MANY BELIEVE THAT THE EAST COAST OF THE Peninsular is the real Malaysia – it’s cultural heartland. Indeed, laid back towns, colourful villages, cattle roaming the road and resort islands with comfortable chalets, are located along and off the east coast. For many, life stands still and traditional customs are central to their lifestyle.
Travel to the east coast to forget Kuala Lumpur’s fast pace, hectic traffic and people on the move. The relaxed pace makes it an ideal place to visit and there are resorts where it’s possible to relax and even get a drink.Travel here with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to just how content people are with their way of life.
Just to confuse those who drive through Terengganu, the state-of-the-art petroleum and petrochemical industries around Kerteh, Kemasik and Kijal are what drive the Malaysian economy. Terengganu is possibly the state with the most contrasting landscapes and lifestyles.
All along the Terengganu coast, long stretches of yellow beaches have been home to fishing communities for eons. Some of the region’s earliest traders visited coastal ports and by the 18th century, Kuala Terengganu was well established, exporting pepper, gold, tin, camphor and sugar. Ships brought in Chinese and Indochinese silks that were re-exported by local merchants. The trade continues today from these ports but with petroleum the principal export. The petroleum industry contrasts markedly to traditional ones like batik, songket and Duyong Island’s boat building yards.
Kuala Terengganu, the state capital has an old world feel. Many merchants trade Malay textiles, metalwork and woodcraft from the waterfront district of Kampung Cina. Located at the mouth of the Terengganu River it’s best explored on foot or trishaw – don’t miss the large market. Apart from the city’s attractions like the museum, palaces and mosques, craft industriessuch as silverwork, textiles, kite making and brass work are located in and around the town.
Those looking for a beach holiday are best to head to islands like Perhentian, Redang and Kapas. While known to many divers, they are still blimps on the radar screens of international jetsetters. Dive centres are located on all and accommodation is in mostly small, locally run but comfortable chalets. Redang is a little differentas it has a large resort and now direct flights from Kuala Lumpur make access easier.
There are two main islands in the Perhentian Group – Big (Besar) and Small (Kecil). Malaysian and Singaporean divers travel here to appreciate the rich marine life and calm waters. Divers would be disappointed if they didn’t sight turtles, reef sharks and many fish species. Access is via boat from Kuala Besut, 20km. away on the mainland.
Redang is further south and access is viaMerang (not to be confused with Marang). Redang is a marine park of nine islands with some excellent reef dives. There is a Fisheries Department turtle breeding programme on Pinang (not Penang) Island just off the main island. Kapas Island is reached via a 6km. boat journey from Marang, arguably the most picturesque fishing village along the coast. Just 20km. south of Kuala Terengganu, Marang is the quintessential fishing village and well worth visiting.Kapas can be visited as a day trip but several small resorts are recommended.
Tenggol is another great diving island off Dungun that has comfortable accommodation and good facilities. The dive season for the east coast is from May to October as the monsoon at other times makes access difficult. Back on the mainland, international resorts are located near Kijal (Awana) and Dungun (Tanjung Rhu). There is a very good coastal golf course at Awana Kijal.
Roads on the east coast are mostly straight and sparsely settled apart from small villages. There is a more direct inland route south from Kuala Terengganu to near Kuantan but it’s not as scenic as the coastal road. Motorists need to drive carefully as cattle, chickens and kids also use the road. The road journey from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu can be done comfortably in five hours so the east coast is a good weekend escape. Alternatively fly to Kuala Terengganu and have your resort meet you.
Along the coastal roads there are several picturesque fishing villages lining beaches or river mouths. Some worth investigating include Marang, Dungun, Chukai and Kg. Sungai Ular where a popular delicacy keropok (prawn crackers) is produced in many – look for roadside stalls and signs. While the locals are used to tourists, traditional values are important to many and visitors need to be respectful of these often conservative
lifestyles. This really is not the place to polish up on that all over suntan and it maybe difficult to get a beer, but be resourceful – take a six pack from home. However, for those who want to learnsomething of their Malaysian home (batik, spinning tops, kite flying, etc), the locals are delighted to share their culture by .