Kuantan on the East Coast is destined to become an exciting new weekend escape for expats, now that the new highway has been extended from Karak (East of the Titiwangsa Range) to the outskirts of the Pahang state capital.
Nothing new has happened in Kuantan to make it more appealing, but it’s now one and a half hours closer, thanks to the recently completed tollway. What was once at least a four-hour winding and somewhat unsafe journey can now be done in a relaxed manner in a little over two hours, depending upon where you leave from in Kuala Lumpur. Now Kuantan can compete with other peninsula beachside destinations for those looking for that relaxed weekend getaway. The beaches around Teluk Chempedak are the big attraction here, and hotels like the Hyatt Kuantan and, closer to town the city-based MS Garden Hotel, make the experience more appealing.
Garden Hotel, make the experience more appealing. Kuantan is the first substantive settlement reached after leaving the tollway, and rightly deserves the title as the gateway to the East Coast. Visitors can arrive in the city and head either North (for Cherating, Dungan, Marang, Kuala Terengganu, and Kota Bharu) or South (to Kuala Rompin, Mersing and Desaru) should you choose not to stay in Kuantan itself. Many of these other towns provide ferry facilities for travelling to the various East Coast islands groups.
The East Coast is best known for several laid back towns, picturesque fishing villages, children flying kites, and traditional values. Visitors get a glimpse of all of this in Kuantan, but the real Malaysian cultural heartlands are located further North in the States of Terengganu and Kelantan. Kuantan is not brimming with sightseeing attractions, but the new Sultan Ahmad Shah Mosque (Masjid Negeri) is an impressive structure in the city centre. In contrast, the city’s older buildings are located around the padang on Jalan Makhota. A stroll along the riverfront to see the fleet of fishing boats is also recommended.
Visitors can enjoy the fresh catch served in the many food stalls in Medan Pelachong. Relax in value-for-money stalls, or more substantive establishments ranging from curry houses to Chinese restaurants. Closer to the beach, seafood is also served along Medan Selera. The Hyatt Kuantan has wide selection of dining options, with Italian, Chinese, and evening themed buffets, with the seafood evening being the pick of the buffet choices.
On the coast, heading North of Kuantan, are several fishing villages that are a photographer’s delight. The long stretches of yellow beaches have been home to fishing folk for centuries. The villages really showcase old fishing boats, crusty-faced fishing folk, and kids who squeal with delight when expats make an appearance
The fishing village of Beserah is picturesque and ideal for those looking for uniquely Malaysian fishing scenes. While the drying fish may be more aromatic than many may prefer, it’s popular with Kuantan chefs who come here to buy the dinner you will most likely enjoy in your hotel that evening. Water buffalo are utilised to haul the fresh fishing catch from the beach to the village for processing.
Further North, Cherating is another seaside location that has long been popular with budget travellers. While several large resorts are located along the long sandy beaches to the South, those in Kampung Cherating itself are small, locally run, and offer a haven for travellers seeking simple village life. Don’t expect wild nights and active days, but for those who like a relaxing lifestyle along an undeveloped stretch of golden sand, this is the ideal escape. While not Malaysia’s best beach, the waters are shallow, safe for swimming, and the winds are challenging for windsurfers.
Balok Beach, 15km North of Kuantan, is home to the ‘Monsoon Madness Windsurfing Competition’ contested every February. Windsurfing enthusiasts make the most of the waves and swell whipped up at the height of the monsoon to compete on the choppy open waters off the beach. Kuantan is also good base to explore several natural attractions in the Pahang, like Lake Bera (Malaysia’s first Ramsar site and a wetland of international significance) two hours to the West, and Lake Cini, one hour’s drive West.
Apart from driving to Kuantan, it’s possible to fly to Kuantan from KLIA on Malaysia Airlines (five times a day). The Kuantan Airport is 20km West of the city, and has probably lost a lot of its appeal with the opening of the new highway. Air Force aircrafts also share the runway and are frequently seen and heard in the skies overhead.
Kuantan has a popular seaside resort area with international appeal located along Teluk Chempedak just 5km from the town centre. Watersports like jet skiing are popular pastimes, but caution needs to be exercised in the water, as there are often dangerous currents (there’s always the pool overlooking the beach). There are several places to stay beside the beach, with the 5-star Hyatt Kuantan appealing to expats. The area is popular for recreation amongst locals, too, who also flock here to devour fresh local seafood.
The city is the gateway to the East Coast, and marks the beginning of what many consider to be the heart and soul of Malaysian culture. The golden sandy beaches around Teluk Chempedak on the outskirts of the city are attraction enough for those seeking a little relaxation in their lives.
Source: The Expat December 2004
This article has been edited for ExpatGomalaysia.com
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