Senyum sokmo (smile constantly), say the people of Terengganu – and there’s truly lots to smile about, especially for visitors there.
The name Terengganu may evoke images of songket-weaving, batik-printing and keropok lekor in the minds of many locals. However, my recent trip there proved that there was more to the state than meets the eye.
Located along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Terengganu is home to some breath-taking beaches and endless blue seas ready to welcome those who venture to its shores. From island-hopping to batik-making, there is a lot to see and do there.
During a recent one-week media familiarisation trip organised by the Terengganu State Government and Gaya Travel magazine, I discovered that fishing remains one of the activities that Terengganu is famous for.
But I also found out that nature lovers and sightseeing enthusiasts will likely be enamoured of the state’s character, as revealed by anything from the kampung houses to old coffee shops that you will likely come across while driving or walking within the state.
At the time of my visit, the Terengganu International Squid Jigging Festival 2014 was ongoing, and we were given the opportunity to try our hand at using simple tools to catch squid.
Fishing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and the same might be said of squid-jigging.
An inexpensive way to catch squid is by using a fishing line and jig which comes in various sizes, weights and colours. The jig is usually placed deep in the ocean, with the angler pulling the line up and down repeatedly to attract squid.
On our first day of squid-jigging, we were taken to a location off Pulau Chepu in Setiu. For our second session on another day, we headed somewhere off Pulau Kapas in Marang.
Being new to jigging, I was surprised when I felt a light tug at the end of my bait within five minutes of placing my line into the water. Even though I did not take to squid-jigging, I felt a sense of euphoria at getting my first (and only) catch.
However, after 20 minutes of constantly pulling the line up and down in a rocky boat, squid-jigging got boring for me. The views were lovely, but the extremely choppy sea brought on a wave of seasickness, making it difficult for me to appreciate my time there.
As night fell and our squid-jigging continued, the fishermen switched on the lights atop their boats. According to them, squid are attracted to light, increasing one’s chances of catching them. Why that is so remains a mystery.
Squid-jigging on the boat in Setiu is probably one of the best times for you to soak in the sight of the enchanting blue sea. Photography enthusiasts should be camera-ready to capture the magnificent views of the deep blue waters against the sky.
That outing also gave an insight into the lives of local fishermen. Some of their boats are over 20 years old, with different sections painted in various colours.
Life’s a beach
What is Terengganu without its beaches? Roughly one-and-a-half hours by boat from the Syahbandar Jetty in Kuala Terengganu is Pulau Redang’s Marine Park, a must-visit for tourists.
The location certainly lives up to its hype, with sandy white beaches and crystal clear waters in varying shades of blue. Certainly cleaner than other beaches in Malaysia, the marine park is a popular snorkelling destination among tourists. The water is clear enough that you would be able to dip your head in and see some small colourful fishes swimming about.
It provided a cool respite from the scorching heat. However, I was disappointed by the lack of beautiful corals on the seabed, something I noticed while snorkelling within the area marked by the buoys. It is an offence to remove the corals from the sea; coral- and sand-collectors best heed the warning.
For other options, head over to Kenyir Lake; from Pengkalan Gawi, the main jetty in the area, you can go island-hopping in one of South-East Asia’s biggest man-made hydroelectric dams, which covers a whopping 260,000ha.
While travelling by boat from one island to another, I finally understood the popularity of Kenyir Lake. You are surrounded by beautiful turquoise waters and a plethora of flora and fauna in the area. You need at least a few days to explore the area in-depth.
There are numerous islands in Kenyir, making island-hopping one of the main activities for tourists.
On one of the islands that we were taken to was the Orchid Garden, where tourists can see the beautiful blooms in various vivid colours.
At another island is the Herbal Garden, which I found disappointing. The numerous types of herbal plants were displayed in an uninteresting manner, with the grass in the garden looking slightly unkempt, with not much to see.
The Kelah Sanctuary in Kenyir is one of the more interactive places to visit, as tourists have the opportunity to feed these deep-water fishes, also known as the Malaysian Mahseer. Visitors can feed them by grabbing some fish food and placing their hands in the water or by tossing the food into the water. It will be ticklish at first as the fish come near to feed, and it takes some getting used to.
Or you could go with the guide’s suggestions: Catch these fishes with your bare hands before releasing them, or put your feet into the water and let them brush against your legs. If you are brave enough, you can even take a dip in the water and swim with these fishes. Not for me!
For landlubbers, one of the newest attractions in the state is the Kenyir Elephant Village (KEV). During my visit in April, the village had yet to be completed, with only nine elephants to account for.
The managing director, Ang Ching Yang, said that the elephants at KEV were rescued from throughout Malaysia. The elephant-lover added that they were expecting 21 more elephants by this month.
We got to feed the elephants sugarcane and observe them playing in the water.
For batik and craft enthusiasts, Noor Arfa Craft Centre (NACC) is worth a stop. You can try your hand at batik-painting, learn how it is made and purchase batik clothes and fabric from the centre. Do not be surprised to find that some batik shirts can cost up to RM500 apiece.
History and culture buffs may want to visit the Terengganu State Museum, which houses artifacts, crafts, weapons and even the Inscribed Stone (Batu Bersurat), which marks Islam’s arrival in Terengganu around the 1300’s. There’s also the Islamic Civilisation Park, which showcases replicas of some of the world’s famous mosques.
Another popular landmark in the area is the Crystal Mosque, which officially opened in 2008. The mosque, which can accommodate 700 people, appeals to both Muslim and non-Muslim tourists due to the mosque’s unique structure.
According to the mosque’s assistant religious officer Wan Mohd Ridhwan Wan Azam, high-quality glass resembling crystals were used to make the mosque, due to the exorbitant price of constructing a mosque fully made from crystal. He added that the Crystal Mosque does not hold Friday prayers due to the small number of residents in the area.
Another noteworthy mosque is the Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque, also known as the Floating Mosque, which rests in the lagoon of the Ibai River. It has been said that the water rises to cover the platform of the mosque during high tide, creating an illusion that the white mosque is floating.
Entry is free for both, provided one is dressed conservatively. For loan are robes for visitors clad in shorts and sleeveless attire.
On our second last day in Terengganu, we had a leisurely stroll through Kampung Cina Terengganu and Pasar Payang. Visitors exploring Pasar Payang may be surprised to find that turtle eggs are openly sold there. According to our guide, Francis Loh, there is currently no law in the state that prohibits them from selling these eggs.
Both these spots are popular with tourists for shopping and sampling local street food and cuisine. Visitors might also enjoy taking in the sights of the temples and old coffee shops in the vicinity, which provides a rustic feel to the place.
So Terengganu has it all – stunning beaches and blue seas, nature, history, culture and food! Certainly, it will make a memorable place to visit.