Kuala Terengganu probably isn’t going to be a must-see place for many people on their journeys around Malaysia, it’s a fairly small city where not a lot happens, but it does make for an interesting overnight stop if you’re headed to or from the islands en route to Kuala Lumpur, or Penang.
It’s a nice enough place to spend a day, or a few if you have the time and a great place to stop and stock up on essentials or get supplies before heading out to the islands, which are always expensive for toiletries and snacks.
The town is relatively small and walkable with a large Chinatown area and a couple of notable things to see. There is a much larger, conservative Muslim population here – don’t offend the locals by keeping your torso and shoulders covered, women should be respectful by keeping as much of their legs covered as possible and definitely don’t wear tiny beach shorts.
Things to do:
Malays consider turtle eggs a delicacy, but this informational art trail known as Turtle Alley, in Chinatown tells the story of the ‘Little Turtle Messenger’ who goes on a ride with the turtles and convinces everyone to stop eating their endangered eggs. Don’t forget to check out the other arty themed lanes in Chinatown, too
The Floating Mosque or Masjid Terapung is a pretty, white mosque built on a lake ten kilometres outside of town.
Crystal Mosque or Masjid Kristal is part of the Taman Tamadun Islam, Islamic theme park. A collection of miniaturised Muslim sights from all over the world. Twenty Ringgit entrance charge to the park, the mosque is free to view. It’s a few kilometres outside of town, with very limited local buses so you will need private transport.
There are night markets all along the waterfront, selling everything from fresh fruit (take some onto the islands with you) to cheap clothing. The bus station also has hole in the wall style vendors selling cheap food including basic nasi lemak for around 1RM. If street eating isn’t for you there are lots of restaurants around including Old Town White Coffee & western fast food chains.
Eat the local speciality, keropok lekor – a type of steamed fish sausage, served with chilli sauce.
Visit the relatively large area of Chinatown, with a lot of traditional shophouses. There are plenty of opportunities to get good Chinese food and there is a cheap hawker market with Chinese on one side and Malay options on the other. During Ramadan Chinatown is the only option besides fast food chains as everything else is shut down during the daylight hours.
Where to stay:
A couple of minutes walk from the bus station Uncles Guest House, run by a well-travelled Chinese Malay who speaks fluent English & German. Air-con rooms with free Wi-Fi and drinking water. Clean & good value. Twin/double from 40RM
Located above a travel agents, Ping Anchorage is an old school backpacker crashpad – the rooms are sparse and there’s no reception after the travel agent closes but the prices are cheap.
The bus stop has local and national services. You can generally buy local tickets on the bus and long distance via the ticket booths behind the taxi rank. Taxi drivers will pester you, and some tried to mislead us about the buses not leaving for several hours, or not running at all. Others were more truthful and helpful – overall, people around were nice, welcoming and helpful – Always ask at least two people the same question.
The airport is about a twenty-minute drive away, the only transport option is to take a taxi.
Where to go next?
How to get to Pulau Kapas:
The ferry leaves from Marang, not to be confused with Merang, which is also close to Kuala Terengganu! From the main bus terminal take the bus headed to Dungun, run by S.P Bumi,(they have a ticket booth at the end of the row, furthest away from the bus stop and next to Plusliner – ask for a schedule.) At Marang, walk around five minutes to the ferry terminal where there are a few operators who all run the same service at slightly different times. Ask the guesthouse to phone a few hours in advance when you want to return.
- Bus: 20/30 minutes: 2.50RM. Make sure you ask the driver to stop at Marang.
- Ferry: around 15minutes, 40MYR return.
How to get to Pulau Perhentians:
The ferry leaves from Kuala Besut. From the main bus terminal, you can take a local bus, run by S.P Bumi. The bus will stop next to the terminal, where you will no doubt be assisted by lots of very helpful people! The ferry runs directly to the Islands, and you can specify which beach you want to be dropped at. Lots of companies are competing here. Make sure the captain knows which beach you want dropping off at.
- Bus: 2hours, 10RM.
- Speedboat: 25 minutes, 70RM return.
How to get to Pulau Redang:
Ferries leave from Merang (different from Marang) S.P Bumi, the local bus service also runs this route from Kuala Terengganu bus terminal throughout the day.
For some of the year ferries also leave from the jetty in Kuala Terengganu for around 100RM per person.
- Bus: 30 minutes, 2-3RM – Ask the driver to stop at Marang.
- Ferry: 40minutes, 80RM return.
In theory, it’s also possible to travel directly between The Perhentians and Pulau Redang – Dive boats and fishing trips run the route and you may be able to buy passage directly, saving the extra time and costs. You will need several days’ notice and some luck for this to happen.
About the author: Ben is a keen traveller who is currently eating and photographing his way around South East Asia and writing about his experiences both on his own website and for us as an ambassador. You can follow more of his writing on his personal blog, thehungrybackpackers.com