We’ve been here almost a year now and this weekend we decided it was high time we found a beach. We’d heard tell that the closest was under an hour away and that great seafood was to be had beside the river so our first port of call was the Internet to find out which was the closest and best. We’d no food in the house anyway, so eating out was definitely on the menu.
“Get on another flight!” suggested one reviewer. “There’s nothing near KL.”
“Drive to Lumut and get a boat to Pangkor island,” suggested another. We’d done that in February and yes the beach was super but it also took us four hours to drive plus a ferry to get there. No, we were on a mission to see what was closest to home.
Google maps came up trumps and I found a number of restaurants with good reviews within an hour’s drive and definitely on the beach or riverside, so we were set. When it came to finding out which was the best beach it seemed that Port Dickson, an hour or so away and the map showed something that looked like sandy beaches north of Port Klang close to Kuala Selangor. We wondered what the beach would be like and saw it said ‘a bit murky’ about all of those closest to KL but we packed our cossies anyway and headed off.
We found Kuala Selangor and soon discovered that there’s no convenient beachside road with a great view down to the sea. Instead we had to guess which of the side roads might lead to the sea. If only I’d learned the Malay for ‘beach’ we’d have been okay. But with the Google maps App on the iPhone we could at least ‘see’ which tracks appeared to go closest to the beach. We picked a road and headed down tracks that reminded me of Phuket – tree-lined, narrow and popular with moped riders who chose the centre of the road to avoid the pot holes. It was peaceful. It was rural. We felt confident. Then we saw a sign to one of the restaurants I’d pinpointed on Google maps. We made a beeline for it.
The beach was right next to the restaurant. Bingo! We’d struck oil.
Only, the restaurant was definitely closed. It may even have been derelict. A lamppost spiked with lights to resemble a palm tree hung limply at the entrance to the outdoor seating area where plastic chairs had been pushed to one side. The shoreline was pale and gritty, leading out through straggly mangroves to a cloying, clay gray expanse of mudflats that seemed to bubble like dough that has been proving for a while. If I’d attempted to walk on it I was pretty sure I’d have sunk, sucked out of sight in seconds.
Undeterred we got back in the car and headed for the main road and plan B. We’d seen lots of seafood restaurants in Port Klang, and there was the river we’d heard about alongside. It was 2pm and we were hungry and hopeful.
Heaps of containers greeted us as we neared the port and eventually we came upon a sign to the coveted seafood restaurant one reviewer had called ‘My Favourite’. Confidence remained high and increased when we saw how many cars had parked higgledy-piggledy with necessity on the approach. Three signs, faded with age, flagged the entrance and though the shacks that looked like they might have once been cafés were collapsed, decaying and clearly now ex-eateries, we saw a bright sign leading us past a yellow clapboard school towards Hailam Seafood.
Okay, so the first thing we passed was a foundation-shaped pit filled with dusty rubbish, and the wooden planked walkways creaked and gave beneath our footsteps but we did see quite a lot of people seemingly out for a Sunday meal with their families.
This was, we realised, a water village, where wooden homes were built on stilts raised above the river bed. Only this river bed held a layer of dead boats, debris and wriggling mud skippers, not water.
We remained optimistic. The smell of frying chicken led us to not one but two places to eat. The first had no customers and no cook though there was an empty table ringed with empty beer bottles, so something must have happened there that day. Never mind, there was still one other possibility. Hailam, its neighbour was clearly occupied by 20 or so customers and they were eating. It was 3pm and we were now really hungry. We headed over there and peered in through the gap between wooden panels that seemed to be the door. Okay, let’s be honest here, we did not expect this place to have passed a hygiene test and I’d already decided that I’d steer clear of any fish on the menu, unconfident about its freshness. Still, it was an eaterie and it was open and the punters inside were smiling.
A Chinese waiter appeared on the threshold. He bowed his head slightly.
“Sorry, we are close,” he said. “Open again 5 o’clock.”
“Oh dear,” we said. It had not looked much and the river view looked like all colour and beauty had been drained out of every inch of the landscape, but it had had a menu and it would have had food on it. There might even have been a loo.
“Next door open, though!” he said brightly, indicating back towards the chefless, customerless empty space we’d just explored in vain.
I turned to Ian. “Let’s go home and do the shopping,” I suggested.
They were right… it was murky…