Peninsula Malaysia has no shortage of breathtaking islands, and each year tourists flock to well-known spots such as Langkawi, Redang, and Tioman to catch some rays, dive in its crystal clear waters, experience the vibrant local culture, and gorge on fresh and delicious seafood.
Often overlooked, however, is a small island on the west side, called Pangkor. Found off the coast of Perak, it has a land mass of just 18km2 and is home to around 25,000 residents, most of whom work in the tourism and fishing industries. The only way to reach the island is by ferry via the port town of Lumut.
When I was planning our recent road trip, Pangkor was the first place that came to mind. I last visited as a college student, and even though it has been over a decade, the memories of its beautiful sunsets and nature has stayed with me through the years. Since the goal of the trip was to have a slow, stress-free vacation where we could take in the sights and experience things at our own pace, Pangkor sounded perfect!
Getting to Pangkor from KL
There are no major highways leading directly to Lumut from Puchong – so we first headed towards Shah Alam before exiting to the coastal road at Kuala Selangor.
Unlike driving on the highway where most of the view would have been palm oil plantations for miles, the coastal way took us right into the Malaysian heartlands – past tiny towns that oozed laidback charm, vast green paddy fields, and traditional kampung houses complete with swaying coconut trees. With so much to see, it felt like no time before we arrived in Lumut, even though the drive was actually three hours, give or take.
There are two ferry terminals that can take you to Pangkor. The old Lumut Jetty offers cheaper rides at RM14 for a return trip, but takes longer to arrive at 30 to 45 minutes because it stops at a fishing village on the way. The newer Marina Island Jetty ferry costs RM20 for a return trip, but it only takes 15 minutes to get to Pangkor.
We opted for the Marina Island Jetty service and parked our car inside the designated parking space. There are open and covered bays available; the latter charges a flat rate of RM20 per day, which you’ll need to pay upfront. The terminal is spacious and faces Pangkor, so you get a good view of the surroundings even before setting foot on the island. There are a couple of shops selling snacks and typical tourist supplies such as hats, fans, and clothing.
For convenience, you can check departure times and book tickets online at pangkorferry.com, but you can also get them on-site. We were travelling during low season so there was no queue. Note that you are NOT allowed to purchase a one-way ticket unless you have a Pangkor address, so you need to know when you’re returning from the island (in our case, three days).
Ferries operate regularly with one almost every hour. Our ride was comfortable and air conditioned, with space to accommodate luggage up front.
It was late afternoon, and there were quite a number of secondary school students returning to Pangkor after their classes. The ride was a breeze and did not feel choppy at all. As we got closer to Pangkor, we were greeted by the sight of a bustling jetty, lined with colourful fishing boats tethered to wooden walkways on stilts.
Most of the island’s residents live on Pangkor’s east side, but the nice beaches are all in the west and south. Public transport is scarce on the island, so renting a motorbike might be your best bet to get around. This will set you back around RM40 per day. Pangkor’s roads can be narrow and windy, so I would not recommend walking or cycling unless you are very fit.
Once you exit the jetty, you’ll be approached by touts offering bike and car rental services. Both N and I do not have motorbike licenses and we didn’t want to pay extra for a car (>Rm100/day) so we hopped into one of the island’s pink van taxis instead. There is a big board near the jetty displaying a map of the island and standard taxi fares to each spot.
Teluk Nipah: A Paradise For Two
We stayed at Vagary Pangkor near Teluk Nipah beach, which is a 15 minute ride from the jetty (taxi ride: RM18). I picked it based on glowing reviews on Google and Booking.com – and it did not disappoint! The place looked exactly as advertised, with whitewashed chalets and colourful beach-themed decor. The room was basic but comfortable. More importantly, it was just steps away from the beach!
Teluk Nipah is one of the most popular beaches on Pangkor, thanks to its soft, white sand and clear blue-green water. The beach is usually packed with tourists during the school holidays and festivals, but since we were there during low season, we had the entire beach to ourselves for most of our stay. Seabathing in the evenings, it felt like private paradise as we rarely saw other people in the vicinity. It was just us, the sunset, the cool water against our skin, and the sound of gentle waves lapping on shore.
