Kukup Village - Precarious village on stilts

Story by Jeremy Torr

 

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Fishing is still a lifeline at Kukup Village.
Although you don’t find people still hunting mammoths with spears, you can still find people fishing in exactly the same way they did thousands of years ago. Bang Pat in Phrang Nha National Park, Thailand. Kompong Phluk in Prasat Bakong, Cambodia, and Kukup Village, Johor State, Malaysia.

All these places still have fishermen living in huts on stilts over the sea. Many still use tidal fish traps and nets that have changed little over the millennia. Admitted, you can now hear the put-put of outboards as fishermen check nets and pots, but the way of life has changed little.

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Jeremy catches up with the oldest Malay fisherman at Kukup Village
Many of these delicately-balanced villages include shops, temples, schools and even plank roadways to carry buzzing step-through motorbikes. The people eat, sleep, work and raise families over the sea, in an atmosphere of watery calm and peace. It’s supremely simple and relaxing to sit on a rickety wooden platform, balanced 5m over the water on bamboo poles, sipping a cold beer and watching the sun set over the sea. All this just a couple of hours – yet centuries in time – away from the high tech rush of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore at Kukup Village.

The sea acts as both the reservoir of life – the fish are abundant – and a handy disposal resource for Kukup villagers. Young and old simply throw everything they cannot eat or use into the water. It swallows up discarded fish bones, vegetable peelings, wastewater and sewage. The rush of the tides keeps the waters clean, and recycles human waste into yet another generation of fat fish. It may not be Health and Safety approved, but it has worked for centuries.

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Modern waste doesn't decay - it just clogs up
Sadly, one thing that has changed is the introduction of modern packaging: fast food wrappers, plastic cups, cans and bottles. The village people don’t have metropolitan garbage collectors coming round so they do the usual thing and throw this new rubbish into the sea. It’s the habit of generations.

Sadly, unlike organic waste, this new rubbish doesn’t get swallowed and recycled. It floats and clogs and ruins the whole area, and endangers the aquatic food chain that offers a lifeline for these precarious villages.

So when you visit these amazing and beautiful places, unique reminders of how we used to live centuries ago, do two things. First, take home all your rubbish. Second, pick up all the litter you can, and take it back to the nearest disposal point. And tell the local people why you are doing it; regular habits become entrenched over the years, and become harder to break.

Unless the plastic pollution of these wonderful villages stops, that delicate balance of man and nature could disappear along with the choked fish, destroyed by careless jettisoning of modern junk.

Photos by Jeremy Torr and Mallika Naguran


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The sea is this temple's foundation
Getting there


Located at t he south-western tip of the peninsula, Kukup Village is approximately 20km from Pontian town in the Malaysian state of Johor Bahru. From the North South Expressway (NSE), take the Skudai exit (Interchange 254) through Pontian Kechil (Highway 5 and 95) towards Kukup. The journey from Johor Bahru takes about 62km.

Activities

Trekking and bird watching at Pulau Kukup or Kukup Island, the world’s largest uninhabited mangrove swamp with 800 ha of intertidal mudflats. Located 1 km away from mainland Kukup town, the island is accessible by boat and offers rewarding views from the boardwalk and suspension bridge. The island was gazetted as a State Park in 1997 and designated as a Ramsar site of Malaysia in 2003.

Visiting fish and shrimp farms.

What To Eat

Seafood of course. Chilli or pepper crab, the messier the better.

What To Buy

Local handicrafts, batik shirts, sarongs, keropok (crackers), nuts, chinchalok (fermented shrimp paste) and juicy tropical fruit

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Quirky encounters during Chinese New Year
Where To Stay

Numerous and affordable accommodations with simple facilities. One of such is Kukup Floating Chalet at a about RM 50 per night for a basic a/c room for two. Dorms are handy for big groups of trippers.

26 Kg Air Masin, 82300 Kukup, Pontian
Phone +60 12 733 6860 - ask for Gemuk (fat in Malay, but he isn’t; don’t ask me why)