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Pulau Ketam Day Trip 2022 — Selangor’s Unique “Crab Island”

If a foreign friend was traveling to Malaysia for the first time, where would you recommend they visit?

Perhaps Melaka for its rich history, Penang for its art and food, Langkawi for its gorgeous beaches, or Sabah and Sarawak for beautiful nature. Not forgetting Kuala Lumpur—the bustling metropolis and the heart of the Malaysian economy—with its eclectic mix of skyscrapers, glitzy malls, colonial shophouses, and chic cafes; a true melting pot of the region’s culture and influences.

Pulau Ketam, however, is probably not the first place that comes to mind. That should change — because it’s an excellent spot for visitors seeking something truly immersive and local. Doubly so for the Malaysians who have yet to pay this place a visit! You might be surprised at the unique experiences you can find in your own backyard.

Here’s a video for the lazy-to-read people. Also to give you a ‘feel’ of how it’s like on the island!

Located off the coast of Port Klang in Selangor, Pulau Ketam (or Crab Island) is a fishing village established in the 1880s by Teochew and Hokkien Chinese immigrants. The settlement, built on mudflats surrounded by mangroves, is known for its quaint homes and elevated pathways built over stilts, which gives them the appearance of floating over water during high tide. What started as a small fishing village soon grew; today, the island hosts some 1,000 homes.

In the past, the main industry in Pulau Ketam was fishing, but tourism now contributes a major part to the local economy as well. Visitors to the place are mostly Malaysians; the few times I have been here, I have not seen many foreign tourists. All the more reason to put it on your itinerary !

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GETTING THERE

Since there are no roads connecting the island to the mainland, villagers have their own boats in lieu of cars whenever they need to travel for supplies. As for visitors, the only way to access Pulau Ketam is via ferry from the South Port Terminal in Port Klang. If you’re driving, you can park your car at the Asa Niaga Habour City compound, next to the terminal.

The terminal can be quite warm, and crowded on busy days, but there is a canteen where you can order drinks and finger food, as well as stalls selling snacks. There are several ferry operators here, so once you step into the terminal you’ll be greeted by touts yelling out prices.

We went for the Alibaba Cruise (RM20 – return tickets, RM12 – one way) which is slightly cheaper than a speedboat. Regretted this decision, as even though they have scheduled departure times, they still waited for the boat to be full before they left the port. We waited more than 45 minutes on the boat, which was supposed to leave at 11.30AM, but only left around 12.15PM. -_-

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Either way, off to Pulau Ketam we go!

The ride takes about 30 to 40 minutes. If your boat has a deck on top, I suggest sitting there so you get a nice view of the mangroves. But maybe not in the afternoon because the weather can get extremely hot.

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WHAT TO DO ON PULAU KETAM

I last came here in 2016 and made a blog post about my trip (read it here) – so you can check the post out if you want a gist. This time around, I’m going to share more photos and commentary, because on my previous trip I didn’t really get to explore as much as I wanted to.

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Walk along the pier and enjoy the breeze. If you come in the afternoon, when the tide is low, you’ll see hundreds of tiny crabs and mudskippers crawling around in the mud (hence the name Crab Island).

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A new addition since my visit in 2016 – colourful signage and some nautical/ocean-inspired art installations. You’ll also find some interesting murals scattered around the island.

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Houses on Pulau Ketam are built on stilts measuring around 1 to 10 metres above the water. Most of the structures are made of either wood or concrete, as are the walkways that form an intricate maze connecting the many different parts of the village. Because of how narrow the streets are, there are no large vehicles, only motorbikes and bicycles. You can rent a bike to get around the island, but I prefer exploring on foot, since you can really take your time to soak in the sights.

Take note that most of the bikes are electric. Since they don’t produce a lot of noise, you have to be aware of your surroundings while making your way through the alleyways!

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Despite it’s remote location, Pulau Ketam is well equipped with all sorts of facilities. They have their own police station and volunteer fire brigade, 3 primary schools and a secondary school, a post office, and even a Maybank (so don’t worry if you’re strapped for cash – there’s an ATM machine within).

The internet and call quality is probably better than what I get at home (thanks for the ‘coverage’, Digi!), and they also have a constant supply of electricity and water from the mainland. You might still find a couple of homes with a rainwater harvesting system, which is what they used before a direct water supply was installed in 1991.

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Mini post office and souvenir shop.
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Pulau Ketam’s Jalan Besar (main street) bustles with activity, flanked by seafood restaurants, snack stalls and souvenir shops. It was high time for lunch, so we popped into one called Restoran Kim Hoe.

