Sitting on the south-western edge of Johor is the small fishing town of Kukup that’s built on stilts. An entire community, comprising mostly Chinese fishermen, live behind the row of shophouses fronting the main road that ends at the town’s ferry terminal.
Kukup is known for its fresh seafood, kelongs (fish farms) and houses built above the water. The houses are connected by a series of concrete walkways above the muddy mangrove shoreline. All services that support a community are also be found here – schools, temples, shops and restaurants.
When strolling down the narrow walkway, it is easy to forget that you are actually walking along a “main” road for motorcycles and bicycles. In Kukup, everyone seems to know how to ride a motorcycle or scooter. Not only the men, but also the women and even children as young as 12 years old! They seem to enjoy riding fast, sounding their horns at any pedestrian that blocks their path.
While we were sitting under the shade in someone’s compound and waiting for the sun to set, a middle-aged lady on a motorcycle sped right in front of us and made a sudden turn to the left without slowing down. She lost control and fell off the bike, stopping short of rolling over the side and into the mud below. We rushed to help her, together with four or five other villagers who seemed to appear from no where! After she was back on her feet, she dusted herself, got on the motorbike and sped off, without so much as an acknowledgement or “thank-you” to those who had come to her aid! Maybe living in a close-knit community like Kukup means never having to say thank-you!
The ferry terminal found here links Kukup to Tanjung Balai in the Riau island of Indonesia. It departs every hour and the journey takes an hour and forty-five minutes.
There are many floating fish farms (kelongs) in the channel between Kukup and Kukup Island National Park. For a mere USD1.25, visitors can take a boat ride to these kelongs to get a closer look at the sea critters being reared here.
The shops at Kukup specialise in selling dried fish products like keropok (crackers) and belacan (shrimp paste). The restaurants nearest to the main road are the biggest and busiest, serving a full range of fresh seafood at reasonable prices. My favourite dishes are crabs in salted egg yolk, buttered prawns and deep-fried baby octopus served with piping hot rice.
Over the years, the number of tourists to this town has increased. Some enterprising owners have seized this opportunity to convert their stilt homes into resorts, chalets and homestays. So finding a place to stay for one or two nights in Kukup is a piece of cake if you’re game for the experience of living like the locals and watching the sunset from the kitchen or backyard!