Kota Bharu City Guide
I dedicate this piece to my current hometown – Kota Bharu.
Kota Bharu, a quiet little city in Kelantan, Malaysia is not a place generally heard of. I didn’t know much about it until I settled here. It’s now been 2.5 years and I’m in love with the city that is so close and true to its traditions and culture. I have been writing about it for a while now with the hope that it gets noticed as a place where one could travel to, and here’s another attempt to put in on the traveller’s map.
Kota Bharu City Guide (in a nutshell):
Food: The food in Kota Bharu is quite unique. It has its own touch of traditional, hand-me-down recipes and is a tad sweet in taste. The dishes inevitably contain sambal (chilli paste) and belacan (fermented shrimp paste/sauce). Rice forms the staple meal and is consumed generously for breakfast. Some of the most popular nasi (rice) preparations include: nasi dagang, nasi kerabu, nasi ulam, nasi hujan panas, nasi goreng kampung (village-style fried rice) etc. If you like bread toast in the morning, you must have their charcoal-toasted bread or roti bakar with kaya (coconut paste) and butter.
Needless to say, the meal is incomplete without teh tarik or pulled tea with condensed milk. Traditional cakes or kuih rule the dessert scene with akok, dodol and its variants being the most popular ones. For this, check out the cottage industry near Pasir Mas area, Siti Khadijah or Central Market. Have food in any local stall, air dingin counters serving pre-mixed rice and curry in packets, breakfast and lunch buffet, fried chicken and rice pre-set packets available in the morning etc. Avoid fancy restaurants to experience true flavours.
Museums: The Islamic Museum, Museum of Royal Traditions and Customs, Handicraft Village or Kampung Kraftangan, State Museum, War Museum etc.
Landmark: Hop on to the cultural zone to see the Sultan Ismail Petra Arch erected to commemorate the city as a Cultural City. The museums, central market, street art hub and riverside lie around this area. You just cannot miss the Clock Tower in a beautifully-laid compound.
Street Art: Colourful, vibrant murals adorn the walls of the city, especially around Kelantan riverside and the area close to the Clock Tower. They showcases glimpses of dances, kite making, shadow play, abstract art, graduation day, freedom, war, scuba diving and a lot more. The ones at Kuala Besut Jetty Point too must not be missed.
Beaches: The beaches may not be the best ones in Malaysia, but they are a good place for the locals to unwind during weekends. Expect good local food in small carts and stalls, a few fun activities, casuarina tress and ice cream in wheeled-carts (spot the ais krim baba) and coconuts shells. Some of them include Pantai Cahaya Bulan, Pantai Tok Bali, Pantai Irama, Pantai Melawi, Pantai Sri Tujuh and Geting Beach amongst others.
Culture: To experience the culture of the city, you have to visit the Cultural Centre or Gelanggang Seni at the scheduled slots to witness drum beating, silat or martial arts, wau or moon kite flying, top spinning, shadow play etc. You could also try your hands on some batik painting and congkak or a game of marbles.
Central Market: A trip to Kota Bharu is incomplete without visiting the Central Market of Siti Khadijah. Here, you will see vendors (mostly women) selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, wholesale goods, spices, local snacks and cakes. Enjoy the colourful interiors of the messy wet indoor-market and all the chaos and hustle-bustle associated with it.
People: The people out here are the most warm-hearted souls you will ever meet. They are always ready to help you and (unless in a bad mood) welcome you with a smile. You will find a huge population of women working in different spheres including restaurants, vegetable vending areas, and engaged in various other forms of businesses. Clearly, the women here are empowered in their own way.
Life: It’s not a party hub or happening night spot for sure. It is devoid of skyscrapers and jazzy music festivals, but it does stay pure when it comes to authenticity of traditions, quality of life, fresh air and a calm vibe. If you are a traveller who doesn’t mind a little rustic charm, then you could hop over.
Weekend: Fridays (public spots, offices closed) and Saturdays (for some)
Clothing: It is advisable to dress modestly. Do not pack bikinis and spaghetti, but tees, shorts or other regular clothes instead.
Religious influence: It has a strong Islamic influence that shouldn’t deter you from exploring it. Expect it to stay closed or come to a standstill during prayers and on Fridays. Respect the locals and they will respect you.
Commute: Hail a taxi, hire a car from a good car rental or simply download and book a Grab Cab.
Malls: Yes. Cinema Halls does not have one yet.
Weekend getaways: Perhentian Islands, drive or hike to Kuala Terengganu, Gua Musang caves, Ipoh city, Cameron Highlands etc.
Months to avoid: Most of the shops and/or beaches are shut during the monsoon months of October-March and Ramadan.
First impression: Might not be so good – bear with it and let the city grow on you.
That pretty much sums up my current hometown – the quiet roads, the un-crowded beaches, the traditional delights and a place of warm hearts. To break the notions of Kota Bharu and help people understand the city better, I have written a BOOK on my current hometown – Kota Bharu Kelantan Malaysia: 50 Travel Tips From A Local. Yes, a whole book – there’s that much to do in Kota Bharu… that a post just cannot justify.
Aditi Shukla is a traveller, soul-searcher and foodie. The writer, author and explorer loves embarking on new journeys and trying local food along the way, while documenting them on her blog Lyf&Spice. She loves experiencing the local traditions and immersing in the culture of a new place. Follow her story at any of the social media links below.