A charming mix of local tradition, heritage, cultures – as well as the warmth of its people – makes the waterfront city of KUALA TERENGGANU one of the peninsula’s ‘must-visit’ destinations
Sitting on the mouth of the Terengganu River, Kuala Terengganu (or KT) is the state capital, royal town and centre of commerce for the east coast state of Terengganu.
Located about 450km from the city of Kuala Lumpur, KT has a very Malay cultural heritage, with a spattering of other cultural influences, most apparent in Chinatown, also known as ‘Kampung Cina’. It’s believed that seafaring merchants from China began establishing settlements here during the tail-end of the Ming Dynasty (early 17th century), turning KT into a hub for commercial activities. Chinatown is littered with many Chinese-style traditional shops and houses – with two of the pre-war buildings even recognised as a heritage site by the World Heritage Fund based in New York.
In the vicinity is the Teck Soon Heritage House, in its three shades of blue, a museum housing the history of the Chinese culture in Kuala Terengganu which is called ‘Peranakan’ or Straits Chinese culture. Chinatown is also home to the Ho Ann Kiong Buddhist Temple, with its ornate courtyard and colourful interior.
After oil was discovered off the coast of Terengganu in the 1970s, petrodollars led to a booming economy and KT turned into a thriving city, housing the local and federal government departments as well as the Badariah and Maziah Palaces, which are only open to the public on special occasions.
Located near the Pasar Payang (or Payang Central Market), the Maziah Palace was constructed in the traditional colonial style, and was the former palace of the sultan.
KT is also famous for its handicrafts, most notable being the intricately-woven ‘songket’, made using silk with gold or silver thread. A whole array of songket in various designs and colours can be found at Bazaar Warisan as well as Pasar Payang (where you’ll also find all sorts of local produce such as vegetables and fruits as well as fish and meat, along with souvenirs).
If you’re keen in seeing how songket is made, you should visit any one of these ‘kampungs’ (villages): Kampung Binjai Chendering, Kampung Pulau Musang, Kampung Losong, Kampung Bukit Kubang Jambu, Kompleks Kraf Noor Arfa in Chendering or KMZ Songket in Kampung Tebakang.
Batik is another famous product from the state and can be found in Pasar Payang and Bazaar Warisan.
In addition, Kuala Terengganu is also home to world-renowned wood-carving and brass wares. One of the best places to find these items is at Kompleks Kraf Noor Arfa (which is also the largest producer of batik in Malaysia).
Food lovers will be spoilt for choice as Kuala Terengganu has much to offer – from Chinese and Peranakan cuisine to typical Malay dishes, and with the South China Sea off the coast there are plenty of fresh seafood as well.
A dish that should not be missed is ‘nasi dagang’, where rice and glutinous rice are cooked together in coconut milk and served with a special curry of ‘ikan tongkol’ (a smaller species of tuna).
Other attractions in and outside KT
If you feel like a pleasant workout amidst greenery, then check out Bukit Puteri, located close to the Central Market. If you climb the stairs to its 208-metre summit, and amidst ruins from the 19th century, you will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the city.
Pulau Duyung, just a 10-minute drive from KT, is the largest island in the estuary, famous for its boat-making heritage. Clearly a vanishing art (there used to be 38 yards at one point, and now there’s only 3!) these craftsmen build their boats in the same style, using the same tools and skills taught to them by their forefathers. There is a ferry service from the mainland to the island.
For beach lovers, there’s Pantai Batu Buruk, one of the most popular beaches in the city although as the name suggests, it is great for picnicking but not so much for swimming. On Fridays the Night Market is the place to check out for Malaysian snacks and goodies such as satay, nasi lemak and kuih-muih (Malaysian cakes and pastries) as well as apparel and children’s toys.
There are quite a number of beautiful mosques in KT, out of which three especially stand out. The central mosque of KT, Zainal Abidin Mosque, is the pride of the city topped with nine gleaming domes and ornate latticed windows, resulting in beautiful light patterns on the floors.
The Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque, also known as ‘the Floating Mosque’, is situated 10km from the city centre. Built in regal Islamic architecture, the vision in white “floats” in the middle of a man-made lake fed by the Ibai River.
The Crystal Mosque, made of steel and glass, is one of the most beautiful mosques in Malaysia and is named after the large crystal chandelier that occupies the main prayer hall. Night visits are especially memorable as you will witness a riot of colours such as pink, yellow, blue and green sparkling under the dark skies.
The Crystal Mosque is part of the 22-hectare Taman Tamadun Islam or ‘Islamic Civilization Park’, which will take visitors on an intriguing journey through the Islamic world’s rich art and cultural heritage. Among the interactive theme park’s key attractions are scaled-down replicas of Islamic monuments from the world over as well as river cruises.
Learn all about the varied history and culture of Terengganu at the Terengganu State Museum, which comprises four separate buildings including the Maritime Museum and a number of models of traditional houses. There is also a Royal Gallery, Islamic Gallery, Craft Gallery and Natural Gallery.
If you’re looking to purchase some high-end handicraft goods, head to Kraftangan Malaysia, located about 4km from the city centre.
You can get to KT by road – either using the coastal road from Kuantan or the interior highway – or by air. The state’s main airport, Sultan Mahmud Airport, is located 8km from KT town. Daily flights are available from KL International Airport to Sultan Mahmud Airport via AirAsia, Malindo, Firefly and Malaysia Airlines; flight time is approximately one hour.
Apart from domestic flights, the airport also handles flights to Jeddah and Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
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