It was on the spur of the moment that we decided to just pack our bags and head for a weekend north, even though we'd just returned from our holiday there barely two weeks ago.
So on Friday the 13th night, we plonked all 5 kids in the car, strapped them down and off we went again across the Causeway to Malaysia.
Reached the condo in Tanjong Kling late at night - around 11pm, but decided to have a late supper anyway. The kids, who mostly slept on the way up, were now fresh and wide awake and ready for their roast chicken and mee goreng. Yummy stuff in a little makeshift shack structure just outside the condo facing the beach. Then it was back to the condo where the kids ran on all cylinders until 2am before conking off, way after KH and I did.
The next morning we headed for the old Bentona Hotel on the old road to Muar, on the outskirts of Malacca town where we indulged in delicious and cheap dimsum (okay, after converting prices from ringgit to SGD). We'd been coming here practically every visit to Malacca for the past 10 years. A visit to Malacca without dim sum at Bentona is practically unthinkable.
Recently they changed management. It used to be called Yum Yum Restaurant - and for good reason too! - but now its gone something like Ocean-something-or-other). The old red clothed tables were the same, but we noticed the variety of dimsum became a lot larger (good change!) and they also changed the toilet from bowl to squat!! (ugh - bad change!). Prices also went up a bit but I guess these days, prices are heading north everywhere you look and this should be no exception. As usual the old favourites, like the chee cheong fun and the lor mai kai, were good, so were the fried carrot cake, the tiny delicate pieces of steamed fishmeat with assorted toppings and so on. It cost our family of 7 a grand total of RM70 (SGD$29.60) - a similar meal like this at Red Star would easily have gone past SGD$70!
We packed some charsiew bao for our next excursion - the much planned-for, anticipated trip to Pulau Besar which always never seemed to materialise! But this time, we were determined. So armed with some food, a huge water bottle of water, our swim things, floats, we headed for the Anjung jetty, less than an hour away from the city.
The ferry ride cost about RM12 per adult and half price for kids I think and we even had to buy baby Trin a ticket! You would think that having a ticket entitled you to a seat, and the purpose of having tickets is to prevent any over-crowding on board right? Wrong. Gala Marines Sdn Bhd which ran the ferry service to Besar, packed us all in like sardines. We had seats, yes, but the boat was soon packed to the gills with passengers - many standing, sharing seats, perched outside etc. It was very clearly overloaded and both KH and I were worried, having heard stories about ferries which capsized thanks to overloading. It was not safe and at one point, I was making mental notes about where the life jackets were and being thankful that at least three of the kids could swim/tread water if anything happened.
Luckily though the 15min ride was uneventful albeit a bit bumpy and we reached P Besar without incident. From the jetty, it looked really promising - a slightly rocky shoreline on the left of the island with a nice rolling surf, treelined hills sloping upwards from the jetty, a pretty though empty beach on the right and waters which looked (I looked really hard though!) a teensy bit bluer-greener than the mainland.
We headed to the left of the jetty, not sure where to go but just hoping to find a decent beach. We ended up on a strip of sand which disappointingly looked a bit grimy. It was low tide - so much for swimming! - so the waves were breaking far into the horizon. You could see the flotsam of the usual rubbish - plastic bottles, bits of styrofoam, plastic wrappers etc. Made me shake my head - why can't people just take care of a lovely beach instead of leaving their trash everywhere??
The foreshore also looked muddy and rocky and I was worried about stonefish but KH and the kids didn't care. The kids in fact had run down to the murk and picked up a shell they were enthusing over. Poor hermit crab must have been bewildered to be plucked from his peaceful suntan and jostled over by large hands and loud children!
We set up the picnic mat under a tree in a shady spot. Then the kids slathered on sunscreen and headed out to the far horizon about 100m away while I sat there with Trin. It was not part of the plan to sit there and be part of the beach scene but Trin was very very grumpy after falling and scraping her knee so she was alternately crying, alternately complaining in her baby language. She didn't even want to play with the sand and so we were stuck.
By 2pm, the tide had come in and the younger kids could bob about in their tiny floats. Trin decided to be less of a grump and explore the sea/sand. We asked a shopkeeper nearby about other beaches and he pointed us over the hill, saying in excellent English: Go past the golf course, or cut through it, through a bit of jungle, down the slope and you'll see it. About 10min walk.
KH went off to explore that while we hung around making sandcastles, splashing in the shallows. He came back half an hour later and said briefly: Very small beach, but MUCH cleaner. Got to go through some jungle and certainly not a 10min walk. With kids, maybe more like 20min from here, so about 30min walk from the jetty. Got an angmoh couple there and no one else. The beach incline is also steeper - got to watch the kids more closely there.
He was clearly interested enough to go back, but not this visit. It was 3pm and time for us to make tracks. The ferry would leave at 3.30pm. It was 3.15 and we were 20min walk away from the jetty. KH picked up Trin and walked ahead. The eldest two dawdled behind - way behind. We had to stop and yell for them to hurry several times. Right at the end, huffing and puffing, I, yes yours truly, had to do something I had not done in years - RUN! So there I was huffing and pounding the cement of the jetty with heavy steps. The two older kids ran in behind me. We made it though. All hot, tired, sweaty and salty.
We drove back to the condo and hit the showers. Then it was out to the city for dinner with mum, dad, Paul, KY his girlfriend and another steamy humid walk with crowds at Jonker Street. While the rest went for drinks at their favourite Jonker haunt - the Geographer's Cafe, KH and I and the younger kids went back for an early night.
So that was our visit to Pulau Besar - not the cleanest nor most idyllic of beaches, in fact we did laugh about our beach in front of the condo being as good as the one on Besar if not better - but I think the island is worth exploring and I think we will go back. Perhaps next time we will check out the other beach that KH saw or head towards the right of the jetty where I saw some untouched looking beaches as the ferry pulled away.