A Different Getaway to Pontian & Kukup, Johor (柔佛笨珍)
Planning a weekend staycation or day trip in Johor Bahru? Instead of spending a day in shopping centres and cinema, followed by a night stay in a concrete forest, try something different — a more laid-back getaway to a peaceful town in Pontian.
Both Pontian Kechil and Kukup are in Pontian District (笨珍) of Johor, to the southern tip of West Malaysia. Geographically, Kukup (龟咯), a fishing village, is nearer to Singapore than Pontian Kechil but when travelling on the road, one will have to pass by or through Pontian Kechil before reaching Kukup. This is due to the presence of Pulai River and large areas of mangrove swamp that makes direct road link between Kukup and Singapore difficult.
Pontian Kechil is not a tourist destination and that makes it great for travellers who want to experience local lifestyle and culture away from all the touristy activities and crowds. On the other hand, Kukup Village is a rather well-known destination for 2-day trippers from Singapore and Malaysian locals from other states. Kukup usually sees more crowds on weekends.
For the above reasons, it is much more convenient to use Pontian Kechil as a base for exploring the southwestern corner of Johor. A short 2 to 3 days itinerary can be worked out easily for a short stay in Pontian Kechil, as the town itself is not very big. This arrangement is suitable for those who wants a slow-pace, easy get-out-of-the-city trip and prefer activities that are not beach-related (too much hypes about expensive beach resorts as the "best" getaway destinations — I never buy that!).
Now, let's see what are some of the things to do in Pontian Kechil. I listed 7 of them. You can check the locations of mentioned places using the map provided at the end of this post.
1. Hunt for Local Food
Eating local food is a must when travelling overseas and when visiting local towns (not tourist towns). That applies to Pontian Kechil too. Most of the eating places here are cheaper than in Johor Bahru and still very traditional — they are prepared for locals, not tourists. There are quite a number of eating places around the small town centre if you do not want to venture too far. Just go on a food hunt!
The most sought-after food in Pontian is the local-style wanton noodle (meat dumplings noodle) with thinly sliced barbecue pork. The noodle is mixed with tomato sauce — different from Singapore's wanton noodle that uses light soy sauce. Quite a number of shops in Pontian sell the local-popular wanton noodles. You can't miss it!
For traditional coffee, a popular place will be Kheng Guan Hiong (琼源香) next to Pontian Fish Market (see 2.). This is a great coffee shop to have nice traditional coffee and charcoal-toasted breads with eggs while waiting for the fish market to release its supplies of fresh seafood for the day. You can also order food from the coffee shops next door.
2. Buy Fresh Seafood at Fish Market
At 10-11am every morning (except Monday), fishermen will return from the sea with the day's fresh catches and deliver them to Pontian Fish Market (Pasar Awam Pontian) in Pontian Kechil. Fishmongers will in turn sell the seafood to individual customers or in bulks to restaurants or other retailers through bidding. The fish market is where locals and in-the-know Singapore residents go to buy fresh fishes and other seafood and bring them home.
Pontian Fish Market has a newly-built section with more stalls for fishes, meats, vegetables and fruits. The environment is also much cleaner than what it used to be.
You can also observe the bidding process behind the wet market in a large shed in the older section. Buyers will call out their prices for batches of seafood and haul them away after successful bids. But the strong fishy stench in the air here is also something to behold — skip the shed if you can't take the smell.
It will be difficult for travellers to buy raw seafood from other markets even though they are very fresh. But not so in Pontian Kechil. You can get your own choices of fresh seafood and go to the coffee shops opposite the fish market and have them cook for you. Look for either Ah Huat (亚发代炒) in Kedai Kopi Seng (锦成茶餐室) or Lai Ho (来好海鲜代炒) in Kedai Makanan & Minuman Ong Siew Lian (泉珍茶餐室). Kheng Guan Hiong (琼源香) coffee shop is right beside them. Very easy to find.
Depending on the size or quantity of the seafood you bought and how you want them to be cooked, the prices will vary between RM8 to RM20. Of course, the more tedious cooking methods and additional ingredients, like veggies, garlic, ginger, etc, provided by the stall owners will cost a little more.
Below are some dishes that we tried — squids in squid ink, chili clams and steamed pomfret. Fresh fishes are always best when steamed.
And each of the dishes costs only RM10.00 to be cooked. The seafood was from us, of course.
* Note: If you are going to Kukup from Pontian Fish Market, just hop on Kembara City Bus or Bus Muafakat Johor at the bus stop opposite the market. Check the bus schedule from Pontian Bus Terminal at the end of this post. The town bus should reach the bus stop in less than 5 minutes from the bus terminal.
3. Get Involved with Pineapples
Pontian is home to some pineapple plantations. Walking around the town of Pontian Kechil, you will notice pineapple symbols and arts almost everywhere. There is also a Pineapple Museum (or Muzium Nanas) in Pekan Nanas, the Pineapple Town. Some of the pineapple farms are opened to public but they are some distance away from Pontian Kechil.
