Kota Bharu is the state capital of Kelantan. The state is ruled by Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) thus when you are in the Kelantan, respect their religious sensibilities particularly the Muslim population. However, non-Muslims are free to practice their religion. A gentle reminder for all – wear clothes that cover arms, legs and torso. Other than that, the people in Kelantan are warm and friendly.
The development of the state capital began in 1844 as the official residence of King. Years later, the capital serves as the centre for business, finance, administration, education as well as culture. To ensure the capital prospers, Kota Bharu City Council was established to handle the city’s administration matters. The overall population in Kota Bharu exceeds 600,000 people (with majority Muslim population) thus making it one of the largest towns in east coast of Peninsular. Based on the latest statistics, Kota Bharu is the 10th largest city in the country.
When the capital was first developed in 1844, it was meant to function as a governing centre of the state by Sultan Muhammad the Second. Then in 1935, the capital was upgraded to town council. Since the city is located somewhat near the Thai border, there are plenty of religious places (mosques) around town. Besides mosques, travelers and visitors will find abundant of museums and places of interest in the heart of the town. Tourists tend to pass through the city to get to the charming Perhentian Island.
The state capital was declared Islamic City in October 2005. Kota Bharu was awarded the title based on several factors – majority of the population here practice and abide Islamic principles and teachings in almost every aspect of their life. For example, during prayers time, all the activities in the town including shopping malls and night market must stop to give way to the prayers call.
Furthermore, the names of the streets, signboards, restaurants and shops are written in Jawi/Arabic script. Do not be surprised if you find Chinese premises here with Jawi script on the signboards. The Jawi script appears alongside Chinese characters and Roman script. Government under the PAS allows social activities that do not contradict with Islamic principles and norms. Most of the stores and government departments are closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Meanwhile, the night markets are opened except during prayers time.
Several practices may differ from other states in Peninsular such as switching on the lights in the cinema when the movie is playing and separate check-out counters in supermarkets. The strict rule on proximity, khalwat is only applicable to Muslims. Kota Municipal Council advised female employees in retail outlets or restaurants to wear decently (cover arms, legs and torso and no tight fitting clothes). The council may impose a fine of RM500 for those who caught dressing indecently. This newly introduced rule once made headlines in local newspapers when the council caught female employees dressing indecently in body hugging outfits to flaunt off their figure. To clarify the matter, the council then announced officially to avoid complications in the future.
As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of museums and unique architecture of old royal palace around town. To experience Malaysia’s rich and diverse heritage, take a walk down Kota Bharu starting from Independence Square to downtown of Royal Palace. There are a number of museums located nearby Istana Balai Besar. Of course, before you embark your journey to other museums, remember to stop by and check out the elegant Istana Balai Besar.
And remember to visit one of the most amazing buildings in the city, Pasar Besar (also known as central market). Built in an octagonal shape, the building houses vibrant market everyday. There is a plain square located nearby which houses the local food market in the evenings. For those who would like to learn more about cultural heritage and origins of Kelantan do not miss out on the opportunity to visit Kelantan State Museum. Other museums that are worth a visit are Handicrafts Museum, State Museum, World War II Memorial, Museum of Islam and Museum of Royal Kelantanese Traditions.
Besides museums and mosques, there are a number of interesting religious places particularly temples in nearby towns. Check out a huge reclining Buddha in Wat Pothivihan temple which is located somewhere near Tumpat, dragon Boat & standing Buddha (also known as Wat Mai Suwan Khiri), Wat Chonprachumthat in Kampung Dalam, Wat Serova Buddhist Temple (Goddess of Mercy) and Wat Machimarran Varran Temple (sitting Buddha).
A newly opened temple featuring 100 foot high standing Buddha is available at Wat Phothikyan and another Goddess of Mercy Temple overlooking South China Sea can be found at Bachok. Kota Bharu is not only a place perfect for sightseeing but also a great tourist attraction to learn about tradition and cultural heritage. Keep yourself entertained with cultural shows at Culture Centre on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Other fun activities offered in Kota Bharu are cave-exploration at Gua Ikan, scenic river cruise along Sungai Galas that lasts for two hour, a visit to one of the highest waterfall drops from a height of 990 metres at Stong Waterfall, exciting Nenggiri Rafting Adventure and mountain climbing in Mount Stong State Park.
There is no other way to experience the culture of Malaysia than getting involved in the homestay programme. Basically there are a few picturesque villages that have turned into homestay accommodation – Kampung Kijang, Kampung Mek Mas and Kampung Banggol under Inap Desa Homestay programme. Visitors can try out traditional activities performed by villagers on a daily basis such as planting corns and vegetables, designing batik and making fish crisps.
Aimed to attract tourists who would like to experience village life in Malaysia, visitors can also experience traditional village massage treatments to ease aches and muscle pains. Visitors can choose from a wide range of styles such as hand massage, muscle massage, joints massage, spine massage as well as leg massage.
Local Council has categorized several zones in the city to appeal to tourists with different interests. Under eco zone, tourists can choose to visit Pantai Cahaya Bulan, Pantai Mek Nas or Keladi River. There is a wide range of outdoor activities offered in these recreational destinations.
Here are some must visit shopping destinations in Kota Bharu – Siti Khadijah Grand Market, Wakaf Che Yeh, Bazar Buluh Kubu, Gok Kapor Market and Corn Stall. Chief Minister of Kelantan Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat changed its name from Buluh Kubu Grand Market to Siti Khadijah Grand Market as a sign of respect for women since most of the traders here are female. These female traders in the market are warm, friendly and enthusiasts to close a business deal with customers.
