Kuala Lumpur may be one of the more laid back large cities in Asia, but it’s still a long way from being a stress-free place. When the noise and the sheer crush of people get too much, the obvious option is to head to the countryside. But even there, Malaysia’s love affair with motor vehicles makes true peace and quiet hard to find.
So, when I first heard about an island within easy striking range of KL that had no cars or motorbikes, I was intrigued to say the least. Pulau Ketam, literally Crab Island, was first settled by Chinese fishermen in the 1880s. Because the island is mainly mangrove swamp, the early settlers lived in stilt houses, close to the sea. And even now, most of Ketam’s inhabitants — the vast majority of whom are ethnically Chinese — still live in the same way.
The island has two villages, the main one being Kampung Pulau Ketam, which had as many as 20,000 inhabitants in the 1950s, although only about a third as many people live there now. A short distance up the coast is a far smaller village, Kampung Sungai Lima. The only way to get between the two settlements is by boat, as the island has no proper roads
Kampung Pulau Ketam can be slightly disappointing at first glance, particularly if the tide is out. This is a functional place after all, not a Venice of the East. But move beyond the cluster of seafood restaurants near the jetty — as far as most Malaysian daytrippers get — and the village becomes genuinely charming. A short walk or bicycle ride (5 ringgit a day) is all that is necessary to escape the noise and stress of modern urban living.
Kampung Pulau Ketam has a handful of affordable accommodation options, should you want to stay the night. Most of them are concentrated near the jetty. Apart from during public holidays and major Chinese festivals, when the island gets uncomfortably busy anyway, booking ahead is not really necessary.
One of Pulau Ketam’s selling points is how easy it is to get to by public transport. Regular KTM Komuter trains link KL Sentral (4.30 ringgit) and Kuala Lumpur station (4.40 ringgit) with Port Klang. From Port Klang station it’s a five-minute walk to the jetty, where air-con ferries (7 ringgit) leave roughly every hour during the week, and every 45 minutes on weekends. For a full timetable, and plenty of other useful information, follow this link.
The modern ferry takes about half an hour to reach the island, but it seems a lot longer, given the claustrophobic conditions, and the blaring sound of the obligatory martial arts movie. A far more pleasant alternative is the old-style ferry service (7 ringgit), which may take twice as long, but offers great views along the way.
Tickets for the two ferries are not interchangeable. The last ferry back leaves at 17:45 on week days, and 18:00 at weekends, so make sure you get to the jetty in plenty of time — although I can think of plenty worse places to be stranded for the night than Pulau Ketam.
By Pat Fama.
Last updated on 10th January, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.