One Island, One Resort
Our final destination in Malaysia was also undoubtedly our finest. Pangkor Laut Island is the home of Malaysia's top luxury resort hotel and this is where Dr G and I spent four unforgettable days.
Located on a small private island three miles off the West Coast of Malaysia along the Straits of Malacca, Pangkor Laut Resort is reached from the much larger Pangkor Island, where guests check in at the jetty before being whisked away by speedboat for a 15-minute ride.
Stepping off the launch onto the impressive pier brought back childhood memories of Fantasy Island, but unlike the 1980s TV show, sadly there was no Tattoo in sight, but rather an army of staff to welcome guests with ice-cold drinks and towels, take care of luggage and help guests with their every need. For those to whom Fantasy Island means nothing (or for those who want a trip down memory lane), watch the video below.
Where to Stay
Pangkor Laut Resort
The hotel was opened in 1985 and then extensively redeveloped and re-opened in 1993 as the first top-class luxury resort in Malaysia. It is currently owned by the YTL Group, which has hotels all over southeast Asia. Over the years, it has been awarded many accolades including the "Number One in the World 2003" by Condé Nast, as well as being voted the world's best spa resort by the readers of Travel & Leisure World in 2011. There is only one resort on the island, and no other hotels, restaurants or businesses. Of the island's 300 acres, only a small part has been developed to house the resort, leaving plenty of beaches and natural rainforest (which still makes up 80% of the island) to explore.
There are various grades of accommodation at the resort, including the Spa Villas where we stayed, next to the spa, built on stilts in the sea. Spacious, elegant and stylish, they offer great privacy, and are fully equipped with a king-size bed, a massive stone bath, air conditioning and a stunning veranda over the sea. These rooms are mainly used by couples, and no children are allowed in the Spa Villas and Spa Village.
|Welcome into my office....|
Pangkor Laut Estates
For those in need of greater privacy or a dread of paparazzi (and with deep enough pockets), there is the option of the Pangkor Laut Estates. There are nine estates, tucked away very discretely near a private beach, or in the hills, one of which is owned by Mr YTL himself and not available for hire.
Each estate has between 2 and 4 bedrooms, as well as its own infinity pool, dining room, living and sitting pavilions, and beautiful private walled gardens. Staying in one of these estates is not cheap, but most will hold 6 to 8 people, and each one comes with its own private car and chauffeur on permanent call, as well as a chef and two butlers to organise your every wish. Guests at the estates are free to join any of the restaurants in the resort, but equally can dine in the privacy of their own estate at times of their choosing, with a menu of their choosing.
Where to Eat
As mentioned earlier, there are no other restaurants on the island apart from the six belonging to the resort. They vary in cuisine and formality, including Chinese, Malay, Indian, French fine dining and Japanese. We were lucky enough to be able to sample all these restaurants, and our favourite was the Chinese one - Uncle Lim's Kitchen.
This was in my opinion the best restaurant on the island. Built on top of a rock surrounded by fig trees, it is named after the chef who has been with the resort since it first opened. It specialises in Nyonya and Hockchew Chinese-style home cooking. Booking is strongly recommended.
We started with Peranakan fish soup - fish fillets in a fragrant broth of lemongrass and pineapple (£7), followed by another Nyonya dish of assam prawns with stir-fried tamarind and sweet soy sauce (£25), and an oyster omelette (£12).
My favourite dishes however were the Drunken Chicken in Shaoxing wine (£17), which I enjoyed with the Kang Kong Belacan, a vegetable similar to the Thai Morning Glory, cooked with Belacan - an aromatic shrimp paste with chilli (£8). For dessert, we had banana fritters and avocado cream with citrus pearls (both at £5). These were both very good.
Being an open air restaurant (as are all others on the island), there were quite a lot of mosquitoes, so bring a good repellent.
This is the resort's fine dining restaurant option situated in the Spa Village. It offers western-style grilled meats, seafood and Italian and French cuisines. With an open kitchen and spectacular sea view, it is a good venue for an elegant dinner with prices to match. A more formal dress code is in place for both men and women and advanced bookings are required.
