Everybody who visits Malaysia on the backpacker trail visits Langkawi, Perhentian Islands are a must and if you can squeeze it in, a visit to the Tioman Islands are on that travel list too.
What about the less famous sister? Pangkor island, two hours from Ipoh is a laid back island paradise minus the mass tourism and beach bars. This is probably what Langkawi was like ten, or fifteen years ago.
If you want a party island this isn’t for you, but if you want somewhere with enough facilities, postcard perfect beaches, delicious fresh seafood and enough development to have twenty-four hour electricity you should head here.
The amazing beaches of Secret Island.
Apart from the previously mentioned amazing beaches, there’s enough to keep you occupied from a few days to a week, or more. The kampung (village) lifestyle here is relaxing and a refreshing change from other more developed tourist islands in Malaysia and South East Asia in general. Pangkor is quite well advertised with Malaysian tourists, but at the moment is free from big hotel resorts and large scale tourism. – unfortunately it’s only a matter of time before that changes. Get there whilst it’s still a laid back paradise.
Where to stay
One of the more developed areas, Teluk Nipah is aimed at budget travellers and several places here are a perfect base for backpackers, set between the jungle and the beach it’s got the perfect balance of quiet beach life with shops and simple restaurants. Prices are generally pretty cheap, the further you go from the beach the better.
Backpackers on a budget can also camp here on the beach. One hotel in Coral Bay will provide tents, but at 40RM I think it’s a bit overpriced. Another option is to bring your own.
Prices can be pushed up, or availability tight at weekends when the area of Teluk Nipah is full of Malays on weekend breaks. Although the relaxed island feel is slightly lost with the influx of people, more restaurants are open. If you’re after isolation, visit during the week.
What to do
Didn’t I mention the amazing beach? Teluk Nipah has a beach right along the front, which is nice but at high tide the sand all but disappears. The best option is just around the corner at Coral Bay, where the long sandy beach is deep all day. There is safe swimming with next to no current and good visibility in the water, although almost all of the coral has sadly been killed. Coral beach is a good spot to watch the sunset.
Beautiful Coral Beach well worth a stop
You can also head out to Giam Island, the small beach paradise directly opposite Coral beach. Boat trips will take you out and arrange to come back later to pick you up for around 30-40RM per boat (potential to barter it down) If you get a few people together it can work out cheap. Another option is to hire a Kayak and paddle out! There is a small trail across this tiny island (3-5 minutes) which leads to the other side where you can snorkel. The fish are small, but it’s a nice way to spend an hour.
There are other, more secluded small beaches around the north side of Coral beach, where the sea is also very calm and picture postcard! Make sure you visit in at low tide, or you might get marooned and have to swim back.
There are also few sights around the island, including the remnants of an old, Dutch fort and a few temples.
There’s also a couple of hiking trails on the island, which have real potential for getting amongst it in the Jungle. One trail cuts through the middle of the island and I’ve been told is hardgoing, lasting around four hours. The other is easier and shorter at around only ninety minutes.
The authorities here are strict about bringing cars onto the island and as such there’s plenty of wildlife here including hornbills, lots of mischevious monkeys and monitor lizards which will scuttle into the jungle as soon as they hear you.
With an environmental focus, Pangkor is great for spotting wildlife.
There are a number of small family run restaurants who set up at the northern end of Teluk Nipah with plastic chairs and tables on the beach – good value dishes and fresh fish and seafood if you’re feeling flush. Daddy’s, on Coral beach is popular with western tourists, a little more expensive than the Teluk Nipah options.
Getting Around the Island
Pangkor Island is only 8sq Kilometres, so getting around isn’t that hard – you will see pink taxi’s around, that’s the main transport as there is no public bus service. Prices are per vehicle, so try to get a few people together to share the costs. Typical price from Pangkor ferry terminal to Teluk Nipah is 15RM.
You can rent bicycles (10-15RM) and Motorbikes (30-40RM) per day, if you head into Pangkor town you must wear a helmet (although, you should anyway) and if you chose to bicycle make sure you get one in good condition with gears as the roads are fairly hilly.
The ferry to Pangkor runs from a small town called Lumut, only a few kilometres from the island. Ferries run around every thirty minutes and cost 10RM return! Buses connect from all over the country, may be easiest to transfer at Ipoh from some cities; particularly from the east coast.
Once you’ve left the island you’re back in Lumut, The closest train line to two hours away in Ipoh (11RM) Buses also run to Kuala Lumpur, Butterwo.
Written by: Ambassador Ben Turland