If a holiday on a private island is on your bucket list, we can now tell you where to go. If it isn’t, go get your list, quickly, and write it down. Our friends who used to live in Singapore have raved about this tiny paradise island for years. Finally, after a rained out BBQ and a long night of margaritas, they managed to convince a bunch of families to start saving up for a trip to paradise. We had a look at the website of Pangkil Island and granted, it looked perfect.
Pangkil is a private island resort, meaning that your group will be the only guests, looked after by their capable staff. From the first communication they were quick, efficient and courteous, and answered all our questions, advised on timings and booked ferry tickets. We paid our deposit and started anxiously waiting for the holiday. We drove down to Singapore and reconvened at the ferry terminal. After almost two hours on the ferry we continued the journey by bus across the island of Bintan. The road got bumpier and the kids’ singing on the backseat wilder.
The drizzle stopped as we stepped on to the speed boat on a nondescript jetty in the middle of nowhere, not quite knowing what to expect. The friends who had lured us on this trip were nervously pacing —concerned we would be disappointed after all the money we had forked out for this holiday. But they didn’t need to. As soon as we caught sight of the island we knew had found a true hidden paradise. As soon as we stepped off the boat, shoes came off and remained forgotten in that pile for the next three days.
And then the skies cleared, we made ourselves gin and tonics in the fully stocked self-service bar, dug our toes in the sand and decided we never want to leave.
Now I guess for those used to private islands (!) this is normal but we really had total privacy and freedom to do whatever we wanted without any schedules. A bit like being in a summer cottage with more staff than guests and no obligation to mow the lawn. Unlike in a hotel, you would find your book where you left it last night or could leave the kids sleeping in the rooms while the adults convened for late night drinks and a few rounds of games.
The rooms, called palaces, are built of driftwood and overlook the sea. Some have no windows so that you can hear the waves breaking all night. And feel the mist of tropical rain through the bamboo blind, for that matter. Some have toilet huts outside, with a view of course. It is all rustic chic, beautiful and comfortable.
We spent most of our days lounging by the beach or the pool, trying out stand-up paddling, canoeing, sailing on the lasers and snorkelling. There is also a pool table, table tennis, a bar stacked with board games, music system and the swimming pool, you name it. Beautiful seashells washed onto the shore every day. You can book a massage in one of the massage huts overlooking the sea. Sold yet? Oh yes, fireworks and lanterns can be organised for the evenings on top of the standard bonfire on the beach.
The island is small enough to walk across in a few minutes but big enough that the walk to the swimming pool feels like a little stroll.
Food at Pangkil Island
The staff magically appear at mealtimes, carrying bowls and bowls of delicious Indonesian dishes. Breakfast was eggs, bacon or pancakes with fruit and toast. Lunch can be served at the pool or at the main cabana, and like dinner, you can choose when to have it. There was always something for the kids to enjoy, too. We were not fans of the Asian deserts but there was a steady supply of fresh fruit and we gained several kilos just rolling from one meal to another anyway.
Afternoon tea came with delicious doughnuts and snacks were available throughout the day. Coffee is Indonesian coffee in a French press, enough to suit most coffee snobs —it is a deserted island after all. The large cool boxes were refilled daily with soft drinks and beer and counted at the end of the day. You can bring your own alcohol or purchase the spirits from their well-stocked bar. If you want to re-live your favourite Tom Cruise moments (Cocktail!) you’ll find the necessary equipment in the bar. We came prepared with ample supply of marshmallows and s’mores basics for the nightly bonfire —a dream come true for the kids.
Other than whipping up the feasts at mealtimes, the staff organised the kids in lovely, natural way. They had set up a movie night for them before we had even thought of it, remembered everyone’s names and gently guided them out of the more extreme silly dinner table behaviour. And although we had an eye on them on the beach, there was always another pair of eyes somewhere too.
On the last day, I was standing on the beach staring at the kids frolicking in the shallow water, already getting depressed about our looming departure. “We don’t really want to leave”, I said to the manager. “Well, most of our guests feel that way”, was his solemn response.
What can I say —it was a holiday of a lifetime. We highly recommend Pangkil for families but be prepared: no holiday will feel the same again.
Tips for organising a trip to Pangkil:
- Nominate one person to be the group lead in charge of communications and payments.
- Study the website, it has all the info you need, including clear pricing. Work out the pricing and ideal numbers: you don’t want to cram the place but need enough people to share the cost.
- You can do international transfers under RM10,000 in your online bank, for the final payment you will need to visit the branch. Make sure you have all information at hand: Malaysian regulations state you will also need an invoice.
- You can take a ferry from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in Singapore (parking SGD20/day) or from Johor Bahru. The journey from Singapore taxes 1 hr 40 minutes, from Johor 2,5-3 hours. From Tanjung Pinang you’ll be taken to the jetty by bus/minibus (1 hour). The boat ride is a quick one in a comfortable covered speedboat.
- They have everything you may need on the island from bug spray to sunscreen. Something for the kids to do in case of rain is always a good idea, although they have games and can put on a film. If you want to roast something on the bonfire, take it along.
- You can bring your own alcohol (cover charge and customs regulations apply).
*We received a small discount in exchange for a review on Happy Go KL. This didn’t influence our opinions, that are honest as always.