Where the heck is Kuala Terengganu? 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, it's well worth the visit.
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 ter?ng-gä´noo for those of us who relate phonetically).
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 grin.
Our first stop, while traipsing the hot spots, is the Pasar Payang (central market), where every square inch is crammed with 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."
We tromp the pencil thin corridors where dazzling silks, songkets (fabric for wedding gear), brasswares and rattan spill from 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.
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. Ho Ann Kiong Temple is one of the alluring artifacts that we explore. Beneath a pagoda-shaped roof, 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 one of the largest in South East Asia. Pathways lead to maritime and fisheries archives and 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.
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 where we're provided with a panorama that encompasses the city limits and outlying tropical islets. 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.
Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com
IF YOU GO:
Where To Stay:
Primula Beach Resort
Things to Do:
check out Tourism Malaysia: http://tourism.gov.my
PHOTOS: by Jane Cassie
1. Dazzling silks songkets spill from vendor stalls
2. Pungent smelling indigenous prickly skinned durian
3. Colourful Chinatown
4. The art of batik
5. Mighty fine shoppingTravel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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