The small island in the Straits of Melaka is less than 200 kilometers northwest of Kuala Lumpur. Pulau Pangkor remains under the radar, and visitors feel like they have the place to themselves. And it’s close just for a side trip from the capital.
We have a list of things for you to do in Pulau Pangkor, including the amazing beaches, where to go snorkeling, and how to feed hornbills.
Ruins of a 17th-century Dutch colonial fort
The ruins of the Dutch Fort stand as a testament to Perak’s rich colonial heritage. The fort is among the oldest in Malaysia, dating to 1670. Back then, the Dutch mined tin in Perak. They stored their supplies in the fort. Rooftop cannons kept the invaders away. Those who dared to approach had a hail of bullets fired through the slit-like windows.
Today, the fortress almost looks like it was made using Lego. Worn bricks crumble to ruin. Dutch Fort sits on the southeastern coastline of Pulau Pangkor. Information boards explain the fort’s story and provide insight into 183 years of Dutch colonial influence in Malaysia.
Feed the Hornbills at Sunset View Chalet
Hornbills are Malaysia’s quirkiest species. The stout-legged creatures have a double-decker beak and look more like an animation than a bird. Hundreds of these giant creatures live in Pulau Pangkor’s jungle. Dozens fly down to Sunset View Chalet Pulau Pangkor every single evening at about 6:30 pm.
The owners of the guesthouse feed the hornbills chunks of bananas in the same way for years. Head down around 6:00 pm. Countless Oriental Pied Hornbills and Lesser Hornbills sit in anticipation on the electricity wires. Watch as the birds swoop down and perform acrobatics to get their dinner.
Spend the afternoon on an empty beach
Pulau Pangkor has dozens of kilometers of coastline and a handful of deserted beaches. Along the west coast, the pristine stretches of golden sand are only broken by the occasional hotel and guesthouse. Sunbathers can lie on the sand, watching the gentle waves of the emerald sea roll in.
Head to Pasir Bogak Beach on the southern coast. Follow the road through the hills to Teluk Ketapang (Turtle Bay) and Teluk Nipah (Nipah Bay) on the west. Pulau Pangkor is conservative. Leave the speedos and bikinis in the hotel.
Colorful communities in Chinatown
Neat terraced houses line both sides of the red blocked-paved streets in Pulau Pangkor’s Chinatown. Red lanterns hang from the roofs of the two-storied homes. The atmosphere feels utterly different from the rest of Malay-dominated Pangkor. Wander through immaculate block pathed streets. Photograph the lively colors and traditional decorations.
Head to the family-owned restaurants offering Chinese-style street food. Sit and eat on plastic tables in their backyard. Chinatown shows a different side of Pangkor. Either walk from Pangkor Town or stop by while exploring the whole island.
Scale Pangkor Hill: The Island’s highest point
Hilly terrain and thick forests cover most of Pulau Pangkor’s interior. A path near Pasir Bogak leads to the summit of Pangkor Hill, the island’s highest point. The peak rises slightly more elevated than 350 meters.
Marked trails lead through the lush jungle vegetation to the background sound of cicadas and buzzing insects. Howling macaques swing above as giant hornbills glide overhead. Expect a moderate level of difficulty. Most hikers take about one hour to reach the top. Bring water. Reward yourself with a picnic overlooking sweeping views of Pulau Pangkor.
Discover a thriving marine world on a snorkeling trip
Pulau Pangkor has some of Malaysia’s calmest and most transparent waters. Nearby, Sumatera takes the full force of the Indian Ocean. The waves reduce to a gentle roll when they reach Pangkor. This allows coral reefs to flourish, which act as a breeding ground for countless species of tropical fish.
Green and pink parrotfish swim above the colorful and geometric coral. Rent snorkeling equipment in Nipah Bay. Head out solo into the gentle waters along the western and northern shores. Or splurge on a tour and discover secret sites.
Dive in Pulau Sembilan: Pangkor’s secret diving oasis
Pulau Sembilan, translating to Nine Islands, is mini-archipelago south of Pulau Pangkor. The uninhabited islands host some of Malaysia’s best diving and snorkeling areas. Boat trips start in Nipah Bay before bouncing over gentle waves for 20 kilometers. Snorkelers will encounter a series of hard corals and barracuda.
Divers head to White Rock, where hundreds of parrotfish swarm in the depths. Armies of micro-organisms sometimes transform the sea into a glowing mass of color. But you need to be here at the right time to witness this rare natural event. Pulau Sembilan isn’t open all year. Diving typically takes place between November and March.
Ride a boat to Pangkor’s most elegant restaurant
Pulau Pangkor gets only a handful of tourists. Pangkor Laut Island, it’s baby sister, gets even fewer. Rather than guesthouses and a beach lifestyle, Pangkor Laut has a more elegant atmosphere. Fisherman’s Cove is the go-to place. The restaurant/bar has coastal views like those in the Maldives.
Expect fresh seafood, sumptuous desserts, and a romantic ambiance. Take a speedboat from Nipah Bay. But leave the sandals and flip-flops. Fisherman’s Cove enforces a strict smart-casual dress code.
Explore the island from a kayak
Nipah Bay on the western shoreline is a water sports haven. Locals rent everything from jet skis to canoes to kayaks. The most memorable way to see Pangkor’s striking beauty is from the sea in a kayak. Start by exploring the shallow waters in Nipah Bay.
Kayak to Coral Beach through the gentle waters. Then head further north towards the steeper hills and discover hidden coves. Several companies rent kayaks. Ask around and find the best offer before accepting. Rent snorkeling equipment and bring it with you. Northern Pangkor hosts the island’s most active marine life.
Diversity, scenery and culture on a road trip
A road leads around Pulau Pangkor past beaches, mountains, and sleepy villages. Start at your guesthouse and choose a direction: left or right. Follow the road, and you’ll loop back to your starting point. This gives you the chance to appreciate the scenery, environment, and habitats.
Some travelers rent a motorbike and ride around the island. Others take the challenge of cycling or walking. Get ready for steep hills. Watch out for speeding taxis taking up both sides of the road.