With so many amazing islands to chose from, Terengganu’s coast is seen by many travellers as a mere pass-through to paradise. Travellers who take the time to explore between paradise-hops will fine the region rich in culture, cuisine and scenery that is simply unavailable on the islands.
Travellers often rush through Malaysia’s northeasternmost state, seeing it as a waypoint between Thailand and Pulau Perhentian. Those who don’t linger miss out experiencing a stronghold of Malay culture and one of Southeast Asia’s great buffer zones, combining a distinctive blend of Chinese, Indian, Thai and Malay cultures.
Kota Bharu has the energy of a mid-sized city, the compact feel and friendly vibe of a small town, superb food and a good spread of accommodation. A logical overnight stop between Thailand and the Perhentians, KB is a good base for exploring Kelantan. The state’s villages are within day-tripping distance, and its crafts, cuisine and culture are present in the city itself.
The Perhentians boast waters simultaneously electric teal and crystal clear, jungles thick and fecund, and beaches with blindingly white sand. At night, beach bonfires and phosphorescence in the water illuminate the velvety black fabric of darkness, and myriad stars are mirrored above.
North of Kuala Terengganu
North of Kuala Terengganu the main road (Route 3) leaves the coast and runs inland to Kota Bharu, 165km north, via Jerteh. The quiet coastal back road (Route 1) from Kuala Terengganu to Kuala Besut runs along a beautiful stretch of coast and is popular with cyclists.
More easily accessed than other East Coast islands – it’s just 15 minutes by speedboat from the mainland – pretty Kapas is a worthy place to chill out for a few days. Try and visit during the week, as the island becomes overrun with day-trippers on holidays and long weekends.
Pulau Lang Tengah
Tiny, idyllic Lang Tengah lies roughly halfway between Pulau Redang and Pulau Perhentian, and with only three resorts to choose from, it’s a much quieter, less-developed place than its better known neighbours. Diving and snorkelling trips are all on tap. The island’s three resorts are spaced out on the west coast, and offer a bewildering variety of package deals.
Marang is the jump-off point for ferries to Pulau Kapas. If you are in town on Sunday be sure to check out the excellent market, which starts at 3pm near the jetty. There are a few international restaurants and a couple of basic kedai kopi (coffee shops) in the town centre, and you can also find some food stalls near the jetties.
Poor Kuala Besut! Though a lovely seaside town, most visitors only spend an hour or two here. Such is the fate of the transport gateway to one of Malaysia’s best-known island paradises. The restaurants and coffee shops are all located around the jetty (where you can rent snorkelling equipment for use on the islands). The town’s few hotels are also scattered around the jetty.
Kemasik’s palm-fringed beach has some of the clearest water on the east coast. The nearest accommodation is at the gargantuan, five-star Awana Kijal Golf, Beach & Spa Resort on the beach around 1km south, towards Kijal, stacked with the usual golf courses, tennis courts, spa etc. Discounts are often available, especially if you book over the internet.