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Going to Pulau Ketam from Kuala Lumpur with our kids

Despite torrential rain and very humid conditions, we loved our trip out to Pulau Ketam, also known as Crab Island, with our kids from KL. We found it quite hard to find information on how to get there, where to get off and what to do on the island, so I thought it would be good to share what we know with you here.

What is Pulau Ketam?

Pulau Ketam is a small island located at the mouth of the Klang river, downstream from Kuala Lumpur. It was established about 150 years ago by Chinese fishermen, and is now a thriving yet simple fishing community, with no cars and a laid back lifestyle. All the structures are supported on stilts, including houses, roads and other buildings, as the mangrove mud is not supportive enough for any construction.

 

How to get to Pulau Ketam (Crab Island) from Kuala Lumpur

The journey from KL to Pulau Ketam is not the fastest, but it’s cheap and a great way to get out of the city and see a bit of the Malaysian countryside. Get yourself over to KL Sentral, which should be easy from pretty much any of the lines in the city, and hop on the red KTM Sentul – Klang line, in the direction of Klang.

The cost of the KTM from KL to Port Klang was really cheap. From memory it was around RM6.40 per person, and young children travel free. It takes just over an hour on the train, and it’s a pretty slow, frustrating journey as there are 17 stops between KL Sentral and your destination. But, once you get out of the city suburbs, the countryside starts to open up and you get a good glimpse into the simple lives of the rurally located Malaysian communities.

Be warned, you are not alighting at Klang. In fact, you are alighting a good way out of Klang, despite the name of the ferry port. Stay on the train right to the last stop, where you will arrive at Pelabuhan Klang, just steps away from Port Klang.

Download a map of the KL trains and stations here to help with your journey planning.

As you exit the station, you’ll see the ferry port across the road and slightly to your right. You can either buy a ticket from the person on the desk in the port, or just queue up on the jetty for the ferry and buy your ticket on board. Apparently there are speed boats available at busy times, which offer a better view of the mangroves as you whizz past, but when we went it was just the big banana boat ferry in service.

The journey costs around RM7 or RM10 for the speedboat (when in service), and takes between 35 mins and an hour depending on the tides. The ferry takes a route right through the middle of the mangrove island of Pulau Klang, which makes for great sights and a slightly hair raising experience if the tide is low, as it tries to navigate the many sandbars and mud islands that could strand it at any moment.

Do note that the boat doesn’t always go straight to the main port on Pulau Ketam. Depending on who has got on, it sometimes stops at a small port on the east of the island before carrying on to the main area. Wait to see if everyone is getting off before jumping up, as this is just a residential area with nothing really to see.

What to do on Pulau Ketam with kids

I might start my ideas for things to do with a little introduction about what not to do. Firstly, don’t expect to be swimming in a beautiful ocean or frolicking on the sandy beach here. It’s not that type of island. This is a largely mangrove area, very muddy and swampy by nature, and certainly not somewhere to come if you want a ‘beach’ day.

There are, however, some great things to do and see there with kids. Here’s what we did, and a few more ideas besides.

  • Watch the crabs: If it’s low tide when you arrive or before you leave, take a look over the side of the tall boardwalk out to the jetty. See those specks on the sand? They are crabs. All of them. There’s a reason this place is called crab island, and once you get your eye in for spotting the little critters on the sand, you’ll be amazed at just how many there are! We also spotted mudskippers, hermit crabs and even a fish stranded in a puddle by one of the pier legs.

 

  • Check out the stilt houses: Here, people have learned to live in harmony with their environment, and when you live on a low lying tidal island with not much building space, that means rethinking how you build. Here, all the houses are built on the mangrove mud, high on stilts to avoid the incoming tides, as are all the roads and shops.

 

  • Hire a bike: When we went it was pouring, so we didn’t explore much of the island beyond the main street. But if you’re with older kids who like to cycle, you can hire a bike for around RM5 and explore the whole island in an hour or two. The intrepid among you will be rewarded with temples, statues to the monkey king and a unique insight into a Chinese fishing village in Malaysia.

 

  • Have lunch: Eating in Pulau Ketam is a bit like Russian Roulette. Some of the restaurants get scathing reviews, and have even been known to make people a little poorly (including us!), whereas others are just fine. We can only recommend reading reviews before you go and taking your time to choose one that looks busy, clean and is not too pushy. Most will push crab as their speciality, but these are not the crabs you see on the beach. Those are not edible, so these are shipped in frozen from elsewhere. In our experience, they were overpriced, under flavoured and not very nice. You’ll do better to go with fish, as the restaurants do serve fresh fish from their own local catches.

 

  • Have dessert: As you head back to the ferry from the town, you’ll see a shop of many things on the corner with a sign outside offering fried ice cream for a couple of RM. Fear not this strange sounding treat, because actually its really lovely! The old Chinese lady was happy to let the kids watch her cook, and we’re determined to have a go ourselves when we next stay somewhere with a kitchen and a wok.