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Very Chinese decor. Bright red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, red fans, auspicious paper cutouts, red chairs and round tables, all the trimmings.
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It was just the Hubs and me and we didn’t want to overstuff ourselves, so we went for fried squid and kam heong style bamboo clams to go with our rice. The squid was fresh and springy, the batter deep fried to crunchy perfection. There was some seasoning in the batter so it wasn’t bland, and the chilli sauce complemented it well too.

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Bamboo clams get their name from their long, cylindrical shells. I think they taste like a meatier cross between oysters and Live Venus clams (what we call in Malaysia and Singapore as ‘lala’).

Because shellfish tends to have a briny, ‘fishy’ smell, they are usually cooked with strong spices such as curry and kam heong. FYI, kam heong is Cantonese for ‘golden and fragrant’ – a fitting name for an aromatic, rich sauce made from dried shrimps, curry powder, shallots, and garlic. Here’s another fun tidbit: kamheong is a Malaysian Chinese creation! Chinese immigrants here took influences from their Malay and Indian neighbours (hence the curry powder, dried shrimps, and other spices), added it into their own cooking, and voila.

The version at Restoran Kim Hoe is tasty. The clams were not cleaned thoroughy so there was a bit of sand left in them, but I understand that it’s difficult to get the sand out entirely sometimes. Otherwise, an excellent dish!

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Having had our tummies filled, it was time to explore the streets.
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Chinese immigrant communities back in the day were deeply religious and had strong beliefs in gods and the supernatural. More so for a fishing village, as they were dependent on the sea and nature for a living. As such, you’ll still find many temples scattered across the settlement. The one right after main street is probably the most photographed/popular, but if you wander deeper, you’ll find other temples too. Although small in size, the temples are colourful and richly adorned – great for photography.

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I love the detailing here! Aside from dragons, which are a common motif in Chinese temples, you can also see that they have crabs, as well as other sea creatures like shrimps, squid, octopi, and fish.
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An empty wooden altar in the hall next to the temple with phoenix, dragon, and cloud motifs.
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A shrine dedicated to the Thousand Hand Guanyin.
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Since most of the villagers built their own homes, no two houses on Pulau Ketam are the same and each boasts unique features. They’re mostly single storey, but there are some grander double storey homes as well. They’re also painted in various colourful shades. No two homes next to each other have the same colour – I wonder if they discussed beforehand like “Hey, I’m going to paint my house yellow, so maybe you can take blue instead?” xD

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Instead of cars, villagers have boats parked next to piers in front of their homes.
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Keep your eyes peeled for interesting murals. I like this creative piece – if you look more closely, you’ll find that the yellow guy on the left has an Ultraman tattoo on his belly drawn in the style of a Chinese deity!

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Many homes on Pulau Ketam leave their doors unlocked during the day – something almost impossible to see in the big city. But I guess if you’re stuck on an island (with their own police station to boot), it’s going to be pretty hard to run anywhere unless you have your own boat…

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A local Datuk Gong shrine.

Fun fact: a lot of people don’t know this, but the deity/spirit that the Malaysian Chinese here worship as Datuk Gong is actually – wait for it – Malay! That’s why you’ll often see the figure within these shrines dressed in traditional Malay clothing, such as a songkok and sarong.

The story goes that when Chinese immigrants came to Malaya, they brought their folk worship beliefs with them (specifically the worship of Tudi, or the god of the earth/the local deity of whatever land they’ve settled in). It was believed that the Chinese back then blended it with the animisme that some Malays practiced in ancient times, before they embraced Islam – hence why Datuk Gong has the appearance of a Malay personage.

This belief is also prevalent in other Nusantara Chinese communities, such as in Indonesia and Singapore.

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Someone’s hall in front of their house, complete with rocking chair to wile away the hours.
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More colourful homes. Some of these have been renovated and turned into homestays, but the more traditional ones are still made of wood.
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Another temple.
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A Taoist temple with a hexagonal window featuring the Yinyang symbol. There were a few very old, weathered looking statues within. Unfortunately the temple was not open during our visit.
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A clan association building.

Clan associations were the OG social networks – a place where people could mingle, and where they could go to for support, especially financially. In the 1800s, when many Chinese emigrated overseas in search for a better life, they often travelled long distances and arrived on distant shores with nothing but the clothes on their back. Clan associations were founded as a way to offer a support network for its members, and to build camaraderie and a spirit of kinship in a place far from home.

