The East Coast of Malaysia

KOTA BHARU

Global Mark : 13.68

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
4 3 2 5 4 3 3 5 14.50

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
20 90% (18) 65% (13) 85% (17) 8 to 17 12.85


Description :
The relaxed Islamic Capital of Kelantan ("Land of Lightning") with lots of museum & performances for the mind and lots of food stalls for the body.

Comments : This is by far the most interesting town on the east coast as well as a travel hub toward the Perhentian Islands, the jungle or Thailand. 

What to do ? Visit the tourist Office / Walk around colorful & tasteful traditional wooden structures / Get in to cultivate yourself / Spot 30m Buddha, either sitting or reclining (Wat Phothivihan at Kampung Jambu) / Visit handicraft centers and factories (silver, weaving, batik, woodcarving or kite making) / Watch martial arts (pencak silat), giant top spinning, dances, shadow puppets or giant kite flying / Listen to giant drums, coconut husk or birds / Ride colorful trishaws / Shop for colorful souvenirs / Be "adopted" by the family of a potter, fisherman, kite maker, batik manufacturer, silversmith or top maker (Homestay program) / See colorful fishing boats at Pantai Dasar Sabak (14km, best after 14:30 when fishermen are coming back) / Relax on (not so good) nearby beaches / Further away, splash at waterfalls, incl Lata Beringin, the highest waterfall in SE Asia (or so they claim, 120m) / Do river cruise up the rainforest / Walk the 100 million years old jungle (3 days 2 nights trek for around R230) / 

What you may not like ? Anyone who does not like fat rats ? / Some Muslim maniacs, as reported by a few western girls / The "adopting" cost : R100 for 2 nights / Visiting on Friday as all the museum are resting / Visiting between November to February when the Cultural Centre is on vacation /

How long ? The town's attractions would require one day but the atmosphere & surroundings may be worth a bit longer.


Where to stay ?  

Hotels  << Get precise info, book online & save money !

There is no lack of accommodations in town and most of them in the same price bracket. Atmosphere & services however vary a great deal...

- Just east from the Central Bus Station, the night market (evening) and the Rats congregation (morning). This area is convenient if you arrive early and dream about a fast bed but the settings are usually rather poor with lots of small rooms badly isolated from each other by slim walls and no window. 

  • KB Inn Town GH (7437095), 1872-D Jalan Padang Garong / Dorm (6) 8, Room 15 / Rates incl. breakfast / Go there for the best deal in the area, the relatively cozy lounge with new TV, the clean & correctly sized rooms and the backpackers atmosphere & services / What you may not like : the lazy walls meaning noise !
  • KB Backpackers Lodge II (7432125), next to the above / Also a branch opposite / Dorm (12) w. AC 10, Sgl 15, Dbl 20 / Rates incl. breakfast / Go there for the roof top garden & BBQ area, the use of kitchen and the backpackers' services (internet, movies,...) / What you may not like : the not so clean atmosphere & the very basic rooms w. slim isolations
  • RV Inn GH (7478308), opposite the above / Dorm (20) w. AC 7, Dorm (40 !) w. shower 7, Room 15 / Free tea & coffee in the morning / Go there for the cheapest dorm w. AC & to check out the rooms, hopefully not as dirty as the carpet...
  • Other GH/Hostels to check in the area...

- On the east side of town, in quiet locations 10-15mn walk from the Central Station :

  • Ideal Traveler's House (7442246), 3954-F Jalan Kebun Sultan, walk east from the station, turn left on Jalan Kebun Sultan and second left after Mayban Finance (small alley) / Small house in a garden / Dorm (4) 6, Sgl 12-15, Dbl 20, Family room w. shower 30 / Go there for the small dorm, the family atmosphere without TV and the rather large clean rooms / What you may not like : the lack of freshness, furniture or kitchen access
  • Zeck's Garden Villa (7437273, xgarden_villa@hotmail.com), Jalan Merban, walk east from the station, turn left on Jalan Kebun Sultan then right at Jalan Sri Cemerlang (sign) / A small house in a tiny garden / Dorm (8) 6, room 10(1), 12-15(2), Dbl w. shower 20 / Free coffee & tea / Internet R4 per hour / Go there for the backpackers' atmosphere & infos, the cheapest correctly sized rooms in the area and to meet Malay people / What you may not like : the mosquitoes invasion (electric repellent fortunately provided), the loud conversations in Malay in the evening, having to pay R5 to watch a VCD in the upstairs TV room, the rather expensive food and the badly isolated rooms.
  • Star Family Hotel (7486115), north of the above on Jalan Dusun Raja, just East of Jalan Kebun Sultan / Sgl or Dbl w. AC & HW shower 25 or 28, Dbl w. local TV 35 / Go there for the cheapest AC rooms / What you may not like : not too big nor too fresh
  • KB Garden Hostel (7485696), opposite the above / Room w. AC, HW shower & local TV 30(1) or 35(2) / Better rooms but less friendly and often full.
  • Johnty's, continue east from the above and turn left on Jalan Dusun Raja / Young English management / A charming house in a relaxed garden w. BBQ & table tennis / Dorm (3+3) 6, Sgl 12, Dbl 15, w. shower 18, w. AC 30 / Mosquito nets / Bike R5 per day / Go there for the small dorm, the relaxed western atmosphere and the large, clean & bright rooms / What you may not like : being a bit far from the town center (15mn walk)

