Short getaways in Terengganu,
Pahang and Kelantan

Explore the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, read out guide to
short getaways in Terengganu, Pahang and Kelatan/

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The east coast of Peninsular Malaysia consists of 3 States; Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang. These are rural parts of the country but home to some of Malaysia’s most dense primeval rainforests, huge freshwater lakes, formidable mountains, refreshingly cool hill stations,  some of the finest beaches, and most pristine islands.

When it comes to ecotourism, the east coast is definitely the place to be. One of the most popular things to do is scuba diving and snorkelling. The white sandy beaches and crystal clear water makes water activities the highlight of many travellers. There are several islands on the east coast to choose from and being biased, we’d like to say that Perhentian is definitely one of the best and possibly easiest places to dive.

The east coast is highly seasonal with strong monsoon winds and rains which lash out between November through February. Most resorts on islands shut down during these times as the seas are extremely choppy making transport limited and water activities and somewhat impossible. The best time to travel would be April through September, whereas, the busiest times would be June to August. At some islands, accommodations are open all year round but be sure to do some research before going just to make sure it’s open where you’re going.

However, it’s still ok to travel about on the mainland during the monsoon, just make sure you have your raincoat or an umbrella with you because when it rains, it pours! That doesn’t mean it’s the end.

The islands may be shut down temporarily but then the coast line comes to life with surfing in Cherating and other cultural activities like batik painting, weaving, wau making. If you’re a city person, there is plenty of sightseeing and shopping you can do in Kota Bharu, Kelantan and Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu.

Short breaks in Terengganu

Taking you to the most popular paradise Islands of Malaysia, there are 2 frequently visited jetties; Kuala Besut and Merang.

Perhentian Islands

Kuala Besut is the village to be when you wanna catch a boat to the beautiful Perhentian Islands (that’s where we’re based!). Be sure to get to an ATM and get some money before hopping on board the speed boat as there are no tellers on the islands and not everywhere accepts credit cards.

Perhentian Islands consist of 2 islands; Perhentian Besar (big) and Perhentian Kecil (small). Perhentian is translated stopover as these islands were where fishermen would stop to seek cover from storms and bad weather.

There is quite the difference between the two social wise. The small island leans more towards patry island, more of a younger crowd, whereas the big island is a lot calmer, quieter and perfect for family getaways.
Terengganu Tourism map
Diving in the Perhentians is considered the easiest in the country. The waters are shallow, there are hardly any currents and the marine life is flourishing. Perhentian is where we, Fuze Ecoteer, conduct our conservation work through Turtle Conservation, Marine Research and Eco-Education. You can find our family trips, volunteering packages and if you think this would be perfect for corporate volunteering or getaways, we’re definitely the people to talk to. ;). Best places we’d recommend to stay at would be Alunan, a small boutique hotel perfect for couples and families. It is one of the most sustainable resorts found on the Perhentians so far; other resorts include Coral View, Bubu Villa, Ombak, Mimpi and Bubbles (who also have their own turtle conservation project).

Redang, Lang Tengah and Bidong Islands

Merang jetty is where you go to make your way to Lang Tengah, Redang Island and Bidong Island (which was once a safe sanctuary for Vietnamese refugees). Redang Island is one of the largest and most beautiful islands on Malaysia’s east coast. This island is the best place for those who like swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. The island is only 30KM from Merang Jetty and approximately takes about 45 minutes – 1 hour only. When travelling in April, do catch the candat sotong festival, a favourite pastime along the east coast where folks catch squid using small hand-held lures with hooks on the end. Lang Tengah is a small island located in between Redang and Perhentian Islands. There are only 4 resorts on the island and there is a turtle conservation project there too! The diving is beautiful and even day-trippers come diving from the Perhentians. The peace and quiet (during off-peak seasons) on the island just makes it the most perfect dream come true.

Watch this video about fish feeding and how it negatively affects the fish

 

Kapas Island

Another little jetty which is commonly confused with the Merang jetty is Marang jetty. Yes, very confusing isn’t it? This jetty takes you to Pulau Kapas, about 15 minutes away from the mainland by speedboat. So close that you can see the mainland clearly from the island.

There is a smaller island just off Pulau Kapas is Gemia Island with just 1 resort there called Gem Island Resort.

