Pulau Pankor: "Island Paradise?"
July 9, 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
I am on the beach, sitting on a white-gray, very long driftwood log deposited on the golden sands of Pulau Pangkor, in Perak. I am facing the sun setting in the Laut Andaman, at the northern end of the Selat Melaka.**
I am on Pangkor Island, a four-hour uneventful drive north from Kuala Lumpur on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula. After three hours the bus driver was kind enough to stop and wait for me when I said "toilette!"
Then a ferry ride to the island and a pink Volkswagen van-taxi to the charming-sounding Hornbill Hotel. The bus was scheduled to leave KL at 12:00 and the ferry from Lumut at 4:40. In both cases, those times were, I am sure, the honest hope of the ticket seller.
The scene is lovely on the crescent shaped beach. At each tip is a small green island rising from the sea. The waves are gentle. The beach not crowded. The turquoise water is clean and only a bit murky.
But this is no paradise island. The undertow is very strong. Just a meter or two from shore the water is over my head. Minuscule ocean fleas tickle and nip.
Now, no self-respecting Scarsdale matron would consider the Hornbill Hotel. Actually I left after one night because of the grinding motorbikes on the main road.
I moved to the Sunset View Chalet. A/C...yes. Hot water...no.
This whole place is a bit shabby. But the food is good and everyone is friendly. Mostly Malaysians on a weekend holiday with their families, a few Westerners, no other Americans.
A colorful group: ethnic Chinese with a fair Asian complexion in very short short shorts and tee shirts, Muslim men in sports cloths, Muslim women with scarves and long pants or long skirts, ethnic Indians with forehead decoration wearing bright red multicolored outfits.
Erik S., my financial adviser in Miami, has suggested I "loosen up" a bit. I did make a reservation at the Pan Pacific Resort at about $90.00 US a day including meals. I chickened out at the last moment. I totally avoided the Pangkor Laut Resort at $300.00 a day EP! My theory is: I am traveling in Asia, so, I will travel in Asia. Call me crazy. I guess deep down I am still that poor kid from Anderson Avenue in Highbridge in the West Bronx, NYC.
My knee is getting a rest. So are my cheeks and chin. I haven't shaved in three days. I am reading and writing and eating ayam rendang with rice - tasty pieces of chicken in a mildly spicy curry sauce with potatoes and vegetables. Crispy spring rolls.
At the Sunset View Chalet I met Aishah, a sweet young lady from Penang - not on my itinerary this time. She was happy to give me her hand phone number. Hey, you never know.
And Ragu, the owner of my favorite outdoor restaurant, said he will call his girlfriend in Ipoh, my next stop, so she can introduce me to her friends there. Yes, sports fans, that's the way it's done here.
Finally I would like to say hello to some of my new readers: Betsy and Lanny; Morton and Franklyn; Helga and Ed; Daniel and Donna; Stanley and Mike; Linda, Betty Ann, Elinor and Larry; Peter and Nora; Heather, Jacob, Michael, Hal and Ivonne; Gail; Stuart; Max; Jacki and Jacki and family; Kevin and Moon; Siri; Alan and Reuben; Meredith and Louise; Amy. I hope you enjoy my letters. I would love to hear from you.
** The Strait of Melaka - such an exotic sound to me.
Last year, from Bangkok to Singapore, I wrote the Foreword to www.travelwithjan.com as I flew over the Strait. Today I am sitting on its shore.
The Strait of Melaka. This narrow churning waterway connects the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean - the only practical route between China and India - two ancient and modern trading empires. And then came the Europeans traders and colonialists and later the Japanese invasion. A unique piece of geography, for centuries, millennia, the site of trade, commerce, contention, turmoil, piracy, brigandage.
I suppose this little cove of mine was a perfect hiding place for the thieves of the sea. According to William Langewiesche, the miscreants are active even today. ("The Outlaw Sea")
Frankly the only thieves I am really worried about are pickpockets in KL and the thieving taxi drivers who demand five times the meter rate.