Located at north-eastern corner of Peninsular Malaysia and shares a common border with Thailand in the north, Kelantan is a world of gracious beauty, retaining an old-world charm that no one can resist. Visit Kelantan to let its natural attributes likes rustic fishing villages, palm-fringed beaches and verdant paddy fields to work their magic on you.
Kelantan has gained a reputation as the Cradle of Malay Culture as people there have managed to preserve their age-old customs and traditions until now. People of Kelantan are also well-known with their warmth and friendliness towards visitors.
Kelantan is the most deeply conservative Malay states in Malaysia. Don’t get shocked when you notice that Kelantan’s highways have more signs with quotes from the Koran than the actual traffic instructions. At there, many signs were written in Jawi, the old Arabic script for Malay and even Chinese women tend to wear headscarves due to the long term cultural assimilation process.
People of Kelantan are using different dialect of Malay, which is famously incomprehensible by outsiders. As for second languages, some people can speak fluently in English, but do not expect everyone to be able to. Therefore, it is better to have some knowledge on standard Malay.
The bustling state capital, Kota Bharu, offers tourists the opportunity to witness a microcosm of the uniqueness of Kelantan people’s lifestyle. It is a city rich in Malay culture, with royal palaces, colorful markets and several museums to linger over. Kota Bharu is also a good starting point for exploring the surrounding area.
Photo by saadsuhairiphotography
Why Not Go
You shouldn’t go Kelantan if you are not going to show your respect to the locals. It is vital to be respectful to the cultural and religious sensibilities of its primarily Muslim inhabitants in Kelantan, especially when you go to the countryside. Both men and women should wear clothing that covers all or at least most of their legs. Women should wear blouses or dresses which cover their torso. Long sleeves are preferably for women. Avoid outfits that show the shoulders or midriff. Tourists dressed in short pants and skimpy tops are really out of place in Kelantan.
Colorful traditions, interesting pastimes and superb handicrafts make Kelantan an amazing destination. Opportunities to watch captivating activities likes top-spinning, giant kite-flying and woodcarving are all available in Kelantan.
Siti Khadijah Market, the new central market has becoming one of the Kelantan’s landmark attractions as it is the most vibrant sites in the country where traders display brilliantly colored fresh garden produce. As a browsing and shopping paradise, this market offers variety of local handicraft including batik, leather goods, clothing and household items. You can find everything at there from vegetables, local snacks to fresh tropical fruits. The colorful assemblage of goods and lively atmosphere especially in the morning makes it irresistible to shutterbugs. And the uniqueness of this market is that majority of the traders are women.
Photo by juin
The charm of Kelantan also lies at the Pantai Cahaya Bulan (Moonlight Beach) which is formerly known as the Beach of Passionate Love or Pantai Cinta Berahi. The warm golden sands, crystal blue waters, tall and graceful palms attract one to lie on the sand and bask in the sun indirectly. It is an ideal place for picnics, camping, relaxation and also a perfect getaway for the world-weary. Others lovely beaches in the vicinity of Kota Bharu are Pantai Cahaya Bulan (Moonlight Beach), Pantai Irama (Beach of Melody), Pantai Bisikan Bayu (Beach of Whispering Breeze) and Pantai Seri Tujuh (Beach of Seven Lagoons). All beaches are as alluring as their names sound.
The tallest Standing Buddha in South-East Asia, which is porcelain white and looming over its surroundings, is definitely a sight to behold. It is situated at Wat Phothikyan in Kampung Balai, which is a small village, 35 minutes from Kota Baru, Kelantan. It is just opened to the public on August of 2008.
Photo by 7caught7my7eyes7
At 120m high, Lata Beringin is the highest waterfalls in Malaysia. The magnificent view and lush green surroundings make Lata Beringin a popular camping spot. It is near the Sungai Pas Kesedar Land Scheme and accessible through a dirt track leading off from the Kuala Krai-Gua Musang highway.
Best Time to Visit
Considering the weather and traditions of Kelantan, the best time to go Kelantan is between March and July. Besides that, it is advisable not to have your trip there on Friday. Places of interest such as Handicraft Village and Craft Museum, Batik Museum and Istana Jahar are closed on Friday.
Kelantan is so popular with its cottage industries such as batik-printing, silverware, wood-carving and songket weaving. The Cultural Centre in the heart of the town showcases Kelantan’s rich heritage of cultures and traditions making it a “must visit venue”. This is where you can enjoy the cultural performances, traditional games and pastimes handed down through generations. Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry) shows, Silat (the Malay art of self defence) performances and Gasing (top spinning) displays are all available at the Cultural Centre. The Cultural Centre is open three times a week from March to October every year except for the Ramadan month. Its show time is from 3.30 pm to 5.30 pm every Saturday, Monday and Wednesday and also from 9.00 pm to 10.30 pm every Saturday and Wednesday. Its admission is free of charge. Therefore, it is best to visit Kelantan on Saturday and Wednesday.