Pulau Kapas can be visited for a day trip by taking the earliest boat out and the latest boat back but when you’re on an island and have some time, it’s always nice to spend the night. I mean, who doesn’t want to wake up to the sound of the waves in the morning right?

Snorkelling and diving is pretty good here though not the best. Almost every resort on the island has a dive centre. If you like to hike, there is Bukit Singa which is a pretty easy hike but requires a bit of coastal walking on rocks which could be pretty sharp and slippery so be sure to wear proper footwear when you decide to go.


We haven’t discovered any sustainable or eco-friendly places to stay in Kapas but we would recommend Kapas Beach Chalets – Call +6012-288-2008, one of the few nicer places to stay; Kapas Turtle Valley where you can do some turtle watching when mama turtles come up for nesting; there are a couple of camping sites as well – Longsha Campsite.

Kuala Terengganu

Moving to the city life, Kuala Terengganu is the capital of Terengganu. Good enough for a day trip or two for it’s lively Central Market and state museum which is of the best heritage complexes in the country. Best thing about Kuala Terengganu is that’s it’s pretty diverse with both city and seaside. Everything is pretty central in Kuala Terengganu and most of the attractions are near each other. If you’re looking for souvenirs, Central Market has several floors filled with fresh produce and local products like woven textiles. Wanisma Craft and Trading is another place to go and you can even watch craftsmen and women do their thing.

Near Central Market there is a hill standing at 200m tall which gives you a beautiful view of the city. Bukit Puteri has ceremonial bells, cannons and crumbling ruins of a fort dated back from the 19th century! More the reason to make that climb worthwhile.

Kuala Terengganu is considered the Islamic State for some and there are sooo many mosques everywhere, some of which should be on your “must-see” list like the Masjid Terapung which means Floating Mosque. The mosque stands above a man-made lake and is so picturesque come sunset. The Crystal Mosque lives up to its name thanks to the large crystal chandelier which hangs in the main prayer hall. The structure of the mosque itself is made of mostly steel and glass, when you visit the mosque at night, it illuminates a variety of colours. Do take note that when visiting a mosque, one must dress modestly – covering from head to toe leaving only the hands and face exposed (for women, men don’t need to cover their heads).

We did mention that there is a seaside part of Kuala Terengganu and one of the most popular of them would be Pantai Batu Buruk which literally means Ugly Rock Beach. It’s usually very busy during the weekends with families but at night the atmosphere changes into a whole new life with a night market which sets up every Friday. Across from the beach is the Cultural Centre Stage where you can watch cultural shows, be sure to check out the staging schedules so you don’t miss out.

Kuala Terengganu mosque

Short getaways in Kelantan

Kelantan is known for being the most conservative state in the country. It has such a strong Malay culture yet is the hub to a distinctive blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Thai cultures.

Kota Bharu

Kota Bharu, which translates as New City or what the locals call it, “New Castle”, is  pretty much one of the most traditional places in Malaysia. It is here where people would usually fly in and head to Kuala Besut to make their way to the Perhentian Islands. There are a number of exciting things to do in Kelantan. From its historical sites to cultural attractions and night markets to amazing nature explorations.The Gelanggang Seni Cultural Centre is where you can find traditional arts like the Wau Bulan, Giant Top Spinners and even Wayang Kulit; the Buluh Kubu Central Market is where you can find local produce, food stalls and traditional craftsmen offering their expertise; at the handicraft villages and Craft Museum you will find silverware, songket, batik and beautiful wood carvings.
Kelantan tourism map
You can see an amazing display of traditional Kelantanese crafts in one of the prettiest buildings in the city, the Istana Jahar which dates from as late as 1887. This building is now a museum displaying the local Kelantanese practices like weddings and funerals and even circumcision ceremonies.

Many people come to Kelantan to take a boat ride down the Galas River. This is one of the most magical experiences you can ever have in the part of Malaysia. The Galas River is one of the main rivers in Kelantan, it snakes through dense areas of the jungles and there are several types of river tours for you to choose from.

You wouldn’t usually think about beaches when you talk about Kota Bharu but there are actually a few really nice beaches just outside of the city. Pantai Irama (translates: Melody Beach) and Pantai Cahaya Bulan (Moonlight Beach) nice stretches of beach for the family to hang out or even picnic and layan (enjoy/induge) a fresh coconut when basking in the hot sun.

