Mention beaches in Malaysia, and thought automatically goes to the East Coast of the peninsula. However, if you only have a short weekend for a break, the only snag to visiting the East Coast is the long travelling distance by road.
Despair not! The beaches in the southern coastline of Perak around Lumut, and the offshore island of Pangkor offers several unspoiled beaches that are more easily accessible. Furthermore, they can be visited all-year round, and accommodation caters to both the budget conscious and the well-heeled.
Lumut lies 78 km southwest of Ipoh; though it is a holiday destination by itself, it is also the jumping off point to Pangkor Island and its sister Pangkor Laut Island. Travelling to Lumut from Ipoh, the State capital, takes slightly more than two hours, with scenic view of road meandering through coconut plantations in the Pusing district, where many of the palms are tapped to make toddy -- an alcoholic beverage with a strong kick. As one approaches Lumut, which lies on the estuary of the Dindings River, mangrove swamps with long-tailed macaques whiz past on both sides of the road.
Upon entering Lumut, an archway greets you. During the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., when the Buddhist-Hindu kingdom of Gangga Negara was at its zenith, Lumut was an important fishing village. After the collapse of Gangga Negara, Lumut declined into a hideout for pirates. In the late 1970's, Lumut grew in importance again when the Royal Malaysian Navy established its base here. A must-visit is the Naval Museum which is filled with ancient weapons and maritime equipment.
A spin around Lumut takes only minutes, which is tucked between Ungku Busu Hill and the Manjung Straits. The hill was named after a local warrior who led a ferocious battle against Lumut's pirates in the 1800's. Along Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, banks, money-changers and a tourist information centre hums with life. At the northern end of Jalan Titi Panjang, yachts bob about in the marina of the Perak Yacht Club. A handful of budget hotels, two first-class resorts, store selling coral and shell handicrafts, seafood restaurants and a seemingly incongruous eight-metre tall windmill complete the charming picture of the town. Why a windmill in Lumut? Well, in 1641, after the Dutch had conquered Malacca from the Portuguese, they made ineffectual attempts to control Perak's tin trade by establishing a fort in Pangkor Island. At the jetty, ferries depart to Pangkor Island and Pangkor Laut Island. There are also connections to Belawan, Medan's port, in Sumatra.
Seven kilometres from Lumut lay Teluk Batik Beach, a crescent-shaped sandy stretch. There are chalets, food stalls, public changing rooms, a children's playground and speed-boat operators. Situated six kilometres from the main road leading to Lumut, Teluk Rubiah Beach has great appeal for golfers. The Royal Teluk Rubiah Country Club offers an 18-hole course tucked between the emerald sea and verdant hills. Another interesting mainland beach is Pasir Panjang Beach which stretches 6 km from the northern banks of the Dindings River to Pantai Remis. From January to July, the Green Turtle and Olive Ridley Turtle make this beach their breeding ground. The Segari Turtle Hatchery (opens from 10am - 5pm) is one place to be guaranteed of seeing these creatures.
Pangkor Island has great historical significance in Perak's history as a treaty was signed in 1874 aboard a British gunboat on the waters of this island, which allowed the British to appoint a British Resident to rule the State. The island's terrain consists of rocky promontories that form placid bays fringed by glassy sands while its forest-carpeted summit offers a panoramic view of the Straits of Dindings. There is an airstrip north of the island which serves chartered flights.
Visitors usually stop at Pangkor Town, a settlement filled with budget inns, coffee shops and operators of van taxis. A round-the-island trip can be booked with these van taxis. South of the town stand the ruins of a Dutch fort, which was built in 1670 as a garrison for soldiers. Destroyed by in 1690 by Panglima Kulub, a local warrior, it was rebuilt in 1743, but 5 years later, it was abandoned after Dutch influence in the area declined. Nearby, there is a boulder with the year 1743 inscribed on it as well as a drawing of a tiger attacking a boy -- a sad memorial to the young Dutch victim who was the son of Dutch dignitary.
Most of Pangkor's beaches are at its western coastline. The crescent-shaped Pasir Bogak is extremely popular, and has a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets. More isolated and less crowded beaches are found at Teluk Ketapang, Teluk Nipah, Coral Bay, Tortoise Bay, Pantai Puteri Dewi and Belanga Bay.
Fringed by palms, Teluk Ketapang offers a chance to see leatherback turtles during the months of May, June and July. Pantai Puteri Dewi is associated with the legend of a Sumatran princess who leapt to her death from a cliff as a result of a failed love affair. Formerly called Golden Sands Beach, it is now a private beach owned by a five-star hotel. Non-hotel guests can also use the beach but have to pay a charge. Coral Bay is excellent for snorkeling -- it is blessed with crystal clear waters and lots of marine life -- but one has clamber over rocks at the northern end of Teluk Nipah to reach it.
When one is satiated with the sun, sea and sand, there are other diversions such as enjoying seafood or taking in the sights of fishing villages on the east coast where boat-building thrives.
For exclusivity, hop over to Pangkor Laut Island, just two kilometres away. In 1999, Condo Naste, an international travel magazine, voted Pangkor Laut Island as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. World famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti who performed at the opening of the island's sole resort - and it's extremely up-market -- remarked: "It's so beautiful that I almost cried." - Enough said about this island! There are three excellent beaches. Emerald Bay is ideal of swimming; Coral beach is a haven for snorkelers; Royal Bay is suitable for windsurfing.
About 10 nautical miles south of Pangkor Island, an archipelago of islands known as the Pulau Sembilan offers the thrill of deep-sea fishing. You can land a marlin, sting-ray or even a swordfish in the waters of these islands. Dive spots bursting with corals include the channel between Rumbia Island and Lalang Island; and that between Buluh Island and Saga Island.