The associations would pool together resources to help solve problems that their members might face, such as securing a loan so start a business, buying land for burial, or building temples. They also facilitated personal and business introductions, and acted as important links to their homelands back in China. Some of these clan associations became very wealthy and powerful, such as the Khoo clan in Penang.

Today, clan associations are dying off because the roles they used to fulfill have been taken over by modern institutions such as banks or business associations. Also, many Malaysian Chinese communities no longer have any links to China. Their role, if any, has evolved to focus more on culture, education, and social service.

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A villager’s garden, filled with gorgeous blooms.
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Pulau Ketam is not very big, and you can probably explore everything within the day. We were done by 3.30PM, caught the next ferry back, and reached Port Klang by 5PM.

To be honest, nothing much has changed (aside from the addition of a couple more homestays?) – but that’s the beauty of living in a village like this. Seasons change, but the essence of the place – it’s quaint charm, the friendliness of the locals – remain constant. Personally, I love the story behind how Pulau Ketam came to be, as it’s a testament to the resilience of the Chinese immigrant community in Malaysia, most of whom came to Malaya with nothing, and built a life for themselves here.

There are a couple of things to remember while planning a trip here:

  • Bring a hat or sunscreen, as the weather gets super hot. Maybe because they don’t really have trees to shade the place, or because they’re located in an intertidal zone.
  • Most places operate with cash, but some have upgraded to accept e-wallets too.
  • Please remember these are actual homes and that there are people living in them, so be respectful.
  • The last ferry from Pulau Ketam leaves at 6PM on weekends, and 5PM on weekdays. While chatting with a local, she told me that some tourists forget this, miss the last boat, and are forced to spend the night on the island lol. Be mindful of the time!

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto

Bazaar Ramadan 2019 @ Puchong Prima, Puchong

What’s the best part about the Ramadan month in Malaysia? Everyone (non-Muslims included) gets to enjoy the delicious food sold at Ramadan bazaars ! These evening street markets open from 4PM onwards, peddling all sorts of mouthwatering dishes and snacks, some which are only available during this time of the year. Decided to go check out the Ramadan Bazaar @ Puchong Prima over the weekend, and it did not disappoint.

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One of the larger bazaars in Puchong, there are well over 50 stalls at the location, which is more than last year’s bazaar. Visitors are immediately enticed by the smell of food being cooked on the spot, smoke and steam wafting into the air. Traders call out with cries of nasi ayam, nasi lemak, keropok lekor, murah murah murah. Crowds jostle. It’s loud, it’s chaotic, but it’s all part of the charm of Ramadan bazaars.

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Each bazaar has its own selection of cuisine to offer, but most will have the standard favourites such as Ayam Percik (a Malay-style roast chicken with a chilli herb sauce), Roti John (omelette sandwich with various fillings), murtabak (flatbread with meat filling), keropok lekor (fried fish snack), Ayam Madu (roast chicken with honey) and Bergedil (meat and tofu balls). One may even find items like sushi, takoyaki, Western fare, Korean fried chicken and more.

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(Above) Deep fried spring rolls coated in chilli sauce.

The best part about Ramadan Bazaars is that everything is reasonably priced. If one can afford to break their fast at a fancy hotel, by all means – but I think cheap food can be just as tasty, and you’re supporting small time traders as well.

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A trader adding lettuce to his chicken rice, now all ready for sale.

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Whole fried squid and deep fried boneless chicken are also staples at Ramadan bazaars.

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At RM5 for five pieces, you get these humongous meatballs fresh off the grille, slathered with cheese sauce and mayonnaise, and a packet of black pepper sauce. Not the healthiest option, but damn was it good!

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My takeaway dinner was Nasi Sotong Kunyit (squid fried in turmeric with longbeans, carrots and onions), which for its generous portion, only set me back RM8. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re dropping by the Bazaar Ramadan Puchong Prima anytime soon!

BAZAAR RAMADAN PUCHONG PRIMA 

Jalan Prima 5/1, Taman Puchong Prima, 47100 Puchong, Selangor

Opening hours: 4PM – 7PM (until 4 June 2019)

They Do WHAT With Their Hands ? Hands Percussion @ The Damansara Performing Arts Centre

Magic. They do magic.

Not in the sense of hey presto bunny goes poof magic, but the awe-inspiring wizardry of human skill – the kind that can only be achieved by hard work, an insane amount of practice and from pushing the body and mind to the limit.

