Take a leisurely drive to Terengganu and discover fireflies, delightful food and friendly people, besides the usual beaches and fishing boats, writes PUTRI ZANINA
IT is the beginning of the monsoon season and islands in Terengganu are off limits to tourists. However, that is not to say that you canâ€™t go for a holiday to this east coast state during this time of the year for there are still pockets of fine sunny days for you to enjoy a trip there.
In fact, friends in Terengganu say that the weather can be quite unpredictable as there is still plenty of sunshine during the monsoon. However, stay clear of the seawater as the huge waves and strong winds can be daunting.
Now, what can you do in Terengganu if you canâ€™t go to any of its idyllic islands? How about driving there at leisure? You can expect traffic to be lighter as many holidaymakers will be heading elsewhere in the country.
You will be among the few adventurous ones to seek secluded spots and enjoy empty sparkling white beaches all to yourself. Whenever you come across something interesting, you can stop, check it out and take all the time you want to savour the experience.
Thereâ€™s something about driving along the beautiful coastal road in Terengganu. As you drive along palm-fringed beaches and villages, you will feel the knots in your muscles slowly untangle.
The state has one of the longest stretches of beaches in Peninsular Malaysia, running some 225km from Kemaman to Besut.
Where Do You Begin?
Take the East-Coast Expressway from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan in Pahang. The improved expressway makes the journey a breeze. You will reach Kuantan in just about three hours. If you start in the morning, you will arrive in Kuantan in time for a lunch break.
From Kuantan, drive up north through the main trunk road passing Beserah, a village with a fairly straight beach dotted with resorts, chalets, stalls and restaurants.
Some 8km away, the road will take you across a scenic river where you will see colourful boats docked by the riverside. Make a U-turn after the bridge (be careful of traffic as the road there is narrow) and enter a side road near the river.
This is Sungai Ular, the take-off point to the small Pulau Ular. From the mouth of Sungai Ular, the river snakes its way to the South China Sea.
You will see shacks by the river where fishermen rest or mend their fishing nets and traps.
Tall coconut trees line the Pantai Ular beach. Take all the time you want to enjoy the deserted beach.
Coffee Break In Chukai
Drive up north towards Kuala Terengganu. Some 25km from Sungai Ular, you will reach Chukai. Now, anyone who bothers to â€œgoogleâ€ for information before driving to Terengganu will know that you will have to stop in Chukai for its famous Kemaman coffee.
Go to Kedai Kopi Hai Peng at Jalan Sulaimani and there have that â€œto die forâ€ caffeine fix and hot and fluffy charcoal-toasted kaya bread and buns. Thatâ€™s not all. You can even get delicious local fare like nasi dagang, pulut panggang, tapai and a variety of kuih-muih as well as the must-have half-boiled eggs and Hainanese noodles.
Try the ice-blended cocoa lava that comes with ice cream and wafer rolls. It can put some â€œdesignerâ€ ice-blended concoctions to shame!
Inside this authentic kopitiam that has been in business since 1940, you will see interesting old furniture and decorations, like old grandfather clocks, dainty chinaware, an antique sewing machine and other bric-a-brac.
Donâ€™t forget to take home some packets of Kemaman coffee grains that come in choices of 2-in-1, 3-in-1, or just black.
Mangrove Forests In Chukai And Kijal
Driving towards Kijal from Chukai, you may want to stop at the Bakau Tinggi Recreational Area. There is a small river jetty at Sungai Chukai where you will see many people casting their fishing lines.
There are boats and kayaks for hire. If you have time to kill, hire a boat to go fishing or simply cruise to enjoy the sights by the river. All along, you will see lush mangrove forest. It is a protected area within the Kemaman Bakau Forest Reserve.
Next, get set for some pretty beaches at Kijal, just about 15km away from Chukai. The privacy that you can get in such natural surroundings by the sea is something you will treasure.
Be adventurous and drive off the main road. Not too far from the StarCruises jetty near the Awana Kijal Golf, Beach & Spa Resort, you will come across a small river with crystal clear water that leads to the sea. An interesting find are unique rock formations and sharp cliffs where birds love to perch.
Kijal is a good place to stay overnight. Arrange with a local tour operator to take you to Sungai Yakyah in Kampung Ibok, about 15km from Kijal. Here, you will see what is touted as the biggest firefly colony in the east coast. Not many people know of its existence, but locals claim that it can rival the world-famous firefly colony in Kuala Selangor.
