By Explorer Becky Wicks
In my mind, the perfect Malaysia holiday was always shop-till-you-drop in Kuala Lumpur, or maybe stuffing my face full of crab in a crowded food court. Little did I know I could step back to a far less chaotic time in Terengganu and seek peace in its pristine beaches, amazing people and idyllic charms. A friend and I took our laptops along as we went exploring on a long weekend and made note of the happening highlights.
Immeasurable beauty awaits in Kuala Dungun, Terengganu | Image: Peter Gronemann
Find Paradise on the Perhentian Islands
We were told we couldn’t visit Malaysia without heading to the Perhentian Islands and sure enough, a glistening paradise with snow-white sand and swaying palms awaited us and our trusty backpacks when we arrived. There are two main islands and it’s easy to get between them by boat (around RM20), but what you’ll find on each might differ.
We headed to Kecil, which is popular with backpackers, but for those who want a quieter time, Besar will offer more relaxation opportunities. Either way, swimming, snorkelling and chatting with strangers was how we whiled away the days. Bliss…until we realised there are no ATMs on the islands – bring cash!
Boats get ready to sail into the blue of The Perhentian Islands | Image: resakse
Snorkel at Turtle Sanctuary Beach
On Besar (the biggest of the Perhentian Islands), the turtle sanctuary was a beautiful place to see and the snorkelling was out of this world. We spent a couple of hours here, bobbing around in the blue after being dropped off by boat, sunbathing, splashing in crystal clear waters and watching the green jungle that slopes down to the sea.
Tourists have to be out by the evening, which is when the turtles lay their eggs. Remember, turtle eggs are sold in many places in these parts. No one seems to know if it’s legal or not to eat them, but think of your ancient, peaceful, shelled friends and stay away like we did.
A Hint of French and a Floating Mosque
Back in Terengganu, on the eastern side of the hill we found the sultan’s palace, which is well worth checking out, if only for its park at the front. Here you can walk through pretty green grass and shrubs and marvel at how the building, which has a distinct air of French architecture, is actually strengthened with coarse salt, egg whites and honey (yes, really). We couldn’t go inside, but it made for a nice walk.
So too did a stroll around the Floating Mosque (or the Masjid Tengku Tengah Zaharah). This Islamic white structure looks like it’s literally hovering over the Ibai River and is even better at night. Your selfies here will be unbeatable.
Walk around the sights, such as the pretty Masjid Negara | Image: Muse Rosli
Grab Some Food at T. Homemade Cafe and Head to Chinatown
I had possibly the best prawn clay pot and stuffed crab I’ve ever had in my life at what’s known as T. Homemade Cafe, which is where a cluster of stalls in one space cook up their Chinese and Malay delights right next to the Chinatown gate. The people are so friendly and we felt like a part of the family as they all explained their dishes to us with enthusiasm and smiles.
Chinatown itself is small but makes for an interesting adventure, squeezing down alleyways and taking in the gold and red hues from the 1800s. We took some fun snaps at Ho Ann Kiong, which is the oldest Chinese temple in the state.
Local kids in Terengganu will definitely pose for all your photos! | Image: Haifeez
Take a River Cruise and Watch Local Life in Action
If you still have time to spare, there are a number of tours you can take around Terengganu and the company Ping Anchorage seems to have a monopoly on the market. We took a river cruise on Sungai Marang and watched smiley people in rural villages go about their business along the banks. We even got to sample some freshly cut coconuts, picked from the tree by a friendly monkey. We saw a lot of beautiful birds but sadly didn’t catch sight of the infamous river otters. Maybe you’ll have more luck.
Best Time to Visit
The weather in Terengganu is pretty hot and humid for most of the year, but the best time to book your Malaysia holiday here is from February to October, when there’s considerably less rain.
Where to Stay
- The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort: This high-end Redang Island resort comes with a private beach, all the coconuts you can handle, two restaurants and a full-service spa. You’ll be close to lots of other Malaysian tourism spots, beaches and also the Marine Park Centre. 24-hour room service is a bonus.
- Primula Beach Hotel: This is a great mid-range option with a private sandy beach. It’s close to numerous attractions, such as Istana Maziah, Pasar Payang, the floating mosque and Terengganu State Museum. Go for an in-room massage as an added treat.
- Noor Arfa River Chalet: If you’re travelling to Malaysia on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the small but clean and friendly Noor Arfa River Chalet. With just eight rooms, you’re close to all the attractions and your homestay Kuala Terengganu experience includes breakfast.
Flights: You can fly from Malaysia to Kuala Terengganu (TGG) via Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines. Getting from the airport to Kuala Besut takes two hours by car and from there you can head to the Perhentian Islands.
Many visitors, including native Singaporeans and Australians, don’t need a visa to visit Malaysia, but double check with the Malaysian High Commission, the Embassy or with your local consulate to make sure before you book your trip.
Image Credits: Photographers under Creative Commons CC2.0 license