Whether you love the daily hustle or not, living in Singapore can get quite manic. However, we still count ourselves lucky with the plethora of tropical paradises to run away to (even just for awhile) within a three-hour radius of Singapore.
The isles of Thailand and Indonesia have been perennial favourites – which is why we have a section devoted to Bali – so this time, we headed to an island off the West coast of Malaysia instead. With the exchange rate being so much in our favour and cheap flights on low cost carriers, it’s a wonder we didn’t see more Singaporeans at Pangkor Laut Resort (PLR).
After a 15-minute speed boat ride from mainland to the island, the long, liminal walk from the jetty to the lobby of the resort gently nudges your brain into thinking that you’re really disconnecting from the world – which is always a good thing, we reckon. Yet, for those who simply can’t get away from it all, PLR issues a portable router per room upon checking in so you can keep up with the emails and what’s buzzing on social media.
The benefits of having only one resort on the island are obvious. Even though the island is home to seven restaurants, 140 villas and suites, as well as 8 estates, there was never a time during my stay that I felt overwhelmed by the number of guests – be it at breakfast, by the pool, or at the beach.
After a whole morning of travelling, the first thing on the agenda was to hit our Sea Villa for a good, long shower. Perched elegantly on stilts over the sea, the 19 Sea Villas are linked to each other and the island by a wooden boardwalk.
While they don’t look particularly large or impressive from the outside, each villa is roomier than we expected at 55 square metres (592 square feet). All that space gives you a comfortable bedroom, a huge bathroom complete with oversized tub and a ceiling mounted rain shower, as well as a decent sized balcony equipped with sun loungers overlooking the sea.
Given that you’re pretty much out in the wilderness, it’s impossible to keep insects (especially those terrible mozzies) out. Thus the room is also equipped with an electric mosquito trap.
Teeming with wildlife – bats, hornbills, and lizards are the norm –, we have a couple of favourite spots at PLR. Across the island from the jetty, Emerald Bay is a pretty, sandy cove where you can suntan, swim, and kayak to your heart’s content. The main infinity pool (there’s another at the Spa Village), however, takes the top spot when it comes to chilling out with an ice cool drink in hand.
It rained a couple of times during our stay; and if you’d like to be outside your villa during these short showers, the library next to the reception makes a cozy space to spend a hour curled up with a book.
Guests on a private island are almost 100% at the resort’s mercy since they are effectively ‘marooned’ on the island, so we applaud PLR’s effort in trying to maintain seven restaurants. Held at Feast Village, the daily breakfast spread covers the multi-cultural dining gamut from the basic American breakfast to Indian prata, and dim sum. The restaurant only reopens for dinner so we sought lunch by the water elsewhere.
By the main infinity pool is Royal Bay Beach Club, which dishes out a selection of local and international dishes, while Chapman’s Bar services the beach bums at Emerald Bay with salads and carby mains. Though the menu is more varied at the former, the execution of the menu seems to be better at Chapman’s Bar.
You won’t have problems getting a seat at breakfast and lunch but it gets really busy at dinner time so do make your reservations. Uncle Lim’s Kitchen was bustling when we walked in at 7pm. Specialising in Peranakan and Hockchew (Hokkien-Teochew) home-style cooking we recommend the Calamansi Chicken, which is cooked like sweet sour pork and topped with sesame seeds for a hint of nuttiness, and the fresh Aromatic Style Sea Bass steamed on banana leaf with lemongrass and spice paste.
We wished that experience could have been followed up by a better one at Fisherman’s Cove, which is billed a fine dining establishment (dress code applies and no kids under the age of 16 allowed). While they made a good effort with the flavoured butters, the rest of the meal was disappointing, be it execution or plating. The clams in the laksa soup were flavourless, my companion’s vegetarian pasta was too salty, my lobster thermidor arrived overdone, and the vanilla ice cream was of an inferior quality. However, all this time, the service remained unfailingly polite in response to my litany.
Besides the sun, sand, and sea, the folks at PLR also offer other activities such as the Sunset Cruise. Priced at RM240 per person, the boat goes out to sea and circles the island over a leisurely 45 minutes while you snack on canapés and drink all the white wine/red wine/beer/soft drinks you can drink. For the more active, there’s also (free) jungle trekking with the island’s nature guide for a look at their virgin rainforest and yoga and tai chi at the Spa Villa.
Other excursions like deep sea fishing, island hopping and snorkeling, as well as watersports like wakeboarding are also available for a fee.
The Spa Village
PLR’s Spa Village is like a retreat within a retreat. With a spa programme that extols the healing methods of the region’s dominant cultures, the space hosts specially built structures that facilitate their wide range of treatments (that leaves you quite spoilt for choice).
I went with one of their signature body treatments, the Campur-Campur (105 minutes, RM645). The term means a blending of varieties in Malay, and the treatment combines the techniques of Malay and Thai massage. After the pulling and kneading (it’s not so intense if you ask for gentle pressure), the therapist will press traditional steam pouches filled with steamed herbs – we smell lemongrass and pandan – along the body for more relief and to help blood circulation.
The treatment itself was well worth the price, but there’s a value-add in the form of the Bath House Ritual. In the twenty or so minutes before the actual treatment, the therapist will start you off with a foot bath, followed by a Chinese-style foot pounding and a few minutes under a cold waterfall that increases blood circulation. Then, the Japanese-style bathhouse and hot spring beckons. After getting your back scrubbed, you’re way more relaxed than when you arrived and totally ready for whichever treatment you ordered up.
Pangkor Laut Resort is great for romantic getaways (a proposal happened when we were there) and for families with older children. There’s always room for improvement but I’ll come back for that serenity, gorgeous social and private spaces, and the excellent hospitality.
From Singapore, fly via Firefly, Tigerair, or Malindo Air to Ipoh’s Sultan Azlan Shah Airport. The journey continues with a private car (RM 400, 90 minutes, one way) or taxi transfer to Pangkor Laut Resort’s office at Marina Island Pangkor, followed by a speedboat transfer to Pangkor Laut Resort.
The same follows from Kuala Lumpur, via connection to Ipoh. Alternatively, Pangkor Laut also offers private car transfers from KL to Marina Island Pangkor, starting from RM800 one way (takes about 3 hours).
Top Image: Emerald Bay