Islamic traditions of the Malay community are retained in all their vibrancy in this idyllic coastal sultanate of Malaysia, says Aftab H. Kola.
Often described as the ‘cradle of Malay civilisation’, the sultanate state of Terengganu – perched on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, has contributed towards and shaped many strands of Malay culture and heritage.
Landing at Sultan Mahmud Airport in the state capital of Kuala Terengganu, you’ve arrived in the Malay heartland. Besides its myriad hues of culture, Terengganu offers up to visitors surreal beaches, breathtakingly beautiful islands, virgin rainforests, and nature in its most essential form.
From a sleepy fishing settlement, the capital of Kuala Terengganu has blossomed into a thriving city. Its Terrengganu State Museum, built in ancient palace tradition, houses a diverse range of centuries-old artefacts and artworks – including textiles, crafts, royal regalia, Islamic and contemporary art, manuscripts, and weapons.
The story of old and new Terengganu – from its ancient maritime tradition, to its modern-day exploration of petroleum, history reverberates inside its walls. It’s also here in Terengganu where the adept craftspeople and artisans of the region craft some of Malaysia’s best examples of brass sculpture, wood carvings, songket and batik weaving, ship-building, and traditional carpentry.
A coastal enclave, Terengganu is also endowed with renowned, picturesque beaches – including Pantai Kemasik, Rakit, and Pantai Kelulut. Tourists flock in droves to the capital, using it as a home-base hub for island-hopping among the half a dozen surrounding offshore islands, exploring their sandy stretches of beach, crystal waters, and coral reefs with their deep red, pale pink and green hues.
Lakes, hot springs, cataracts and other bodies of water abound across the state, with nature finding abundant expression in places like Kenyir Lake, Saok and Lasir Waterfalls, and among a number of jetties with scenic backdrops perfect for that sunset boat ride.
For those who prefer to elicit a sense of place from sight, smell, and taste, a trip to Terengganu’s bustling Pasar Besar Kedai Payang market is a must. Wander through its labyrinth and you’ll be held in decadent thrall at the array of exotic herbs and traditional street foods to be found among its serpentine alleyways.
My favourite place- Nearby Redang Island is renowned as a perfect leisure getaway. From Terengganu, it’s a one-hour boat ride to reach this picturesque island. It’s pristine coastline, caressed by the South China Sea, is well-suited for windsurfing, jet-skiing, and kayaking – though its main tourist attraction is, by far, snorkeling among its delicate coral reefs. For those seeking an on-land option, jungle tours are easily organized through local tour operators and offer visitors a glimpse into the island’s lush, tropical rainforest. Redang is fairly well-developed and offers guests a number of resorts at which to book their stay.
Highlights- Visit Terengganu’s Noor Arfa Complex and watch as local female artisans dip delicate ‘canting’ tools into hot, molten wax to etch out exquisite patterns on delicate batik fabrics. The complex is reputed to be the largest batik producer in Malaysia and, for visitors, it’s a treat to watch this hand-drawn batik painting – and you can even have a hands-on experience in making a piece of your own. Their showrooms display numerous batik designs of different creative styles, and it’s here you can learn how their craftsmanship and design have evolved over time – from the traditional technique of using metal blocks (batik terap), to the hand-drawn technique of ‘canting’.
Souvenirs- Gorgeous hand-painted batik or songket fabrics, traditional brass betel leaf containers called ‘tepak sireh’, and colourful woven baskets made from ‘mengkuang’ – or pandan leaf.
Getting there- Fly Oman Air from Muscat to Kuala Lumpur, where you can take a Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Terengganu.
Where to stay- Terennganu’s Primula Beach Hotel is a laid-back beachfront retreat featuring cozy rooms and suites, plus two restaurants and an outdoor pool. All other usual suspects for accommodation can be easily found on Trivago, Kayak, or Booking.com.
1. View the scaled-down replicas of 22 famous monuments from the Islamic world at the Islamic Civilization Park.
2. Gaze at the pristine reflection of the famous Crystal Mosque near Taman Tamadun Islam.
3. Frolick with the playful orphan elephants at the Kenyir Elephant Conservation Village.
4. Relish some traditional local dishes such as nasi dagang sata (a fish pâté) and a variety of local sweets.
5. Watch the nearly extinct leatherback turtle make its pilgrimage ashore at the Rantau Abang Turtle Information Centre.