Apparently, it’s not the vast white sand beach, the swaying palm trees, or the tiny village that consists of nothing more than a few guesthouses, cafés and or sports shops along a small dusty strip. Travellers have been coming to Cherating for years and sometimes end up staying for weeks, months and even years too because of the warmth and friendliness of the residents.
It’s here that Malays who are repelled by big city life come to hang out and spend their days surfing, playing their own brand of music or exploring their artistic side. Anyone who has similar leanings is welcome, welcome, welcome.
There is plenty to do for those who are into a more active lifestyle. Cherating gets some of the best surfing waves in all of Malaysia, boats can be hired to take the curious inland through the mangroves, visits to the turtle sanctuary can be arranged during the months of April to September and snorkeling and kayaking trips provide thrills both above and below the water.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We had bitten off a little more than we could chew thinking that we could leave Taman Negara, drive through Kuala Lipis at a leisurely pace, race into KL during rush hour and still manage to drive across the width of the Malaysian peninsula all in one day, and reach our destination before dark. What made it worse was that we attempted to do this on a single tank of gas.
I use the word ‘we’, but really, I had very little to do with the fact that we almost ran out of gas on a lonely stretch of highway, after dark, with little or no sense of where we were in relation to the towns along the east coast. After leaving KL and enjoying the countryside for some time, the motion of the car combined with the early start we had made, lulled me to sleep in the back seat of the car.
As I mentioned before, David was doing all the driving and although Anil was keeping an eye on the level of the gas gauge, when he asked David if he thought they should stop and fuel up, David told him there were still two bars showing on the gauge. What they didn’t realize was that although Malaysia is one of the major petroleum producers in the region, there are very few gas stations along the major expressways.
I woke up to find the sun had set and neither Anil nor David knew where we were. I’m the navigator, with the maps and the guidebook and they hadn’t paid any attention to the various exits we passed enroute while I was sleeping. Suddenly David realized that the car was dangerously low on fuel and when we looked around, we couldn’t see any lights along the highway, in any direction.
The guys remembered passing an exit some distance back, and not knowing how far we would have to travel before we came to another exit, we decided to turn around and look for some signs of a town back near the past exit. We drove on for at least a half an hour and when we noticed at large refinery complex. We headed for it thinking there would surely be a gas station nearby.
No such luck, we turned and headed straight east thinking eventually we would hit the coastal highway and find a gas station along its length. We even stopped a couple of times at roadside eateries, but no one spoke English and we couldn’t seem to get anyone to understand we need gas. Eventually, we did find one man who figured out our ‘charade’ moves, and he told us the first gas station was 14km up the highway.
Our hearts sank. We were pretty sure we didn’t have enough gas to get us that far, but we drove in the direction he indicated. I was sure we would end up sleeping in the car that night, but lo and behold, a huge modern filling station loomed up ahead, just 4km from our good Samaritan, not 14km. We were even able to get someone to show us our location on the map. We dodged a bullet that night for sure.
We now had a choice, we could head south towards the state capital at Kuantan and look for a place for the night, or turn north, the direction we had to travel to eventually reach Kuala Terengganu, where we were due to return the car in a couple of days. We were exactly equidistant between Kuantan and Cherating Beach, and we decided to head to the beach even though it was very dark.
We got back on the expressway, without full tank of gas, and drove for another hour. It seemed really late when we pulled into Cherating and went searching for the Residence Inn. We liked the description of the accommodation there in contrast to the tiny wooden chalets at the ‘Shadow of the Moon at Half-Past Four’. It turned out we got a room at the Residence Inn and signed the register at half-past eight, not so very late after all.
We were starved, and fortunately there was a family celebrating a birthday at the hotel’s dining room so we were able to get fresh hot meals prepared for us. We talked over the many events of the long day and the long drive and agreed that we had been exceedingly lucky with the car. We decided we’d had enough of driving and needed more relaxing, so instead of taking our time stopping along the coast, we would head straight for Kuala Terengganu the following day and rid ourselves of more highway driving.
There was plenty to see and do around the city, I had read about the Crystal Mosque and the world-class museum, so we would not be bored. However, the next morning we spent a good hour at the beach; it was low tide and the white sand was a spectacular sight. David stayed with the car reading an English language newspaper he had picked up at the hotel and Anil and I wandered over to the point to watch a group of young men surfing.
We drove through the sleepy village of Cherating and it was just having it had been described in our guidebook. We didn’t take a chance lingering to chat with the local residents, it might have been too tempting to stop and never leave; and besides we had seven upcoming flights to far-flung destinations in Malaysia to look forward to.