After the disappointment of a literally fruitless Perhentian Kecil island, I set off for Kapas Island well prepared. I knew that arriving on Kapas Island on an August Friday afternoon – the peak of the holiday season – was a dangerous move, and after scouring the entire beach for the best beachfront accommodation Kapas Island could offer, I, unfortunately, ended up in the only place available: the 40 ringgit rooms in Mak Cik Gemuk’s backpacker ghetto.
Walk through the AC beachfront bungalows, across the gardens and past the fan chalets packed with Malaysian weekenders cooking their own food on camping stoves, and you will arrive at a little strip of connected plywood rooms each containing: a wooden box bed with ancient mattress and mildew filled pillows, a prehistoric mosquito net, a small light and a ceiling fan. The outside bathroom has a pipe protruding from a wall pertaining to be a shower, and a non-locking toilet. No sink, no mirror. Worst of all, this little enclave of westerners is right next to an incredibly noisy pump providing water pressure for the entire resort and chugging away like an asthmatic Harley nine hours per day.
But none of this matters, because you will be sleeping in your room and that’s all. The lack of wall socket means you can’t charge your phone, but that doesn’t matter either because there is virtually no internet on the island. What there is, however, is a gorgeous strip of coastline comprising 4 or 5 beaches that can be easily walked in under half an hour. Despite the influx of local day-trippers, the beaches are virtually empty and perfect for sunbathing. The water is cool and refreshing, and the snorkelling on Kapas Island is superlative – especially around the northern end of the Qimi bay.
The low down on Kapas Island
Snorkelling and diving the beautiful reefs, kayaking in the still waters around Kapas Island, flopping in a hammock with a book, eating your contraband fruit stash, and the days very quickly start to merge into one on beautiful Kapas Island.
My good feelings about Kapas panned out so well, I quickly decided to extend my visit for another two days. So I shuffled my bags up the beach to a private chalet at the Qimi resort. At an extravagant splurge $33 per night it’s the most expensive place I’ve stayed in after seven months in Asia – you might think that such expense would get you some pretty plush digs. But this is Malaysia, where even the flashpacker places have sagging floors, mildew filled pillows and musty smells. To be fair, the chalet is well constructed and the bathroom is semi-outdoor and wonderful. And it has a mirror! And two power sockets! Such Luxury.
It has to be said, again, though, that you don’t come to your Kapas Island resort to spend time in your room. The resort is brilliant – a handful of bungalows strung along a hill, in it’s own private bay with the best snorkelling on the island. The staff are some of the friendliest Malaysians I have met. Rose and Nolly were wonderful hosts. The restaurant and common areas are like something from Swiss Family Robinson for that added castaway feeling. If you want dinner in the evening, you have to order before 4pm and then the tables are laid out and reserved for each chalet with a cute little sign, and then everyone eats all at the same time right on the beach. I didn’t feel great about this synchronized eating – I like to eat when I choose, dammit, especially after only eating fruit all day! – but the atmosphere is great.
Synchronized eating was something of a theme at the restaurants on Kapas island – I bailed on a meal at KBC when they told me that “everyone eats at 8:30pm”. My favourite place quickly became Koko Restaurant – delicious veggies and rice served in a very isolated little spot, lit by torches, at the far south end of the beach. The food, again, comes when they are ready, and you can expect a very long wait (especially if they’re busy and you arrive after opening at 7pm), but a complimentary plate of rambutans and longsats goes a long way to making up for that!
The smaller Malaysian islands not selling fruit continues to confound me – it’s growing all around, so why isn’t someone harvesting it and flogging it to tourists? But this problem also let to my favourite part about Kapas – the re-emergence of my hunter-gatherer instincts. Coconuts abound on the island, and I quickly discovered that some of them are readily accessible even without a trained monkey à la Thailand. My travelling knife makes short work of the green ones, and I quickly took BYO to a new level as I sat in various island restaurants, bathed in jealous stares, as I consumed my own fresh-off-the-tree coconut water. After moving to Qimi and a quick lesson in the bolt cutters from the ever helpful Rose, even the mature coconuts became available to me and I got to live out all my Bounty-commercial fantasies, swiftly smashing the nuts in two and devouring the sweet flesh and fresh water.
It’s safe to say that Kapas quickly took position as one of the favourite places I’ve stayed. The island has an intangible quality, a bit like a mini-Otres beach but minus the roads and motorbikes. The lack of dogs on Kapas Island made my a little sad, but the large amount of friendly domestic cats act as a temporary substitute – however, I have a feeling that they are responsible for the small number of lizards on the island, and correspondingly massive amount of giant killer mosquitos. Which raises another point – to get the most out of Kapas, you need to come prepared: a healthy stock of DEET and mosquito coils and as much fruit as you can carry (although not coconuts). I’m confident that if you do, you’ll love it as much as I did.