- In the South-West part of town, between the two bus stations, 10-15mn walk :

  • Menora GH (7481669), 3338-D Jalan Sultanah Zainab, walk west from the clock tower on Jalan Gajah Mati and turn left / Dorm (6) 6, Sgl 15, Dbl w. shower 20-25, Family room w. shower & balcony 30, Dbl w. AC 30-38 / Roof top garden / Bikes / Welcome drink & free cold boiled water / Boat Ticket to Perhentian Islands at discounted price / Go there for the tips & infos from helpful James or the guest books, the services, the relaxed atmosphere, the view on the river & the sun moves and the large & clean rooms / What you may not like : the traffic noise 
  • DE999 GH, 5438-E Lorong Kota Lama, continue south and turn left at the first alley / Small house well isolated in a garden / Dorm (3) 5, room 7-9(1) or 9-12(2) / Free bike / Free tea / Free use of kitchen / Free batik lessons / Freedom ! / Go there for the cheapest prices in town, the clean & large wooden rooms but above all the laid back atmosphere as the place is self managed by the guests (the Chinese owner is around in the morning & evening only) / What you may not like : the empty garden 
  • Rebana House, continue south and turn left after the Caltex petrol Station, a bit off the road on the right / Malay house in a charmingly messy tiny garden / Dorm (4) 9, room 13(1) or 19(2) / Free coffee & tea / Go there to check the rooms as it was full / What you may not like : the feeling that you are disturbing them, the not so clean atmosphere, the now broken chalets and the number of mosquitoes.

Where to eat ? At the night market, north of the Central Bus Station, obviously ! It is not the best of Malaysia but it isn't bad. Beside, at this time of the day, no rats should be in sight... You will find here everything from Murtabak to rice dishes, desserts or drinks. It is active from 18:00 to midnight but comes to an halt between 19:00 and 19:45 (prayer time). The city count also quite a number of bakeries, in particular opp. KFC or between Menora & DE999 GH

Internet ? The cheapest places are as usual not the GH. Mega Cyber (open 9 to midnight daily) on Jalan Parit Dalam (the street perpendicular to KFC) charges R3 per hour from 9 to 17:00 and R2.5 after 17:00. Min charge is R0.5 for 10 minutes. West of the Clock Tower on Jalan Gajah Mati, NR Buildcom & Technology (open 10 to 20) charges R2.5 per hour all day but with a R1.5 min charge.

The museums ? Six museums to choose from, all open 8:30 to 16:45 daily except Friday and costing R2-3. 
The best is arguably Istana Jahar (Royal Custom Museum), a superb building built in 1887 : brassware, antiques, jewelries, traditional costumes, weapons, etc, all well displayed.
Then comes Istana Batu, the former Royal Residence turned into the Royal Museum in 1991 : this is the place to go to experience the life of the Kelantan Royal Family, from the dining room to photos of their social activities
The Handicraft Museum (Balai Getam Guri) exhibits traditional embroidery, weaving, batik, silversmith and matting while the Handicraft Village (Kampung Kraftangan) actually let you experience the processes.
If you crave for more, the State Museum (Muzium Negeri) displays an Art Gallery, ceramics, musical Instruments, traditional pastimes, etc
The two other places are more specialized : Islamic Museum (a superb green structure dating 1902) and the Second World War Memorial about the Japanese landing and occupation of Kelantan.

