The homepage of FlyKLIA adorned with photos of turquoise waters, mountains above the clouds and the rainforest immediately induced flights of fantasies of a holiday. The following page greeted me with the headline, “Your Amazing Experience Starts Here. Where would you like to go?” Paralysed with choice, it is perhaps one of the hardest question of all, to a traveller. I typed the first state that came to mind, that I have not been to, “Terengganu, Malaysia”, and then, seeing an image of a white sandy beach, I clicked the, “I can never have too much tan” icon.
Presented with a page listed with blog posts and articles on Terengganu, I immediately set about my research into planning a trip there. One post caught my eye, “The Road to Old Terengganu”. This post was about the old ‘Route 3’ built by the British during the colonial days in the 20’s, which ironically, was then taken advantage by the Japanese when they invaded Malaya. Route 3 spanned across the whole of Terengganu, all the way to the Thai border. I was very intrigued, so then I decided-I would embark on a journey to the far-reaches of the Malaysian peninsular country with nothing but the information contained from the post on the website and my adventurous spirit to guide me. I booked my flight with Malindo Air through FlyKLIA vis-à-vis the SkyScanner search engine. A few days later I found myself on the steps of the unique Sultan Mahmud Shah Airport (TGG), built in the style of ‘Istana Melayu’ (Malay Palace), it is unlike any other local airport that I have seen. The airport exudes an atmosphere of pride for the heritage and tradition of the Malay culture.
Within half an hour, we got into our rented car from DYG Travel Rentals and drove southwards, from the airport to Chukai Town in the southernmost district of Terengganu called Kemaman via the historical coastal road- Route 3. This path reveals some of the most beautiful parts of the country; we had glistening blue waves to the left, quaint village homes to our right and endless coconut and mangrove trees that come our way. The village scene is just as one sees in their secondary school history textbooks. I could not help but wonder if this was exactly the scene that met the eyes of British colonials and Japanese imperialists as they passed by this area.
Interestingly, we discovered that the locals in Terengganu are very friendly. We were always greeted with a handshake from strangers, such as this when a retired policeman came out from his home to introduce himself when we stopped to take pictures in a village called Seberang Marang. Eventually, we passed by a beach about 20 minutes from Seberang Marang called Pantai Rantau Abang, we stopped because a strange, large and distinct rock caught our attention. Mentioned in FLYKLIA, the beach had white sands and was situated next to a row of homes. Having parked next to a fisherman’s house, another friendly villager came out to greet us with a handshake and offered us coffee. Even though we politely declined, we thought that this must be the epitome of ‘true Malaysian hospitality’.
After two hours of driving through Route 3, we arrived in our hotel near Chukai in Kemaman. As we checked in, we realised that ‘Kemaman Sands Resort’ offered evening and night tours to release baby turtles and watch turtles lay eggs respectively. This was amazing, never would I thought this activity was freely available to the public and that I would see such an extraordinary sight. I wish information for these tours would be freely available on FlyKLIA as it creates opportunities for travellers to experience a spectacular natural phenomenon as well as bring awareness and support to sanctuaries that work hard to protect endangered turtles. Our guide mentioned that a team of veteran rangers patrol the beach every night for poachers and turtles every night. Travellers interested can contact their hotels to enquire about this, or contact ‘Kemaman Sands’ directly.
The next day, we made our way back to Chukai, where we had our breakfast at the historical Hai Peng Coffee Shop located in Jalan Sulaimani, now currently run by the grandson of the original founder. The grandson, Richard Wong, told us the story of how his grandfather moved from Hainan Island, China to Kemaman during the advent of the Japanese Invasion in China. His grandfather arrived in Malaya and worked in a rubber plantation until he eventually saved up enough money to open his own coffee shop. Life was hard, his grandfather was also the witness to the tragic executions conducted by the Japanese. “To this day, our coffee shop is frequented by locals of all races. It is a local household name as everyone in town has known us for generations”, says Richard Wong. I have to say, this-ethnic phenomenon is in fact, a very common occurrence in Terengganu; the Malaysia’s multi-ethnic spirit that flows throughout the town.
An hour from Chukai town, we made our way 98km, north-westward into the deep forests of Terengganu in search of ruined structures left behind by the Japanese. We found ourselves lost in the quiet town in Bukit Besi. However, we eventually stumbled upon the site after several enquiries to local passers-by. We found large and medium sized structures with no way of knowing what they were used for as well as tunnels that seem to go straight into the mountain. About 5km away in the centre of own, lies a tall chimney that extends directly out from the ground, which only adds to the enigma of Bukit Besi. According to the official Terengganu State tourism website, it is rumoured that there is an underground network that runs throughout the town. Iron mined from this town was sent to Japan during the height of World War 2 to manufacture weapons and armaments.
Perhaps, the mystery may be unravelled as we discovered that a museum is being built in the centre of the town. However, it is still a far cry from its better days, as research from FlyKLIA which indicated that when mining operations were undergoing, Bukit Besi and the nearby port town of Sura were booming with activity. In hopes that the mystery will one day be resolved, we left and made our way north to see the Crystal Mosque situated on a small island in the Islamic Civilisation Park, Kuala Terengganu. Back in civilisation, this stunning mosque was certainly unique as it is built with steel, glass and crystal. Its glass domes glistened like a diamond as it reflected the warm rays of the sun. It was clear as to why this mosque was an often feature on FlyKLIA.
An hour later and we left the state capital to check-in to ‘Sutra Beach Resort’ in Kampung Rhu Taipai, Setiu roughly 40 minutes away. In the late evening, we resigned to our villas as we enjoyed the sunset, the white sands under our feet and surprisingly a beach that seemed to span endlessly with no other building or person in sight. I enjoyed the beach and my quiet time when I jogged south from the resort with my bare feet; with the coconut trees to my right and the waves to my left that would occasionally crash gently onto my feet. My time at the magnificence of the beach was completed with time of solitude as the sun had set and dusk accompanied my walk back to the villa.
The next day was spent at the Terengganu State Museum, acclaimed as the largest museum in Southeast Asia, the museum stood atop stilts that were three stories high. The architecture, like the airport, was designed based on a Malay village home. The museum was grand and monumental, we were amazed as we admired its beauty and proportion.
Despite this, the information provided by travellers on FlyKLIA as well as the functions for accommodation and flight booking was sufficient enough that our trip was planned well. And along the way, we had several pleasant surprises that would be worth documenting on FlyKLIA, so that many of the fellow travellers can learn more about the great attractions that is offered by Terengganu as well as the rest of Malaysia. It is also worth noting that our flight with Malindo Air was pleasant and that we were lucky that all aspects of our trip went smoothly. Flights from KLIA to Terengganu is operated by Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, while one can travel from Subang with Malindo Air and Firefly.