If a tourist in Kuala Lumpur takes a day trip out of town, it will usually be to the Batu Caves, a Hindu temple site to the north. Or if they’re Asian, to the Genting Highlands, a cross between Las Vegas and a theme park on top of a mountain, its comparatively chilly temperatures being part of its novelty value. We’d seen enough Hindu temples and had no warm clothes, so instead we went to Pulau Ketam.
The KTM Kommuter line from KL Sentral heads north to Batu Caves, but we went in the opposite direction, to the end of the line at Pelabuhan Klang (Port Klang). The 70 minute journey wasn’t the most interesting – the cities of the Klang valley merge into an indistinguishable Greater KL, and it wasn’t until we reached Padang Jawa that the modern high-rises gave way to traditional raised bungalows – timber and tin originals, or concrete and tile for the newer ones.
It wasn’t difficult to find our way to the ferry terminal at Port Klang – it was right opposite the station. We had intended to take the regular scheduled ferry, but the next wasn’t for 30 minutes and the journey would take 40 minutes. So we wandered down the long jetty to where the small, faster private boats leave whenever they have enough passengers. The fare was RM10 (1.60) instead of RM7, but the trip to Pulau Ketam would take only 20 mins.
The murky brown water was flat calm as we crossed the water towards Pulau Klang (Klang Island) – the Klang River evidently carries a lot of trash, and it floated in thick rafts by the shore. Pulau Klang was just a smear of mangrove-topped mud a foot or so above the water line. Luckily for the residents of Pulau Ketam beyond, a navigable channel bisects Pulau Klang, providing a direct route to the mainland.
The strait separating Pulau Klang from Pulau Ketam was only marginally cleaner, but clean enough, it appeared, to sustain a sprinkling of floating fish farms raising grouper and seabass.
Pulau Ketam has two settlements, but our boat bypassed little Sungai Lima and headed straight for the main jetty-cum-helipad. The tide was out and the foreshore swarmed with the tiny crabs that give Pulau Ketam its name. There are no roads on the island, only walkways raised high above the mud, so motor scooters and bicycles provide the only form of transport. We could have hired bikes at the jetty, but the place is small enough to cover on foot.
The main street was lined with small shops catering to the residents, and restaurants catering to the swarms of seafood-hungry day trippers that can descend at weekends and on holidays. Being a weekday, there were only a few dozen visitors, and we only saw two other westerners – most day trippers were Malay Chinese.
Beyond the main street, pastel-painted, stilted bungalows stretched along the creek in a grid of boardwalks. The community here is predominantly Chinese, so every now and then a gaudy temple provided an opportunity to duck into the shade. Eventually the houses ended, and a tangle of mangroves blocked our progress. I can’t imagine that building a new house requires planning permission, but the need to clear the ground must be a major deterrent.
We didn’t sample the seafood. I expect we unknowingly eat fish from similarly polluted water, but when I can actually see the conditions in which it’s raised or caught, it does put me off. In any case, it was too hot to be hungry, so we treated ourselves to a cold beer instead. The price of beer in Malaysia means that we normally stick to water or green tea in restaurants.
One of the little private ferries was sounding its hooter as we neared the end of the jetty, so we ran to squeeze onto the almost full boat for the return to Port Klang. This time we did detour to Sungai Lima to drop and pick up a few passengers. Only a couple of miles separate it from the main town, but the only access is by boat.
The train ride back to Sentral was just as long and dull as the journey out, but I was glad we’d made the effort to visit Pulau Ketam. It was good to get another taste of Malaysia beyond KL.