Friday, 4 May 2012

East coast, part two

The GPS. It's a wonderful toy. It gets you from Point A to Point B with almost no hassle. Well, almost. There are minor quirks, of course, as I found out during my trip to the East Coast of the peninsula over last weekend. All the quirks occurred in or around Kota Bharu, the state capital of Kelantan.

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.

So I whipped out that old faithful, my Garmin GPS, the Nuvi 205, and headed out towards the unknown. However before too long, the GPS had taken us on a trip down a narrow alleyway out onto a main road. Nuts, the GPS was not supposed to do that, but it did! Luckily, there were no drains for my car to cross or otherwise I would have to go-stan the vehicle for quite a considerable distance.

Eventually, after asking for direction from a Chinese sundry shop owner, we ended up at the Kow Lun Restaurant which was about opposite a Public Bank branch. The sar hor fan was not bad at all while the fried beehoon with eels turned out to be a very interesting dish! Ten ringgit for that dish alone! As we drove back to the hotel, we passed by a hawker centre. Nuts, this must be what the sundry shop owner had meant to tell us: the hawker centre. We have stopped just too soon for our dinner.

Anyway, this is the hotel in Kota Bharu. It is small but it is clean and decent enough. However, one should be prepared to ask the reception to provide you with a non-smoking room. The first room they gave us was so over-poweringly pungent with the smell of stale cigarettes the moment we opened the door. We didn't even step into the room; instead, we marched to the reception and demanded that they allot us a different room. No way that we were going to stay inside that room for the night! Another thing, there just wasn't enough places for all their guests to park their cars. We had to double park outside the hotel and wait for someone to vacate a slot. This didn't happen till about midnight but at least, I then managed to get the car into an empty lot.

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.

Of the three temples we visited, there was one feature at the Wat Pikulthong that we found most unique: an image of the Phra Pidta. I haven't seen this before in Penang or elsewhere but this is the monk with his hands covering his eyes. In Thailand, Phra Pidta amulets are supposed to bestow great powers on the owners.

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. 

No comments: