Kuantan to Kota Bahru is the second stage of our ride from Singapore up the east coast of Malaysia. The first stage took us from Singapore half way up the coast. The top half of the coast is a little more remote and the culture is more muslim oriented than some areas of the country. Nonetheless it was still an enjoyable ride and it gave us the opportunity to visit the Perhentian Islands to do a little diving.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
Kuantan to Kota Bahru - Kuantan to Cherating Ride Profile
After a lie-in we roused ourselves for the ride from Kuantan to Kota Bharu. After a visit to the post office and a ride around the park it was nearly lunch time and already very hot. In the park we met a German man married to a Peruvian wife who spend their time in three countries, Peru, Germany and Malaysia and are also keen touring cyclists. We would have liked to spend more time with them as they had valuable information about Peru.
On the outskirts of Kuantan a flash car guarded by 4 police motorcyclists, two police cars and a bodyguard on a motorbike at its side went past. The person inside must have been VVVIP, we assume the Sultan of Pahang. Just past us the entourage disappeared into a plush palace with high walls, watchtowers and gold plated railings, manned by multiple armed guards.
The Kuantan to Kota Bahru road continues north, close to the sea. Again it was busy with lorries and tankers. There was a junction where the 3 was signpost left but we decided to go straight on, thinking that would be a quieter road. It was signposted 'Pelabuhan' and was a massive heavy industrial estate and oil drilling supply base / harbour where all the heavy lorries were heading. It was good to have the sat nav to get us out of there.
There are lots of large resort type hotels all the way along this part of the coast from Kuantan to Kota Bharu, many of which appear to be closed down. We headed for Cherating which is famous, in the monsoon season' for its surfing but at this time of year is a sleepy, relaxed resort town. There are more Europeans here than anywhere else we have stayed so far in Malaysia. The accommodation is mostly in wooden beach chalets of varying standards and equipment. We settled for one at 'Villa de Fedelia' which has beautiful well tended gardens leading down to the beach and a couple of ponds with fish, lotuses and resident monitor lizards. It's so nice we stayed for two days.
The beach was lovely and almost deserted. We swam in the water which was almost at bath temperature.
On our last evening, we went into the village for something to eat, selecting a fish barbeque place. Who should we bump into but Francoise and Jean Claud again. So we ate dinner with them and then went for a few beers, spending over our budget - again!
Kuantan to Kota Bahru - Cherating to Dungun Ride Profile
Today the flat plains with their endless palm plantations were left behind and in their place small steep sided hills covered in forest and regular glimpses of the beautiful coastline. The road from Kuantan to Kota Bahru was still relatively flat, weaving its way between the hills and over some impressive wide rivers.
At the village of Kajal we turned off the main road to explore the beach side. There were many fishing boats and nets along the beach and lots of little fish spread out on mats to dry in the sun.
The fishermen invited us into their shed where they were boiling the morning catch of tiny fish in large vats then putting them into wicker baskets to cool before they went to be dried.
Kampung Baharu demanded a photo stop and some more water. Further along the road a group of motorcyclists with a police escort passed us on their way from Kuantan to Kota Bahru. They were followed by a huge convoy of about 1,000 young Malaysian motorcyclists who all pipped their horns and waved to us. They were taking part in a government campaign to try to educated young motorcyclists about safe road use called 'Ride it Right'.
The sun was scorchio today and suntan lotion was splashed on liberally. We stopped for an ice lemon tea at a roadside cafe and found to our delight, banana fritters. A plate full plus two teas for only 4 MR. We chatted to a young Malaysian who had two mountain bikes and two road bikes. He'd done a lot of cycling around the country and gave us advice about the offshore islands and cycling the East - West highway over the mountains. The most important part of this was how to avoid the wild elephants.
Travelling through Kerteh we passed the extensive Petronas oil company offices. The whole coastal part of the Terengganu seems to have benefited from oil money, from the cars to the housing. The roads are better maintained dual carriageways with hundreds of trees and shrubs in pots and manicured grass. There are miles of fancy lamp posts with coloured lights strung between.
At one set of lights there was a large bill board advertising Emerson - "Consider it Solved", Steve's old company. Further north was the industrial area and we rode for 5km past refineries, oil terminals , chemical complexes and power stations. Steve was reminded of his visits here in the nineties to the Esso (now Petronas) Oil Terminal.