The Hands Percussion team is one of the more well known groups in the local arts scene, and they regularly run fundraisers to support themselves as well as various causes, in addition to conducting classes at schools and academies. Founded in 1997, the troupe’s specialty lies in their mastery of various percussive instruments – often incorporating those from various Asian cultures – coupled with creative choreography and clever use of the stage to deliver unforgettable shows.

I had two tickets from work to go watch their UNITY: Fundraising concert at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre recently, and it was definitely a show to be remembered.

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It was my first time at DPAC, which is located within Empire Damansara. They have facilities such as a proscenium theatre, a black box, an experimental theatre, an indoor-theatre foyer and several dance studios located within. Not to mention a very Instagrammable cafe, White Sand.

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Photos were not allowed inside the auditorium, so I’ve taken the liberty of including some official photos from past events – to give you a sense of how the setup / stage is like. The 90-minute session saw HANDS performing some of their classic pieces, including JU4 JI2, Legacy of Passion, Rhythm Ride, and Drumbeat Inferno. 

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It was amazing to see the raw energy and power emanating from the performers with each stroke and beat, their muscles rippling as they drummed, jumped and somersaulted their way across the stage (yes, somersaults and backflips were involved). Of course, it wasn’t just drums throughout the entire show, as there were also gamelan sections, vocals by guest artists Zamzuriah Zahari and Evelyn Toh, as well as music accompaniment with instruments such as the guitar, cello erhu, ruan, flute, sanxian and viola – truly East meets West. The vocal sections were actually some of my favourites, especially the songs by Evelyn Toh and how well her singing went with the variety of instruments – the beat and the composition was an exquisite blend, literal music to the ears.

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Another piece had the performers whirling like dervishes, their costumes billowing around them. The effect was mesmerising, to say the least. Throughout the performance, there were short breaks in between where audience members were shown videos of the group’s history, past performances and their 20+ year journey.

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I thoroughly enjoyed watching Hands Percussion – their passion for their craft is amazing, and I wish more Malaysians would be able to appreciate and support what they’re doing. I mean, if you can pay RM50 for a movie and popcorn, you can pay that amount to watch an arts performance. Because if we as a people don’t appreciate our own culture and heritage, who will?

Follow Hands Percussion on Facebook to stay updated on their shows. 

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**Photos not watermarked courtesy of Hands Percussion, taken by Claes Chong

Travelogue Penang: More Sightseeing in Georgetown – Murals

Graffiti or ‘street art’ used to be looked down upon as mere vandalism in Malaysia, but in recent years, thanks to talented street artists and good promotion, street art has become a strong tourist attraction. Penang, in particular, has embraced this and made it a big selling point. Tourist maps pinpoint the locations of all the murals you can find around Georgetown.

Although it’s a little sad that it took a foreign- born talent to popularise it (even though Malaysia has so many talented artists), we have to thank Lithuanian-born street artist, Ernest Zacharevic, for kicking off the trend at Georgetown Festival 2012, an art fest to celebrate heritage, culture and all-things indie.

His works, which include the very popular ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ have become a must-snap photo when wandering the streets of the city.

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Ah Quee? on Ah Quee Street depicts the famous and wealthy Chinese merchant Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, who also built iconic historical buildings such as the Peranakan Mansion.There is also a random minion.

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Some of the artworks were not drawn but welded from iron rods, giving them a 3D appearance. Most tell stories of the rich heritage and culture of Penang island.

“Procession”  shows the Grand Float Procession held in 1926 to celebrate the birthday of Tua Pek Kong (A Taoist deity, widely worshiped by Chinese communities in Penang). As it was the Year of the Tiger, effigies of the tiger was carried through the streets.

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The Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple, or Poh Hock Seah, is a clan temple of the Hokkien people who trace their origins to Southern Fujian Province in China and was constructed in 1850. Since Penang’s population is largely Hokkien (which is also a commonly spoken dialect here), this temple would be significant during festivals and holy days.

Coincidentally, there was an exhibition by Obscura Festival, ‘Trading to Extinction” by Patrick Brown, which captured some disturbing and powerful imagery of illegal animal trading and poaching, in the temple’s courtyard.

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A quick break from mural hunting. We stopped by at a corner shop near Armenian Street. Wanted to have cendol, but it was already 4pm and they ran out D: We had ais kacang instead, which was perfect for a hot day. To those who haven’t had it before, it’s basically shaved ice topped condiments such as grass jelly, sago balls, sweet kidney beans, chopped peanuts and drizzled over with syrup, condensed milk and gula melaka (palm sugar). Sounds refreshing? You bet it is.

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Some pretty good fried snacks of crispy popiah, stuffed with grated radish and carrots.

More of Georgetown to come!