It was 5:30am and still dark when friends Ellen and Max came to pick me up. After a simple breakfast with roti canai and teh tarik at a 24-hour mamak store (Indian coffee shop), we were ready for our 4-hour southbound journey.
Our destination was Kukup (龜咯), a fishing town at the south-western tip of Peninsula Malaysia, in the state of Johor. It was Ellen’s family trip with her two siblings and their respective families and their mum but they extended their invitation for me to be their extended family member.
I slept almost all the way as I was unfortunate enough to have caught a cold the day before, just when I was about to finish work. After the smooth drive on the motorway, we turned off to a small road guided by our GPS navigation and drove for another 45 mins or so through vast pineapple plantation and small town Pontian before we reached our eventual destination Kukup at 10:30am.
After we met up with the rest of our travelling companions, had a filling lunch with fresh seafood and ensured our cars were parked in a guarded parking lot, we walked over to a small designated jetty to board the boat that would take us for a short ride to the accommodation where we were to stay for the next two nights.
There are two fishing villages in Kukup, Kukup Laut (港脚) where our accommodation was and Air Masin (咸水港) across the road. The villagers are almost all Chinese, majority Buddhists and with 85% of them being Hokkian. From where I come from in East Malaysia, it is a sad fact that many of the fishing villages are illegal structures and their inhabitant illegal immigrants from the neighbouring countries. I certainly have gained fresh perspectives after seeing the Chinese community that made up the fishing villages in Kukup with their properly titled (99-year lease), some weathered and some new and elaborately constructed dwellings.
Apart from fishing, the settlement of both villages have branched out into tourism by providing accommodation/homestay for tourists not just from Malaysia and nearby Singapore but also from other countries around the region.
The villages are built on stilts over mud and water and connected by concrete boardwalks. The main form of transportation in the villages are motorcycles and scooters. We had to remind ourselves not to lose focus on the oncoming traffic especially with the quiet electric motorbikes that felt like they were creeping up on us while we were eagerly absorbing the sights and sounds of our new environment.
The meandering boardwalk led us through houses built on both sides with a few humble and quaint wooden villagers’ homes among the big concrete bungalows built for commercial homestays with some of them up to three-storey high.
The setting sun provided us with lots of photography opportunities…
The first morning we woke up to a light drizzle after very heavy rain and scary thunder that came without warning in the early hours of the morning. With the gloomy weather we had to forego our initial plan to visit the mangrove national park nearby and explored the other village, the Air Masin (Salt Water) Fishing Village instead.
The second village was busier with stalls selling dried seafood and littered with shops and eateries. The whole area was buzzing with activities and we saw almost an unending stream of motorbikes passing by either ferrying people or transporting goods.
The village seemed to me to be less organised with their buildings and layout and it had also fallen short on the standard of cleanliness as compared to Kukup Laut. We were informed later by our host that the villagers of Kukup Laut were serious about their cleanliness in terms of garbage disposal and general upkeep of their public areas etc. and most impressively, they were environmentally conscious and the village committee held meetings on the subject regularly.
We were glad that we stayed at Kukup Laut. The room allocated to us was in the newest building of Kukup Xiang Chalet (龜咯翔海上民宿) that fronting the open sea. It was spacious and the bedding provided could sleep 14 people.
It was full board with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and even supper. Being under the weather I had to catch up with rest in the afternoon and I missed out the apparently rather sumptuous afternoon tea on both days.
The weather on the last day was beautiful but then it was time to bid farewell…
For someone who is used to staying at seaside resorts with sandy beaches, staying at a fishing village and was given the chance to have a peep into the villagers’ life was refreshing and a nice change for me. The fellowship with Ellen’s family and the laughter we had added colours to the trip. Besides, travelling with avid photographers certainly had its benefit as I got to add a few artistically shot pictures to my photo album.
As I look back, among the quaint houses, the boardwalk, the mudskippers under the houses, the fishing platforms and the layback life, what I find the most memorable is the serene evening of Kukup.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
— Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880, French novelist)
(Trip to Kukup, Johor 17 – 19 November 2018)