As we approached Dungun, the skies started to blacken and the wind got up. We needed to find accommodation quickly before the afternoon thunderstorm. The centre of Dungun is very run-down and the two town centre hotels were closed down. Another was now a museum. Eventually we ended up at the Mayangsari Resort hotel just as the heavens opened. Steve negotiated to try to get a reduction on the room price of 120RM. Eventually he offered a room with no hot water for 90MR, who needs hot water in this climate.
The room was in a block right at the back of the complex. We just got in in time before the downpour. It was a typical Malay hotel room, built about twenty years ago and had no maintenance since. The outside paint was covered in mildew and mould. The door paint was peeling off. The walls were grubby and had various holes and electrical wires poking out. There was just a bed and a small table with a black and white telly on it. The 'wardrobe' consisted of four coat hangers hung from the curtain rail. There weren't many other guests but they were keen on karaoke and kept us awake with their out of key and unidentifiable renditions of famous songs.
Kuantan to Kota Bahru - Dungun to Terengganu Ride Profile
Dungun used to be a thriving town with a large iron ore mining industry. Since that ended in the 1970's the place has become a sleepy backwater. As we crossed the bridge over the river we could see the effects of the mining on the surrounding hills, denuded of trees and soil. On our right was the old town, run down and dilapidated.
About 4km along the Kuantan to Kota Bahru road there was a nice looking guest house called Johanne's Villa which was a much nicer overnight option than the Dungun resort for just 30MR extra. We checked out the room which were large, air conditioned and well furnished.
Until the 1960's,this part of Malaysia used to have a large population of leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles. We stopped to visit the turtle Information Centre in Rantau Abang. It is heart breaking to realise that 50 years later their numbers are so depleted that they are critically endangered.
It was hot again and the Kuantan to Kota Bahru road continued straight and flat. There are always stalls at the side of the roads. For quite a few miles there will be unused ones then suddenly there will be a whole group of them, all selling exactly the same things. Today it started with sweetcorn, boiled in large vats over a small wood fire, the counters piled with raw corn and soft drinks. A few miles further and it was fresh fruit - pineapples, dragon fruit and durians. Then we moved to sweets, crisps and roasted nuts. Finally, there was a whole village of craft shops.
At lunchtime we saw another police escort coming towards us along the Kuantan to Kota Bahru road. This time they were escorting a group of school children who were cycling from their home town of Kuala Besut to Kerteh. They were very excited to see us and insisted we join them for a group photo.
After lunch it was even hotter and the wind which had cooled us in the morning had dropped. The road passed through a lot of traditional Malay villages with wooden long houses on stilts. At Chendering we stopped briefly to visit the famous 'Floating Mosque', built on the shore of a lake. Like the hotels, it could also have done with a coat of paint.
Terengganu was a town of great contrasts. Large concrete blocks of houses, offices and hotels, smart promenades along the river and beaches, but in between traditional wooden village type houses with dirt yards holding cockerels, ducks and chickens.
There is a tiny China Town on the river bank with beautifully painted ornate shops and more ramshackle houses and warehouses.
We managed to get a nice room in a newish hotel called Ming Star for 100MR and it had a WARDROBE! It was so nice and the beds so comfy that, after the best nights sleep for weeks, we booked in for another night. On our day off we planned to do some sight seeing but learnt that Friday is not a good day to do much in a Muslim country. Most things are either shut all day or closed from 12.00 till 15.00. It was a scorching hot day so a good idea to not be cycling. The central market though was open and we enjoyed walking around looking at the veg, fish and meat stalls.
As it was the Muslim holy day, many of the men headed for Friday prayers at the mosque. Some of the young men rode up and down on their motorbikes dressed in their colourful, silk suits and traditional hats.
In the scorching afternoon heat we climbed to the top of Bukit Puteri hill, which is the old fortification where the sultans defended themselves from attack. We had a great view of the Maziah Garden.
Kuantan to Kota Bahru - Terengganu to Kuala Besut Ride Profile
Getting out of town and back onto the Kuantan to Kota Bahru road proved quite a challenge. The sat nav directed us the wrong way down a one way street and we took a couple of wrong turns so we'd done almost 10km before we were over the Trengan River.
There was a good view of the Crystal Mosque, part of the Islam Civilisation Theme park from the bridge. This theme park has 21 small scale reconstructions of famous Muslim sites from around the World, such as Spain's Al Ham bra, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Masjidi Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
It was a cloudy morning and after an overnight storm the air was cooler. Coming out of Terengganu the Kuantan to Kota Bahru road was very busy but after about 20km it was quieter. At our first cafe stop we met a Malaysian couple from Kuala Lumpur who spoke very good English. They were taking part in a horse riding endurance race that evening.
