Pulau Ketam was a shock! It’s one of those places I had no idea existed. And if I did, I’d assumed that they had almost nothing to offer. In Pulau Ketam’s case I couldn’t have been further from the truth. In fact, it had me so spellbound after the first day trip that I very quickly after that booked another one that would allow me to feel its vibe by night. The second visit tremendously multiplied my already great impressions from the first trip and yet again I’m seriously hooked. Let me just take it one by one though, my dear friends, so that I don’t overload you.
The fact that I don’t know what the future holds – no-one does, I know, but bear with me – and for how long I may be able to live in this beautiful country made me realise that I needed to make the most of the time I know I have. If you follow me on social media or read this blog, you will know that I have now taken Malaysia by storm and have been posting stuff from this amazing part of the world.
You will also know that I rarely go to a place twice. If I do, that means it’s special to me and I have developed a weakness for it for perhaps rather subtle than immediately obvious reasons. With Pulau Ketam the attraction is so strong that I am already thinking about a third visit and it’s pulling me in way too fast. As if it was telling me something but I don’t know what. And you can bet that each word of this post sends a shiver down my spine as I recall all the mini experiences this island has treated me with so far. So, are you ready to find out what it is that draws me so much? Let’s get down it folks.
Already the journey is super fun. At least for me as it involves my favourite modes of transport. If you don’t ‘have wheels’, you will need to take a train (KTM komuter) to Port Klang. I always travel from KL Sentral which takes about 80 minutes and costs a pleasant MYR5. The train takes you straight to the port terminal where you need to take a boat. Departures are almost every hour, and on public holidays even more frequent. Depending on tides, the sail may take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. Easy, huh? Oh and just use Alibaba boats, though I think they are the only ones running regular trips now anyway. Return ticket costs MYR18.
“Pulau” means “island” in Malay but this is not exactly an island. It reminds me more of a fisherman’s village as all the houses are built on stilts. If you read reviews of this place (which I don’t recommend), you will find out that it’s “nothing special” or that it’s an “expensive, dirty place with not so nice people” and “it stinks”. Who wants to read that stuff anyway? While there might be a kernel of truth in some of the above statements – and you can be sure that I’ll reveal that in some of the posts here (you already know that don’t embellish nor sugar-coat stuff, don’t you?), I will have to rush to rescue and say that it’s all a pretty much subjective mumbo jumbo of people who probably didn’t understand what this place is about or simply were not so brutally lucky as me on their trip.
Of course, what I just said above contradicts my own advice I’ve been heeding since the crazy trip to Bangkok. That is ‘Don’t wing it and come prepared to any destination’. This might obviously also involve reading reviews. I’d just say be specifically careful with these. It’s like social media. Take Instagram for example. Just because someone has a huge following and gets hundreds of likes for every post doesn’t mean that it’s always quality posts. And vice versa, it doesn’t mean that someone with a small following and few likes doesn’t post high quality and attention worth stuff.
Well, and while I don’t want to divert here, I’m just trying to make a point that reviews work exactly the same way. People tend to become subconsciously heavily influenced by what they see and read. I’ve fallen into this trap myself a couple times, for example on my trip to Nusa Lembongan, and also on my trip to Pulau Ketam. Reviews simply change your perspective and I do recommend taking them with a grain of salt. You see, I read the reviews before I set off on this day trip, and as a result had already thought it would indeed be nothing special, and kept saying that I’d only have a quick look and return to KL by the next boat in two hours. I’m so glad to say that I was only wrongly fooling myself and discovered my mistake by the grace of the Lord of Travel.
The first thing you should do is get quickly past the jetty area which is probably the only part that doesn’t feel that cosy. It’s simple, the shops there just try to lure in as many customers as possible and use whatever techniques they find necessary. Just to illustrate, at some point I had a brief discussion with one of the owners about renting a bicycle and when I passed by literally 10 minutes later on a different bicycle obviously, he wanted to lure me again, completely forgetting we’d already done that talk. That made me think that business is tough these days and your face means nothing.
Feeling locals’ hospitality
The heat was unbearable but I walked around relentlessly, as every street and every corner amazed me. I had honestly never seen anything like it before. It was just shockingly cool. The picturesque architecture combined with a very charming vibe was attracting me like a magnet. Everything in this place seemed so different and it reminded me of Lantau Island in Hong Kong. No wonders, this island is mainly inhabited by Chinese, so similar buzz can be felt here. And yet, when I felt totally exhausted by the heat beating down on me fiercely and incessantly, I stopped at a Malay shop. With my broken Malay, which I’ve been honing on and off, I asked for toilet first because it was urgent.
Without any further ado I was ushered to the toilet which, as I figured out, was their family and home toilet. This is what I call hospitality. I understand that it might have been different before the pandemic, with herds of tourists flocking to the island, but I don’t want to question that. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what God you pray to and what commandments you adhere to. True hospitality doesn’t judge nor discriminate.
Some might think it was a small gesture, but not me. For me this was grand. First of all, because it was really urgent. And secondly because I always ask myself – who does that nowadays? Who lets you in their house to do the thing, right? I mean you could argue it was attached to their shop anyway, but I didn’t question it at all. It made me love the island and its people instantly. And little did I know that this was just the first one of the amazing chain of small or bigger gestures I experienced all along. So no, this part of the reviews about people not being nice ain’t true.
The island is an incredible maze of tiny, narrow roads. It’s an awesome web of similarly looking lanes that seem to be endless. Honestly, I didn’t know where to go first. I felt so small and powerless because every time I emerged at one corner, three more would present themselves and would make me feel overwhelmed. ‘Where to now? Right of left’? I’d often be talking to myself, scratching my head and trying to figure out which lane would be best to explore. But it was impossible. I knew that I wouldn’t have the time to see it all. Plus I had a boat to catch. For some inexplicable reason I was still going with the original plan of catching the next boat, thinking I’d already seen enough.