Gua Musang

Out into nature in Gua Musang, a scruffy little town where you can explore the limestone cave where evidence of man’s existence was found dated 5000 years old; There is a Ethnobotany Park which we usually take our group participants for some outdoor activities when they stay at Kesedar Inn during their jungle programmes. The park is a forest research centre as well as a recreational park. Here there is rock climbing, camping, caving and a canopy walk.

Gunung Stong

A few hours away is Gunung Stong (Stone Mountain) in Ulu Dungun, Kelantan’s tallest mountain which has a beautiful campsite in the middle at just a 2 hour hike to the top of Jelawang Waterfall where there is an amazing freshwater pool and even some huts to rent if you plan on staying the night. Other famous waterfalls are Lata Beringin and Jeram Pasu.
Rainforest conservation volunteer internship

Getaways in Pahang

Taking things down a notch to the state of Pahang, the largest state in the Peninsular and one of the top ecotourism destinations in the country. Covered in dense primeval rainforests including one of the world’s oldest rainforests, huge freshwater lakes, formidable mountains, refreshingly cool hill stations and some of the finest beaches in the country, there is no wonder Pahang is the go-to eco destination in Peninsular Malaysia.

Most of the outdoor activities in Pahang are in the most remote places so the little towns to get to are Bentong and Raub. Head to Cherating for some surfing and turtle watching. For some cold weather, there are the famous highlands of Genting and Camerons and of course, the Island of Tioman for some duty-free island time.
Pahang tourism map

Cherating

Cherating doesn’t really look how it’s hyped. I mean, it’s no Miami but it’s for sure a place you’d want to go to if you like the beach, a chilled out environment and a place to hang out with family and friends – and even make some new ones while you’re at it (friends, that is. Or family, whichever. LOL)

In cherating, the beaches may not be the prettiest, but if you’re into surfing, it’s definitely the place to be and if that’s what you’re into, we’d recommend you pay a visit to Kam Surf if you wanna get your gear. They are by far the most environmentally friendly place we’ve been to as they have their recycling bins, they don’t use plastic (but still sell bottled water ☹) and they serve fresh Italian coffee too!!

It’s always exciting when we’re told we’re gonna see turtles. There are a few turtle projects in Cherating but one that is dear to our hearts is Rimbun Dahan Turtle Hatchery. They work to buy turtle eggs from poachers and bury them in their hatchery. You can help their conservation efforts by getting involved (upon donation) with a turtle hatchling release activity they conduct every day at 5.30pm. It’s so adorable to see those little things waddling away into the ocean!! At night however, the hatchery owner Along (pronounced ah-long), can take you out with the fisheries rangers to experience watching a mother turtle laying her eggs.


If you’re interested in fresh water turtles however, you could pay a visit to the Turtle Conservation Society run by the wonderful Dr Pelf in Kemaman not far from Cherating but crosses the state border of Terengganu.

Another night time activity in Cherating would be firefly watching with Hafiz who founded the Cherating Tour company. The awesome thing about going with Hafiz is because he can ACTUALLY communicate with the fireflies that they approach you and it feels like you’re in a Disney movie (picture the swamp scene in Princess and the Frog)!

Kuantan

Kuantan is the state capital of Pahang and is one of the few seaside beach towns in Malaysia. On the east-facing stretch of the coast, Teluk Chempedak, has been a popular weekend getaway for families and youngsters. With fresh air, salty water, white sands and beautiful scenery, Teluk Chempedak is one of Malaysia’s most beautiful beaches and is only 5km away from the city. Unlike the conservative ways of the neighbouring states, along the main road as you arrive at the promenade, there are plenty of bars and restaurants.

A worthy hour and a half away (1 hour by 4×4 and 45minutes of hiking) is Kuantans best kept secret, the Rainbow Waterfalls. This waterfall got its name because of the bright colours of the rainbow which can be seen shining directly at the falls.

If you’re looking for somewhere nice and not too pricey to stay, Time Capsule Retreat is the perfect place to be.

Another popular waterfall standing at 150m high is the Berkelah falls. Just 35km away from Kuantan, one can’t resist jumping into the large pool of crystal clear water at the final tier of the waterfall. 

If you wanna go take a hike (hehehe) and get one of the most breathtaking views in Kuantan, then look forward to a quick yet intense 45 minute hike up Bukit Panorama. If you wanna catch the sunrise, be sure to start your hike at about 5:45am to enjoy the view at its fullest.

