Thursday, 3 May 2012

East coast, part one

Here was what my wife and I were doing on the East Coast last weekend. We went through many activities but the main one was to get this Will signed for a client in Kuala Terengganu. The lengths I have to go through, sometimes, but it was very worth it as finally, I can say that I have visited all the states and federal territories in Malaysia. This would include the far-flung island of Labuan.

For this trip to the East Coast, I took the East-West Highway - the first time that we had actually travelled the whole distance from Grik to Jeli - which cuts across the Main Range at the northern part of Perak into Kelantan. We left Bukit Mertajam at 5.45am and had lunch in Kuala Terengganu at about 1.15pm. It was another 30-minute drive to the outskirts of the town to get this Will signed. So all in, the one-way drive of almost 480 kilometres took us more than nine hours to complete. I haven't driven so far and so long before in a single stretch!

We stayed at the Grand Continental Hotel in Jalan Sultan Zainal Abidin, Terengganu and had dinner at the Golden Dragon Restaurant in their China Town a short distance away. Three dishes, plus soup, cost RM56. Reasonable by all counts.

I've only been to Kuala Terengganu once before and that was so long ago. Can't remember the year but it must have been in the early 1980s. At that time, I was sent by Ban Hin Lee Bank on a mission to look at some possible sites around the country to set up their outstation branches. A former colleague and I flew from Penang to Kuala Terengganu and then we took a taxi down to Kuantan. Behind the Primula Beach Hotel in Kuala Terengganu, I couldn't help noticing that there were lots of kampung houses in the middle of the town. And this was supposed to be the state capital.

The Primula is still in operation today. However, many of the kampung houses still remain, some untouched by the development around them, as can be seen by this picture which I took from the 10th floor of the Grand Continental.

The next morning, my wife and I drove to the China Town again. We wanted to see the area in the day. As could be expected in this part of the peninsula, the Chinese make up only a small percentage of the population. The wikipedia quotes the percentage at only 2.6 percent and I suppose the majority of them lives in Kuala Terengganu and the outskirts like Marang which has a sizeable Chinese population. Indians are only 0.2 percent.

The two most prominent structures in China Town are this arch across Jalan Kampung Cina and the two century-old Ho Ann Kiong Temple. The temple was built in 1796 and restored to its present splendour in 1997.

Maybe I should also mention that along this road, several of the buildings have been converted into bird houses. At night, it is quite common to hear the sound of birds blaring loudly to lure the swifts to build their nests in the buildings. Bird nest is a lucrative business but it doesn't auger well for the long-term safety of the buildings as bird droppings can be quite toxic and damaging to old buildings. Anyway, it is for the authorities to decide and act.

From Kuala Terengganu, we made our way to Kenyir Lake. Our original intention was to stay overnight at the lake but then we changed our plans and decided to make it a day trip only. Maybe we should have but it's too late to regret the missed opportunity. Definitely, the Kenyir Lake is a very beautiful place. Mystical. Clear blue skies. Breath-taking views. Nice reflection on the water.

However, the facilities can be considered as third rate. Trust the local operators to spoil a wonderful tourist opportunity. There were eye sores. The local jetty was untidy and unkempt. There were half-broken down boats. The grounds were strewn with rubbish. Maybe I didn't see enough but there was only one acceptable public eatery. All others comprised the usual Malay food stalls. I ate in one of them and half expecting some fresh fish from the lake. Unfortunately, there was none. Fare was nothing special at all.

We left Kenyir Lake at about 2.30pm and headed towards Kota Bharu. Overhead, storm clouds were gathering. For most of the journey, the sky was overcast but the clouds burst just as we approached Kuala Besut. All the way from there until Kota Bharu, it was wet, wet, wet. The sky let off for a while but soon afterwards, the sky darken again. The rain hit Kota Bharu with such an intensity. For a moment I thought we were caught up in the north-east monsoon. Luckily, the rain stopped by the time we arrived at the Royal Guest House at 6pm. Unluckily, we were caught in a horrendous traffic jam. Had never expected this in Kota Bharu but it was true. Gridlock.

To be continued....

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