Hometown Series: Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Guest Post:

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.

Author Biography:

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.

Blog: www.lyfandspice.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lyfandspice/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lyfandspice

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  1. Oh what a beautiful place! I love learning a little about cultures all around the world and the food looks delish!

    1. Thank you, it sure sounds beautiful! I always love learning that too. I’m thankful she came on and shared her part of the world! 😊

  2. We have been in Malaysia couple of years ago and sadly did not get the chance to visit Kota Bharu. I am definitely keeping this in mind for our next trip there 🙂

    1. Oh really? I’ve heard Malaysia is beautiful! I hope you get the chance to go back sometime. 😊

  3. Never had Kota Bharu, but it looks amazing, the culture and lifestyle in this blog is making me want to take a trip to Malaysia!

    1. Thank you very much! I actually had not heard of it till my guest blogger shared this with me. It looks amazing and definitely makes me want to go! So I don’t blame you for wanting to go!

  4. Kota Bharu looks lovely! I have been so close to it, to Kuala Besut, and now I am sorry that I didn’t have some extra days to go to Jota Bharu as well. The street arts looks so pretty!

    1. Thank you so much! I hope you get the chance to go back and see it sometime! I learned so much from this post when my guest blogger shared it with me!

  5. I love visiting the beautiful country of Malaysia. Because of it’s stunning and brilliant scenery of it. and those street art looks so colorful and impressive art.

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve never been but now this guest post and you make me really want to go!

  6. Wow, I want to go here. This post has made me want to up my travel game for sure!!

    1. This place looks amazing right? I was so amazed by my guest blogger sharing this beautiful town! It definitely made me want to up my travel game too as well!

  7. I love this outline. I like how you pointed out to dress modestly. I always want to know how to dress in a new place because I never want to offend people.

    1. I definitely understand how you feel, I never know how to dress either. I really love that my guest blogger pointed that out, I definitely appreciate that fact so much if I ever go to Malaysia.

  8. I think you did a great job breaking down this destination. It seems like a great place to come and relax without all the craziness other popular destinations may have.

    1. I definitely agree with everything you said. My guest blogger did a wonderful job outlining her hometown and she seems very proud of it! Thank you so much for the positive feedback!

  9. It is a great post for people who want to visit Malaysia or understand its culture. It is so clear from this article that you are so much in love with your current city-Kota Bharu.

    1. Yes she definitely is! She was very passionate about her city and I was so thankful she shared! Thank you so much for your positive feedback! 🙏🏽

  10. This looks like such a beautiful and intriguing place to visit someday. What an absolutely wonderful place to be able to visit….

    1. It definitely does! She outlined it very well, I was so thankful she shared her love for her city she lives in. Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback. 😊

  11. What a beautiful place. The mural paintings, the buildings, the food! everything looks so nice! I would love to visit!

    1. Thank you, my guest blogger did a wonderful job describing her home town. I would love to go! Thank you for the great feedback!

  12. What a beautiful place! I’ve only been to Kuala Lumpur and I wish I had a chance to see more of Malaysia.

    1. That is so neat you went there. My guest blogger did a wonderful job describing her hometown. I would love to go see Malaysia now.

  13. I would LOVE to visit Malaysia, it looks like such an interesting place that is full of culture.

    1. My guest blogger definitely made me want to go as well! Malaysia looks so pretty. Thank you for the great feedback!

  14. That is such a fantastic place to visit. Malaysia is really rich in their culture and tradition. The food looks so good!

    1. It definitely does! I loved how she outlined it and it definitely made me want to go there. Thank you for your great feedback. 😊

  15. I think Kota Bharu is an awesome place to spend holiday with family. I will make a visit soon to see the interesting destinations you shared in this post.

    1. My guest blogger definitely did a great job outlining it. I would love to go see everything she talked about, thank you for the great feedback.

  16. Such a nice guidelines about this fascinating Kota Bharu from that picturesque south-east country. Malaysia is always remembered as traveler’s paradise so your guidelines are really handy for every body who are willing to explore that place..

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! My guest blogger was very proud of her hometown so she did a wonderful job describing it. She made me really want to go there! 😊

  17. Do you have any guest blogger from Singapore? I would love to share with your readers about Singapore (or another part of Malaysia, Muar, Johor, where I was born in)~ Nice series!

    1. I do not actually, not as of yet. You are welcome to be a guest blogger on here if you would like. I would love to learn about Singapore and I am sure my readers would love to read about it as well!

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