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Malaysia: Pangkor Laut off the west coast

Pangkor Laut is a pretty little island next to the bigger Pangkor, off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. You get to it via plane, train and automobile – and then boat.

Pangkor Laut Resort was officially opened by the late Luciano Pavarotti. It is said that he wept at the island’s beauty.

We had one of the sea villas, which are stretched out on stilts over the water and reached by a long wooden bridge. They’re simply furnished and comfortable. Highlights include the sea view from the bath, and the open deck on the sea-side of the villa, good for pre- or post-prandial drinks.

Your immediate urge is to fling your hot, sweaty body from the deck into the cool water below, but that’s not possible. The sea on this side of the island is full of rocks that bristle with potentially painful sea urchins; we also spotted jellyfish, including an impressive man-of-war. And if you do decide to have a dip, you’d probably damage the coral.

 

To swim in the sea, you need to catch a five-minute shuttle to the beautiful Emerald Bay, on the other (western) side of the island.

Unlike the garden villas, the sea villas have no TV. This displeased Roy initially, but he soon got used to the idea and started to enjoy the peaceful music of waves surging and lapping against the barnacled stilts not too far below us. And when the Beijing Grand Prix was about to begin, he found the comfortable TV room above the gym.

There’s no room service; neither are snacks provided in the room, and there is no shop from which to buy a candy bar or a packet of crisps, should you feel so inclined. Tip: Take along your own stock of drinks and nibbles, as well as personal mosquito repellent.

 

Food
The breakfast experience at the Feast Village from 7am to 11am scores a perfect 10 for variety and freshness. The stands serve fresh fruit and vegetables, juices, crepes, cheeses, eggs and omelettes, Western dishes, teppanyaki-style noodles, and exceptional chapattis and vegetable curry.

We enjoyed a couple of outstanding meals, the first being dinner at Fisherman’s Cove, right on the edge of the water, where the fresh catch of the day is displayed for your choice. My bouillabaisse and Roy’s tomato cappuccino soup were excellent, and the fat bream we chose to share for our main course was filleted, cooked simply with caper butter and served with salad and potatoes. At RM380 (S$190) for the food alone, though, you may not want to indulge in fine dining every night.

The Chef’s Dining Experience, served in a private dining room, was phenomenally good, the highlight being the Surf ‘n’ Turf: exquisite lobster Thermidore paired with a Wagyu steak. Even at RM400 per person (before wine), it was worth it.

Light meals such as Caesar salad, club sandwiches and good pizzas (about RM45 to RM50 or S$22 to S$25) are available all day at the Royal Bay Beach Club, conveniently next to the pool, where fresh fruit juices make the perfect cooler. Other dining options include Uncle Lim’s for Chinese and Peranakan fare, a Japanese restaurant that opens only for lunch, and light meals and snacks at Chapman’s Bar on the other side of the island.

Wherever you dine, you’re likely at some stage of the evening to enjoy the strains of the resort’s peripatetic three-person Filipino band. Their talent requires no amplification, so the entertainment is at just the right volume for romance.

Sunset Cruise

I can’t say no to a sunset cruise. This hour-long trip costs $100 per person and gives you a free flow of drinks and a little tray of tasty appetisers, enough to let you pretend that you’re not drinking on an empty stomach, but not enough to spoil your dinner.

While you’re bobbing for a while off Emerald Beach to watch the sun go down, the charming barman will apologise if clouds get in the way, and fill your glass again to make up for them.

Jungle Trek

This leaves at 10.30am each day under the expert guidance of Uncle Yip, who has been on the island for 13 years. Here’s a fraction of what I learnt from him:

•  The amazing greenness of the seawater is due to its being filled with plankton, which are the basis for the thriving marine life in the area, feeding the thick shoals of anchovies that are in turn prey to the garfish (needle fish) that abound.
•  Marine life faces three main threats: oil pollution from the ships that ply the nearby and busy Straits of Malacca; flotsam from ships and boats; and silting caused by their disturbing wakes.
•  Generally, you’ll see at least a couple of one- or two-metre-long monitor lizards from the boardwalk that leads past the sea villas, but Uncle Yip once counted as many as 22 of the reptiles.
•  The big, noisy colonies of giant fruit bats that hang upside-down all day in the trees next to the main path in the resort, squawking and fanning themselves with their wings, fly off at 8pm every night to forage for fruit. And huge numbers of tiny, insectivorous bats that live in nearby caves swoop in at night to feed on the insects that congregate around the electric lights.
•  The beautifully sharp fern-type fossils on the stone floor-tiles in Fisherman’s Cove restaurant and the steps leading down to the tennis court were noticed only years after they were laid. The stone originates from India.
  Pangkor Laut has no freshwater source of its own. Its water is piped across from the virgin rainforest on nearby Pangkor, a gazetted water catchment area.

Spa

An Australian couple we spoke with told us that they had splurged that day on the fantastic Ultimate Spa Experience for two. They wryly confessed that it had cost about as much as a small used car; but she’d booked another massage for the next day, so it was clearly worth it.

What I love about the YTL hotel spas is the effort they make in devising spa menus that are unique and location-specific. My own 100-minute Campur-Campur spa experience, an expression of the Malay and Thai influences, was superb. Campur-Campur means “a mixing of varieties”. What’s more, every treatment at the Pangkor Laut Spa is preceded by a 40-minute multi-cultural “bathhouse ritual”:

* First came the foot-pounding. Yani used a wooden hammer to spank the soles of my feet, a method used on Chinese women of yore to encourage circulation in their tiny, deformed, bound feet; presumably to prevent gangrene setting in.
* Then I breathed in steam from each of four herbal infusions bubbling away in a square courtyard, before walking through a cool rain shower and pool.
* Next I was seated on a wooden chair in a Chinese bathhouse, to scrub my skin and wash my hair.
* After that, lying face-down on a sort of bed, I received Japanese goshi-goshi scouring and sluicing with buckets of water.
* The final five minutes in a hot outdoor pool, steaming water cascading down the rocks, was nowhere near long enough.

Only now was I deemed clean enough for my 100-minute Campur-Campur massage. Each section of the body – front right leg, front left leg, etcetera – was first given a traditional Thai oil massage, then wiped clean and treated to an aromatherapy massage using steaming parcels of compressed lemongrass (Thai) and pandan leaves (Malay). The effect was simultaneously relaxing and therapeutically stimulating.

Conclusion

This is a lovely, well-managed resort that is worth visiting, depending on your expectations. It has a 400-strong staff of friendly, efficient and well-trained people from all over the world: we heard French, American, Thai, Indian and Nepalese, to name just a few. The resort’s food and beverage and prices and transport costs are surprisingly high, though, and not just for Malaysia.

Getting There

We took the 40-minute 8.30am SIA flight to Kuala Lumpur International Airport ($353 return), and the linking express train to KL Sentral Station. From there, a resort car took us to Lumut in about two hours. The hotel ferry to Pangkor Laut, which is rather shabby, leaves four times a day and costs RM80 per person each way. If you miss that, you can arrange for a private speedboat at RM650 each way.

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