Should You Visit Port Dickson, Malaysia? An Honest Review
Some of my favorite trips have been to almost unheard-of places. For example, my weekend in Corozal, a tiny town in Belize, is one of my favorite travel memories of 2018. The quiet town of Hengchun in southern Taiwan is equally lovely. But not every small town is guaranteed to offer travelers the same level of charm. My recent weekend trip to Port Dickson in Malaysia was probably the most underwhelming trip I’ve taken in 2019.
Long story short, I was sort of disappointed by how run-down the area was. Port Dickson has dozens of massive resorts that are in disrepair and slowly falling apart. Others look like they are barely staying afloat. It’s as if Port Dickson was expected to be the next Cancún and a ton of money was invested, but no tourism boom ever happened (or it came and went very quickly). In addition, the beaches in the area were only okay.
However, Port Dickson (or PD) still had some good things to offer. If you’re considering a trip to this seaside town, read on to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I’ll start with the things I enjoyed about my trip to Port Dickson.
Port Dickson is a uniquely Malaysian experience. Little details here and there will make it hard to forget that you’re in this beautiful and diverse country.
Food Worth Ranting About
All three of my trips to Malaysia so far have been defined by the amazing food I’ve had. Despite Port Dickson’s lackluster vibe, every meal I had here was top-notch. Even something as simple as fried rice (nasi goreng) is packed with flavor, and usually goes for one or two USD.
Most dishes are based on rice, but there’s also plenty of other Indian and Chinese options as well. The area also had a lot of seafood restaurants, but most of them seemed closed.
One recommendation: be sure to try the street food. This burger I ordered from a street stall (pictured below) was excellent; the patty was wrapped in a thinly-spread fried egg, and had a distinctly local flavor.
If you stick to local restaurants, food prices will be very affordable. I don’t think I ever paid more than 10 MYR (approx. 2.40 USD) for a meal.
One last thing I enjoyed about Port Dickson was finding all the street art hidden in plain view. Don’t walk around with your nose buried in your phone or you might miss it!
The Bad (And The Ugly)
The following are my biggest complaints about Port Dickson.
My biggest complaint about Port Dickson is all of the dilapidated resorts. While many looked open for business, their sprawling, empty parking lots revealed at most a couple of families staying in each one. I stayed at an Airbnb in a high-rise condo, and it was the same; most of the units appeared empty. Some units had windows missing and others looked abandoned, filled with debris. It appeared that maybe 10% of the apartments in the huge complex were occupied.
Other resorts were clearly just abandoned and left to slowly crumble. One on the main road looked like a grand structure when it was in operation, but seagulls were nesting in the swimming pool and nature was starting to take over its tall towers.
Obviously, none of this directly affected me, but it did make Port Dickson seem partially abandoned. Some could argue that it makes for an interesting vibe, but for me it just felt like a ghost town. I’m curious if it’s different during the high season. If you’ve been to Port Dickson and found it to be lively and upbeat, let me know about it in the comments below!
I’ve never experienced this on any trip I’ve taken before, but I guess it was a good lesson to learn because wild or feral dogs can honestly appear anywhere in the world. However, I had a pretty close encounter in Port Dickson.
I was walking along this beach when I noticed a ton of paw prints in the sand. I looked up and immediately saw a pack of dogs (at least 10 or 12) in the vicinity. They saw me too and were clearly not happy that I had walked into their territory. They ran towards me, barking. Three of them formed a semicircle around me. I slowly backed up one step at a time, and after about a minute or so, the entire pack decided to run off in another direction.
I was really lucky that the leaders of the pack decided not to bite, because I think all of them would’ve followed suit. It honestly could’ve ended in some serious injury and I’m glad I didn’t try to run (but it was also very clear in the moment that doing so would be a huge mistake). At another point in my journey, I saw a man being chased on a motorbike by a wild dog. Unfortunately, they appeared to be somewhat common in Port Dickson, so I recommend staying alert while walking and being prepared.
