Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia: Getting lost in the jungle + what to do
When an island is listed as an old favourite among pirates, it doesn’t take much more to convince us to visit. That island being in Malaysia makes the deal all the sweeter. The country, which has proven time and time again to be incredibly easy to travel, boasts some truly outstanding islands.
On a previous trip, we had the good fortune of visiting the Perhentian Islands and fell in love immediately. Crystal clear waters reveal a rainbow of sea life just under the surface, local fishing villages deliver succulent dinner fare and a jungle backdrop makes the whole thing feel right out of movie. By the end of our stay, I had managed to acquire a heat rash, a plethora of bug bites, coral burn and a sizeable scratch from dropping a massive dead clam on my shoulder – and it’s still one of my all time favourite getaways.
Suffice to say, we knew the islands of Malaysia were not to be missed.
It was a bit of luck that brought us to Pangkor. Our original plan to visit Tioman was thwarted by the impending monsoon season, so we began to look west. A glance at Google maps revealed a small set of islands, not too far from Kuala Lumpur and we started researching. What we found were quieter, more local islands versus the tourist giants of Penang and Langkowi – and ones where pirates and Pavarotti alike have sought refuge. Sold.
Hiking on Pulau Pangkor
Arriving on Pangkor on a Sunday evening, you quickly realize one thing – an island popular with locals will be bustling on weekends and holidays. It will also be a ghost town during the week. Our little stretch of Teluk Nipah shrank down to one restaurant at breakfast, two at lunch and a handful more at dinner. With barely any vacationers in sight, we nearly had the place to ourselves.
Naturally, this seemed as good a time as any to hike into the jungle with a vague suggestion of a map (here, should you be inclined to follow our foolish footsteps) and almost definitely get lost. So off we went – first through an ATV trail, oops, then into what looked more or less like a trail entrance.
The barely used hiking trail led us through the island’s beautiful greenery, around precarious cliffs and over fallen palms. Not for the faint of heart, the path often disappears, leaving you to trust your gut as you look for where it might head next. Luck was on our side for much of the journey, only escaping our grasp after two or so hours. We could, at this point, hear the road. We could also see the water, which made us aware we were still more than a few meters above ground level. No trail in sight. So down we went, through the bush, emerging like awkward little fawns onto the road, to the surprise of the locals. It’s a shocked expression we’ve grown used to thanks to numerous ill planned hikes. It’s one we even foolishly take pride in.
If an adventure is what you’re after, Malaysia can usually deliver.
Relaxing on Pulau Pangkor
Not into getting lost in the jungle? Fret not, Pangkor has considerably more reasonable things to do as well.
Walk to Pulau Giam
At low tide, you can walk right through the water from Coral Bay over to Pulau Giam where you’ll find a teeny jungle hike and snorkeling beach. It’s a real trip to stand in the middle of the bay, water surrounding you, feet on solid sand. Just mind your timing and path, lest you swim back (and maybe get stung by a couple jelly fish as one of us is prone to doing).
Watch out for wildlife
Pangkor is home to a number of brazen monkeys who have no qualms with strolling over to the hotel fridge and helping themselves to what's inside. It won't be hard to spot these little guys. You'll also likely catch sight of the beautiful hornbills in the area and many local cats.
Eat very well
Restaurants pull out their daily catch for the evening meal, putting it quite literally on display for you. Pick your seafood and grab a seat on the beach while the restaurant cooks up a delicious feast to cap off another blissful day on the island. Don’t forget to order a coconut and scoop out the insides.
Enjoy a Milo treat
Milo is everywhere in Malaysia and while we make efforts to avoid its sweet temptation, a sleepy island with little to do but take in your luck is the perfect time to indulge. So go on, treat yourself to a nice little Milo bar when the sun gets to be just a touch too much.
Visit the Fu Lin Kong Temple
This Taoist temple needs to be seen to be believed. Like something out of Ripley's, the temple is populated with a cartoonishly crowded turtle pond, fish ponds, witty graffity and and, most notably, a miniature Great Wall of China running up the back hill.
Where to stay on Pangkor Isand
No. 4440, Nipah Bay, 32000, Pangkor, Lumut, Perak, Malaysia
We stayed at Ombak Inn and had a lovely stay. The rooms are basic, but the hospitality is warm as can be. Your room’s patio makes a great place to grab a coffee while the front tables make a nice spot for a snack or drink. Just remember the bug spray.
The two streets leading away from the beach on Teluk Nipah are riddled with hotels, making it easy to walk by and grab a room at a reduced rate in the slow season. Head towards Coral Bay for a few more options, some which looked moderately more upscale.