Raub

Raub is one of the oldest towns located west (yeee-haww) of Pahang between Titiwangsa Range and Benom Mountain Range. It is a small little district that connects Bentong and Kuala Lipis. Though it may seem like nothing happens here, that’s simply because all the fun is hidden amongst the trees.

For waterfalls and picnic areas with the family, Raub has plenty to offer. Lata Jarum and Lata Lembik are popular spots for family outings. There are public facilities available and even food stalls for those who don’t pack a picnic for a picnic. LOL. 


Lata berembun has a natural water slide and when the season is in, fruits on the trees which are accessible to everyone!


For the adventure enthusiasts, Jeram Besu is where you’d want to be. Said to be the best place in Peninsular Malaysia for kayaking and white water rafting, offering a challenge for beginners as well as the experienced ones. Take a half day or even a full day trip down the Lipis river.


If you feel like going pacing down a bit and getting away from full speed life, there are a variety of beautiful hidden gems where you can rest, relax, swim, meditate and immerse yourself in the forest atmosphere. Try checking into a homestay like KampungKhoo, a lovely little homestay where the owners welcome you into their home,  lets you enjoy the countryside activities nearby and feed you authentic GuangXi cuisines (YUM!!)!



What about going out camping or even “glamping”, in Pahang there are waaayy tooo many to choose from but are favourites are Tanah Aina where you pay full board and not have to worry about anything afterwards (unless you want extra of course), the Dusun Eco Resort is a laid back resort for those with an adventurous heart.  Rock mountain is pretty cool but it’s more resort-ish than natural. Bilut Hills is a fancy farm-stay and when in season, DURIAN!! – lots of it!

Speaking of which…

Bentong and Durians

Introducing you to what many Malaysians would call their pride and joy, the city of durians, the King of Fruits, Bentong! No man, seriously, one is not a true Malaysian if they don’t enjoy a good Durian and for anyone who visits Malaysia during the fruiting season, it is a heinous crime if you don’t at least give it a try! Bentong is a little more happening on the town side but the nature side is exactly what you’d expect in Pahang = awesome!



You can check out Chamang waterfall for a picnic and have a little splash in the pool and if you’re up for an overnight hike, climb up Gunung Rajah where there is, though no facilities, a beautiful campsite. The hike is definitely worth it.  For overnight stays, Caravan Serai offers deluxe safari tents as well as caravan suites, to layan a dip in a hot springs, the eRYa Hot Springs would be it.

Cameron and Genting Highlands

Lets climb on up to the highlands – no, not in Scotland but you could get a feel of it here by enjoying some clotted cream with some freshly made strawberry jam on scones. Or is that more English than Scottish? Aaaaanyy whhoooooo.

To enjoy a weekend away with crispy fresh air, a chilly breeze, acres and acres of tea plantation, strawberry farms and fruit and vegetable farms, there is also a spellbinding Mossy Forest filled with hiking trails as well as exotic flora and fauna. To find out more read our Connect with Nature in Cameron Highlands article.

Genting, however, is the total opposite of Cameron Highlands. There are no farms or waterfalls (i think) but there are loads of hotels, shopping arcades, a huge theme park both indoor and outdoor as well as a casino. If it’s modern fun you’re looking for, here is the place to be.

The weather up in the hills are pretty unpredictable so whatever the season you decide to go, don’t forget a woolly jumper and a raincoat or umbrella.

Tioman Islands

Last but not least, in Pahang, is where everyone loves most, Tioman Island. This duty-free island is covered in thick rainforest, home to a range of endemic species of wildlife and plants, and ringed by the most beautiful of beaches. Known to be one of the 10 most beautiful and idyllic islands in the world.

There are several villages on Tioman with plenty of activities to choose from – Scuba diving, snorkelling, trekking around the island is the best way to explore the island; mountain climbing up Mount Kajang standing at 1,038m high; rock climbers can scale at sites near Tekak, Mukut and Juara and for the experienced climbers, Malaysia’s highest freestanding spire is at Gunong So Mukut (twin peaks); there are several waterfalls to check out around the island; birding is a popular one here as there are over 140 species of birds on the island and hey, there is even an 18 hole golf course on the island at Berjaya Tioman Golf and Spa Resort.



For the earth conscious ones, there are a couple conservation projects you could volunteer at such as Juara Turtle Project and Rumah Hijau.

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