Besides that, Kelantan has a tropical climate with its temperatures ranges from 21 to 32 °C and intermittent rain throughout the year. The wet season is during the east-coast monsoon season which is from November to January.
Where to Stay
Various types of accommodations are available in the capital city, Kota Bharu, ranges from star-rated hotels to affordable rooms. For budget backpackers, it is strongly recommended to join the homestay program. This program offers you a chance to live with fisherman, kite maker, batik painter, silversmith and top-spinning craftsman to get an insight into the culture and lifestyle of these simple folks. Contact with the Tourist Information Centre, they will make the necessary arrangements for you. Join your host family’s daily activities, learn how to cook local dish and watch cultural shows will ensure a sweet homestay memories.
For large families, it is best is to stay at The Guest Residence – Kota Bharu Guest House. Strategically located at Jalan Bayam, TGR – Guest House in Kota Bharu Kelantan is 5 minutes away from Kota Sri Mutiara or Billion Shopping Complex, and 6 minutes drive to Siti Khadijah Market and Kota Bharu City Centre. It provides a comfortable, clean and quaint environment for you and yet value for your money.
Where & What to Eat
Food stalls, restaurants and hawkers selling snacks can be found everywhere along the streets in Kota Bharu and other large towns. Located at the junction of Jalan Padang Garang and Jalan Pengkalan Chepa, Kota Bharu’s Chinatown has good traditional Chinese noodle dishes.
Photo by lanraga
Outdoor dining at food stalls is something that not to be missed in Malaysia and you must visit the food stalls at Padang Bas in the town centre, which serves traditional fare from 6pm until midnight.
Kelantan cuisine is well-known with its sweetness rather than its spiciness. One of the popular dishes that you should not miss out is Ayam Percik. In this dish, the barbecued chicken is marinated with rich and spicy coconut gravy. Secondly, you must try the Nasi Kerabu which is a rice-based dish that served with coconut milk, flaked fish, desiccated coconut shavings and a variety of herbs, spices and sauces. Other than that, you should also try the Nasi Dagang. It is a type of brown rice, steamed with coconut milk and served with rich spicy fish gravy. Besides that, there is a fermented version of coconut milk in Kelantan. It is called “tuak” and usually tasted sour. As tourists, you must dare to try.
There is really nothing much to do at night in Kelantan unless you visit the food stalls at Padang Bas. Almost all the shops are closed at night.
My to do List
– visit Fishing Village
– go to Lata Beringin
– visit Siti Khadijah Market
– try ayam percik
– buy Malay arts and handicrafts likes batik, songket and etc.
– have a fresh coconut
– try popular desserts and snacks such as akok (wrinkled cake), bahulu (cakes) and keropok ikan (fish cracker)
– have a trek at Stong Hill – one of Kelantan’s eco-adventure destinations
Daily flights are available from Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Johore Bahru to the Sultan Ismail Petra Airport in Pengkalan Chepa, which is about 20 minutes to the city. Besides that, trains are available at the Wakaf Bharu Station and Sungai Golok Station. For a first timer, it is best to travel there by train to experience something different.
Kelantan is well-linked with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia by the East Coast railway line, and it is known as the “Jungle Railway”. The line starts from Tumpat in the north of Kelantan and passes through Wakaf Baru (the nearest station to Kota Bharu), Kuala Krai and Gua Musang in the southern part of Kelantan before it enters Pahang.
If you intend to have a self-drive there, Kelantan can be accessed by road via the East-West Highway which links Gerik in Perak on the west coast and Jeli in Kelantan. Federal Route 8 connects Kota Bharu with Central Pahang through Kuala Krai and Gua Musang. You can also enter Kelantan on the East Coast main road (Federal Route 3) which runs from Johor Bahru to Kota Bharu via Terengganu and the eastern part of Pahang. Use this road especially when you are heading to the Perhentian Islands. If you are coming from the Thailand, you can enter Kelantan from the southern Thai province of Narathiwat at Rantau Panjang (across the Golok River from the Thai town of Sungai Kolok) and across the Golok River using the bridge at Bukit Bunga, Jeli.
To get around in Kelantan, car rentals, airport taxis, bus service, local train and trishaw rides are all available in Kelantan. Enjoy the scenic of countryside in Kelantan by traversing around the town.