Kapoors Year 5: Right Round The World travel blog

The First Time That I've Seen An ATM That Dispenses Four Different...

David Was Very Pleasantly Surprised To Find Fresh Shrimp As Part Of...

The View From Our Hotel In Kota Bharu, The Crystal Lodge, Looking...

The Bamboo Shades Were Lowered To Keep The Scorching Sun From The...

As We Walked Around Town, We Spotted A Very Few Of These...

After Loading Up A Hefty Elderly Woman, The Driver Gets A Walking...

The City Is The Most Northern Major City In Malaysia, In The...

The Sultan's Palace Is Off-Limits To Tourists, But The Gate Was Ajar...

I Noticed This Portrait For Sale In The Market And Thought It...

This Is The Royal Ceremonies Museum, Istana Jahar, The Displays Were Interesting,...

The Large Airy Veranda Is Magnificent The Wood Floors And Railings Are...

The Buildings On The Grounds Hold Several Royal Barges And There's A...

Here Is A Fine Example Of One Of The Royal Boats, It's...

Here's A Closer View, You Can See That The Pegs Used To...

The Citizens Of Kota Bharu Are Extremely Fond Of Birds, There Are...

There Are A Few Of The Old Buildings Still Standing, This Museum...

The City Has Recreated What Looks Like A Malay Village Near The...

I Was Surprised To See This Tall Bamboo With Brilliant Red And...

The City Was Very Quiet During The Heat Of The Afternoon, But...

I Had Read That Purse-Snatching Was A Real Problem In Malaysia, But...

We Found A Lovely Cafe Near Our Hotel And Stopped For Cool...

It Was A Short Taxi Ride To The Beach, A Great Way...

Kota Bharu Was The First Place In Malaya To Be Invaded By...

Those Days Seem Long Forgotten Now, This Boy's Grandfather Might Remember Those...

Things Are Looking Up For Malaysia Now, Petroleum Exports Have Fuelled Prosperity...

The Stores And Markets Are Filled With Foodstuffs, But Some People Still...

This Mother Has Brought Along A Picnic Supper For The Family While...

He Has Several On The Go And Uses Driftwood To Prop Up...

The People Of Kota Bharu Are Devout Muslims, They Are A Little...

This Young Boy Is Getting Kite-Flying Lessons From His Grandfather, It's Great...

Most Tourists Visit Kota Bharu On Their Way From Thailand To The...


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BACKGROUND

Khota Baru is Malaysia’s northernmost city, sitting alongside the Sungai River, 10km inland from the sea. It’s a devoutly Muslim city, proud of its Malay heritage. Its citizens are relaxed and very friendly, and although most foreign visitors arrive overland from neighbouring Thailand on their way to the Perhentian Islands, there are some interesting buildings and museums to see if one has the time.

Khota Bharu makes a great base for exploring the province of Kelantan. Overnight tours into the jungle are popular, as well as boat trips on the river to visit the small villages where silk kites are still made by hand. There is a terrific kite festival in June and in September; the cultural carnival has competitions for the best top spinners and traditional drummers.

The locals love bird song and though there are contests for the best singing birds each week, the highlight is the festival in August where dozens of different Malay birds compete from their ornate cages. The cages are said to be as beautiful as the bird song.

On a more somber note, Khota Bharu was the first place in Malaya to be invaded by the Japanese during WWII.

KAPOORS ON THE ROAD

On our previous visit to Malaysia in 2007, we focused on the capital, the Cameron Highlands in the north central part of the peninsula, and the islands of Penang and Langkawi on the west coast. We read that the east coast offered a much better glimpse into Malay culture and that it saw far fewer visitors, but we didn’t have enough time for us to travel there.

When my brother David heard that we were planning to tour Malaysia, after our time with Raj and Vy in Vietnam, he decided to fly over from Canada and join us for a few weeks. He had been in Penang years earlier and was interested in seeing more of the country as well. After four days in Kuala Lumpur, the three of us flew to Khota Bharu and set about seeing the sights of the city.

While we were waiting for our flight at the airport in KL, I was surprised to see side-by-side ATM machines that together offered customers a choice of eight different currencies when they withdrew cash from their bank accounts at home. I remember being surprised a few years earlier when a Vietnamese ATM gave us the option of getting Vietnamese Dong or UD dollars. My, how times have changed.

Our rooms at the Crystal Hotel were recently renovated, and though they weren’t posh, they were clean and comfortable. We went to the roof of the building and had a look at the nearby river just to get our bearings. Then we set off to explore a little and we took the advice of the hotel receptionist and crossed the street to eat in an outdoor restaurant that was set up behind a commercial building.

There were a large number of tables set up on what was probably a parking lot during the day, and each table was filled with enthusiastic locals eating from large plates heaped with delicious-looking food. There wasn’t a menu that we could understand, but the smell of grilling meat encouraged us to take seats as well. I took a quick spin around the tables and identified a few dishes that looked like they didn’t contain seafood. We had a terrific meal and couldn’t believe how small the bill was when it arrived.

We spent our two days in Khota Bharu walking the quiet streets of the town and exploring some of the beautiful buildings around Padang Merdeka (Independence Square). We could only peek into the grounds of the nearby Istana Balai Pesar (Palace of the Large Audience Hall). It was built in 1840 as the principal royal residence, but today it is only used for state occasions.

The building that really caught our attention was the Istana Jahar (Royal Ceremonies Museum). Built completely of local woods in 1887, it has a wrap-around verandah that lends it an airy feel, we’ve seen nothing like it anywhere. It is filled with interesting displays that portray the various rituals that mark the important transitions in Kelatanese life, from birth, to circumcision, to the marriage and death.

We found a local driver to take us to the beach 10km away, when it was clear we had arrived in Khota Bharu during one of its most quiet periods of the year. The handicraft village was all but deserted, none of the tours were operating and there was very little to do in the town. The beach was completely deserted, it was not really warm enough to swim, but there were local people fishing and some had brought their wives and children to have a picnic while they fished.

We really liked the man who drove us to the beach, his English was good, so we arranged for him to drive us south along the coast to Kuala Besut in order for us to visit the offshore Perhentian Islands. The trip would take us about 1½ hours and was the easiest way to travel for the three of us with our luggage.

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