon winds, though travellers do have to contend with some heavy rain during the year end. In fact, lucky travellers arriving during the annual low tide phenomenon — usually during Chinese New Year — can take a walk on the seabed from the main Pangkor island’s Teluk Nipah to the nearby Pulau Giam. The sea level will drop to a low enough point from which a watery path emerges, allowing visitors to stroll for about half-a-kilometre across to see surrounding corals and aquatic life a bit more closely.
Tourist enjoying with parasailing at Pangkor island, Malaysia
Naturally, a holiday to an island involves a lot of sea and sand and Pangkor indeed has much to offer when it comes to sea-based activities: one can snorkel and dive or go jet skiing or banana boating or island hopping and even fish to their hearts’ content without having to worry too much about the crowds at Pangkor’s two most popular beach areas of Pasir Bogak and Teluk Nipah. The island’s relatively calm waves and shallow waters mean that it’s safe enough for children and beginners to snorkel or swim along the beach. While Pasir Bogak is rather developed, Teluk Nipah still retains its quaint and idyllic kampung atmosphere.
A family playing at Pangkor beach
There’s also plenty to do on land if for some reason the ocean bit of your vacation isn’t quite working out: jungle-trekking opportunities exploring the island’s lush greenery are aplenty, as Pulau Pangkor is home to three virgin jungle reserves! Avid trekkers can spend their morning hiking at Sungai Pinang Forest Reserve, which has a stream running through it, and spot the various hornbills dropping by. Travellers looking to scale Pangkor Hill — the island’s highest point, with a peak of 1,148 metres or slightly higher than 350 metres — may do so by following a path along Pasir Bogak. The path is considered to be moderately difficult with path markers along the route, and most hikers would take an hour to reach the top. On the other hand, the 20-minute foot trail through one of Pangkor’s other forest reserves — the South Pangkor Forest Reserve — from Kampung Teluk Gedung will get you to the secluded Segadas Bay Beach, a pristine and relatively untouched beach complete with jewel-toned waters and ultra-fine white sand.
Travellers wanting to see and feed Pangkor’s many wild hornbills up close for themselves should make their way to the Sunset View Chalet located in Teluk Nipah. Dozens of Oriental Pied hornbills — which is the smallest hornbill species in existence — fly to this guesthouse daily at 6.30 pm for a generous helping of white bananas from the owners. The owners of this guesthouse would call upon these hornbills with a long monotone whistle before beginning to feed them. Visitors then have the chance to try for themselves, and everyone including non-guests are welcome to join in at no cost. During turtle watching season, one might also be able to spot visiting turtles laying their egg on the shores of Teluk Ketapang.
Located at the scenic beachside fishing village of Kampung Teluk Gedong, the Kota Belanda (or Dutch Fort) is one of the island’s more popular tourist spots. Initially built out of wood in 1670 to store supplies of Perak's precious tin, Kota Belanda was strengthened into a brick structure before sacked by Malays in 1690. The Dutch managed to rebuild the fort in 1743, only to abandon it five years later after repeated attacks from local warrior chiefs. Kota Belanda fell into disrepair until 1973, when Malaysia’s Museums Department began restoring the fort as a tourist attraction.
Foo Lin Kong Temple
Just 100 metres away from the fort, sits a mammoth stone carved with the symbol of the Dutch East India Company and other etchings, including a faint depiction of a tiger stealing a child. Known as Batu Bersurat, local lore claims the stone depicts the disappearance of a local European dignitary’s child while playing near the rock. The Dutch circulated the idea of a tiger abduction, though the kid was more likely nabbed by disenchanted locals. However, it has been recently corrected that the tiger inscription in question was actually of a lion —which was part of the Dutch coat-of-arms in use during that time period.
For more perspectives on Pangkor, travellers could continue to stroll on foot, or by bike to see the island’s few cultural offerings, including the two Chinese temples located on different sides of Pulau Pangkor. Considered to be lovelier of the two, Foo Lin Kong temple, near the Pangkor Island Jetty, is a rather well-landscaped site with flower gardens, complete with dragon-roofed pavilions and a Great Wall of China replica. Travellers are encouraged to climb the stairs that overlook the temple’s beautifully glazed tiled roofs and the hills beyond. The other temple, Lin Je Kong is perched above the northern edge of Coral Beach. Apart from the temple’s colourful & psychedelic design elements, it also offers lovely sea views.
Another must visit location at Pulau Pangkor is the famed Hai Seng Hin Fish Factory, where one can stock up on local fish products such as surimi (fish paste), salted jellyfish and ikan bilis (anchovies) before making their way back home. The fish factory also has rather picturesque views from its pier — as with most locations on the island.
Where To Stay
Pangkor Laut Island Resort
From the luxurious 5-star Pangkor Laut Island Resort (which is actually located on a separate private island within the vicinity of Pulau Pangkor) to the array of three-star hotels such as Anjungan Beach Resort, and chalets and homestays scattered along the west coast of Pangkor Island, a variety of budgets (and traveller types) are catered to when it comes to accommodation choices. Some popular accommodation spots on the island include Joe’s Fisherman Inn and Nipah Guesthouse Pangkor, which are both located along the popular Teluk Nipah area.
What To Eat
As for food — breakfast with Pangkor’s laksa mee (rice vermicelli served in clear seafood-based soup with chilli paste and sauteed vegetables) is considered to be a must-eat by the locals. Pulau Pangkor is also famous for its relatively cheap and fresh seafood — the island’s main catch are cuttlefish and anchovies. Most of Pangkor’s best eats tend to be at Teluk Nipah, with an array of stalls offering fresh seafood - but do be wary of prices as some sellers might open with higher prices compared to others. Kopitiams - Chinese coffee shops - are considered the mainstays of Pangkor town, while a few Chinese seafood restaurants dot the Pasir Bogak coastline.
While Pulau Pangkor does have an airport, there are currently no direct flights to Pulau Pangkor offered regularly by any airlines. The nearest airport would be Ipoh’s Sultan Azlan Shah Airport, which currently only services flights to and from Ipoh from Singapore and Johor Bahru. These flights are operated by AirAsia and Malindo Air as well as the Singaporean carrier Scoot. Your best bet on getting to Pulau Pangkor relatively fuss-free is by reaching the nearest town, Lumut via either bus or car before hopping onto a ferry to Pulau Pangkor. Lumut is approximately 160 kilometres south of Pulau Pinang, 229 kilometres northwest from Kuala Lumpur, and 83 kilometres from Perak’s capital city of Ipoh. Travelling by train is also possible — the high-speed ETS train journey from Kuala Lumpur to the nearest stop in Batu Gajah takes only 2 and 1/2 hours — but you would still have to take a one-hour bus or taxi ride to Lumut.
There are two jetties that travellers can take the ferry to and fro Pulau Pangkor from, namely the Lumut Jetty and Marina Island Jetty. Ferries from Lumut Jetty depart every 45 minutes from 7 am to 8.30 pm daily, while ferries from Marina Island Jetty depart hourly during non-peak periods and every 15 minutes during peak periods from 7.15 am to 8.30pm. Travellers arriving by car will have to park their vehicle at designated secure parking areas located nearby these jetties at a fee per day. Upon arrival at the island, travellers have the option of either hailing the island’s famous pink taxi-vans (which charges fixed fares) or renting a motorbike, or bicycle to get around the island.