Island retreats are like rich ice cream… lovely until you become lactose intolerant. One place has all the creamy pleasure and none of the hype.
11 February 2010
Before I became a journalist and before I’d done much globetrotting, reading travel features in magazines was a vicarious treat, filling me with a mixture of awe and envy.
But there are only so many ‘sumptuous dining experiences’ and ‘blissful spa treatments’ you can take. In hindsight, I’m sure I never believed the superlatives in these travel accounts but my cynicism was kept in check by the lack of proof to the contrary. Maybe it would be a sumptuous, blissful experience. Who could know?
Well, after a decade or two of travelling and writing – not always together – I think I‘ve got a better idea. What I’ve learnt is that simple is very often the best. And if the hotel or restaurant has more grand ambitions, it still needs to apply its brand of luxury with simplicity and honesty. People see through hype very quickly nowadays.
That’s why it is such a treat to come across a place like Pangkor Island Beach Resort which has luxurious touches – tropical Malaysian location, dining by the pool, water sports, ocean views…- but seems to have dropped most of the usual pretensions. And a good thing, too.
Sure, there is no shortage of formal high-end guest handling ‘yes sirs and no sirs’ by staff, but there are many unscripted gestures like giving my small boys hand-collected shells or taking us to visit the pet tortoises or participating in the nightly hornbill feeding (something between a magpie and toucan).
Cheeky monkey treatment
And even when guests start to believe the resort hype – getting their pina coladas and sculpted tropical fruit delivered to the beach – the resident monkeys soon bring it all down to earth, as they troop in en masse to scoop up leftovers.
Signs in the room warn guests to be vigilant around these hairy little thieves. At one point, I was enjoying a coffee in my room, with the terrace door slightly ajar, when a little grey hand came through the crack, followed by a curious nose honing in on the Marie biscuit on my saucer.
Some loud clapping sent the would-be cookie thief packing. Guests find the monkey business funny, but these native macaques lead hotel staff a merry chase from rooftop to poolside. And I suspect they could be partially to blame for the slightly dank smell in my room, as unattended airing would only be inviting trouble.
Not brand new, but who cares?
Pangkor Island Beach Resort may not be spanking new, but the well-worn look suits many people thus transforming a potentially haughty resort into a cosy island getaway for the family.
And the rack rates in the various room options reflect this reality. The very up-market and seemingly newer villas, for example, are priced appropriately for the exclusive level of luxury they provide, nestled in their own cove by the beach and handsome Aryani spa centre. Other wings, like the Ocean View section where I stayed, offer a range of comfort options with prices to match.
The rooms mostly have all the facilities you could ask for and a few more to boot, including a rather James Bond-like electronic safe for securing valuables, and in my room a surprisingly spacious bathroom complete with bath and separate shower, and a decent terrace overlooking the Straits of Malacca.
While many island resort-goers may yearn for a touch of celebrity lifestyle, in these difficult economic times, it is perhaps the simple things done well that makes all the difference. Give me a cone of great home-made vanilla ice cream over a tarted-up chocolate pastry any day.
The verdict: for frozen European travellers, Pangkor Island Beach Resort is an affordable entrée to champagne life on a well-aged-wine salary – of course the generous exchange rate helps.
Notes from your diarist:
Some services and info:
-Family friendly, with good toddlers’ pool
-Sports and activities: short golf course, spa and tennis, water sports, forest trek and more
–A la carte restaurant and an all-in buffet dining area
-Pandy Panda children’s centre
-Free WiFi in the main public areas
-Medical staff on location
-Some wheelchair ramps, but consult the hotel’s access policy
Hard to pin down. I had everything from tropical downpours to beautiful sunny pool weather. The consensus is Pangkor Island on the west coast of Malaysia is a good winter escape Christmas-New Year while the east coast is experiencing monsoon-like weather.
You can fly to Malaysia on major national airlines and a few low-cost alternatives. Malaysia Airlines is reasonably priced and if you’re continuing on somewhere else (say Europe to Australia or New Zealand), then the Malaysia trip becomes a free stopover and a good break.
To get to Pangkor Island, you can fly cheaply with Berjaya Airlines from the domestic airport which takes little more than half an hour, or get a taxi (under 500 ringgit) which takes 3-4 hours from the capital Kuala Lumpur or the international airport to the town of Lumut and then ferry over to Pangkor Island Beach Resort (19 ringgit return six departures a day).
Article published with author’s permission. ©Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.