When you are traveling northward from Singapore there is a high chance that sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a hot and noisy town of Southern Malaysia, Malacca. After a few hours of sightseeing (not extremely interesting in fact) you’ll understand that you are covered with dust and start wondering if there is a clean beach nearby. That’s the moment when a quick Google search will lead you to Pulau Besar.
Pulau Besar is a tiny island 15 km away from Malacca. Pictures and out-of-dated reviews in travel books and some websites claim it is a paradise with beautiful beaches, a nice hotel and virgin rainforest.
But as soon as you reach the island you start to be suspicious: ruined buildings here and there, stinking swimming pools with green water and trash everywhere are far from what you’ve expected. So it’s high time to face the truth: nowadays Pulau Besar is an abandoned island with no one allowed to stay overnight, a couple of tents for some locals and empty streets of former 5-star hotel.
The story of Pulau Besar might seem unbelievable for a person who grew up in Europe.
In the 90’s the Malaysian government initiated construction of a luxury hotel and a golf course. It was designed by a Spanish architect and was supposed to become a small escape spot for the rich and wealthy. It actually was for three years, but then, suddenly, due to numerous complaints from Hindu and Muslim communities, the hotel was closed and the island was turned into the pilgrimage destination as it used to be for many centuries before foreign investors had come with their resort ideas.
Today the island is still full of life.
There is one small ‘café’ (with quiet dirty dishes, but that’s OK for Asia), one guesthouse where you can stay no more than one night, a couple of motorbikes, a museum of questionable cultural value and a pretty big tent settlement for pilgrims.
Numerous websites claim that there are lots of sacred places (both Muslim and Hinduism ones), but don’t expect to see beautiful temples and magnificent mosques. The majority of them are just small bushes (tombs of prophets) or a couple of stones. There is also a sacred well full of puddle under which, according to the legend, one can find millions of golden coins. We doubt that anyone dared to dive there though…
CIVILIZATION VS. NATURE
The jungles do their job well and now, apart from pilgrims’ garbage here and there, you can see how beautiful the tropical forest can be. There’s plenty of flowers and birds mixed with the remains of golf course’s grass and artificial ponds. Unfortunately, the beach and water are dirty as well, so there is no chance of swimming.
But the most interesting part of the island is undoubtedly the territory of the hotel. The sign at the entrance warned us that we might be shot if we enter, but we simply ignored it. To our great surprise, the hotel was inhabited. Although, the swimming pool, cafes and streets were empty, through windows with no glass we managed to see real people’s dwellings with clothes drying on the balconies.
Even though it was midday and very sunny, all the streetlights were switched on and the local electric station was working. Still there were no people, and the place looked like it was haunted. We walked along the lovely Spanish-style streets, wondering why the former owners didn’t even bother to take away expensive furniture and linens, which were getting rotten on the backyards of the houses.
I WANT TO GO! HOW TO GET THERE AND WHERE TO STAY?
In order to get there you have to take any bus from Malacca bus terminal which goes to Merlimau / Muar. Just ask the driver to stop at Anjung Batu. The bus costs RM10.00 ($3). Then walk for five minutes along the road, which starts just behind the bus stop (on your right). It will lead you to the jetty point. Ferries leave the jetty every 45 minutes. The journey to and fro costs RM14.00 ($4.27) for adults and RM7.00 ($2.13) for children below 12 years old.
You can stay either in Malacca (highly recommended) or in the guesthouse on the island (dirty and expensive, bad option). There is also a possibility to sleep on the floor of the museum for the ridiculous price of RM100 ($30).