The fireflies can be found along the 13km Sungai Yakyah but the best spots are located around 5km from the river jetty where there are many berembang and putat trees, the natural living habitat of fireflies there.
The fishing villages in Kijal start early. At dawn, watch fishing boats leave towards the sea just as the hint of sunlight pierces the sky magically in the horizon.
Kemasik, Kertih And Paka
The next place from Kijal is Kemasik, which takes its name from a river there. It is a small typical fishing village but it has a gem that many have yet to discover. Its tranquil beach is among the best in Terengganu. There are some unique rock formations there.
When you cross into Kertih, you hit â€œoil countryâ€! The scenery is unlike other places in the state. You will see petroleum refineries and modern houses and complexes.
The best time to pass through Kertih is at night when you will see giant gas pipes spewing fire into the sky. The whole place will be brightly illuminated and seeing this â€œcity of lightsâ€ in the middle of nowhere can be surreal.
Paka is a small fishing village that has benefited from the oil boom. There is a thriving township here. However, drive towards the beach and you will again find yourself enveloped in tranquillity.
Dungun And Marang
Dungun is a quiet coastal fishing town. For a spot of eco-adventure, hire a boat or a bamboo raft and cruise along Sungai Dungun. See the laidback life by the river, spot otters and birds and catch fresh water fishes.
Dungun is the gateway to Pulau Tenggol, which is about one hour by speedboat from the Kuala Dungun jetty. You can also go to the Ceralak Waterfalls by boat from the river.
Next is Marang, another fishing village, which is located at the mouth of Sungai Marang.
Marang is the place where you catch a boat to go to Pulau Kapas and Pulau Gemia. Driving in and around Marang, you will see many picturesque villages with nipah attap huts. If you are lucky, you can even spot monkeys climbing coconut trees.
A cruise up the Marang River will take you to mangrove forests where wildlife like otters and monitor lizards can be seen.
Kuala Terengganu And Beyond
Just about 15 minutesâ€™ drive from Marang is Kuala Terengganu, the state capital and the gateway to many places of interest in the state. Just before you hit the town, you canâ€™t miss the â€œfloating mosqueâ€ or the Masjid Tengku Tengah Zaharah. Its reflection in the surrounding water gives it the illusion of being afloat.
You may also be sidetracked at Chendering, the place made famous by Mak Ngah Nasi Dagang. It is a little stall about 2km from Kuala Ibai Bridge. Be there between 7am and 11am to taste what is said to be Terengganuâ€™s best nasi dagang.
Check out the famous tourist places in Kuala Terengganu, including Pantai Batu Buruk with lots of stalls near the beach, Pasar Payang (for Terengganu souvenirs), Bukit Puteri (for a good view of the town as well as the Istana Maziah, the official residence of the Terengganu Sultan).
But do take the time to go to Pulau Duyung, accessible by road or river from the centre of town. There, you will see the almost dying traditional boat-making craft.
Another must-go is one of the largest and most beautiful museums in the country, the Terengganu State Museum Complex. Located in the charming ambience of Kampung Losong (famous for keropok lekor) and by the promontory of Sungai Terengganu, the museum showcases Terengganuâ€™s rich historical, cultural and religious legacy.
On the other side of Sungai Terengganu, not far from the museum is Kampung Tanjung Sabtu, home to Pura Tanjung Sabtu, an enchanting complex of reconstructed traditional Terengganu houses belonging to Terengganu prince Tengku Ismail Tengku Su. He welcomes guests on homestay package deals.
Before you leave Kuala Terengganu, check out Merang (not to be mistaken with Marang), about 45 minutesâ€™ drive further south.
Merang is the departure point to Pulau Redang and Pulau Lang Tengah. But of course, with the monsoon, you will just have to comb the shores at Merang. And you wonâ€™t be disappointed.
In fact, you donâ€™t have to go to the islands to enjoy absolute bliss by the sea. Merang has kilometres of white sandy beaches, coconut groves and villages that seem to jump out from old picture books.
There is also a scenic river that at some stretches, seems to run parallel with the beach. The riverbank is where you can pitch your tent and enjoy a spot of fishing. The beach is just a few metres away.
It is an unexplored paradise. All we will tell you is that ask for directions to Kampung Penarik. To discover it, just be a little adventurous and go off the beaten track.