Taking advantage of the Chinese New Year holiday break, we set off east on a road trip to Kuala Terengganu, an area known as the conservative Malay heartland.
The journey starts with the Karak highway. The hot heavily built up KL city soon gives way to cool verdant forests and oil palm plantations. In the mornings and evenings, mist descends on the hills creating a surreal atmosphere. There are forest reserves e.g. Lentang along this stretch of the highway where you can stop for a picnic by the river or waterfall. Or for some place more civilised, there is always Kampung Bukit Tinggi for Chinese food and plenty of fruits and vegetables. The durian season was just starting so “musang king” signs were scattered along the highway.
For a change of scenery, we left the highway at Temerloh to use the old trunk road. Almost immediately, we were greeted by stalls selling Temerloh’s most famous product, i.e. the silver catfish or patin. Sungai Pahang runs through Temerloh and is famous as a breeding place for patin. Of course, the patin sangkar or caged patin is not as good as the wild patin which fetches top dollar. Nearby in Lanchang is the Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary.
Instead of the monotony of the highway, the scenery is now one of kampong houses and villages. A monkey dashed across the road in front of us while a herd of cows slowly ambled along .
We reached Kuantan at lunch time. The Chinese restaurants were closed, so we went to Akob Patin House, a Malay restaurant famous for their pungent patin tempoyak. The patin was good but the rice was badly cooked and all clumpy.
Teluk Cempedak is one of the go to places in Kuantan. And it was packed! A walkway winds along the beach and it is scenic with a combination of beach, rocks and sea. While admiring the scenery, a monkey may just sneak up on you and steal your grub. Macaques watch their human visitors go by and either wait for hand-outs or help themselves. Remember these are wild animals. Be careful also of the handrails that are falling off. The walkway leads to a nice flat beach. This area was packed with migrant workers who were making the most of the day out with beach football or just hanging out.
Illicit sex on the beach must be a big headache for the Kuantan authorities. Huge signs booming “Avoid illicit sex” are placed at regular intervals along the beach. There are no other warning signs which you would typically find at such places e.g. “Beware of high tide” or “Do not feed the monkeys”.
We stayed at Hotel Sentral which was by the Kuantan River. Though the linen could be newer, the room with river view was of good size plus the breakfast spread was surprisingly good for the price.
There are two routes to KT – highway or the coastal road. Your app will automatically direct you to the highway. We decided to take the highway to KT but the coastal road on the way back.
Thanks to oil money and politics, KT has a higher number of big government buildings, wide roads and arches compared to its neighbour states. This opulence contrasts sharply with the population’s modest kampong houses which sit side by side with the big buildings.
KT’s waterfront and Chinatown have gone through a makeover and refurbishment. Kudos to the KT authorities for preserving their heritage. The benefits are obvious with the crowd of visitors converging on the area. It is now a pleasant albeit congested place to stroll with many photo ops. Emulating Penang, there are murals and artworks e.g. an old trishaw, scooter and red phone booth for visitors to amuse themselves. The alleyways have also been jazzed up with themes e.g. the turtle alley and love locks.
The Pasar Payang market is right next to Chinatown. Fruits, dodol, titbits, dried seafood, batik, crafts, gold and keropok lekor (which is sold everywhere from Kuantan to KT) can all be found there. Feeling nostalgic, I bought rattan woven crafts – a triangular tray (useful for drying foodstuff in the sun such as raw crackers or rice to rid them of weevils) and a food cover.
Just beside KT is Pulau Duyong, which has been transformed from the sleepy fishing village famous for boat-making. There is a lovely restored Kota Lama Pulau Duyong which showcases Malay architecture with intricate wood carvings. Pity we were the only visitors.
Other places of interest in KT include the State Museum, the floating mosque, the White Mosque and the Islamic Civilisation Park. KT is at the riverfront so there are many nice beaches. Unfortunately, like the rest of the east coast, rubbish blights the natural beauty of the place.
KT is famous for nasi dagang. So, we dutifully headed to Mak Ngah near the Ibai Bridge at 7.30 in the morning for our nasi dagang with tuna fish curry. Later, it was roti payang or tempayan (which is like a crunchier version of naan) with lamb curry. Delicious!
We stayed at J Suites hotel. Great location as we could walk to Chinatown and the waterfront. The rooms are quite new but small. Bad news, there is no sound-proofing and we could hear what other hotel guests were doing. We could tell that our neighbours were engaged in productive activities.
Leaving KT, we took the coastal road to Kijal, our next stop. The road hugs the coast so it is a delightful drive with mile after mile of sea beside you. We stopped by Rantau Abang, which was famous for turtle landing but we were told by the locals that the turtles had stopped visiting years ago.
We stayed at Kijalena, a bed and breakfast place at Pantai Penunjuk. The beach is one of the most beautiful. It was a relaxing stay with the sound of breaking waves. The next morning, the rooster woke us to look at the sunrise – if only the rooster had been less assiduous in its task and crowed one hour later.
We reluctantly left Kijalena. Just 200 metres along, locals were clustered around a stall. A man on a motorbike shouted to us, “Very fresh fish!” and pointed to the stall. Of course we had to buy some. “Dari mana?” they asked. (Where are you from?). When they heard KL, they shook their head in bemusement.
Chukai and Cherating
After Kijal, the next stop was Chukai, Kemaman. The famous Hai Peng kopitiam is located there. We had lunch at Restoran Tong Juan which is famous for stuffed crab. It was expensive with the bill almost double what we would pay at Kang Guan in Carey Island. Nearby Chukai is Kuala Kemaman with a fishermen jetty where you can buy fresh fish. Turning right into a lane just before the jetty, there is a blue hut which sells seashells. Pantai Mak Nik is just further down from Kuala Kemaman. The road is busy with stalls selling dried seafood, lekor and satar.
Leaving Terengganu, and still going along the coastal road we soon reached Cherating. Beside Club Med is the turtle sanctuary where there are turtles in the ponds and baby turtles.
Further down near Gebeng industrial park, the landscape turns a horrible red. It boggles the mind that the authorities could turn a blind eye to the blatant bauxite contamination. Same indifference towards the turtles?
We reached KL in the evening. It had been a very good 4 days 3 nights. The locals were most friendly and welcoming – though I had trouble understanding their East Coast accent at times – they were a big factor in making our holiday such an enjoyable one. I would go back again.