Pangkor Island, Malaysia
Located on the Straits of Malacca on the western side of the Malay Peninsula, sleepy and very laid back Pangkor Island is a blast from the past, a trip back in time to the Penang or Phuket of 30 years ago. The island's west shore is strewn with fabulous beaches; the eastern shore supports several traditional kampung villages, where many of the homes and businesses are built on stilts over the water.
What We Love
Old Dutch Fort: Erected in 1670 when the Dutch East Indies Company was the primary European power in Southeast Asia, the partially rebuilt brick bastion has historical displays in both Malay and English, including an old Dutch cannon and a handicraft shop.
Boat Building Yard: Malay-style wooden fishing boats are constructed by hand, hammer, and saw at this boat-building facility on the north side of Sungai Pinang village. Typically, it takes four to five months to construct each vessel, and the workers are more than happy to show you how it's done.
Best Known For
Coral Bay: Bounded by boulders and coconut palms, this lovely west coast beach offers swimming and snorkeling, sea kayaks and Wave Runners, and beachfront eateries such as Nipah Deli, with its resident hornbill and delicious seafood steamboats.
Fu Lin Gong Temple: Dedicated to the Eight Immortals, this eclectic Taoist shrine rises up a wooded hillside western on the edge of Sungai Pinang. In addition to numerous Buddha images, the main temple displays rusty old weapons allegedly left on the island by Chinese pirates many centuries ago. The extensive grounds contain a miniature version of the Great Wall of China and several koi ponds.
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Who It's Best For
Memory Lane Trippers: If you roamed Southeast Asia before the advent of huge, fancy beach resorts and long for a return to those times, Pangkor is the island for you.
Seafood Connoisseurs: In addition to its many waterfront eateries, the island supports several seafood processing plants with guided tours and "outlet shops" selling a wide variety of dried or salted seafood snacks. Check out Hai Seng Hin in Sungai Pinang village, the best known fish factory and outlet store.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It's not pedestrian or bike friendly: Narrow, winding roads and crazy traffic means it's better to get around in one of the island's trademark pink taxis rather than trying to do it yourself.
Pollution is par for the course: As a busy fishing port, the waters off Pangkor Town and its east coast villages are less than pristine. Limit your swimming and other water activities to the much cleaner west coast.
Joe Yogerst is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Travel + Leisure.