You can also hunt for a pineapple sculpture near the bus terminal and some murals In Pontian Kechil town as after-lunch activities. Most fruit stalls in Pontian will sell their locally-farmed pineapples. Product shops will have local-made pineapple products.
4. Visit Kukup Fishing Village
Most people visit Kukup on 2D1N group packages where accommodations, meals, transports and entertainments are provided for large group of people — usually for at least 10 people. Very few people know that Kukup can actually be visited from Pontian Kechil on a half-day or full-day trip.
Kukup is a small fishing village with seafood restaurants, houses and chalets built on stilt over the water near the coast. The villagers live by the sea and depends on it for their livelihood. The fishes caught by the fishermen are sold in Pontian Fish Market (see 2.).
You can spend a couple of hours to explore the village on the sea, greet the friendly locals and also try their local specialties. Kukup Laut Fishing Village is more residential and scenic, especially during high tides. One of its entrances is between Tong San Hotel (see Accommodations below) and Kukup International Ferry Terminal.
The ferry terminal has daily ferry services to and from Indonesia. It also has boats to Pulau Kukup (Kukup Island) National Park and the floating fish farms on the way back. The boats will go to both the island and a fish farm in round trips and cost RM5.00 per person.
To Pulau Kukup
Kukup Island is a mangrove island with no settlement and about 1Km from the mainland. It is a designated national park named "Pulau Kukup Johor National Park". There are boardwalks, watch towers and suspended bridges for visitors to access the whole island to check out marine life and mangrove plants.
Entrance Fee: RM5.00/adult, RM3.00/child (excluding boat fare)
To Floating Fish Farms
These are fish farms on the sea, rearing mainly saltwater fishes. Visitors can check out the various marine life in the nets that are separated by walking planks — just don't fall into the sea. If you are interested in any of the live seafood, you can buy them from the farm directly.
You will probably need a full day in Kukup for exploring the fishing village, Pulau Kukup and floating fish farms. To explore just the village, 2-3 hours will be sufficient.
5. Catch the Sunset
Located near the coastline of the Straits of Kukup, you can catch the sunset without much obstructions — except for the clouds and Sumatra of Indonesia in the far distance. Take a stroll along the coastline and watch the sunset before dinner time.
Alternatively, you can catch the sunset in Kukup too. It will be beautiful to portray the village in front of the setting sun.
6. Dine at Seaside Seafood Restaurants
A couple of restaurants are opened throughout the day in Pontian Kechil while most family-run seafood restaurants will open for business towards the end of the day. They are mostly located along Jalan Delima 3 by the seafront — or wetland during low tides. These restaurants will open at after 5pm and they will setup tables on the wide pavement across the road. You will be dining with the sunset or under the night sky by the sea — unless it rains.
The seafood sold at the restaurants are fresh and comparatively cheaper than in Singapore. So, it's not to be missed as one of the evening highlights.
The street may be crowded on weekends but there are several restaurants stretched out along the coastline and more popping up soon.
7. Shop at Supermarkets
One of the main things that Singapore residents do when crossing the Straits of Johor to Johor Bahru is to shop for groceries and daily necessities. You can find supermarkets, such as Giant, EconSave, Ten, We Mart, Mr DIY and many more in Pontian Kechil — most of them along a single stretch of road from Jalan Delima to Jalan Johor (see map). Most items sold here are cheaper than in Johor Bahru.
For travellers, it will be good to replenish some necessities in Pontian before hitting the big cities where prices may be higher.
If you are staying overnight in Pontian Kechil, shopping at the supermarkets can be done after dinner as there aren't many things to do at night in the quiet town. Well, you can still go for supper before hitting the bed.
With the above activities, one can easily plan a leisurely 2- or 3-day trip in Pontian. A one-day trip may also be possible but a little rush for all the activities. In fact, the sequence of events from No. 1 to 7 can be done in a day but it may take up to 15 hours or more.
As mentioned earlier, Pontian is not a tourist destination so it is still possible to go on a weekend — except that accommodations might be limited. Below are information on some accommodations for your reference.
You can choose to stay in Pontian Kechil or Kukup, whichever you prefer.
Staying in Pontian Kechil is more convenient for small groups and solo travellers with more activities, including visiting Kukup on a day trip.
Most of the accommodations in Kukup are chalet-styles and cater mainly to large groups of people. They may not be suitable for small families, couples and solo travellers.
For solo travellers looking for single rooms, the best option will be to stay in Pontian Kechil. I had stayed in New Dawn Hotel before and quite satisfied with their services — they have some single rooms. The Malay restaurant below the hotel serves nice satays, which is great for supper.
Another reason for staying in Pontian Kechil is to avoid the fishy stench that filled the air in Kukup Village when the winds caught them. It is a characteristic of traditional fishing village — but that's if you can take it.
Pontian Kechil is just about 1.5 hours from Singapore — the closest off-the-beaten-path destination overseas.