Of the dishes we had, highlights were the Maguro Sashimi (£10) - sashimi tuna with a herbal jelly and ponzu dressing, and the grain-fed beef served with foie gras butter, abalone mushroom and truffle soy reduction (£38). The Ocean Trout Confit (£32) was succulent and very tender due to the prolonged confit in oil, and was served with shiitake mushrooms, asparagus and sea urchin sauce.
As is typical of South-East Asian restaurants, the wine list was limited and pricey. Houses wines started at £24 and prices quickly escalated to well above £40 for most other wines.
This small restaurant overlooks the infinity pool within the Spa Village, and is open for lunch, serving mainly Japanese food. We had a well-made Japanese lunch there on our first day, including Chilled Somen - a very thin Japanese noodle in a light dashi broth, with fresh salmon roe, diced seared tuna and dried seaweed (£13) - which was very light and refreshing.
We also enjoyed Robatayaki ika or grilled squid (£5), a refreshing salad of warm scallops, shiitake mushrooms and soy dressing (£11), and a platter of tempura of soft shell crab (£7), as well as a selection of sushi.
This is named after a famous British Colonel who, after more than three years evading Japanese soldiers in the jungles of mainland Malaya, sought refuge at Emerald Bay before escaping to a British submarine just outside the bay in 1945. It serves light lunches and drinks to people on the beach during the day, and at night serves candle-lit dinners on the beach.
The Private Dining experience is also offered on Emerald Bay. This is a special dining experience for those honeymooning or looking for a romantic dinner.
Dr G and I (whom I assure you fall under neither of these categories) were lucky to have one of our dinners there - with only two tables located on the entire Emerald Bay, positioned well apart from one another, dinner was served by a private butler under the stars, accompanied by candlelight and the sound of breaking waves. Some of the highlights of the 5-course Western menu included grilled lobster and rib-eye steak served with vegetables.
This is where breakfast is taken, and also has a patisserie, cafe and wine cellar. It is also open for dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed breakfast at Feast Village, this was for me the main meal of the day - the sheer variety of dishes and styles makes for a very long breakfast (if like me you want to try a bit of everything).
The teppanyaki noodles with a fried egg on top were so good, as were the selection of dim sum, the chicken congee, or the Malay options like Nasi Lemak and the sweet tropical fruit on offer. The breakfast buffet at Feast Village is every foodie's paradise, do allow for at least an hour or two for your breakfast at the resort!
The Straits Restaurant
Next to Feast Village, this restaurant is set against the rocks by the beach, and is lined with dining booths which overlook the sea, a really stunning setting. The signature dish here is their "Nasi Hidang", a selection of 5 different dishes with accompanying rice similar to an Indian thali. Priced at a reasonable £18 for the set, the nasi hidang option can be served either spicy, non-spicy and vegetarian.
We went for the spicy option which included beef, chicken, fish, seafood and vegetable. It was delicious and well flavoured and I enjoyed the opportunity to have different textures and flavours without having to order a huge number of dishes.
What to Do
There are dozens of different activities offered at the resort. We took part in a few of these which kept us rather busy during our stay. I reckon that what we managed to cram in over those four nights, could easily be spread over a week or two to allow for some relaxation time by the pool or beach.
The resort has a resident naturist, who conducts a 50 minute gentle jungle trek daily through the northern perimeter of the island. Having worked as a forester and botanist with the Malaysian government for many years, he was extremely knowledgeable and observant, pointing out plants and wildlife which would otherwise never have noticed.
Although only a small forest, it has hardly been touched by human hand and is full of amazingly ancient tropical hardwood trees, as well as exotic birds and monkeys. The walk ends at Emerald Bay with an iced drink, from where it is possible either to take a shuttle back to the main hotel, or remain on the beach for the day - we took the latter option followed by a picnic on the beach which can be pre-booked and arranged by the hotel.
Pangkor Island Excursion
The resort can arrange a guided day trip to the nearby island of Pangkor by speedboat. We arrived at Pangkor Jetty, and were then conducted on a short tour through the island, including the Dutch fort (a remnant of the island's Dutch colonial history) and the Fu Lin Kung temple. This short tour takes 3 hours.
