A Road Trip to the Malaysian East Coast
A Road Trip to the Malaysian East Coast
Ever since I stepped foot in Malaysia, work has been hectic, and I haven’t had the chance to explore this lesser-known part of the country. Who would have thought that this pandemic will last this long and I finally had the opportunity to explore this land I now call home. The trip that was initially planned as a personal holiday turned into an adventure when I invited a colleague, Abu, together in this journey. I must say that a road with a good friend makes all the difference!
The East Coast of Malaysia consist of 3 main states; Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan. Being considered as very traditional, we decided to explore the countryside through smaller roads and stop whenever we saw something interesting. Our goal is to curate a self-drive guide to experience the true culture of this diverse country.
The drive was pretty easy as the road in overall, good conditions and many interesting stops. It made me realised how easy it is to discover Malaysia on self-drive. From Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bahru, we mostly followed the jungle train tracks (that will be another discovery…) with a stop at the Gua Musang train station. One of the main stops before reaching the end of the line in Tumpat (Thailand border), the route is a scenic trail starting from Singapore via Kuala Lumpur.
By the evening of the first day, we reached a small village on the Malaysian/Thai border where we were invited for dinner at the family house of our colleague, Yus. A beautiful experience and the first taste of Kelantanese food. We had local staple dish such as Ikan Rebus, Ulam and Budu served in traditional ceramic plates. The entire journey took us close to 12 hours along 460km. Alternatively, the East-Coast Expressway will take roughly 7 hours.
With lots of sites to visit, we started the next day with the Women’s market to try local delicacies and a little shopping for traditional fabric and sarong. The Pasar Siti Khadija (named after the prophet’s wife) is only managed by women and is a pride of Kota Bharu’s business heritage. The story says that men are too laidback to handle such a difficult business as most of them spent their time at sea.
Being neighbours to Thailand, Malaysia has roughly 70 Thai temples with 25 of them are in Kelantan. Along the way, we have discovered many Thai temples, unique pieces of religious art in Malaysia! Together with the cultural heritage of the Wayang Kulit (traditional puppet theatre) and the Songket making, the entire experience is a must when in Kelantan.
We have also visited plenty of hotels and found beautiful homestay to include in our future products. Pasir Belanda was one of the surprises! The owning couple in its 60s made us feel so at home, very lovely people! They leave on-site in the main house, and chalets are all around the garden for guests. Typical local wooden style on stilts, well-finished and well-maintained.
Among the entire mosque I have visited in my life and the plentiful number of Mosques one can find in Malaysia, I must say I was breathtakingly choked discovering Masjid Ar-Rahman Mukim Pulau Gajah, along the coastal road towards Terengganu. The surroundings, the garden, the woodwork done on this mosque are truly amazing. The place is private, built by a rich merchant for the local community and has barely any tourists. We felt at peace outside and inside the mosque. Definitely, a must-see for any spiritual person!
The East Coast is well known for both their culture and architecture heritage with Thai and Indonesian influences. In Terengganu, among many interesting projects, we visited the Terrapuri Heritage Village. The conservation project that cost more than 10 Million Ringgit aims to protect the traditional house buildings and its heritage for the next generations. We also visited a community-based homestay, Awi’s Yellow House on Pulau Duyong, in the centre of Kuala Terengganu River. The place was built in 1970 by a French lady who found love with a local boat maker and they managed this place until the husband recently passed away. The lady is still there at 72 years old and kids are living in France, Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Malaysia. Fluent in the local Terengganu Malay dialect, she learned from her husband the tradition of boat making and created a community library in the village, accessible for free to anyone.
The city of Terengganu has many other sites to visit such as the mural of all Malaysia’s PM since independence, the State Museum and the Turtle Alley in China Town.
We were blessed to travel during Hari Raya Haji (Eid Al Adha) and to witness the celebration. In fact, the same day we were invited by Ana, another one of our dear colleagues, in her family house, on the way to the south. We met her family and were treated to an amazing meal, which was full of very tasty discoveries for a Mat Salleh (Westerner). I found a new favourite delicacy, Tapai! The local dessert is fermented glutinous rice prepared over 4 days and has a sweet and sour taste. We jump back on the road after the inevitable picture and we continued driving towards the south to reach our destination for the night, Mill Brook Farm near Kuala Dungun.
After the few nights spent in Kuala Terengganu with very basic comfort, Mill Brook Farm was paradise! Rooms had a proper and comfortable bed with air conditioning and a simple but nice bathroom. In addition to the comfort, the Mill Brook Farm is literally by the beach which you can access right from the garden.
The atmosphere of this very cute homestay is pretty much like being in your family home. The owners/managers are super friendly and casual, the shared kitchen is open to all, so you make your own coffee or snacks whenever you feel like and meals can be prepared upon request as well as BBQ by the beach! A very chilled and laid-back environment that makes you want to stay longer!
Of course, we had to meet the locals and were lucky to also have friends in Dungun. We were invited for dinner at Muizz’s family, with Ludovic they are the owners/creators/managers of Inkaa Clothing, a social enterprise that helps promote the Batik Artisans from Terengganu and help the Myanmar refugees in Kuala Lumpur.
During our trip, as part of our commitment to animal welfare, we inspected a few turtle conservation centres and elephant sanctuary to ensure those we propose our guests are in-line with our values and we were pleased to see that large majority were strict on following not only the Malaysian wildlife protection law but also international standards of animal conservation.
Many other visits were done including hotels and homestay all along the coasts of Terengganu and Pahang with a 2 nights break at the Hyatt Regency Kuantan, so to recover from all the driving… In the end, we were on the road for about 1700km over 10days, all the way back to the capital!
Now working on the next trip…