Of course, the upside was also the downside – none of the stalls were open lol. I initially thought that they would open in the evening, when Muslims break fast – but later found out that they were literally just… closed. Apparently, the shops only operate during high season – which made sense because there were really not a lot of people around.
This culminated in a desperate attempt to look for food further down the road, because we didn’t want to pay RM36 to and fro to town again. Thankfully, we found a beachside eatery called Daddy’s Cafe, a few hundred metres away.
The resto has indoor and outdoor seating. I recommend sitting outdoors as it is cool under the shade, you get to dig your toes into the warm sand, and enjoy gorgeous views of the ocean as you dine! The food here is a mix of local fare and Western dishes served in big portions, and what we had was quite tasty. Prices are also not too steep; equivalent to cafes in KL.
Coral Beach, where Daddy’s Cafe is located, is another popular beach on the west side of Pangkor, separated from Teluk Nipah by a small outcropping of land. You can easily get there on foot by the road.
The beach here was busier, with small boats bobbing not far from shore. There were a few Western tourists sunbathing and taking a swim. There were also shacks operating watersport activities, although we did not see anyone manning them.
If you walk to the far end of Coral Beach, you’ll come to a tiny temple called Lin Je Kong, nestled at the foot of a hill and surrounded by rocky beach. The aesthetics are quite… eccentric (there are statues of mermaids, a giant turtle, and even an anthropomorphic mouse at the entrance), but it’s a nice place to relax, as the water around the temple is extremely clear. If you’re reasonably fit, there’s a small path from the temple that leads to the rocks.
Pangkor is mostly covered in dense rainforest and despite its small size, teems with biodiversity. We encountered numerous local wildlife during our stay, from macaques to exotic birds. The island is, in fact, known for its oriental pied hornbill population, which you will see soaring above the landscape or resting in trees.
Several resorts offer guests the chance to feed these birds in the evenings, such as the Sunset View Chalet. We came across a family doing so in front of the chalet, and everyone oohed and ahhed as fluffy black and white bodies swooped down to grab fruit from their outstretched hands.
Macaques are a common sight all across the island. While they generally aren’t aggressive, they have been known to snatch food or steal items if you lay them out on the sand, so caution is advised.
At Coral beach, burrowing crabs form patterns in the sand that almost look like gigantic art pieces. While swimming, you might also encounter tiny fish. I was surprised to find small shoals swimming in between my legs as we were not very far out to sea.
If you’re a cat lover, Teluk Nipah is home to a sizable population of strays, kept fed and watered by the locals. They’re mostly friendly and the stalls are their playground : you will find them perched on bikes, atop roofs, underneath tables and chairs, or generally just wandering or curled up all along the street.
Our time at Pangkor was a paradox. Every day was a practice of slow and mindful enjoyment – but at the same time it flew by so quickly that it felt like we had barely arrived before it was time to leave.
Many of us living in the city tend to go at a thousand miles an hour; our minds constantly racing with work and tasks and endless distractions. Which is why you have the phrase ‘island time’, coined by snobby city folk and used in derogatorily to refer to an attitude of tardiness and a tendency to be leisurely.
But does being ‘tardy’ mean slowing down and enjoying the simple things in life? When was the last time we slowed down to appreciate what we had, instead of chasing the next shiny thing in the name of material wealth, success, and ‘accomplishment’?
When did we last feel the sea breeze in our faces, hear the chirping of birds in the morning, tuck into fresh catch from the sea, and felt the warmth of a loved one’s hug as we watch the sunset in the horizon? When did we last stop to admire the stars twinkling in the sky, the feeling of sand in our toes, and created memories with those who mattered the most?
The thing about being on an island surrounded by the vast beauty of nature is that it forces us to see how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, and that there really isn’t that much one needs to be content. It was evident from the islanders we met – they radiated a genuine warmth and sense of happiness that I feel is extremely rare to find in the city. It was in their smiles, the way they spoke to strangers – welcoming us to their island, their pride, their joy.
Every season on Pangkor has given me different takeaways, each one a reflection of my current stage in life. I know that no matter where the winds take me, they will always bring my feet back to this beautiful gem of an island.