Our guide was knowledgeable, friendly and had good English. Having quizzed him on just about everything that was possibly edible in Pangkor Island, he kindly took us to some Malaysian food retailers, local fishermen selling their daily catch, and a home-factory of Pangkor's best known noodles (who incidentally supply Pangkor Laut Resort).
Chef's Kitchen Experience
The Chef's Kitchen Experience was in my opinion the most interesting activity I took part in while at the resort. This started at 8.30am with breakfast with the chef and a tour of the kitchen at Feast Village. We were then taken to the resort's fish farm by speedboat, where we "caught" a seabass for our lunch at the hotel.
Back on dry land, Ramlah (our Malay chef) taught us to cook some fantastic local dishes including Ikan Bakar (grilled seabass wrapped in banana leaf). The fish was filleted, then marinated with blitzed onion, shallot, garlic, red and green chillies, shrimp paste, turmeric powder, salt and sugar. After wrapping in banana leaf, it was baked for 20 minutes.
We also learned how to make Chicken Rendang and Soto Ayam (Chicken Soup) as well as a fish curry which was totally divine. I can certainly say that chef Ramlah's cooking on that day was the best Malaysian food I experienced on that trip, I remember those dishes very well - they were beautifully seasoned, sweet but salty, sour, creamy but also refreshing. If you get to try the Chef's Kitchen Experience at Pangkor Laut Resort, do ask for Chef Ramlah as your instructor, you will not be disappointed.
Having prepared these dishes, the experience then includes an hour's massage, before returning to eat the cooked food. A wonderful way to spend a day of cooking at Pangkor Laut.
|Fruits of our hard labour...|
Sunset Cruise on Teakwood Oriental
The resort has a teakwood oriental junk, which sets off at 6.30pm for a sunset cruise. It includes wine, beer and snacks, and a gentle cruise round the entire island. This was a magical experience with the most breathtaking views of the island at sunset.
I've been to a few hotel spas in my time, but the one at Pangkor Laut was quite something. Covering about an acre of land, it has a very peaceful quality, being mostly in the open air, surrounded by running water and with the sound of the sea audible throughout.
The Spa Village includes a Japanese onsen-type experience, herbal steam inhalation and of course fine Malay and Balinese massages among others. I had the Bukit Gantang Warrior Treatment (£172) for 3 hours, and also another full-body massage on another occasion (part of the Chef's Kitchen Experience), they were both fantastic experiences by well trained, highly experienced masseuses.
The Spa at Pangkor Laut Resort was opened by Luciano Pavarotti, who by all accounts was a very regular visitor, having his own permanent suite at the resort.
Other Excursions and Classes
There are several other excursions offered by the resort which we did not try, including the sea sports centre, which offers snorkelling, kayaking, water-skiing and banana-boating. There are also complimentary classes in Yoga and Tai Chi Quan each morning.
Direct flights from London to Kuala Lumpur are available with British Airways and Malaysian Airlines. Middle Eastern airlines provide indirect flights at lower cost, with a 60-120 minute stopover. For example Etihad (changing at Abu Dhabi), or Qatar Airlines (changing at Doha).
Pangkor Laut can be reached from Kuala Lumpur by taking an express bus from KL's Puduraya Terminal to the nearby town of Lumut (takes 5 hours). From there, you can take a taxi to the Pangkor Laut Resort jetty. We came by car from Cameron Highlands, which took 4 hours.
Pangkor Laut Resort
Marina Island Pangkor
KM1, Teluk Muruh
32200 Lumut, Perak
Pangkor Laut Resort's rates start from around £156 per night for the Garden Villas, to £365 per night for the Spa Villas, including breakfast. All the restaurants are owned by the resort, and they are not cheap. It is worth considering a package which includes meals, and these vary according to the season, but in early 2013, a 5 day stay including breakfast, dinner and one picnic lunch ("Extended Escapade") costs from £233 per day per couple for the Garden Villas, to £435 per day for the Spa Villas via the hotels website. It is also possible, and may be less expensive, to book the resort via travel agents including Kuoni, which is currently offering full board for 7 nights in the Spa Villas from £2038 per person in summer 2013, including return flights from London.
Pangkor Laut Estates can be reserved for 3, 5 or 7 nights, and range in price from US$14,000 to US$24,500 for 7 nights.