At a ramshackle fish farm floating off the coast of Pangkor Island, west Malaysia, I was attempting to catch my dinner. Made up of crisscrossed wooden beams with well-worn nets attached beneath, the structure bobbed gently with the swell of the sea.
In the tropical green water below teamed sea bass, red snappers and some monstrous-looking giant groupers.
“They’re as big as you,” laughed the weathered fish farmer as I edged my way back along the slats to shore. On a field-to-table food excursion, the plan was to cook up a storm that evening with whatever we found during the day.
But first, some shopping. We boarded our boat and set off for a nearby market. There, raffia bags bulged either side of the pavement with masses of dried squid and anchovies, while spilling out of open-fronted shops, tables groaned with dragon fruit and pineapples.
Noodle machines clacked, passers-by bartered for bundles of brightly coloured vegetables and street sellers shouted their prices over the din. Filling my bag with banana leaves, it was time to take my wares back to base.
Nestled on a 300-acre private island, the five-star Pangkor Laut Resort may be a hefty four-hour transfer from Kuala Lumpur (where we stayed overnight to break up the travelling), but it’s worth every second of the journey.
A small patch of heaven, Pangkor Laut provides everything you would expect from a private island: peace in spades, exceptional service (they’ll remember you like your Martini shaken, with a twist) and palm-lined white sandy beaches worthy of a postcard.
Thanks to their Chef’s Kitchen Experience, they also promise to turn even the most dreadful of cooks (like myself) into the next Raymond Blanc.
As you sail up to the jetty you get your first glimpse of the resort’s elegant dark wood sea villas, their stilts emerging from the clear, lapping waters of the Strait of Malacca.
Each villa is equipped with an enormous sunken bath and rainforest shower and a sleek wooden terrace with views out over the water.
While you are discouraged to jump into the water from your sea villa itself, the aptly named Emerald Bay is just a short shuttle ride away.
Set back in a secluded inlet, a discreetly placed net catches any jellyfish, meaning you can swim and walk along the shore without fear of a sting.
Hammocks and rope swings hang from branches overhead and offer the perfect place for an afternoon nap.
Hopping off the boat, we walked under a sea almond tree laden with hundreds of dangling fruit bats. Elsewhere on the island, you might find a wild boar and its babies, great hornbills, water monitor lizards and even a pangolin.
But for us, it was time to cook. As the sun began to dip, I took a seat at the resort’s seafront kitchen. Pangkor Laut’s head chef added his expertise and together we prepared the fruits of our excursion.
As our creation began to gently simmer, the scents of spices and freshly chopped chilli swept up from the pan. Then, served on a smoked banana leaf, I tucked into our feast of Malaysian spiced red snapper and sticky white rice.
Fresh and delicious, it certainly tasted better than anything I’d ever cooked before. But then again, it’s not every day you get to cook on your own private island.
Rooms at Pangkor Laut Resort (pangkorlautresort.com) start at £302 per night, including breakfast.
Rooms at Hotel Stripes (stripeskl.com), Kuala Lumpur, start at £74 per night.
British Airways operates direct flights from London Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur, with fares available from £539 return.
For more information, visit ba.com.
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