Travel

The East Coast of Malaysia, an Enchanting Encounter

This post was written by David Bowden

The Malaysian states of Terengganu and Kelantan are generally referred to as the East Coast along with the coastal parts of Pahang State. Together, they make up some half the total area of Peninsular Malaysia.

Malaysia’s East Coast is one of the nation’s leading petroleum-producing areas as well a cultural heartland. Holidaymakers are attracted here for the slower pace of life and a place where traditional values reign supreme.

Tourism is reasonably well-established along the strip from Kuantan in Pahang northwards to the Thai border with an inventory of natural assets such as tranquil islands, coral reefs, mangrove estuaries and long stretches of mostly untouched beaches. The lifestyle is laidback and appeals to those seeking a quiet holiday without large-scale attractions. There are several upmarket resorts on the mainland and offshore islands that provided a sophisticated ambiance with international services and facilities.

Heritage has always been important on the East Coast as it is the home of the nation’s handicraft industries such as batik, silverware, wood-carving and songket weaving. Tourism development has been conscious of the need to preserve the East Coast’s unique culture identity and its fragile ecosystems in an ever-changing world.

Terengganu – Home Of The faithful

By the beginning of the 18th century,Kuala Terengganu was well established as a trading port for exporting pepper, gambier (used to tan leather), gold, tin and sugar. Foreign vessels brought in intricate silks along with other goods from China and exported local produce. While still a port, trading no longer is as important as it was throughout history.

The original settlements in central Kuala Terengganu have remained a mix of distinct communities that continue to interact and trade between each other. Kampung Cina, located in the historic heart of Kuala Terengganu, is an important heritage site that supports a unique confluence of Malaysian cultural heritage. It is home to the Istana Maziah, the Chinese settlement of Kampung Cina and various urban Malay kampungs.

Like many Malaysian islands, the waters off Redang Island are protected as a marine park. Visitors can fly to Redang from Kuala Lumpur on Berjaya Air or catch a ferry from Merang just north of Kuala Terengganu.

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Sections of Malaysia’s best-known national park of Taman Negara are located in Terengganu and Kelantan. The Terengganu access is best left to adventurers lead by an experienced guide and the departure point is from the southern end of Lake Kenyir, Southeast Asia’s largest manmade lake and is a popular recreational area for local tourists. Comfortable lodges are located here and watersports on the lake and associated waterfalls are popular.

Kelantan – Land Of Lightning

The pace of life is much slower in Malaysia’s most northeastern state and there are less trappings of modernity. Traditional values and religion are important to the people who live here. For visitors who want a cultural encounter free from the cares of busy urban life, Kelantan is an ideal destination to spend a few days. The less-visited East Coast fronting the South China Sea features several island groups with the main one in the state being Perhentian (Kecil or Small Island and Besar or Big Island). Colourful coral reefs and clear waters teeming with marine life appeal to divers who appreciate competitively-priced diving while staying in mostly simple but comfortable beachside chalets.

The offshore islands are accessible from the mainland by regular ferries although some may cease operating in November and December due to the effects of the monsoon. The name Kelantan is roughly translated as “land of lightning,” and the skies are known to stage a spectacular performance during the tropical storms associated with the monsoon.

Kelantan has close relationships with southern Thailand and locals from both sides readily cross into the neighbouring country. It’s not surprising that Islam extends into southern Thailand just as devotees of Buddhism can be found in northeastern Malaysia, too. Various Buddhist festivals are celebrated in Kelantan mostly around the temples located in Tumpat. The reclining Buddha at Wat Phothivian is a popular tourist attraction as is Southeast Asia’s largest seated Buddha at Wat Machimmaram.

Closer to Kota Bharu along the road to the beach at Pantai Cahaya Bulan, various traditional arts and crafts from wau, songket, batik, wood carvings, top spinning and silver jewellery can be found. The vibrant Central Market (Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah) is the place to start exploring central Kota Bharu and from here historic landmarks like the Cultural Centre, Handicraft Village, Istana Jahar and the Second World War Museum are close by.

Relaxed Retreats

While several inland attractions such as Lake Kenyir and Taman Negara are accessible from the East Coast, most visitors will head here for the mainland beaches and offshore islands. From the south heading north to Kota Bahru, the most appealing coastal resorts include Hyatt Regency Kuantan (near Kuantan), Swiss Garden (Balok Beach), Club Med (Cherating), and Tanjong Jara (Dungun). Berjaya Redang Beach Resort on Redang Island is the most upmarket resort on the offshore islands that include Tenggol, Kapas, Redang, and the Perhentians.

In the Cherating area, Club Med maintains a very welcoming setting where staff ensure everybody is well looked after. Kids love the fun concept and once they check into one of the three kids’ clubs – grouped by age – parents will lose sight of them. This is meant to be a positive thing as they are professionally cared for and offered a range of challenging activities appropriate to their age. Kids can also eat as a group so parents can settle back, relax, or join in a range of activities too. Alternatively, take time over leisurely, all-inclusive buffet meals and an open bar for most beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) from early morning until late in the evening. Other resorts and hotels along this stretch – none of which are all-inclusive like Club Med – include Impiana, The Legend, Eastern Pavilion, Sanctuary, and Residence Inn.

Access

Visitors from the KL area can drive to parts of the East Coast quite quickly using the East-West (Karak) Highway, which continues as the Pantai Timur Expressway beyond Karak Many visitors fly into airports at Kuala Terengganu, Kerteh, Kuantan, and Kota Bharu on the mainland and the islands of Redang and Tioman. Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Firefly and Berjaya all operate regular flights into the region.

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Source: The Expat March 2013

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