Later we met a Belgian couple cycling south an a short supported cycling trip. As the day wore on the clouds cleared and it got hotter. We rode hard to get to Kuala Besut, ready to catch the ferry to Perhentian Besut in the morning. We found a friendly Chinese hardware shop that also sold beer. The owner advised us where the cheapest Chinese restaurant was which sold beer. The town is small and not a lot to endear it, so after a lovely dinner it was early to bed.
We had booked into the 'Watercolours Paradise Resort' on Perhentian Besar for two nights. Our first two choices of accommodation on the island were fully booked but this one had good reviews and was cheaper. It also had a dive shop and was reputed to have a good restaurant.
The next morning we brought ferry tickets from an office near the jetty which also had garage space where we could store the bikes. Then it was a case of sitting on the jetty waiting to get onto a boat. It all seemed a bit haphazard, but eventually the man on the gate beckoned us and we got onto a boat with three other Europeans.
The boat journey over to the islands was 'exhilarating' (Karen), 'uncomfortable' (Steve). It was a speed boat and as there was a fresh wind it bounced over the swell, landing with a thud each time. At the island a smaller boat came out to ferry us to the resort. We had a 'garden view' room, one of three rooms in a small bungalow set at the edge of the jungle. The resort was well run with friendly staff and the restaurant lived up to its reputation with good food and reasonable (for a holiday resort) prices. They even had beer.
The next day Steve went for a dive in the morning. He was slightly disappointed, the coral here in the South China Sea is not a patch on the reefs at Negros Oriental and there was not such a great variety of fish. There has been a lot of damage to the reef from rising sea temperatures and fishing but on several snorkelling trips we saw evidence of regeneration and some lovely patches of reef. It was thrilling to see large shoals of fish of all sizes from about 1cm to 30cm as well as sharks, small rays, barracuda and moray eels.
On the last day we got a water taxi to 'Turtle Bay' about 10mins ride away. This bay has no resorts on it and is an important turtle egg-laying beach. Visitors are only allowed there until 3pm each day to prevent the laying turtles being disturbed.
On the beach were the tracks of two turtle who had laid eggs the night before. It was like a beach out of a tour brochure, warm white sand, clear turquoise sea and impenetrable jungle surrounding it.
Kuantan to Kota Bahru - Kuala Besut to Kota Bahru Ride Profile
All too soon it was time to get the ferry back to the mainland and complete our journey from Kuantan to Kota Bahru. This time there was a Malaysian family with a small child on board so the boat went much more slowly. Unfortunately the engine didn't seem to like this and one of the engines failed half way back. So it went even slower after that.
Back on the mainland we had our first taste of the local delicacy, Nasi Kerabu. Blue rice with dried fish, pickled egg, bean sprouts, diced herbs and coconut, a strange combination of colours and tastes. The late departure meant it was very hot and the sun was relentless. We had both developed sore, blistered patches on our thumbs and index fingers which could be a linked to the doxycycline we are taking as an anti-malarial drug.
The Kuantan to Kota Bahru road was now very busy and there were roadworks causing problems on the way in Kota Bahru. The sat nav once again took us the wrong way up a one way road but eventually we found a hotel within our budget. Just as we began unloading the bikes a man came up to us and suggested trying the KB Backpackers next door which has just been refurbished and had rooms for 20RM less.
That evening we walked down the road to find somewhere to eat. All three of the suggestions in Lonely Planet had closed down so we joined another couple, also armed with their Lonely Planet and found a good Chinese which served beer.
The next day was set aside to get our Thai visas. After doing the paperwork and handing in our passports we spent the rest of the day sight-seeing which was even more tiring than cycling from Kuantan to Kota Bahru in the intense heat. The Central Market was interesting and colourful, food on the ground floor, spices and herbs on the first and traditional clothing and crafts on the second. We brought a couple of woven 'Coolie' style sun hats to wear on the bikes to keep the sun off our heads.
The Istana Jahar Museum was an attractive building and had displays and explanations of various Malay rituals. After that we went to the the old Bank Karapu building which now houses an exhibition charting the history of the 1st and 2nd World Wars and their impact on Malaysia. Later parts of the exhibition talk about the periods of rule by the British, Japanese and Thais as well as Malaysia's development into a modern multicultural, Islamic state.
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