Hitting the road: an excursion to the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia

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Beachfront, Club Med Cherating
Beachfront, Club Med Cherating

The road trip to the East Coast was once a long and circuitous journey, one on which you just hoped that you wouldn’t get stuck behind any number of lorries hauling logs or petroleum. Now, the rejuvenated East-West and Karak Highways make it a relatively easier and more enjoyable journey, one with little traffic once the Titiwangsa Range has been traversed beyond the Genting Highlands.

East Coast destinations such as Kuantan and Cherating are just a three hours’ drive from the capital which puts them well within the range of a weekend escape. Reasonable beaches, a relaxed pace of life, several good resorts, and varied recreational possibilities make the East Coast an appealing proposition.

fishing fleet in berserah
Fishing fleet in Berserah

Kuantan Airport is the gateway for those who choose to fly in from KLIA (Malaysia Airlines), Penang (Firefly), Subang (Malindo), or Singapore (Firefly).

Things move at a much slower pace on Malaysia’s East Coast and traditional and conservative values are important in almost all facets of daily life here. One gets the impression that this is just how the good folks of the East Coast like it, and tourism development appears to be less important to them than it is in many other parts of the country.

City living

sultan ahmad shah mosque

Kuantan, near the mouth of the Kuantan River and the South China Sea, is the capital and largest city in Pahang. The main freeway north bypasses Kuantan, so consequently, those who want to visit the city have to make a conscious decision to detour there.

One of the main attractions in Kuantan is the ornately decorated blue and white Sultan Ahmad Shah State Mosque located on Jalan Mahkota in the city centre. It features four minarets with a central blue dome, and the interior reportedly can accommodate up to 2,000 worshippers.

Kuantan skyline

There is a range of accommodations in the city and the upscale Zenith International adjoins a convention centre. East Coast Mall with Parkson and popular supermarkets and smaller boutiques offer something to those who need to shop while on holidays.

Most visitors tend to head to Kuantan’s main beach at Teluk Chempedak located a few kilometres east of the city. Just to the back of the beach there are numerous stalls selling everything from fried chicken to beachwear.


Beach-side resorts

Cattle on highway

While the main highway deviates north before Kuantan, it’s a pleasant drive from Kuantan north to be eventually reunited with the highway. Things can get a little sleepy on the road with the occasional cow strolling along the verge.

Drivers need to be cautious not only of cattle, but slower moving vehicles (and faster moving ones), kids, cyclists, and villages where the traffic supposedly slows down.

Heading north from Kuantan, there are several coastal villages worth exploring including the beaches of Beserah, Balok, and Cherating.

Beaches like Balok are known as one of the region’s best locations for kite and windsurfing and the Swiss Garden Resort is ideally located to accommodate those who enjoy the sport and a long, near-deserted beach.

The big blows come from November to February which is good news for kite surfers but maybe not so good for those planning a little sunbaking along Balok Beach. Pak Su Seafood Restaurant at Balok Beach is a casual place overlooking a decent stretch of beach. The most famous dish here is the stuffed crab, but there are many other seafood dishes that won’t break the bank.

kite surfing
Kite surfing in Kuantan

Club Med Cherating stands out as the premier international resort along this part of the East Coast. It has been designed to bring in the families, and being so close to KL, the property makes an ideal weekend retreat. There’s lots of room as it expands over 80ha of coastal forest and fronts a 4km-long stretch of a ‘private’ beachfront. No beach in Malaysia is truly private, but effective security tends to frighten off most people. Near the entrance there is the Cherating Turtle Centre, which is well worth visiting to see the display and to observe their turtle hatchery programme.

Club Med has been designed with kids in mind in the belief that if the kids are happy, the parents are equally as happy. Children’s activities go well beyond the bounds of child minding and include adventurous fun such as roller blading and a flying trapeze. Parents can relax in the spa, join in sporting activities, or just prop themselves at the all-inclusive bar.

windsurfing in kuantan

Club Med maintains a very welcoming ambience where staff ensure everybody is well looked after. Kids just love the fun concept and once they check into one of the three kid’s clubs – Petit Club (2-4 year old), Mini Club Med (4-11 year old), and Passworld (11-18 year old) – parents will mostly 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 and 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. Cherating, to the south of Club Med, has a sleepy village atmosphere.

Exterior of Club Med Chalet
Chalet at Club Med

Much of the accommodations in the seaside village comprise simple budget chalets, and local food is served in any number of very laid-back open-air restaurants.

For something a bit more modern, the Impiana Resort and The Legend Resort are located just south of Cherating on the road back to Kuantan.

Getting there

Travel to Kuantan on the Karak Highway and East Coast Expressway. This continues as the Pantai Timur  expressway northwards from Kuantan to bring the East Coast even closer to KL.

Where to stay

Balok Beach (Swiss Garden Resort), Cherating Beach (Club MedImpiana Resort, and The Legend Resort)

This article was originally published in The Expat Magazine (March 2016) which is available online or in print via a free subscription.


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