Cultural Performance ? Free shows every Monday (15:30-17:30) and Wednesday & Saturday (21:00-23:00) at the Cultural Centre on Jalan Mahmud from March to October : martial arts, top spinning, giant drum, kite making, coconut husk percussion, shadow play, traditional dance or music, etc. Spectators are usually invited to participate. Visit the Tourist Office for the program (open 8 to 16:45 Sunday to Thursday). Also interesting, the Bird Singing competition which takes place every Friday morning on Jalan Sri Cemerlang (opp. Zeck's Garden Villa

A Trip to Thailand ? Great untouristy beaches have been reported around Narathiwat in Thailand. There is a Thai Consulate (744 0867, open Sund to Thurs 9-12 & 14-15:30, Jalan Pengkalan Chepa) for those interested by a 2 months visa (R33). Dress neatly !


Leaving Kota Bharu ?

All local & regional buses leave from around the Central Bus Station. Most long distances buses also leave from there. Buses to KL, Mersing, Melaka and some to Penang or Singapore however leave from Langgar Bus Station in the South (Bus No39, R0.5, 10mn)

To the Thai border at Rantau Panjiang, take bus No29 (R2.70, 1 hour). The border is open from 6am to 5pm.

To Perhentian Islands' Pier, take bus No3 (R2.5) to Pasir Puteh and then bus No96 (R1.40) to Kuala Besut. A taxi from Kota Bharu should cost R24 and a maximum of 4 passengers are allowed. Most GH can arranged the trip. The first speed boat (30mn, R60 return) depart at 9am. The first slow boat (1.5 to 2.5 hours, R40 return) at 10am. The last slow boat is at 16:00 or 17:00 if people. 

The jungle train is an interesting option to reach Taman Negara (no more buses to Jerantut) or go down to the west coast (by bus or train from Gemas). The nearest station is at Wakaf Bahru (Bus No27 from 7am to 8pm, R1 or Taxi R10)


Jungle Trains Schedules ? 

M/91 XW/17 XST/15 M/57 Exp fares
ordi Exp Exp ordi eco/seat/berth(up)
Tumpat 5:45 18:40 19:45 na from Tumpat
Wakaf Bahru 6:06 18:56 20:01 na R1
Gua Musang 11:32 21:58 23:03 na 12/15/34
Kuala Lipis 13:43 23:26 0:32 na 16/19/38
Jerantut 15:25 0:22 1:28 8:51 18/22/41
Gemas 19:35 3:39 4:45 13:17 24/30/49
Johor Bahru na na 7:34 16:49 31/40/59
Singapore na na 8:40 17:55 32/41/60
Seremban na 5:29 na na 26/na/54
KL na 6:50 na na 29/na/58


Backpacker's Tips : Didier Guillot, France (Jan 02)
 I would recommend to take the train, in the cheapest class, at the end of the weekend. The peasants are heading back to their village after having spent the WE on the Kota Bharu's market. No air cond and a packed train but what a colorful and friendly experience ! People help each other to load their goods through the windows and then share fruits with passengers...


Bus Schedules ? 

From the Central Market :

To  Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Penang 19.4 ac 7.5 21:30 1 na
Lumut 21 ac 9.5 21:30 1 na
K. Terengganu 7.5 ac 3 8:30,10,12:15,13:45,16,17:30,19:30 7 na
Kuantan 17.1 ac 6.5 8 1 na
Singapore 27 ac 11 20 1 na

Notes : To Lumut via Kuala Kangsar (R18, 6.5 hrs) & Ipoh (R18, 7.5 hrs) / To Singapore via Mersing

From Langgar Station :

To  Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Penang 19.4 ac 7.5 9 1 na
Mersing 25 ac 11 8 1 na
KL 23-28/36 ac/vip 9-10 9,20,21/21 3/1 na
Melaka 26 ac 10 20 1 na
Singapore 30/45 ac/vip 11 '20/20 1/1 na

Note : To KL via Musang (cheaper) or Terengganu


The trip to Kuala Terengganu : SSS / R / R7.5 / 3hrs / AC Bus
Waking up at 9:15, I showed up at the station a few minutes before departure only. I got a seat fine but I was lucky (recommended to buy a day before)
The 160km ride was quite pleasant with a comfortable bus and some nice countryside view (best on the right to avoid the sun or curtains). It was however not pleasant for everybody as a kid's stomach testified on my legs (a bit) and his father's (a lot).
There were only a few stops but people who wishes to stay at Awi's Yellow House on Pulau Duyung (the only real reason to stop in K. Terengganu) should make sure to inform the driver about it and get off before the bridge crossing.

See also Perhentian Islands

See also the trip from Penang