When I was prepping for our trip to Pangkor, I left a blank slate on the itinerary, since the plan was… no plan lol.
Since we were there for three days and had already spent a substantial amount of time frolicking on the beach, it felt like a waste not to see what else the island had to offer. So on the morning of our second day, we hopped into one of the island’s pink taxis and headed back to Pangkor town, near the east side of the island.
The town’s main commercial area consists of a row of shops with a covered walkway, as well as several connected rows laid out in a grid pattern. There are a few banks here where you can make cash withdrawals, a 7-Eleven, a tourist information center, kopitiams, as well as shops selling souvenirs and island produce. Pangkor was officially declared a duty free island in 2020, so you’ll also find duty-free items such as chocolates, perfumes, and batik clothing. Being a predominantly Malay-Muslim place, alcohol is not included in this list, unlike the more tourist-y Langkawi island.
Unluckily (or luckily?), it started pouring as soon as we got to town. We wandered around the shops, but was not especially interested in buying dried fish or squid, since we still had a long way to go on our road trip. The rain did not abate for some time so we ended up grabbing a breakfast of eggs, dimsum, and Milo at a kopitiam nearby.
Just as suddenly as the rain came, the clouds blew away and the sun returned in full force. After slathering on sun screen and equipping our umbrellas, we spent some time wandering the streets and admiring the unique architecture.
Most of the buildings here are a mix of wood and concrete, painted in bright colours. Typical of Malaysian shophouses, the front of the top section juts out a little, creating a shaded walkway underneath known as a five-foot way (kaki lima).
With our bellies fed and watered, we made our way north out of town towards Fu Lin Kong temple, one of the island’s most popular attractions.
Along the way we passed a large building on a hillslope that looked like another temple, so without thinking too much, we ventured into it. There was a group of people there who were carrying bags of stuff, who gave us weird stares as we waltzed into the place. We soon learned that it was actually a columbarium, and that we had just crashed someone’s memorial service. After which we legged out of there quickly.
Resident columbarium dog going “These dang tourists”
Fu Lin Kong didn’t look very far from the town center (about 1.5km according to Google Maps) – but we had not anticipated how windy the road was and how hot the weather would be. I would not recommend walking because there isn’t much space for pedestrians to walk around safely, and the way bikes and taxis drift around each corner can easily turn you into a human pancake.
The good news is that we netted sweet views of our surroundings, as our route took us past traditional village homes on stilts, a tiny gas station, and interesting little shops and warungs.
The temple is tucked within the hills, so you have to cut through a Chinese village to reach it. The roads are paved well and there are plenty of signs, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. We got to see more interesting architecture: while most of the homes are modern and built from concrete, there are a couple of traditional ones that still retain their wooden frame. Pictured are colourful homes with patterned holes at the top for ventilation – a rare sight in the city.
After 25 minutes, we finally reached Fu Lin Kong temple! This colourful Taoist temple is located at the foot of a hill, surrounded by lush greenery. If you climb to the topmost level, you can see the view of the town’s rooftops as well as the sea beyond.
If I recall correctly, the temple used to be much smaller, but in the 12 years since my last visit, they’ve expanded and renovated the place to include ponds and more structures.
After passing through a majestic archway flanked by two statues of fishermen (a nod to the significance of fishing to the residents of Pangkor), you’ll come to the temple’s main area, which features a grand shrine boasting typical Chinese architecture, as well as beautifully landscaped gardens complete with gazebos and small ponds. The shrine houses dozens of Taoist and Buddhist deities.
One of the unique architectural fixtures here is the mini Great Wall of China, accessible via a pathway on the left side of the shrine, which takes you up part of the hill.
The layout can be quite confusing though; if you’re trying to get to the highest view point at the temple, you have to trek all the way down to the base and walk to the right side of the shrine. Either way, be ready for a good workout.
Trees provide a bit of respite from the sweltering heat.
We braved the paths and stairs all the way to the top, where there was another small shrine with Buddha statues within. This vantage point allowed for wonderful views of the township below, as well as the hills, the sea, and the mainland beyond.
After burning all that energy hiking up and down the hill, our stomachs were growling for sustenance – so we decided to stop by this random place in the neighbourhood that looked like a community hall, but with food stalls and tables and chairs in it. The shop didn’t even have a name; simply a banner proudly proclaiming ‘laksa’ on it.
