terengganu’s islands are undoubtedly the east coast state’s biggest tourist draw, but its mainland is not lacking in attractions either. here are 10 essential experiences worth staying an extra day or two for in kuala terengganu after your sun-and-sea getaway.
1. relive, and live amidst history at terrapuri
combining luxury living with cultural conservation, terrapuri heritage village is a unique resort of 29 centennial malay stilt houses that were sourced from all over terengganu over two decades. of those, 20 were refurbished with modern comforts for accommodation while others make up the sesayap courtyard (comprising a library, dining pavilion, lobby and meeting rooms) and a spa offering traditional malay urut.
in maintaining their respective history, the 20 villas are named after their places of origin and the spaces below the houses serve as galleries displaying a variety of antiquated tools such as stone mills, grinders and even old fishing boats. owner alex lee and his team even went as far as to note down the blessing rituals that the original occupants had carried out when the structures were first built, and re-enacted them when the houses were transported here.
terrapuri is thus steeped in history, and there is a regal link to its own story: its moniker means the land of palaces and correspondingly, the resort’s layout is modelled after a 17th-century istana.
kampung mangkuk, setiu tel +609 624 5020 www.terrapuri.com
2. have a beach to yourself
right in front of terrapuri is pantai penarik, a crescent-shaped beach hugged by coconut trees as far as the eyes can see. strong waves and high tides mean that swimming in the waters is out of the question, which is why you won’t find sun worshippers here. nor are there street vendors of any kind as there is simply no crowd – which makes it perfect for whiling away time doing next to nothing. quiet and idyllic, it’s a slice of paradise that invites you to lay back and sink your toes into the soft sand while the waves lull you into serenity.
3. take a ‘celup tepung’ afternoon tea break
you wouldn’t think you could ever tear yourself away from pantai penarik but at some point, your rumbling tummy would say otherwise. the must-try food in kampung mangkuk is what locals call ‘celup tepung’ and that’s exactly what it is: dipped in flour. specifically, a variety of seafood that’s battered and deep fried, eaten from lunch all the way to dinner.
along the main road that leads to terrapuri are several ‘celup tepung’ stalls, usually occupying wooden village houses. try the one right across from caltex, unnamed but hard to miss as its facade is painted a vibrant pink and its signage is flanked by a giant prawn and a giant squid. their ‘celup tepung’ offerings are placed in large trays under colourful plastic cloches, and you can also order stir-fried noodles to complement the fritters. order a fresh young coconut or creamy coconut milkshake to go with them, and dine al fresco under the shade of coconut trees.
4. watch kites soar
strong winds, blue skies, powdery beach – pantai batu buruk has all the makings of the perfect kite-flying spot, and it is. kite sellers brighten up the pristine sand with their goods, strung across simple wooden frames tacked to the sand. they come in a myriad vibrant designs, from the basic diamond frames to more elaborate animal shapes with long tails and every trendy cartoon character.
on weekends, a festive mood prevails in the late afternoons as the colourful panels speckle the skies while volleyball and football matches play to cheering supporters on the beach. hunt down food trucks in the vicinity to try snacks like chewy disc-shaped fish satay, and stringy squid that’s flattened through a handheld roller before lled.
5. shop at pasar payang
shelves packed to the rafters with folded batik in every colour, bags and baskets brimming with dried seafood, trays of sweet and savoury cakes… browse and shop a smorgasbord of terengganu products at pasar besar kedai payang, a two-storey complex that houses a wet market downstairs and a bazaar of small shops upstairs. this is also a good place to get familiar with the fresh produce that feature in the local cuisine. when you’re done with your shopping, hop on board one of the many colourful trishaws that await by the main entrance and go for a sightseeing ride around town.
