Kuala Terengganu, A City Transformed

Welcome to Kuala Terengganu. The Batu Bersurat Roundabout, a very important landmark of Kuala Terengganu, depicting a very significant and very important piece of Terengganu history. (@ all rights reserved)
Welcome to Kuala Terengganu. The Batu Bersurat Roundabout, a very important landmark of Kuala Terengganu, depicting a very significant and very important piece of Terengganu history. (@ all rights reserved)

The last time I was in the state of Terengganu was 1996, about twenty years ago.

That was when my wife was expecting our third child and we had decided on the spur of the moment to go somewhere for a holiday before our child was due.

That ‘somewhere’ turned out to be Kuala Terengganu, or more commonly referred to as KT. Why? Admittedly, it was a spur of the moment thing and well…..,why not.

Our previous holidays have always been on the west coast of the peninsular and this time around, we thought of going to a place that does not immediately spring to mind.

Back then KT was one of these places and so, KT it was.

The KT waterfront. @ all rights reserved)
The KT waterfront. @ all rights reserved)

It was quite a memorable holiday, not least for the new things that we learnt. Especially about the state of Terengganu, the town (as it was back then) of KT, the people of Terengganu and the handicrafts of Terengganu.

Twenty years later and our third child is now nineteen years of age. And as luck would have it, we were given an opportunity to travel to KT again, an opportunity that we were loath to pass over.

And so we did, travel to KT that is. As it turned out, we were very glad that we did, for KT, a city now, has changed so much over the years since we were last there so much so that we had a very hard time finding our way around KT. Unlike twenty years ago.

The main entrance of Istana Maziah, where the royal family of Terengganu resides. (@all rights reserved)
The main entrance of Istana Maziah, where the royal family of Terengganu resides. (@all rights reserved)

KT is a city now and has been one since January 1, 2008. Located at the estuary where Sungai Terengganu (or the Terengganu River) meets the South China Sea (hence the name ‘Kuala’), it is known as the Coastal Heritage City or in Malay, Bandaraya Warisan Pesisiran Air.

But some things have not changed. For example, KT is still the main economic centre of Terengganu, befitting its status as not only the administrative centre of the state but also as the seat of the royal family of Terengganu.

Istana Maziah of Kuala Terengganu. (@ all rights reserved)
Istana Maziah of Kuala Terengganu.
(@ all rights reserved)

The landmarks that we have gotten used to all those years ago are either no more around or they have been given a makeover. And what a makeover, if I may say so. Not only the landmarks but the whole city.

Some landmarks of note are still there but the passage of time and the weather, has taken its toll on these landmarks, making them look the worse for wear.

One of these landmarks is the Pasar Besar Kedai Payang. It is still there standing proud with business as usual but it does not dominate the neighbourhood as it was once did.

The economic activity that is Pasar Besar Kedai Payang is still active as it once were, maybe more so, what with the many offerings of batik, songket, and many forms of handicrafts including those made of gold, metal and brass.

The Pasar Besar Kedai Payang, a long standing landmark of KT where people go to shop for Terengganu batik, brassware, and other forms of handicrafts. Still open for business, it does not dominate the neighbourhood as it once did. (@ all rights reserved)
The Pasar Besar Kedai Payang, a long-standing landmark of KT where people go to shop for Terengganu batik, brassware, and other forms of handicrafts. Still open for business, it does not dominate the neighbourhood as it once did.
(@ all rights reserved)

To them who fancy themselves as a bargain-hunter and negotiator, it presents a chance to try out your negotiating skills (be prepared to negotiate hard) and strike a bargain.

We used to stay at a hotel which was conveniently located in downtown KT. It was so convenient that we need not drive to wherever we were going back then, as almost everything of interest was within easy reach by foot.

Well, after twenty years, the hotel is still there but it is now unrecognisable compared to what we remembered it to be.

A major makeover of sorts has made the hotel look totally different. With a more upmarket look to the hotel, it was half expected that the hotel rates would be increased to reflect the new look.

Just how much, we just had to determine, if just to satisfy our curiosity. Well, our curiosity got satisfied and what was expected was the case.

As it is with the passage of time, it is incumbent that new developments would come into play, bringing with it new opportunities and a new way of doing business. And so it was with the hospitality industry in KT.

KT's Chinatown as marked by the Chinese gates. (@ all rights reserved)
KT’s Chinatown as marked by the Chinese gates. (@ all rights reserved)

There are new boutique hotels making their appearance, dotting the landscape that is KT, all competing with each other with the best rates and facilities they could offer, making KT’s hospitality industry quite a vibrant one. They may all not carry the 5-star Michelin rating but they are comfortable, clean and very presentable, with a price range averaging from RM100-RM150 (USD30 – USD45).

KT’s Chinatown too has gone through a makeover. Not that massive but enough of a makeover to make KT’s  Chinatown far different to what it was all those years ago. Traffic is still heavy through the main thoroughfare of KT’s Chinatown, as before.

But all this activity does not prepare you for the changes that is happening behind that main thoroughfare, with eateries with that upmarket look making their appearances, all of which are facing a large tract of reclaimed land designated for future development. What that may be, we’ll know soon enough.

One thing for sure, Terengganu is not all about turtles and truth be told, it has never been only about the turtles as far as Terengganu is concerned. No disrespect to the turtles, of course but its an image of Terengganu that tend to get in the way of making other attractions that is Terengganu’s get the attention that it deserve.

The woods of Kuala Ibai at Kuala Ibai Lagoon. (@ all rights reserved)
The woods of Kuala Ibai at Kuala Ibai Lagoon. (@ all rights reserved)

Like for example, as you make your way out from KT, you will find at Kuala Ibai, about 4km out from KT, a lagoon situated at the estuary where Sungai Ibai (or the River Ibai) meets the South China Sea.

The thing about the lagoon is that it is dotted with trees more like the woods of Europe rather than the jungles of Asia. Throw in the cool evening winds and you can easily while away the hours at the lagoon without realising it.

At Kuala Ibai, you will also find the Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque, a mosque built in 1993 and was officially opened in July 1995 by the then sovereign, Sultan Mahmud Al-Muktafi Billah Shah, the father of the current sovereign.

The Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque or otherwise known as the Floating Mosque at Kuala Ibai. (@ all rights reserved)
The Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque or otherwise known as the Floating Mosque of Kuala Ibai. (@ all rights reserved)

Also known as the Floating Mosque, the mosque is hard to miss not only because it is painted totally in white but because it is located by the edge of a small lake, giving the impression as if it was floating on the lake.

We would be making our way back to Kuala Terengganu, hopefully sooner rather than later. Armed with the knowledge that we have now, it should be a more well-planned itinerary next time round, for Kuala Terengganu have lots of interesting places to visit, some purely for its historical significance and others, more for the impact it has made on contemporary life.

But one thing is for sure, Kuala Terengganu is really a city transformed.

 

Date : 2 June 2015

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