Pulau Besar, a tiny island in the southern part of Malacca strait. A place full of mysteries and confusions. It is not the top destination to visit in Malaysia, neither an interesting site the local will tell you about. It is something completely different from traditional touristic experience. A hidden pearl we found completely by chance and now want to share with you.
Interesting, funny and quirky facts about Pulau Besar.
1. Pulau Besar is an abandoned 5-star hotel island
Back in 1990s when large business started coming to Malaysia, many foreign investors set their eyes on Pulau Besar. A tiny island, located not far from the western coast of Malaysia. One of key touristic destinations of the region Malacca. They quickly signed an agreement with the Malaysian government, which allowed them to use the island for touristic purposes for the next 50 years or so.
The investors hired a super-expensive Italian star architect, who created a small European paradise on the Malaysian island. The winded streets, narrow houses with French windows, luxury restaurants, and stylish shops were creating the atmosphere of Mediterranean Riviera.
Nevertheless, the hotel existed for just 5 years. The powerful religious lobby in the Malaysian government persuaded the incumbents that the hotel was offending the feelings of the Hindu and Muslim pilgrims who came to the island every year to pray and find absolution. As a result, the hotel management was literally kicked out from the island. Leaving behind the expensive furniture and mattresses, cutlery and linens, small fully functional electricity station, and even water in the swimming pools.
2. Pulau Besar is the sacred island, full of saints’ tombs
The reason why the big business had to leave the island, is the high concentration of Hindu and Muslim sacred sites. The most important one is the tomb of Sultan Ariffin. Currently surrounded by the metal cage, presumably for preservation.
In fact, all tombs on the island are poorly decorated, so do not expect to see magnificent shrines or breathtaking temples (we did, huge mistake!). The majority of tombs look just like small grass spots, highlighted by a couple of white stones.
There is also so-called well of wealth. It looks like a really dirty hole with water on the bottom. According to the legend, if you dive deep enough you will find uncountable golden coins there. I guess the look and the smell of the well is the reason number one why the previous visitors of the island did not become rich.
3. It is forbidden to stay overnight on the island
For some inexplicable reason, it is forbidden to sleep on the island. The captain which takes you to the island on the small motor boat is responsible for taking you back in the evening and it looks like he is taking his duty seriously.
This rule looks particularly ridiculous if to take into consideration that there is one guest house on the island (with very unfriendly hosts), a small tent camp where pilgrims live, and the huge abandoned hotel, presidential suits of which are populated by some homeless teenagers. In addition, a small museum right next to the harbour allows to stay in one of its exhibition rooms for $100 per night (one more joke we didn’t feel like laughing at).
4. There is expensive household stuff everywhere
The whole island looks like some weird department of Bed, Bath, and Beyond. You can find stacks of unpacked soap, floor lamps, mattresses, and armchairs getting rotten in the tropical forest all around the island. The former hotel reception looks totally abandoned, but you can still see luxury interior design inside.
The most horrible part is that the pilgrims who live on the island do not take advantage of all this abundance of super comfortable stuff. They sleep in the ground in the DIY tents, made of plastic sheets. The white linens, pillows, and blankets lay right outside under the bushes without being used. Why? We do not know.
5. The island is covered with golf courses
The hotel was supposed to become a golf resort and its developers made everything possible to create the best golf course in South East Asia. The major golf course has 18 holes and covers the whole western part of the island. There are also several private golf courses with huge villas located here and there. These were supposed to become the most expensive lodging of the island.
The most amazing thing is that the golf courses have not overgrown! They have the same nice green colour and soft texture they had on the hotel’s opening night. We’ve got no idea how that happened, but if you are into sports, you can easily find lots of golf balls all around the place and borrow the golf irons in one of villas.
6. Street lights are always on
On Pulau Besar street lights are always switched on. Nobody can explain why, but my assumption is that the locals do not know how to operate the electric station, built by the hotel. These street lights make place look haunted, especially when combined with empty Italian-style streets, abandoned restaurants, and broken windows.
The island is very silent and empty, so you feel like on another planet. If you tend to pay attention to multiple notices with the depiction of armed people, Pulau Besar might be too scary for you to visit.
7. Local people look dangerous, but they are very friendly
All people you are going to meet on Pulau Besar look strange. It’s quite logical if to take into consideration that they are homeless (they live in hotel’s ruins and tents), do not have access to clean water, shower, good food, and electricity (even though there is a functioning electric station there!) Nevertheless, all of them are eager to help.
At first we were scared when two huge men offered to walk us into the wood to show the well of wealth. But they were friendly and helpful, so it was a great lesson for us to trust people more.
8. The sea is dirty, you cannot swim
We headed to Pulau Besar with hope to swim in the transparent water of Malacca strait. We couldn’t be wrong more! The whole shore of the island is surrounded by trash, which is the result of the active pilgrimage to this place. The former beach of the hotel has turned into a real landfill. And it doesn’t look like the place will be cleaned in the nearest future.
9. You can find nice food and drinks on the island
Despite the fact that the place is abandoned, you can still find a small food court on the island, run by a local family. We cannot call their food delicious, but it is a decent place to eat in a place with no other options. They serve fried chicken and rice, as well as water and coke. There are also lots of wild fruit trees and banana bushes growing everywhere.
10. The nature is gorgeous on Pulau Besar
The hotel administration wanted to create a marvelous botanic garden for the guests to have long romantic walks. The hote is not in operation any more. Yet tropical gardens continue to grow, making this tiny island and attractive habitat for a variety of birds and butterflies. The flowers have also gone wild and now decorate the planes which used to be the golf course. This is a true paradise for bird and insect watchers.
Pulau Besar is one of its kind. It illustrate the unique religion-business conflict and what might happen to the place too many people are interested in. From the touristic perspective it is an extremely interesting place to visit. We highly recommend to check it out anyone going to Malacca region!
Illia and Nastia are passionate about each other, traveling around the world and sharing their experiences at crazzzytravel.com. A blog where you can find plenty of budget travel tips as well as practical information about numerous destinations. They have already been to 42 countries on 5 continents and ain’t no stopping. Visit their website to learn more about unexplored destinations. And do check their latest story about how to travel in Asia on 2 euro per day.