Port Dickson in the state of Negeri Sembilan is a longtime resort spot for Malaysians. It may be rather an odd choice given that it also hosts an oil refinery, but there you go. Perhaps at some point Port Dickson beach was the closest beach with a town to Kuala Lumpur, offering the city folk a quick family retreat. You can totally do Port Dickson as just a day trip from KL.
I’ll be frank. The tourism heyday of Port Dickson is past. There are resorts and hotels of the big-scale style of the 80s and 90s lining up the road skirting by the coastline. While a few still look impressive, many others no longer look prosperous. There hasn’t been a revival breathing a new, trendier life to the town, as might be seen in towns and cities like Melaka and Ipoh. Port Dickson is a perfectly adequate getaway still – but the shine has dulled over the years.
But I’ve made my way down the west coast of the country on my weekend travels, and it’s now the turn of Negeri Sembilan. So I went down for a quick road trip and gave Port Dickson a chance.
In return, she gave me a beautiful golden sunset.
Port Dickson beach
It’s still a reasonably popular local beach.
I arrived in the afternoon, and went to check out the beach after checking in. The sand is soft beneath your feet, an even strip stretching end to end. There were quite a few people enjoying the evening there, families and friends just walking or playing about. Even swimming.
I’m a tad sceptical about swimming in Port Dickson. Not that I’m squeamish or anything. It’s just that the beach receives the water discharge of the town, at least. And perhaps other surface flows. Damn sure the refinery discharges to the shore somewhere nearby too. I’m not entirely sure how far offshore the various outfalls go, but if it’s an old outfall it may not go very far.
It’s probably not a big deal. Still, there weren’t many signs of shore life on the beach. It’s one of those things that make a beach perfect for squeamish tourists (i.e. a dead beach) but signals habitat stress to a marine scientist. I’d rather see crabs skittering across the sand, juvenile gobies in the rock pools – perhaps shellfish and marine snails clinging to hard surfaces.
Bubbles upon the wind
As with many weekend recreational spots in the country, invariably there would be vendors hawking the toys of the season. Or the classics – like soap bubbles.
My American colleague-friend tells me of the soap bubbles that she blows back home. Stupendously long bubbles that occasionally result in minor traffic mayhem when they slip away towards roads. She can’t get them anywhere that large here. She reckons it’s the higher amount of particulates in the air that makes the bubble pop long before it ever gets that big.
Nonetheless the children at the beach knew nothing of that. And they did manage to scatter quite impressive bubbles upon the breeze.
Up on the grass beyond the sand, the enterprising have set up makeshift stalls and food vans. (Is it still street food, if there’s no street?). Really, you won’t go hungry in Malaysia.
The islet beyond the parting sea
There is a little sand bar of an islet just off the low water line of Port Dickson beach. Mangroves dot the surface, its branches and raised maze of roots casting a picture perfect profile against the gold of the setting sun.
The sea flows towards shore around the sand bar. So the waters curve round and meet on the landward side. At low tide you can see the two flows lap over each other.
A sand bank appears to be accumulating where they meet. The waves slow down as they weave back into each other, and sand that they carry are dropped where they kiss. And when the low tide holds the two flows apart, a little bridge of raised sand is just about exposed, and the way to the islet is open.
Separated from people, the islet has more life, despite still being quite near to shore. Not very sensitive life, but more than the beach nonetheless.
Crabs skitter among the maze of standing roots. And you can see where the waterline can rise and where the splash line could extend. Barnacles grow all over the mangrove branches almost up to my (admittedly diminutive) height.
Port Dickson 3D art gallery
I did discover something else while I was driving around in Port Dickson though.
The Alive 3D Art Gallery is a little place within a row of shophouses showcasing some pretty cool 3D art.
They are painted on walls and floors – sometimes ceilings – and don’t look like much until you stand at exactly the right spot. And then they really pop.
They mark the positions on the floor where you need to stand in order to get the 3D effect. It’s actually hard for some reason, to really capture it on camera. They come at you more, in person. These are some of my better shots.
I seem to be really good at finding precisely the worst attractions for solo travel. And then actually going there. Needless to say there are many, many madcap poses that can be thought of, if you are in a place like this with friends.
So I found Port Dickson to have fallen to a distinctly average destination. But on the other hand, the place I stayed at, Langit Langi, did have a common room that looked like this:
And while Port Dickson beach isn’t exactly the best beach in the country, it did give me a pretty incredible sunset. So it goes to show that places – and people? – can surprise you if you give them some airtime.
You just have to watch for it, with sunset eyes.
* I also give Langit Langi props for having a common filtered water dispenser in the corridor. It’s very handy for refilling your water bottle, and makes it easier for people to avoid the scourge of single-use plastic bottled water.
** A nearby nature attraction is the Raptor Watch, hosted annually by the Malaysian Nature Society at the Tanjung Tuan forest reserve, coinciding with the arrival of migrating raptors to the area around March. At this time it is common to find eagles, hawks and buzzards flying past overhead, or circling lazily on the thermals. Although technically in the state of Melaka, it is much more convenient to stay in Port Dickson to observe Raptor Watch.