Charming Cherating

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Routinely overlooked, Cherating beach and its environs can be reached with an easy three-hour drive from KL. Editor Chad Merchant takes a weekend trip and finds much to cherish in the small town and its nearby coastline.

The first 50km or so out of KL are a bit nerve-wracking, owing more to the crazed style of Malaysian driving on the twisting, rolling roads than anything, but the Karak Highway is scenic to be certain. The expressway takes you over the crest of the mountain range running down the spine of Peninsular Malaysia into the heart of Pahang, where it joins up seamlessly with the East Coast Highway – Lebuhraya Pantai Timur – and from that point, it’s a clear, easy drive to the coast.

Perhaps it’s because Klang Valley is on the west side of the Peninsula, or perhaps because the heavily travelled North-South Highway favours that side, but the east coast seems to be quite overlooked by expats – and more than a few locals, too.


The Scenic Seaside

It must be said that the famed sugar-white sands that make the east coast’s northern islands so alluring are not present here. The sand is a rich golden colour, and the beaches are unfortunately littered with debris at times, depending on currents. But when things go right, the vast, sweeping crescent of beach fronting the South China Sea is splendid, and you’ll have it to yourself more often than not.

The coast here is largely undeveloped, which of course has its pros and cons for the weekend traveller. Relatively untainted by humans, the shores offer a prime breeding ground for marine turtles, and all along the coast, life flourishes. Mere metres from the pounding surf, monkeys scamper on the beach in search of an easy meal, wild boars root through the scrub, and seabirds circle lazily overhead. A few ramshackle kampungs dot the area between Cherating and Kuantan, 47km to the south, but human encroachment in these parts hasn’t proliferated at all, and once you get off the at-times hectic main two-lane road even a bit, you’ll feel reasonably isolated.

Turtle Heaven

Cherating is perhaps most well-known for its sea turtles. Though the numbers have dramatically declined over the years, scores of female green turtles still find their way back to the beaches here where they themselves were first hatched, lay their eggs, and introduce a new generation to the seas. The “turtle season” runs from May to August, and if you’re fortunate, you can be there to watch. It’s a remarkable experience to see these large, gentle reptiles emerge from the sea and slowly make their way to a spot on the beach and dig out a deep hole. Once the hole is prepared, the female will lay eggs by the dozen, each about the size of a ping-pong ball. The new mother we observed deposited 104 soft eggs in her burrow, and once completed, she filled in the hole with sand, and shuffled off back to the surf. There is no nurturing period of parenting for marine turtles; once the eggs are laid, she considers her mothering duties fulfilled and the hatchlings are completely on their own. Some never even see the outside of their egg: predators will unearth the sandy nest and take the eggs. Regrettably, humans are on this list of predators, and for that reason, volunteers from the nearby Turtle Sanctuary were on hand to immediately seize the entire cache of eggs before the mother turtle had even made it back to the ocean, denying would-be poachers (and hungry monkeys) their prize. The eggs are then taken back to the Sanctuary for gestation, and when the hatchlings arrive, they are returned to the same beach and released, where they instinctively scramble into the sea. We were extremely lucky to not only see a turtle laying her eggs, but to also receive a separate batch of fresh hatchlings (rather humourously delivered in a blue Tesco shopping basket) to release into their new ocean home. Females who survive the first tenuous years of life will return to the exact same beach in 25-30 years to lay their own eggs.


Apart from the green turtle, the waters off the coast of East Malaysia are home to other turtle species as well, such as the hawksbill turtle and the critically endangered leatherback turtle, the largest sea turtle – indeed the largest of any living turtle species – in the world. This coastline was once home to the greatest nesting population of leatherback turtles on Earth, but sadly, rampant egg consumption by humans has effectively wiped out the entire subpopulation. Efforts to reinvigorate the leatherback’s presence in Malaysia have, to date, been largely ineffective, and the story of this wondrous turtle’s precipitous decline in the country’s coastal waters now serves as a cautionary tale in ongoing conservation efforts.


River Of Lights, Village Of Life

The meandering Cherating River is a rather scenic waterway by day, owing to its clean water (unlike many of Malaysia’s muddy rivers) and lush foliage on the banks. By night, it’s possible to book a river journey with the no-surname-required Hafiz, who has been running a successful river tour operation from Old Cherating Village (Kampung Cherating Lama) for years. For RM20, you’ll get an informative seminar on the fireflies here – a different species than the famous fireflies of Kuala Selangor – and then a most enjoyable boat tour up the river. The relaxing tour lasts just under an hour, and if you take this little cruise during a new moon, the deep dark affords a wonderful spectacle of shimmering fireflies (who routinely fly lazily into the boats, landing on delighted passengers) and a vast field of stars high above the blackened banks of the river.

The old village, really the heart of Cherating, also offers a few fantastic seafood restaurants – very casual and open-air – and though the seafood isn’t as cheap as you might expect, relaxing around sunset withsome barbecued stingray, grilled snapper, and a platter of freshly floured and fried squid is a most enjoyable way to begin the evening. And for a truly local experience, be sure to stop at one of the impromptu snack shacks set up at various street corners. Not much more than a roving food stall with a few plastic tables and stools, these places are great to order a plate of pisang goreng (fried banana fritters) and fresh coconut water. Life moves at a slower pace in the village, and it’s great to just wander around and see what strikes your fancy.

Though it does tend to suffer a bit from the all-too-common local hallmarks of subpar service and mediocre maintenance, Cherating – the beach and the village – still offers a charming and enjoyable getaway from the hectic pace of city life.


Source: The Expat March 2013

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