Kota Bharu, Malaysia: Exploring the City

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Kota Bharu, Malaysia: Exploring the City

Kota Bharu is the capital of Kelantan, Malaysia. There are a lot of things to do in this little city if you have the inclination to try something new and rather quiet. My nearly three-year stint in this place helped me discover a lot of things that can be done in this sleepy town. It may be a small city, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In fact, the three main things it is known for are its food, traditions and art forms. Let’s explore this lesser-known city.

Try the Food:

The food out here is slightly different than the rest of the country. This is because the people here like their food a little sweet. Curry does not necessarily mean a lot of gravy, but it does include sambal (chilli paste) and a lot of spices. The rice is usually eaten almost dry with a fried meat accompaniment. Salads rule and are generously tossed on rice preparations, given as side-dishes and are nearly free-flowing. You will be surprised to note that fancy rice items form the staple diet (including breakfast).

Well-preserved Museums:

You will find a number of museums in Kota Bharu, but they are not just for fun. Museums are a serious business here with a mission to distribute knowledge on the culture, traditions and roots of Kota Bharu. Gain a glimpse of Kelantanese tradition in these quaint museums, which are housed in old-world buildings and reflect the tall tales of the sultans, wars and folklore of Kelantan. Some of these museums include the War Museum, State Museum, Islamic Museum, Craft Museum and Museum of Royal Traditions and Customs. These museums charge separate fees for Malaysians and non-Malaysians, and are closed on Fridays.

Kota Bharu - Museum of Royal Traditions and Customs

Kota Bharu – Museum of Royal Traditions and Customs

Stroll on the Beaches: 

Here a beach, there a beach, everywhere a beach beach. This is exactly what you’re going to hum when you find out that there is a beach in nearly every direction from the city centre. Kota Bharu may not have beaches filled with bikini-clad women and men in shorts, but it does have a number of simple family spots selling local snacks, meat on skewers and seafood. To name a few, you have Pantai Irama, Pantai Sri Tujuh, Getting Beach, Pantai Cahaya Bulan and others scattered between Bachok, Tumpat and the surrounding districts.

Cultural Activities:    

Kelantan is known as the Cradle of Malay Culture, and Kota Bharu pretty much lives up to this title. It retains its traditional art forms and showcases them in various ways. Head to the Cultural Centre to watch a show of drum beating or silat, or try your hands at top spinning or marble games. Learn batik painting at the centres around Kota Bharu and the neighbouring villages, and watch the traditional moon-kite, or wau bulan, being made at the old kite-maker’s gallery on your way back from the floating market of Tumpat. As you can see, these art forms are really close to the traditional roots of the State. Kota Bharu takes pride in preserving its age-old customs and traditions, and showcases the talent through free shows, cultural activities and small festivals on and off.

Go on a Glimmering Boat-ride:

Now this sounds strange, doesn’t it? Do I mean that the rim of the boat is lined with a string of lights? No, I mean  instead that the boat takes you on a small firefly tour. Watch the glimmer-shimmer of these natural beauties on the 40-minute ride as they emit light in clusters. Tourists gather here in large numbers all year round just to go firefly gazing. Make sure you check the weather to avoid the monsoon months and low tide. Rest assured, you will earn yourself a close glimpse of the glowing flies. It is definitely a moment you will cherish all your life.

Kota Bharu - Fireflies

Kota Bharu – Fireflies

Based on the activities above, it is clear that this little city of Kota Bharu has a lot to offer. You can make the most of your time by planning your itinerary in advance. Just remember that Friday is the weekly day off out here. Additionally, you should know that the weather is quite hot (just like the rest of Malaysia). Make sure you carry enough water, wear a cap and sunglasses, and use sunscreen before heading out.

Check out more of Aditi’s work at Lyf and Spice.

Aditi Shukla

Aditi Shukla

Aditi Shukla is an author, writer and blogger. You will always find her travelling, exploring or eating. She runs the blog Lyf&Spice (lyfandspice.com). to share her travel experiences and gourmet journeys with the world and provide a virtual tour of new cities to non-travellers. She recently authored the book ‘Kota Bharu Kelantan Malaysia: 50 Travel Tips From A Local’. She believes in impulse as well as dreams.