Malaysia: Day Trip to Pulau Besar

IMG_6062Pulau Besar is a large island (name literally translated: “Large Island”) about 30 minutes from Melaka by medium-sized boat. There’s a split boulder and cave on the site that are considered holy by the Indian Muslim community, so it’s a pilgrimage site as well as being a spot with swimmable beaches and a bit more wildlife than you’d see in Melaka.

We got up around 10 to catch the noon water taxi, which showed up at about 12:15. That’s early by Malaysian standards, and the boat was comfortable and well-maintained. Other folks on the boat were exclusively Indian, dressed in pretty formal traditional outfits. One group of at least 20 appeared to be a family carrying picnic supplies ranging from a hot dish wrapped in a scarf to a sleeve of paper cups proudly carried by a toddler.

The boat moored at a jetty and we were instantly offered rides in minivans that had their bench seats ripped out and replaced by wooden benches lining the sides for maximum capacity. Since we could see the beach less than 200 yards away, we opted to hoof it.

Where the jetty hit the land, we came to a t-intersection offering near-identical paths working clockwise and counterclockwise around the island. As is my custom in such situations, I turned left.

Luckily, the rest of the family came with me.

The first quarter mile or so was a nice stroll on a thin spit of sand between the surf and a line of trees. I doffed my shoes and Gabe played in the sand as we meandered clockwise around the island. Bev was the first to notice that the park benches set just beyond the trees were, in fact, the repurposed bench seats from the vans.


A bit later, a family asked to take their picture with Gabriel. That happens a lot over here, as does random touching of my youngest son. In general, travel in Asia with a very pale toddler who waves hello to everybody makes for a better trip. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.

Things changed as we took the first corner (my idea was to find a beach not so close to the boat traffic so we could enjoy a less polluted swim). The beach narrowed and we found a solid line of tents between us and the main road about 10 yards ahead. We shifted to the road and walked a mile or so between tents, open-air food stores, shops selling walking sticks and various holy charms, and a consistent stream of workers at and visitors to the island.

People offered to trade us objects for money, but were universally soft touches about it. This was nothing like China, or how I’ve been told Egypt and India are. People gave me a quick hello, but didn’t push.

As we passed out of the village, we walked through what can only be described as the slum of the little community. Fancy REI-style tents passed to army surplus, then to lean-tos made from blue tarp and rope. Stalls of sale goods gave way to patches where chickens and goats roamed. The people we passed stopped being tourists, and turned into people on their way to work.

When we left the slum, we came to a steep path with a huge white sign with red lettering. We don’t read Bahasa Malay yet, but the fact that one sentence ended with three exclamation points and the other ended with two led us to the hypothesis that we were looking at a safety warning. We turned around to go back, but found a foot path branching off along the coastline we had missed before.

That path took us through a patch of jungle where we chatted briefly with a 3-foot monitor lizard, and then through an abandoned golf course. We kept up my “walk till you find it” policy until we found it.IMG_6086

“It” being a spit of sand surrounded by mangroves for 180 degrees and sitting in a sheltered cove with plenty shade and shallow water. Swimming, sand castling, shell seeking, snacking and general relaxing in a tropical paradise were the order of the afternoon.

Do you have those moments where your entire soul just sighs and relaxes because life is awesome? Lying on my back, floating under blue skies in tropical waters, hearing my boys play in the sand, watching the leaves of the trees do that fireworks thing with their leaves in response to the breeze…it’s moments like that what make life worth all the hassle. Ahhhh.


When it was time to go home, we performed a variety of complicated dances involved in going from “wet on a beach” to “in dry clothes not entirely covered with sand.”  DJ and Bev succeeded. I succeeded. Gabe…abstained. And since I was carrying Gabe, I might as well have failed.

Small price to pay.

On the way back, we snacked from food stalls. The deep-fried bananas were a huge hit I’ll be trying to learn how to make. Watermelon slices covered with spicy salt were not so popular. Seemed to defeat the purpose of watermelon.

While sitting to eat our bananas, we noticed the public restrooms — gravity fed plumbing from plastic rain cisterns at the top. The entry included a little pool to keep the sand situation from getting out of control.


You’ll notice the sign gives three options. Three. And the third is significantly more expensive than the other two. The scholar in me knows I could use Google to just look up what the third option means. The humorist in me just knows the truth can’t be as entertaining as the options I’ve imagined.

Passing back through the village, Gabriel tapped me from his perch on my shoulders and said “Daddy! Go back! I see something I want to try!”

I approve of that message, so we turned around to discover he was interested in some falafel patties, which we got with some deep-fried dough and a side of sweet chili sauce. Gabriel approved.


The walk back to the jetty, ride back to the mainland and drive home went about the way these days go: quick, to the point, that sense of satisfied fatigue creeping over you. Cool shower and hot dinner at home. All in all a great day.

And here’s the thing about that. This was a quick day trip from our house, a little local hideaway. Wherever you live, anywhere, these adventures exist. Sure Pulau Besar is a bit more exotic on account of the tropical location, but there’s plenty of cool field trips at home, too.

So I have to ask.

What are you doing next Saturday?

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