6. learn about the terengganu peranakans
a short walk from pasar payang will place you in pekan cina, kuala terengganu’s chinatown that was the site where the earliest chinese settlers first built their homes. like their fellow settlers in melaka and penang back in the day, they adapted and fused chinese traditions with local malay customs, forming a subculture that became known as peranakan. while their numbers are far lower than the population in the straits states, terengganu’s peranakan community is keeping their unique identity very much alive.
sample their authentic cuisine at madam bee’s kitchen, then step next door to visit the terengganu peranakan gallery. a small archive of black and white photographs documents the pekan cina of yore while the premise itself, a two-storey centennial shophouse, gives a glimpse into their traditional lifestyles.
7. visit a peranakan village
at a glance, kampung tiruk looks no different from many other bucolic enclaves found on the outskirts of kuala terengganu, its wooden houses similar to those of the malay villages. what sets it apart can often be seen on the front door of these traditional homes: bright red paper scrolls inscribed with chinese characters, known as tui lien.
these are the homes of terengganu peranakans, generations of mek and awang – the affectionate terms that refer to the ladies and men, respectively – from about 50 families. their language is that unique mixture of hokkien and malay; their food a flavourful blend of both cultures, and leans heavily on spices and fish. some of the elderly mek are still most comfortable in their baju pendek and sarong ensemble, and there’s a senior awang who is fluent in arabic.
you can visit one of the homes in this village, where the host will not only let you wander through their ancestral house but also prepare a feast of authentic terengganu peranakan dishes for lunch.
8. pay respects to admiral cheng ho
admiral cheng ho’s voyage to melaka is well documented, with many history books detailing his journey and subsequent adventures. before he and his fleet of more than 160 vessels arrived at the historical state, however, records show that they made a stop in terengganu to refuel. the year was 1414, and the admiral was said to have landed in kampung jeram, where some of his ships got stranded at the rocky coast.
a big tree that stood at that spot became a sacred emblem to the local chinese, who would journey there by boat to pay homage to the admiral who had helped improve their lives in many ways, including introducing agricultural techniques that produced better yield. in 1942, a temple was built near that site and named after him. today, the sampohkong keramat cheng ho is still an important landmark and pilgrim point, and stands out as a chinese temple in the heart of a malay village.
9. spot wildlife on a river cruise
retrace the steps of the devotees by taking a boat cruise along sungai jeram, the same waterway they travelled on to get to kampung jeram. it used to be an all-day journey to get there and back, taking four hours each way. on board, the passengers would play card games to pass the time and parents who brought their babies would let them rest in swings fashioned out of sarongs.
these days, motorised penambang boats cut the travel time to one hour, affording various photo opportunities along the way as they cruise past mangrove swamps, rustic riverside scenes and several landmark mosques. it’s as common to see local children playing by the river and anglers on moored sampans as it is to spot wildlife such as otters, eagles and monitor lizards.
> the cruise leaves from shahbandar jetty, jalan sultan zainal abidin (a short walk from pekan cina)
> the river cruise plus visits to sam poh kong temple and kampung tiruk can be arranged through ping anchorage travel & tours, under their terengganu peranakan heritage trail package and are also offered as bespoke tours. www.pinganchorage.com.my
10. buy freshly made keropok lekor
terengganu’s best known snack is the kerepok lekor, widely sold at roadside stalls where fish paste – usually a mixture of ikan parang, selayang or kembong, and sago flour – is rolled into long cylinders and boiled. the rolls are then sliced diagonally, deep fried, and eaten dipped in chilli sauce.
you can also buy the boiled rolls and fry them at home. locals recommend keropok lekor bayu, located along the main road leading to merang jetty, which is run by several cheerful malay ladies who make light work of this savoury specialty.
standing around a square vat filled with boiling water, they scoop fresh fish paste onto a flour-dusted wooden board and shape them by hand into small logs. the rolls are then thrown into the water and fished out several minutes later. customers usually haul them home by the bagfuls, and you can also buy freshly fried ones here. take a bite and immediately you’ll know why bayu is so popular: the keropok tastes of pure fish, with a delightfully crumbly texture.
> lot 318, kampung baru merang, setiu (across from the entrance to aryani resort and next to petronas station)