Enjoy seafood and bak kut teh on this car-free island

Enjoy seafood and bak kut teh on this car-free island
Bicycles are the main mode of transportion on Pulau Ketam. Seen here are Mong Chun (right) and new village development officer Lim Lid Chian.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

The road sign showing "Jalan Besar Pekan", the main road of Kampung Bagan Pulau Ketam, stands out among the colourful pictures of seafood next to it.

It is a small fishing village that is more than 130 years old.

While the island has developed into a thriving tourist spot, the islanders and tourists have to contend with the fact that it can only accomodate two modes of transportation - bicycles and motorcycles.

It may have the words "Jalan Besar" (big road), but the narrow lanes remain.

But to Kampung Bagan Pulau Ketam chief Chia Mong Chun, who was born and bred in the village, the island is "car-free every day" and that is something unique and good for tourism.

The fact that hundreds of tourists throng the island over weekends and public holidays speaks volumes of its popularity.

Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Mong Chun said there were three big hotels and 20 homestay options, and there was a shortage of accomodation during peak season.

Like any place of interest, there are eateries, shops and stalls there to cater to tourists.

Besides being a seafood paradise, the island is popular for eco, agro and cultural tourism - from river cruises, mangrove swamps, fish farms to exploring the village andshopping.

He said the island was discovered by three Hainanese fishermen who commuted daily from Port Klang to catch crabs, hence the name Pulau Ketam or Crab Island.

But it was in the mid and late 1940s that many Chinese Hokkiens and Teochews fled the war in their country to settle down in Pulau Ketam.

They also brought along their strong survival instincts, camaraderie and skills like fishing and cooking.

Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The 45-minute ferry ride from Port Klang in the mainland to Pulau Ketam is a scenic cruise amid a backdrop of mangrove swamps, fishing boats and fish farms.

The ferry passes neighbouring Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima shortly before it arrives at the Pulau Ketam Jetty.

Seeing Pulau Ketam by foot or bicycle is a nice way to explore the village. The island has come a long way thanks to tourism.

Those who had been to Pulau Ketam before 2000 would have been greeted by a stench and heaps of rubbish as soon as the ferry docked.

That was the turning point for the island as they started to have proper garbage collection and educated people on cleanliness.

Prior to that, people just threw rubbish everywhere.

The 1,200 houses and shops on the island are a far cry from the past.

The population started to dwindle in the last three decades due to the lack of job and business opportunities there.

Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Mong Chun's father Chia Swee Keen, 93, emigrated from China to Pulau Ketam when he was 13 years old and became a fisherman.

Today, only one among Mong Chun's three children, Ying Wei, remains in Pulau Ketam to help in his mother's bak kut teh shop and his father's seafood transportation business.

At 24, Ying Wei described himself as an increasingly rare breed on the island.

But he comes across as jovial, adding that he would sometimes visit his friends in Klang.

The current population in Pulau Ketam is between 5,000 and 6,000, compared to about 20,000 in 1985.

The combined enrolment of its two Chinese primary schools is 440, compared to 1,750 in 1985.

Mong Chun said 1985 also marked the start of a downturn for the fishermen's business with the Fisheries Act.

No longer able to make ends meet in Pulau Ketam, he said many fishermen moved to Endau, Mersing, to start over.

Today, about 50 per cent of the fishermen in Endau originated from Pulau Ketam, he added.

Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Within the hustle and bustle of a thriving tourist spot, there is a nagging fear among Pulau Ketam shopowners over impending land problems.

All properties on the island sit on land with temporary occupation licence (TOL), which must be renewed yearly.

The renewal fee is RM50 for a residential unit and RM100 for a commercial unit.

Mong Chun said the Selangor government stopped collecting the renewal fees for the commercial units since 2012.

This means the shops are sitting on land without TOL, he said, adding there were about 100 shops there.

A seafood restaurant owner who has been in business for the last 30 years said they were very worried.

Without the TOL, the owners are extremely vulnerable and at the mercy of the state authorities who technically can take back the land.

"This will affect our business and livelihood and also destroy the tourism industry here," said the owner who preferred anonymity.

Despite the uncertainty over land issues in Pulau Ketam, hopefully the villagers are not at a crossroads again.

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