 

  • People watch: Because the island is car free, watching the locals going about their business can be a relaxing and interesting way to spend an hour or two. The banana ferry often brings them supplies, such as crates of fizzy drinks and sacks of rice, which they load onto big flatbed trollies, often equipped with a lawnmower motor to help move it along. There are a few motorbikes on the island, but not many, and mostly it’s a laid back, slower pace of life that will be a welcome break from the hectic streets of the city.

 

We also hear that you can take aa boat trip around the island on a longboat, which would be nice on a sunny day. You can also arrange to go out to a nearby floating fish farm to see the fish and have lunch, again not so much of a wet weather activity. It’s almost certainly not necessary to stay overnight in Pulau Ketam with kids, unless you particularly enjoy a very, very quiet life and want to experience the village once the day trippers have left.

Despite the weather, we really enjoyed our time in Crab Island, and would highly recommend it as one of the things to do in Kuala Lumpur with kids.

 

Why Malaysia is the best place to start a family adventure in Southeast Asia

We came to Malaysia by chance, and ended up staying.

Our flights to Hanoi were a lot cheaper if we stopped off in Kuala Lumpur and flew on from there. A lot. So, seeing as we were landing in the city anyway, we planned a few days there to see the sights and suchlike, maybe a week at a push, before we flew on.

Two months later and we were just about ready to leave.

Serendipity had brought us to this country, this city, which we had never in our wildest dreams considered spending time in, so focussed were we on our Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos itinerary. But, as it turned out, this was the perfect place to being our Southeast Asia travels, especially for first timers like us.

If you’re travelling with kids to Southeast Asia and not sure where to begin your adventure, we would highly recommend a few weeks in Malaysia. Here are just some of the reasons why:

1.      Language barriers are not really a problem

Malaysia is a huge melting pot of different cultures particularly the city of Kuala Lumpur. The dominant ethnicities are Malay, Chinese and Indian, with Chinese equalling or slightly outnumbering the Malay, depending on which data you trust. This mix of people and backgrounds means inhabitants largely rely on English to communicate with each other, making it easy to get by on your native language when you first arrive.

2.      Food is familiar, cheap and delicious

Because of the mix of cultures here, you can find pretty much anything you want to eat, anywhere. It’s not overly spicy, and if you want to try a traditional nasi lemak (coconut rice with anchovies) or a beautiful rendang curry, you’ll find plenty of places to indulge. However, with a strong Chinese influence, there is sweet and sour and familiar fried rice pretty much everywhere. Indian features heavily too, from the scrummy breakfast roti’s to the Malay fusion nasi kandar, a steamed rice served with Indian and Malay curries. Fussy eaters? Don’t panic, because McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other western food is common in the malls, or there’s always the failsafe chicken satay, loved by everyone.

3.      Cost of living is cheaper

If you’re heading to Thailand because you think it’s cheap, make sure you’re going with your eyes wide open. We’ve been somewhat surprised by the prices in Thailand, particularly when comparing them with our low cost of living in Malaysia. The cost of rent in KL Is around 35% cheaper than those in Bangkok, and groceries are around 20% cheaper. It’s not a massively important factor, but if you’re on a super tight budget, it’s worth considering, especially when you take into account all the things you can do free or cheap in KL with kids.

4.      Entry is both visa and cost free (from the UK)

We were hugely impressed to discover we could fly into Malaysia and gain entry for 90 days with no visa requirements at all. 58 countries currently have access visa free to Malaysia for 90 days, whereas a further 100 jurisdictions can get a 30-day visa free entry (check your country here). Comparing this to the hassle and expense of getting shorter visas for Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, it makes arriving in Kuala Lumpur a really pleasant experience. It certainly encouraged us to stay longer, and is already encouraging us to go back.

5.      The possibilities for onward travel are endless

Flights out of KL connect you with numerous destinations around Asia and further afield. Hong Kong, Bangkok, Denpasar, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta and many more desirable locations are just a plane hop away, and short flights are inexpensive in comparison to costs in the west. If, like us, you prefer to travel overland where possible, trains and busses link you easily to Thailand in the North, Singapore in the South and to beautiful islands and highlands elsewhere in Malaysia. Links to Penang and Langkawi are easy too, from where you can get onward ferry travel to any of the beautiful Thai islands, or ferries also connect to Sumatra, Sarawak and even to the Philippines.

These are just some of the things that kept us in Malaysia far longer than we had first intended. The country is clean, friendly and we found so much for to do with the kids in Kuala Lumpur and other towns and cities. If you’re heading to Southeast Asia for the first time with kids, there are worse places to start your adventure than in wonderful Malaysia.