This four-storey market is separated into different zones – wet market, dry market and non-food items. Ground floor of the market caters for fish, poultry and vegetables while first floor is set for famous Kelantan food items such as serunding, ikan percik, ayam percik, laksa, somtam and nasi dagang. Remember to purchase exotic traditional delicacies here such as jala mas, buah tanjung, tahi itik and tepung pelita. The market is opened from 6 in the morning until 7 pm. Bear in mind that all activities must be stopped for 15 minutes during prayers call. The practice to answer Azan is to ensure that all Muslim visitors and shopkeepers can perform their prayers.
If you have miss the morning market, no worries as Wakaf Che Yeh which is located approximately 4 kilometres outside of Kota Bharu is opened at night. The stalls here sell fruits, vegetables, seafood as well as ladies fashion garments. In fact, you spend all-day long in Wakaf Che Yeh as the market is opened early in the morning and function as wholesale market, and it transforms into a wet market later in the afternoon.
For those who would like to visit a ‘real’ shopping complex, head down to Bazar Buluh Kubu for rare handicrafts. All the items available here such as colourful kites, musical instruments, pewter and handmade shoes are sold at reasonable prices thus, locals and foreign tourists tend to flock into this complex to purchase unique handicrafts and souvenirs to bring back home.
Named after the chalk manufacturing industry, Gok Kapor Market is located around 2 kilometres from the city centre. You can purchase traditional delicacies and fresh seafood and fish here.
Besides these famous wet and dry markets, you can also drop by in one of the largest malls in Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu Trade Center (KBTC) is a newly opened mall in August 2009. Other shopping malls in the city are Kota Seri Mutiara, The Store, KB Mall, Nirwana Maju and Pelangi Mall.
Forget about cultural and historical sites in Kota Bharu. This state capital is a gastronomic heaven as there will be no shortage of food. Your trip to Kota Bharu is not complete without trying the best ayam percik in town. Ayam percik (marinated chicken roast on charcoal flame) is served with thick creamy sauce. Yati Ayam Percik definitely serves the best marinated chicken in town as the secret lies in the gravy. The thick creamy sauce is prepared with coconut milk and plenty of spices. When you order ayam percik at Yati, remember to eat it with nasi kerabu. Nasi kerabu is white steamed rice mixed with bean sprout, dry fried grated coconut, wonderful spices and garden salad.
After getting a taste of Malay delicacies, it is time for a change! Lim Siong Kee Restaurant located along Jalan Hamzah adjacent to KB Mall serves tasty beef noodles. The springy beef balls are available in two sizes – large and small ones. Then there is the dry flat noodles served in dark sauce topped with spring onions and fried shallots. Perhaps, for afternoon tea you may head down to Sudut Selera Jhim Kee as this small shop located along Jalan Wakaf Mek Zainab serves snack such as popiah, keropok, kuih malas, rojak buah, cendol and rojak mee.
If you are looking for a great variety of food, drive to Kebun Sultan Hawker Centre. The food court here serves a variety of local delicacies such as Cantonese fried noodles, fish ball noodles, dim sum, mixed rice, chee cheong fun and satay. If you happen to walk around the city centre, look out for several unique delicacies such as Nasi Tumpang and Sata. Nasi Tumpang is wrapped in banana leaf and the cone-shaped delicacy has meat floss, chicken curry and omelet while Sata tastes similar to otak-otak but it is chewy and springy. Made from minced fish meat with grated coconut, Sata is also wrapped with banana leaves.
Another pretty common food available here in Kota Bharu is Nasi Padang. Originally from Indonesia, Nasi Padang here is served with curry beef chunk, stir fried beef strips, deep fried chicken, vegetables, curry mutton and topped with spiced beef boned soup. You can also order toasted bread here to dip the sauce and gravy.
Before you head home, why not try to hang around with the locals at road side stalls? The stalls usually sell keropok lesong and boiled fish cake made from ground fish meat and tapioca flour. In addition to that, visitors can also purchase a variety of dried fish crackers, fermented coconut juice, fermented nipah juice, dry seafood, boiled corn and salted fish.
Before you embark on a journey to Kota Bharu, find everything you need about the city particularly hotels available within the vicinity. Book early to avoid disappointment as there are only a few hotels in the city. Renaissance Kota Bharu Hotel is definitely your choice if you would like to experience rich Malay culture and modern luxuries at the same time. Renaissance Kota Bharu Hotel is the only five-star international class hotel in the city and is ideally located in the heart of Kota Bharu thus; travelers have easy access to major historical landmarks and shopping malls.
Another elegant hotel conveniently located in the heart of Kota Bharu is the Grand Riverview Hotel. Situated along Kelantan River, guests can enjoy panoramic view of the river throughout their stay here. It was voted as the best hotel in Kelantan in 2008. No worries if both the hotels are fully booked as you can head down to Temenggong Hotel. Ideally located in the middle of the city, the hotel is within walking distance to major tourist attractions such as night markets, Handicraft Village and Kota Sultan Ismail.
The state capital of east coastal Malaysian state Kelantan is Kota Bharu. It is the main transportation and administrative city here. Kota Bharu plays an important role for Kelantan which is known for its socially conservative community and religious people. However, it is one of