Encounters with wild dogs can happen at any time, and it’s something avid travelers should be prepared to deal with. I read this advice article after my close encounter; you might want to read it before you find yourself in a similar situation.
The downtown of Port Dickson was one of my least favorite areas. I was expecting a quaint waterfront with local shops and restaurants. On the contrary, the waterfront is dominated by a Starbucks and a McDonald’s. There’s also a sad-looking strip mall with mostly vacant spaces. The water is nice enough if the weather is sunny, but the whole area just felt sort of melancholy.
It’s also very clear that a revitalization effort was made here maybe a few years ago, but that it never came to fruition. You can just see from street level that a ton of apartments and businesses are empty.
A little further away from the waterfront (in this general vicinity) looks a bit more traditionally Malaysian, but I was surprised to see that most restaurants and shops were closed at noon on a Monday and Tuesday. I still found a delicious meal from a food truck for lunch, but even this area felt unusually quiet for a town center.
Things That Were Okay
Here are some of the things about Port Dickson that I felt were neither amazing nor terrible.
Most of the beaches in Port Dickson were nice enough, but in my opinion they don’t compare to others in the region. If you’re based in Vietnam and in search of stunning beaches, look no further than Phú Quốc Island. Since it’s a domestic flight from Ho Chi Minh City, flight tickets are frequently as low as 40 USD round-trip. Meanwhile, round-trip tickets to Kuala Lumpur are usually around 100 USD due to international taxes, etc.
Blue Lagoon and Cape Rachado Lighthouse
This particular beach and small hiking area with a lighthouse on Cape Rachado got good reviews online, but I was ambivalent about both. The weather was pretty cloudy when I visited, so I’m sure the Blue Lagoon would’ve been nicer on a sunny day. However, one thing I did enjoy was seeing the thousands of sand bubbler crabs here, which are fascinating to watch.
Similarly, I think I was expecting panoramic views from the Cape Rachado Lighthouse, which it did not offer. For one, the lighthouse is not open to the public, but also after dragging yourself uphill for twenty minutes or so, you’ll only get to see the lighthouse surrounded by pretty dense forest. Sunnier weather wouldn’t have really made a difference for this one.
The Lexis Hibiscus Resort
If you do a bit of Googling, you’ll see that the Lexis Hibiscus Port Dickson is one of the main landmarks of the area. Check out this breathtaking image of the hotel, which of course enticed me to go check it out in person.
Here’s the good news: there is a rooftop bar that you can visit to see the flower even if you’re not staying at the hotel. But the bad news is that you’re not going to get a stunning picture like all the promotional images online (which are clearly taken from a plane, helicopter, or drone). The main building of the hotel is only 13 stories tall, so you’ll have to take a panorama and the picture won’t be great. This is the one I got.
The drinks at the bar were good but also fairly expensive at 32 MYR each (remember that most meals in town are less than 10 MYR).
In addition, this hotel just gave me the vibe that it was trying a bit too hard to be fancy. The actual units making up the flower have such a strange look to them; massive concrete walls separate each room from the next for privacy, but it just gives the place an almost industrial feeling. Although this was the one resort I saw that actually seemed to be full of guests, the whole thing just came off as a bit tacky to me.
Port Dickson is easily accessible by Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It’s about an hour by car without traffic, and expect to pay around 75 to 90 MYR per ride (using Grab).
Port Dickson is too spread out to walk, and as far as I could tell there was no public transportation. However, Grab operates in the area and it shouldn’t cost more than about 15 MYR to get from one end of the town to the other (as far south as Cape Rachado).
So, should you visit Port Dickson? I would say if it’s your first, second, or even third trip to Malaysia, try out another place first. Kuala Lumpur is a lot of fun, and Penang is another destination that has a lot to offer. However, if you’re spending an extended period of time in KL and need a change of pace for a day trip or weekend, PD could be a good option.
Have you been to Port Dickson? If you have, was it eerily empty when you went? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Thanks for checking out this post on Caffeinated Excursions!