A place from my childhood: Port Dickson

11 07 2021

It is sad that many places that featured in our childhoods, collectively as Singaporeans who grew up in the first three decades of independence, have all but disappeared. Even if they are around, they would have changed in an unrecognisable way. There are times when I feel more at home in parts of Peninsular Malaysia that I connected with as a child, than in Singapore, the country of my birth and I have on more than one occasion sought out these places to get a sense of coming home that is absent in much of Singapore.

One place in which I found some of my childhood memories intact is the Lido Hotel in Port Dickson. It was a place that featured regularly in numerous driving trips “up country” that my parents were fond of taking in the 1970s. Port Dickson was often a stopover on the way to, or on the way back from, destinations further up north and one that was made even more special because of the beach.

Beach in front of Lido Hotel, Port Dickson, 1971

I found an opportunity to revisit the area in which the Lido Hotel was during a driving trip up the peninsula some years back, making a small detour from the North-South Highway. The sight of the old hotel was a pleasant surprise. Located right where it was at the 8th mile of Port Dickson’s well known 11 mile stretch of beach, the hotel’s road entrance was certainly a welcome sight as was the building in which the small hotel operated despite the developments that have sprouted up all along the beach. The hotel, when it featured in my childhood trips, had already looked that it had left its glory days far behind, and it came as not surprise to see it in a dilapidated state, reduced to being a place for beach goers to have their showers. Much was however, still familiar. The dining space at which we sometimes had lunch at was recognisable, even if it had been emptied of the tables and chairs that once filled it. The hotel’s two wings in which its rooms were located even if emptied of life, had the grilles and green cement floors that I remember well.

Prior to this visit, the I last time I must have set eyes on this side of Port Dickson would have been in the early 1980s. The opening of the first southern stretches of the North-South Highway, from Kuala Lumpur or KL to Seremban and its extension to Ayer Keroh in the 1980s put paid for the need for stopovers. It used to take 6 hours to drive from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore on the old trunk or coastal road, parts of which were slow, winding, and rather treacherous. Traffic would often be held up by slow-moving trucks loaded with cargo such as the lori-lori balak or logging trucks. The highway may have made it a lot easier to take that drive to KL, but what it may have also done is have us forget some truly charming places along the way such as Port Dickson, that may have featured in the drives we took in the past.