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Fishing for Fun in a Malaysian Village

Where the heck is Kuala Terengganu, you ask? Although it took me only a few hours to get my bearings in this quintessentially Malaysian fishing town, I still have yet to say it correctly. With or without the proper pronunciation though, it’s well worth the visit.

Terrengganu Beach at sunrise

Malaysia’s state of Terengganu caresses the country’s east coast, and is blessed with a wealth of natural treasures ranging from exotic beaches to lush tropical groves. The South China Sea washes up onto its two hundred and twenty-five kilometers of sandy shores, and centrally perched is the coastal capital of Kuala Terengganu (kwä´le terĕng-gä´noo for those of us who gravitate phonetically).   

From the moment we touch down on the tarmac the feeling is laid back, slow paced and free and easy. Vine-choked mangroves and vibrant bougainvillea catch shade from palm fronds that border our route. Mingling amongst the lush flora is a hodge-podge of Malay homes flaunting rooftops of corrugated aluminum and windows masked with shutters. Many are tattered from years of wear, and most are poised on stilts to prevent flooding, promote ventilation, and to keep the creepy crawlies at bay.

Sandwiched between the Terengganu River and the deep blue sea is the emergence of the city’s slow growing hub. In spite of the occasional high rise, the pace remains at a plod and the people are polite. “There’s very little crime here,” our guide, Raja, reassures. “No pick pocketing, just peace-loving,” he chuckles, with a gleaming grin. Customary beliefs are highly respected, and with ninety percent of the population being Malay, (remaining are Indian and Chinese) conservative attire in public places is a common courtesy and alcohol availability is limited.

Included in our group of eighteen Canadians is my twenty-five year old daughter who has a hankering for hawkers’ stalls. Needless to say, our first stop, while traipsing the hot spots, is the Pasar Payang (central market), where every square inch is crammed with a kaleidoscope of textiles and handicrafts. “Bartering is totally expected,” Raja pre-warns. “Thirty percent off the marked price is possible and forty is a steal. If you smile you may even get more.”

Durian Vendor

We tromp the pencil thin corridors where dazzling displays of silks, songkets (fabric for wedding gear), brasswares and rattan spill from brimming vendor stalls, then mosey around mounds of mangoes, papaya and indigenous prickly-skinned durian that emit a pungent scent. “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell,” we are told by a man old enough to be my great grandfather. Sweat glistens on his prune-wrinkled face as his machete whacks the porcupine-like fruit in half to reveal a tasty treasure. “Here, Madam, give it a try,” he says, while graciously handing over his hidden gem. I humbly accept, and although I’m not totally sold on his slogan, I walk away from the market with more loot than I can sensibly take home, grinning from ear to ear.

Crossing streets in Malaysia’s busier cities can be a bit like playing Russian Roulette but we discover the three-block jaunt from this bargain lover’s bazaar to Chinatown haunts is literally a breeze.
Ancient shophouses teeter like drunken soldiers while hugging up to alleyways no wider than glorified bike paths. And beneath their dominating colonial archways are shuttered windows that peer onto hoards of historical relics.

Market Shopping

Ho Ann Kiong Temple is one of the alluring artifacts that we explore. Beneath a pagoda-shaped roof of vibrant hues, the intricately carved shrine is aglow with small lights and vibrant red lanterns. Here, incense burns and prayer is received. Although the temple has required rebuilding over the years, it has exemplified the Chinese culture since its original structure in 1801.
Another lesson in history is provided during our visit to the Terengganu State Museum.  The complex sprawls over twenty-seven lush hectares and takes the prize for being the largest in South East Asia. Pathways lead to maritime and fisheries archives, as well as a display of traditional houses where we glimpse into lifestyles from the past. The focal point, though, is the museum’s main building, and behind its stilted Islamic exterior are ten unique galleries showcasing everything from historical crafts to contemporary arts. Although the goods are great for gawking at, there’s no haggling here for homebound presents.

Market Vendor

A few kilometers away, though, at the Sutera Semai Centre, more opportunities wait in store. Meters of detailed fabrics scallop the ceiling like colourful schooner sails and beneath the billowing swathes there are artists hard at work in a design process that has stood the test of time. “Outlines are etched in pencil,” we are informed, “and after being traced with wax, the dye is applied.” Although the craft of batik is a lot more complex than paint by number, the artists have the proficient knack of quickly transforming a bolt of raw silk into florally patterned shirts, scarves, and handkerchiefs. We can’t escape without purchasing at least one of each.

Our final stop and literally high point of the day, is the two hundred meter hike to the historical Bukit Puteri fortress.  Although all that remains on this picturesque perch are a few relics from the past, we are provided with a panorama that encompasses the city limits, its silky shores and tropical islets that lay beyond. Kuala Terengganu is a destination that offers a wealth of culture, a variety of landscapes, and some mighty fine shopping. And after a day of traipsing the hot spots we discover it’s definitely worth a visit, whether you pronounce it properly or not.

Getting There:
Daily flights are provided out of Los Angeles (Vancouver to Los Angeles via Air Canada or HMY) If a Malaysian Airlines ticket is purchased from Vancouver, the flight from Vancouver-Los Angeles is covered.
 Malaysian Airlines is well recognized for its superlative service, cuisine and hospitality. (1-800-552-9264)

Where To Stay:
Primula Beach Resort
Jalan Persinggahan
P.O. Box 43
20400 Kuala Terengganu
Tel: 609-622 2100 Fax: 609-623 3360

Things to Do:
For more attractions, check out these web sites:
Tourism Malaysia:
Tourism Malaysia: Phone (604) 689-8899 (Toll Free: 1-800-689-6872); Fax: (604) 689-8804

Jane and Brent Cassie freelance for a number of publications
Jane is president of BC Association Of Travel Writers and can be contacted at

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