Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pangkor Laut Resort

It’s all about who you know. It’s true in America and it’s even more true in Asia. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my time here to have met some great people. One of my friends works for a company that, among other things, owns a few resort properties in the region. This worked out well for me because we were able to go to two very swanky resorts for a fraction of their regular rates. I thought it would be interesting to write the next two blog entries as sort of my reviews of the resorts along with my recollections. I want to write them, however, from the perspective of a full-paying guest. It’s easy to be forgiving when you’re getting 90-95% off rack rates. But if you’re paying the going rates, you tend to notice things a bit more.

First up... Pangkor Laut Resort

Probably the crown jewel of the YTL properties, Pangkor Laut is a 300-acre private island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, about midway between KL and Penang. It’s just south of the larger, publicly accessible Pangkor Island, itself a popular vacation spot for Malaysians. So we drove to the port town of Lumut, dropped our luggage at the Pangkor Laut Resort office and boarded our speedboat to the island. In retrospect, this was a major point of irritation – for guests paying exorbitant rates (indeed, the villa we stayed in has a regular rate of US$575), the resort still levies a RM70 per person (each way) charge for the boat ride to the island. You’d think it would be part of the package deal. But no. So we arrived at the island, and in all truth, it was very impressive. The water was clear and blue-green, the welcome was polished (a drink and a cool towel), and our luggage was whisked away to the villa while we checked in. The weather couldn’t have been much better. Pangkor Laut really is a beautiful island and the resort is integrated into the beach and rainforest setting very well.

The sea villa was pretty amazing, but I thought a bit too much of the space was given to the bathroom (it was enormous) at the expense of the bedroom/living space. It was really nice, though. There was a nice deck with sun loungers, a CD player, an iPod stereo dock, a writing desk, plenty of closet space, a mini-fridge, a huge spa tub that opened up on three sides to the sea, and a lot of privacy, which I guess is a big part of what people who come here are paying for.

We saw a fair few animals, but the most prolific were meter-long monitor lizards, huge fruit bats by the hundreds, and hornbills. I had never seen a hornbill in the wild before, so that was a bit of a treat for me. The bats would congregate en masse in a few coconut palms near the main swimming pool each day, sleeping fitfully as they hung upside down. With the last vestiges of daylight, the trees emptied and the bats set out on their nightly hunt. It was interesting, but I’m glad the bats weren’t near our villa… they were awfully noisy (and messy) during their daytime resting hours.

One of the repeated complaints I saw in travelers’ reviews of the resort was the extremely high cost of meals. Since you are effectively a captive diner, the island’s restaurants have no motivation to offer any low-priced alternatives. Most meals cost two to three times what they would cost in an expensive Western restaurant in KL. For example, a burger at TGI Friday’s or Chili’s in KL will run about RM25. At a beachside restaurant on Pangkor Laut, a burger is RM50 plus service charge and tax. A nice dinner for two people (one appetizer, two entrées, one midpriced bottle of wine, and a dessert) could easily run into the RM600-900 range. Happily, my connections to the staff got me passage on the staff boat to Pangkor Island (about a ten-minute crossing, if that), where we enjoyed a huge meal for four people, complete with beers and more dishes than we could finish, for under RM90.

The next day, a group of us went back to Pangkor to hit the markets for fresh food. One of the ladies, Annie, had decided to cook an authentic Filipino meal for us that night, so we got a whole chicken cut up, prawns from one of the many little seafood markets, and some great pork. Annie made a wonderful yellow Filipino curry with the chicken, which was my favorite. We also had a big pot of steamed rice, a bowlful of prawns cooked in a mild, tasty broth, and pork cooked rendang-style, a process that first cooks the meat in a liquid, then fries it in the rendered fats and solids once the liquid cooks off. It was all so delicious, and Annie even gave me a container of the wonderful yellow curry powder from the Philippines—and asked me to bring her back a jar of Peter Pan creamy peanut butter from America (which I did).

The resort had a couple of really nice spots... there was a library of sorts with lots of ceiling fans and open-air high ceilings. There were these bed-like places, kind of high off the ground, so you could slip off your shoes, climb the few stairs to the mattress and curl up with a book in the cool air. It was really nice. There was also a great pool right near our sea villas. This shot was taken from the lounge chairs near the pool, so you can see the "infinity edge" that separates the deep blue of the pool from the less-intense blue of the sea. We spent a fair amount of time here, sipping on drinks and feeling completely spoiled, which I guess is the whole point of a place such as Pangkor Laut.

Being a guest of the staff had other perks, too, like getting to know a lot of the behind-the-scenes things about making a unique resort like this work. One night, I sat with two of the managers—one from Australia and one from the US—and had coffee and listened to their tales of island living. The island generates its own power, but has fresh water piped over from the mainland (or at least the main island). They have a large tank on the far side of Pangkor Laut that holds enough water for three days for the resort at near-full occupancy in the event of a break in the main water pipe. Another kind of cool factoid is that they round up any snakes they come across and relocate them to an even smaller island in the straits between Pangkor and Pangkor Laut (seen here on the left side of the photo). In the interim, the snakes are housed in little plastic containers. This one holds a viper of some sort and a nonpoisonous tree snake. Like most people, I’m not a huge fan of snakes, but I thought this was a very admirable alternative to just killing them.

Honestly, the whole trip to Pangkor Laut, though short (3 full days and 2 nights), was really very memorable. I got a little sunburned, but not too bad, and it was all just such a terrific experience for me. I can’t say it would necessarily have been worth the full price, had we paid that, and the additional RM280 boat charge really rubbed me the wrong way, but there is a package for Malaysian residents that offers a two-night package, complete with boat transfers and meals (very important), for around RM800 per person total, and that’s a great deal. It’s not for a sea villa like we had, but it still gets you a very nice (and larger) hill villa or garden villa. I couldn’t honestly recommend Pangkor Laut at the full rack rate, but at the package deal price, it would be well worth it.

So I’m sure I left out some things, but I have to cap these entries at some length. This last shot is of my friends Annie and Ryan, just as Ryan and I were about to get on the boat back to the mainland. It was a great holiday and the beginning of a shamelessly enjoyable five-week period in my life. I took off most of the month of December and the first week of January, started off with a vacation to a private tropical island, followed by a trip back to Colorado for Christmas and New Year’s. Upon returning to Malaysia, once I recovered a bit from the journey, it was off to Cameron Highlands for a few days of tea, strawberries, and markedly cooler temperatures! To be continued...



wow, nice... i always wanted to go there... u have to bring me on ur next trip :P

barbmerchant said...

Looks like paradise to me!

Bro Yusri said...

nice picture taken ...

Bro Yusri said...

nce place i can't miss out

Malvina said...

When you have been to Pangkor Laut >? Which month?
Wanna see this beauty too !!! Amazing place !!!

Chad M. said...

If memory serves, it was during December of that year. Quite nice -- really had no complaints about the place. Prices for everything are quite high (I specifically recall RM50 for a burger), but that's to be expected on a private island, I guess!