Terengganu: Beachland paradise

Peninsular Malaysia is a place of contrasts. On the west coast lies metropolises that attract those who are drawn to the bright lights and glitz of cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

Meanwhile, the east coast is dotted with rustic townships where the pace is slower than the former. If anything, visiting the east coast is a revelation, one that enables you to experience the Malaysian heartlands.

Located by the South China Sea, Terengganu was on a trade route in ancient times. Like other Malay states, Terengganu practiced a Hindu-Buddhist culture combined with animist traditional beliefs for hundreds of years before the arrival of Islam.

In the 19th century, Terengganu became a vassal state of Siam. The terms of the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 saw power over Terengganu transferred from Siam to Great Britain. During WWII, Japan occupied Terengganu and transferred sovereignty over the state back to Siam. After the defeat of Japan, British control over these Malay states was reestablished. Terengganu became a member of the Federation of Malaya in 1948, and a state of independent Malaya in 1957.

Local bites

The most famous local food is keropok lekor (from 80 sen), which is made from a combination of dough (sago flour) and pounded fish, fried and served with hot chili sauce. Another popular snack, keropok keping (fish crackers; from RM1) is made from sun-dried slices of keropok lekor. Many keropok stalls can be found on the side of the highway that passes through coastal communities. Laksam (or laksang in the local Malay dialect; from RM2.50), a modified version of the ubiquitous local laksa dish, is made from rice flour. Laksam’s thick and soft noodles are served in a bowl of light fresh coconut milk mixed with boiled fish flesh (mainly mackerel), finely chopped cucumbers, chili, onion and long beans. The dish is best savored cold at breakfast.

Another Terengganu specialty is sata (from RM1.20), which is fish cake wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over a grill. Nasi dagang, which is served with side condiments such as spiced chicken (from RM3), is also a local favorite.

What to see

When in Terengganu, visit Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque. Located in Teluk Ibai, which is four kilometers from Kuala Terengganu, the mosque’s white structure occupies five acres. Built in 1991, the mosque boasts an arresting architecture and serenity of its surrounding landscape. The mosque’s design combines Islamic influences and local features. Built with a lake surrounding it, the mosque is set against the backdrop of the South China Sea.

Another attraction is Tasik Kenyir, the largest manmade lake in Southeast Asia. Built between 1978 and 1985, the lake occupies 38,000 hectares. Tasik Kenyir is a showcase of 340 islands, located at the tips of highlands and hilltops that surround Tasik Kenyir, which is located within a national park. There are 30 rivers feeding the lake, 25 waterfalls and 25 species of fish in its waters.

The national park is a lush tropical forest, home to more than 8,000 species of flowers, 2,500 species of plants and trees and 300 species of fungus, as well as 800 types of butterflies, 370 species of orchids, 1,000 species of birds and 200 species of other animals.

There are also limestone caves situated within the park. Pengkalan Gawi is the most bustling gateway located near Tasik Kenyir. Located at the former are a tourist information center and jetty; and it’s where various water sports facilities are available for rent.

For an island getaway, Pulau Redang, situated 45 km off the coast of Kuala Terengganu, is renowned for its incredible azure waters fringed by white sand, against the backdrop of verdant jungle-clad hills. The island boasts two beautiful beaches, Pasir Panjang situated on the east coast, and Teluk Dalam Kecil, a sheltered cove tucked away on the northeast of the island.

Teluk Dalam Kecil is the location of the five-star Berjaya Redang Beach Resort (package deal RM688 nett for three days). The resort’s activities include sea sports, jungle trekking and island tours. For more info, visit www. berjayahotel.com.

Perhentian, another picturesque island, is located 21 km off Terengganu’s coastline. Consisting of two islands, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, the waters around Perhentian offer some of the best diving sites in the world.

Lang Tengah, which is a 30-minute boat ride from Redang, is one of Terengganu’s best kept secrets. Located midway between Redang and Perhentian, its sparkling white sand and aquamarine waters are a sight to behold. Lang Tengah also offers spectacular diving experiences, where you’ll come across hard and soft corals and attractive marine life.

Travel Tips

- The primary attractions of Terengganu are the beautiful tropical Perhentian and Redang Islands, where you can engage in water sports. Terengganu has a variety of water sports, such as swimming, snorkeling and diving. So be sure to take along a swimsuit.

- Snorkeling and diving equipment is available for rent. If you cannot dive but are eager to view the marine species under water, you can rent snorkeling equipment.

- Being underwater can be a fun and enjoyable experience. So that you can share the experience of the underwater delights with relatives and friends, be sure to take a waterproof camera with you.