First off, my wife and I had decided to have our dinner in the Chinese quarters of Kota Bharu. The staff at the Royal Guest House was very nice and she even drew a rough map for us. But I knew how inaccurate though helpful such maps can be.
One advantage of this hotel is its close vicinity to the famed Siti Khatijah market. Everyone that comes to Kota Bharu must surely go to this major market at least once. I dare say that it is the main tourist attraction for Kota Bharu. This three-storey building houses the wet market on the ground floor, a food court and shops selling dry stuff and sundry goods on the first floor, and shops selling mainly batik cloth on the second floor.
This was lunch: some rice, a seven-inch sotong and an impressively huge tiger prawn. How much was the damage, I asked my wife. Thirty-two ringgit, she replied. A local at the next table looked at us. Obviously, he had overheard. You should have asked for the price first, he commented. He laughed. We also laughed, although sheepishly.
After we had checked out of the hotel, our destination was Tumpat. There are about 30 Buddhist temples there; many were built on land donated by the PAS government in Kelantan. Anyone who decries there is no freedom of worship in Kelantan should visit this place and see for themselves how the Buddhist community worships. Once you see the sprawling grounds of these Buddhist temples, you would understand the amount of untruths and racism which the Barisan Nasional federal government would want you to believe.
Our first stop was the Wat Phothivihan temple (coordinates: N 6° 07.801 E 102° 08.224) with its Sleeping Buddha that's definitely longer than the version in Penang. From here, we proceeded to the Wat Pikulthong temple (coordinates: N 6° 11.027 E 102° 10.074).
It was at this point that the quirkiness of the GPS kicked in again. Instead of taking me along the main road, it asked me to turn into a narrow one-lane road that swept several kilometres through the countryside. It wasn't a road that any ordinary tourist would travel on normally. But eventually, we emerged onto a main road and there before us was the Wat Pikulthong.
The statue of the Walking Buddha stood out so prominently on its pedestal, made even more impressive against one of the bluest skies in this part of the country. I don't know how high is the statue though. Right in front of this main statue is a smaller gold statue of the Buddha.
And finally, we visited the Wat Machimmaram temple (coordinates: N 6° 11.053 E 102° 06.577). Its distinctive feature is the gigantic Sitting Buddha on the roof of the main temple building.
So there you have it, our three-day trip to the East Coast of Malaysia. I never knew that a journey there would prove so eventful or interesting.
When we left the Wat Machimmaram, the time was about 1.40pm. I set the GPS for home and left it to lead me out of Tumpat. And that was where two final surprises awaited us.
The first was just as we were driving away from Tumpat, we suddenly saw two boars in an open ditch. One was just about to climb out onto the road. "Wow, did you see that?" I asked my wife. She did. It happened so fast that I had no chance to stop and whip out the camera. We just continued driving. But I was looking into the rearview mirror and there they were, the animals crossing the road.
In the mid-1990s when I was still in the committee of the Penang Chess Association, the then president, Dr Choong Sim Poey, had regaled us with tales of his first visit to Kelantan. He had told us then how he had seen pigs running freely in the kampungs. Nobody minded, he had said. And today, I saw them openly in Kelantan. Nobody minded; not the Malays in Kelantan, not the Kelantan government.
My second surprise: the GPS, instead of leading me back to Kota Bharu or at least to somewhere south of Kota Bharu, took me through the real rural roads of Kelantan. Unknown to me, we were skirting along the border with Thailand. This realisation only struck me when I saw that we had reached Rantau Panjang. If we had turned right at the traffic lights, I would have entered the Customs and Immigration checkpoints to Sungai Golok. Instead I went straight through at the traffic lights and much later, we joined up with main road that took us to Jeli. From there, it was an uneventful drive back to Bukit Mertajam, arriving at 7.40pm.