Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
196Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Morning boat to Kuala Besut Jetty- 45 min
…then a shared taxi for the 108 km to Kuala Terengganu – 2 + hours
End of Island Time
A storm had rolled in during the night and we walked under a threatening sky to the pier in time to catch the 8:00AM speedboat back to the mainland. From the way the small anchored boats were being tossed, we knew it would be difficult to board. We stood on the concrete pier with 30 or 40 others. 8:30 came and went. Some people wandered off by 9:00AM having given up on the arrival of the boats.
Sleepy Taxi to KT
It was a five minute walk to the roadside where the bus to Kuala Terengganu stops. The 10:30 bus didn't arrive on time. A few other local passengers jumped into shared taxies. We decided to follow their lead when a 50 year old driver in a battered car offered to drive us for $10 less than the cartel rate. Giuliani and Julia, newlyweds (1 year) from Milan Italy shared the taxi with us for the two hour drive. The driver knew little English but still wanted to talk. His head would nod and his eyes would close when we didn’t. So I took great pains to keep the cumbersome dialog going. I probably saved our lives!
Kuala Terengganu; Pop 286,000
Kuala Terengganu is definitively not a "must-stop" on any tourist track. It is a transportation hub as well as a place to break the journey back toward KL. Our main reason was that it promised some up-close looks at several crafts; batik making, basket weaving, cane weaving, pandanus (a kind of wild plant) weaving and wood carving. As we crossed the long bridge into KT town, the Crystal Mosque sparkled in the bright sunlight in the distance on our right. The taxi dropped us off at the main bus station and we B- lined to the cool haven of McDonald's. After a steady diet of sea food, noodles and rice, a Big Mac never tasted so good.
We said goodbye to Giuliani and Julia then Dave went on a quest to buy bus tickets for our trip to Melaka on the 16th. This far ahead (4 days), we were sure to score front seats. But surprisingly, Dave returned elated to have gotten two of the last four seats they had.
Dave found a hotel for us across from the unimpressive Maziah Palace, originally built in 1897. It burned down prior to WWII and was rebuilt recently with no hint of its former glory. It is a nice enough complex but looks more like a shopping mall than a palace.
Our room at "Sea View" hotel is spacious, has air-co, TV & WiFi, crispy clean sheets and hot & cold water....are we being spoiled or what? For sure, Sea View is a bit worn and tattered, but after 18 days in a rustic island hut, it seemed luxurious. Plus we are a stone's throw away from the nightly "Bazaar Ramadan" at the shore-side park where, during the month of Ramadan, at sundown, a gastronomical feast occurs.. Healthy Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex from first light to sundown. Most restaurants in this predominantly Muslim town are closed as are many businesses which don’t get a lot done as everyone curtail their activities.
From mid to late afternoon, hundreds of food stalls open under tent awnings to sell a cornucopia of delicious food and drink to break the daily Ramadan fast at Bazaar Ramadan. Thousands flock to buy the special festival food and drink, take-away style. Today, according to our taxi driver, Muslims would break the fast at precisely 7:28PM. One could imagine that Muslims would be salivating hours over their warm and aromatic take-away food until the appointed time. But on second thought, they probably are too dehydrated to salivate! At sundown, the grassy park beyond gets filled with families eating picnic style. Muslims are supposed to focus on charity and atonement during Ramadan. We have so much fun making our food choices and join the happy crowd.
8/13 Kuala Terengganu Chinatown and Central Market
In the cool early morning hours (8 am) we started our city walk from the shoreline park through the Central Market where only few stalls were open for business.
Beyond the market, the shore along the Terengganu river was lined with life-size blue, red and yellow artificial trees, an eyesore except at night when they are all lit up. We kept our eyes open for the ferry crossing to Pulau Duyung which is known for its boat building using old tools and techniques.
We stopped in Chinatown (no fasting going on here) for out of this world "Bak Kut Teh", a stew made with pork, garlic and medicinal herbs.
8/14 Masjid Kristal - Crystal Mosque.
At the main bus station, we took the Heritage bus #2 about 4 km south of town to the Crystal Mosque. It is built on the grounds of the worlds first “Islamic Civilization Park" which houses miniature models of famous Islamic landmarks. In the oppressive heat and humidity,
8/15 Visit to Masjid Terapung (Floating Mosque) and the Noor Handicraft Center
The next day we took the heritage bus to Tengku Tengah Zaharah, or floating mosque, which is a small white mosque at edge of small man-made lake near the ocean front. A light ocean breeze made it a pleasant stroll around the lake. We had planned to visit the Noor Handicraft Center where we hoped to watch batik making demonstration. With no buses or taxies around, we walked the 3 or so kilometers along the highway to Noor Handicraft Center. Our timing was poor. The Batik and Block-printing demo wouldn't start for another couple of hours.
Sites around KT are spread out and buses run infrequently and are sporadic. It would have been a great town to explore on a rented scooter. If we had our own transport, we could have seen everything within a day and a half. As it was, we decided to skip going to Duyong Island to see the making of traditional wooden boats. With Ramadan in swing, there was a good chance that we would not have found any work in process.
Ramadan turned out to be a great time for us to be in KT. It is a conservative city dominated by Muslim culture and we were able to experience the communal goodwill and blissful vibe at this special time. It felt much different than the Buddhist dominated neighboring countries and even different from the more multicultural cities within Malaysia.