I tried to think of somewhere to compare Pulau Kapas to, but there wasn’t a recognizable enough place which would be a fitting analogy. I think that’s appropriate.
Kapas is a tiny island a few miles off the simple fishing village of Marang in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, and is mostly used as a weekend getaway for locals; nearly every traveler I talked to hadn’t heard of it. While I was here, it seemed that most other vacationers were Muslim families from the coast, many of whom just pitched their tents on the beach. The non-local visitors didn’t seem to fit any sort of demographic pattern: young, old, single, families, no dominant nationality, no similar path that lead them here. This is the first place I’ve been like this.
With the softest beach sand I’ve ever felt and water as clear as the Perhentians’, you would think it would be a more popular destination. But all of the beaches are practically deserted, some literally so, so it’s not uncommon to find yourself as the only occupant of a long stretch of picture-perfect shoreline for hours on end. Especially crazy was that I did this during the weekend, during the high season. It’s nice to know that places like this still exist: beautiful, scenic locations that have somehow avoided the popular tourist route all these years, yet are not so inaccessible that by-no-means-hardcore backpackers like myself can’t find them.
We arrived on the island and asked around for the cheapest accommodation. We were pointed to the far end of the beach near the cliffs, to where everyone said we should check out “the longhouse”. We found what was possibly the most lovely, character-filled, stereotypical Lonely Planet-esque beach cabin. The place had obviously been around for some time, and been lovingly added to over the years. It was utterly charming and we booked a room.
The common space. A hammock swaying in the breeze looking over the beach? Sold.
The little beach bar at night:
Below is a page from the receipt book. You kept track of your own expenses as you made your own drinks, as there was no bartender. At the end of your stay you’d add up what was written down and pay the host. It’s kind of crazy how much the places I’ve stayed and eaten so far trust you to pay whenever you’re ready. In restaurants you order and eat your food, stay as long as you want, and then hunt someone down to pay whenever it is you want to leave. There’s been times where I stayed too long and the person who served me wasn’t around, so I just told their friend how much I owed them and left the money with them. With many hostels no real information is given besides a name, you stay as long as you want, and then check out when you want to leave. It would be incredibly easy to just leave without paying up, but I imagine if that happened a lot the policies would just change. It’s really made me aware of how much distrust and lack of respect often occurs in the typical merchant-customer relationship back home.
Maybe the best receipt book I’ve ever seen. I hope this is the document they use for official record keeping.
At night there would always be a fire and people trying their hand at various fire tricks. ”You want to play with fire?” we were asked each night by the workers.
As I said, the beaches were mostly deserted. They were beautiful and silent and their forest backdrop and rocky outcrops gave them an oddly imposing air. It was a little eerie to be the only one on these beaches, it almost felt like I was trespassing. I loved it.
Sometimes the only way to get to the next beach was to climb over some sharp rocks. My rock climbing practice actually did turn out to be quite helpful on this island.
I took a walk through the forest and found a lighthouse at the peak of the cliff. I climbed up the ladder, and the top turned out to be wonderfully unsecured. Some of the greatest unobscured, undeveloped views I’ve ever seen.
There had been a pretty consistent cloud layer most of my stay there, but on my last day it cleared up to reveal an ocean just as incredible as the Perhentians. Maybe more so, because it was all to myself. That day I swam up and down the beach for an hour, and I was the only person I saw the entire time. A week later it’s still hard for me to process just how deserted this place was. It was kind of unreal.
My last beach sunset in Malaysia. You could do worse.
On the ferry back to the mainland, I scored a first class seat.
If you are trying to “get away from it all” Kapas is the perfect place. With the only merchants being a tiny dive shop, a few restaurants and snack shops, and some snorkel rentals, and the only internet available being an excruciatingly slow connection in a sometimes-open café, you’re fairly guaranteed of a distraction-free vacation. That said, between this and the ten days I had just spent on the Perhentians, I had reached my maximum capacity for relaxation early on in my stay. I was starting to get restless (this also happened to me with too much of a good thing in Thailand) so it was time to move on. When I left, instead of heading to scenic Tioman Island as I was planning when I got here, I went to the bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur and stayed in its Chinatown. I was craving city craziness, ready for some questionable decisions, unrecognizable street food, an array of good and bad stimuli. And Kuala Lumpur turned out to have all of those in droves.