I guess our appearances screamed “TOURISTS”, because the auntie manning the stall was immediately beckoning us in, rattling off in rapid-fire Mandarin the dishes on offer. With my rudimentary Mandarin, I pieced together that their specialty was the kon lou (dry) laksa as well as the Malay-style laksa, which – get this – the younger locals like to eat with Mamee noodle snacks.
It sounded intriguing, so we took a seat. Auntie made sure we were comfortable before turning on the large ceiling fans for us, as they turn them off to conserve electricity when there are no customers around.
As she cooked, we made small talk: she asked us where we were from, and when we told her we were from KL, she said that two of her daughters worked there. I also asked how long she had been selling the noodles, to which she replied over 30 years. Her kind, motherly demeanour – like an auntie who had not seen a favourite niece and nephew for ages – melted my heart.
Laksa is an extremely versatile dish, with many different iterations according to region. Penang for example, has Assam Laksa, which features a thick broth of ground mackerel, tamarind, mint leaves, torch ginger, and a variety of other herbs and spices that give it a sweet, sour, spicy, salty, and umami flavour. The version in Johor uses spaghetti in a east-meets-west twist, while Sarawak Laksa has broth that is usually thickened with coconut milk and includes ingredients such as chicken and shrimp.
The version here tasted a lot like the Penang Assam Laksa, ie it still had a tangy, savoury taste, but lighter and milder. The soft and chewy noodles were topped with fried shallots and onion slices. The dry laksa was something that I had never tried before, and basically tasted like your typical kon lou Chinese noodles, but with a hint of sourness/tanginess to it.
Once we were done with the noodles, Auntie waltzed over with a packet of Mamee and told us to crush it inside the plastic, then pour the bits onto the plate and enjoy it with the soup. “You have to eat it quickly so it doesn’t get soggy,” she advised. We did – and while I wouldn’t say it was super wow since the broth itself was already delicious, it did add some texture and crunch which helped us to finish the soup. The Hubs loved it as he said it reminded him of the sour flavours in Filipino cuisine.
As we finished up our meal, Auntie and her husband came to our table to ask us how the food was, and we chatted some more. They showed genuine interest in our thoughts about the island and about us in general, which I feel is something that is rare to find in the city, where everyone is either only thinking /talking about themselves the entire time, or too busy to care about what goes on around them.
They were also astounded that we walked from town (“isn’t it hot??”) and complimented the Hubs on his fair skin when I told them he was Filipino (“We had a neighbour whose son’s wife was Filipino! But she was much darker. But you know, we islanders are usually darker. It’s the sea breeze”).
The convo flowed so naturally that I forgot to be awkward lol. But that’s something that I love about Pangkor. Most of the locals we’ve met have been nothing but warm, friendly, and helpful.
I was shocked when the meal (with two glasses of refreshing, ice cold longan) came up to only RM14. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything like that in KL. We left the place with a promise to come back if we were ever in Pangkor again; our bellies full, but our hearts fuller.
For those visiting Pangkor and would like a cheap, tasty, and filling meal of laksa, the stall is located at 113, Sungai Pinang Besar. Location here.
By the time we rolled back into town, it was late afternoon. We debated on walking to the other attractions further south, ie the Floating Mosque and the Dutch Fort – but decided against it as it was growing late and our legs were getting wobbly at this point lol.
Since it would be hard to find food at Teluk Nipah, we tapaoed some from a Malay stall in town. Here, we met a lecturer who was also staying ‘part time’ on the island, as his wife was conducting research there. He was excited to hear that N is Filipino, as he lectured in marine biology in Makati for many years before returning to Malaysia. We also chit chatted with the mak cik manning the stall. Cute convo ensued when I told her I’d like for a portion of ‘hati’ (liver) in my chicken rendang.
Makcik: Hati saya ke? (My heart?) **Hati can mean heart or liver in Malay
Me: Haha hati cik dah berpunya… (your heart is already taken!)
We spent our final evening in Pangkor taking a dip in the cool blue water, then strolled along the beach watching the sun set.
Despite our short time on the island, Pangkor thoroughly captivated my soul – not just for its pristine natural beauty, but the warmth of its people. While I’m not sure whether it’ll be another ten years before I return to this place, I know that Pangkor will always have pleasant memories for me to take home, regardless of the season of life I’m in.
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