What’s more, I was the only one moving on foot. And it frustrated me. All the others, locals and visitors alike, were elegantly swishing by on bicycles or electric motorbikes. Another thing I was totally amazed at. What an idea! You see, not only are they nice people, but also smart. Every time I saw someone pass by on one of those motorbikes, I’d think how cool it was to use that form of transport.
I wish I could say it’s purely for environmental reasons, but having seen what I have seen – that is how locals treat the sea and the environment overall – I guess that would be incredibly naive to assume. I’ll leave a deeper analysis of that for part 2 but for now I’ll just reveal that locals didn’t seem to be specifically environmentally aware nor concerned about the consequences of manmade pollution and therefore I must admit that this part of reviews would probably be true.
Peggy and Remember Me
At some point I just realised that I couldn’t walk around the whole island. Not in such a heat and not with a boat leaving in an hour. The streets could be also very confusing and I felt I’d had enough. Food and beer were needed! I had absolutely no idea where to go so I just walked back using the same street and it took me to Remember Me, a restaurant which apparently boasts more than just a catchy name.
Unbelievably friendly owner
The minute I sat down I was very warmly welcomed. The owner started chatting to me. Although it’s mainly Chinese living here, I tried a bit of Malay because it really helps break the barrier. I know that I’ll be repeating myself here, but learning at least a little bit always gives you an upper hand. Add a smile and open-mindedness and you are on your way towards great experiences. And that’s exactly what happened here to me with Peggy, the owner of Remember Me.
Getting around – do it again and properly
Once we covered the basics of our lives, and I finished gorging upon the freshest fried squid I’ve ever eaten in Asia – this island is all about fresh sea food folks – Peggy asked why I didn’t rent an electric motorbike. Well, like I said, I was definitely amazed by them but wasn’t quite sure if I should be giving it a shot. After all I experienced the worst accidents always on a bicycle. I am surprised I’m still around as a couple of them were particularly bad. Well, let bygones be bygones. A motorbike, albeit electric, felt as even a bigger danger. Especially, since all the streets were so narrow and sometimes lacked rails. It could be easy to end up in the not so attractive mud below the island.
I said I didn’t feel comfortable with it so Peggy suggested a bicycle. Not the electric one, but a regular. Perhaps it were the two beers that made feel Peggy’s enthusiasm or the fact that I liked riding a bicycle after all that made me happily agree. Peggy took me to her friend’s shop where I got a bicycle for a discounted price – normal price is around 10MYR – and part 2 of exploring the island was on! Obviously by this time I had already ditched the idea of leaving early (thank god) and decided to take the last boat. Well, and Holy Mishmash!
Peggy knew what she was talking about! Riding through the tiny lanes and discovering the quirky corners from a saddle made a huge difference. Long story short I was hooked. And friends, this is definitely one of the greatest attractions of this island, because no matter how many times you do that, it always brings something new. New situations, new scenes, new people. I couldn’t get enough of it and that’s one of the main reasons I travelled to Pulau Ketam soon after this trip.
Incredibly attractive lifestyle
Chinese are known for being extremely skilled merchants and businessmen. And yet, they seem to make money somehow effortlessly. The aura of the island has this weird peaceful feel to it. It seems that locals are busy without showing any signs of being busy. Perhaps it could also be that as fishermen many of them work so early in the morning that obviously the average person doesn’t notice that.
Whatever it is however that gives the island this magic veil of nonchalant existence, it definitely works. All the time while cycling around and devouring the interesting scenes of day-to-day life it struck me that we Westerners somehow got it wrong after all. And for the life of me I couldn’t shake this impression off. As if life on Pulau Ketam was the right way and we were chasing the wrong one. The contrast was so stark that it made me contemplate about this really hard.
I’m still surprised how I managed to take videos handheld while riding on the bicycle and after downing two beers. It must have been some first-timer’s luck because I could not replicate that on my second visit with already an electric bike and completely sober. But I’ll save this for another post to this one. Oh yes, friends, as the title suggests, my Pulau Ketam’s story is not over yet.
Remember me – It’s me again
As soon as I got back from the beautifully entertaining ride I needed another beer and one more portion of fresh fried squid. That’s the only negative remark I’d have towards this gem of a restaurant, you may feel like you haven’t really eaten. But perfection doesn’t exist and it’s always good to pay Remember Me a visit. After all I was so impressed by it all, and pleased with Peggy and her incredible hospitality that I wouldn’t even dare try another place. I also remember I was texting my mum constantly, trying to transfer the beauty of the place in my messages and my mum ended up ecstatic too. Enjoyment is contagious. Pulau Ketam is contagious.
Time go home
And just when I boarded the last boat of the day and thought all the fun was over, mentally replaying the abundance of vivid memories I had collected since the morning, the travel spirit stepped in once again and had me meet two fellow island visitors who were returning from a day trip too. Since my camera is always a great ice breaker we started talking, took photos of each other and finished the day beautifully in Royal Selangor Yacht Club. It is one of the oldest yacht clubs in Malaysia and it turned out to be a great spot for some sundowners. It’s rare to experience sunrise in Malaysia since its often overcast or raining late in the afternoon. So one appreciates it even more.
Alright, guys. This post has covered the basics and given you an idea of what this place is about. The island doesn’t offer a host of super fun attractions because it simply is an attraction itself. At least to me. However, there are definitely things that can be explored in the vicinity, so I will bring that to you in one of the future posts. For now we have only scratched the surface. “Pulau Ketam, see you soon!”