By LING CHUAN KAI
Kuala Terengganu is an underrated tourist destination. Besides being the gateway to the picturesque Redang Island, not much is known of this town. I decided to explore the place, with three close friends, largely thanks to popular food vlogger Mark Wiens who was there recently to feature delicious local delicacies and beautiful beaches in his videos.
I had a friend who grew up in Terengganu and he helped us plan our trip. We even stayed at his traditional kampung house.
On our first morning there, we had breakfast like a local – nasi dagang. At 7am on a weekend, we waited for 30 minutes to get our food at Nasi Dagang Atas Tol but it was worth the wait. The rice here is fluffy and fragrant while the skipjack tuna (ikan tongkol) curry is light and smoky.
To burn off the calories, we headed to Pantai Pandak Chendering for a short walk and dip. We were amazed by how clean the beach was. It is no wonder that Terengganu was claimed as the cleanest state by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry in 2017.
For a truly authentic local experience, we tried making our own batik at the Noor Arfa Craft Complex. A well-known business established nearly 40 years ago, Noor Arfa has revived the art of making batik and for a small fee, we enjoyed a tutorial class and painted our masterpiece.
For lunch, we followed Wiens’ recommendation and ate at Singgang Budu Restaurant. Singgang ikan is a light fish soup that’s spicy and tangy. Budu is fermented anchovy sauce well known in Terengganu, Kelantan and even parts of Southern Thailand. It is pungent, salty and spicy, and may be an acquired taste for some.
A trip to the state is incomplete without visiting the original Batu Bersurat Terengganu (Terengganu Inscription Stone) at the Terengganu State Museum. The stone, dated 1303, has 10 basic Syariah laws inscribed which is evidence of early Islamic settlement in South-East Asia. Surprisingly, it is not as big as I thought it would be.
The museum is the largest in South-East Asia. It is made up of three museums, four traditional houses and a botanic and herbs garden. The whole museum complex is 27ha, so be prepared to spend a full day here if you are into culture and history.
We snacked on deep-fried squid, prawns and fish at Warung Pok Nong. There was a huge crowd at the stall, but we persevered as we were told that the food was to die for!
Later, we flew kites at Pantai Batu Buruk, presumably to make us feel less guilty about eating all the artery-clogging treats.
We made our way to Redang Island the next day. We took a 90-minute ferry ride, which was air-conditioned and comfortable.
We stayed at Laguna Redang Island Resort and we had a view of the white sandy beaches from our rooms.
Redang Island, featured in the 1999 Hong Kong movie Summer Holiday, is still as pristine today as it was in the movie. In fact, the resort has restored the dilapidated More More Tea Inn, initially built as part of the movie set.
We took a boat ride out to the sea for a snorkelling session. We were mesmerised by the beautiful corals and various species of colourful fish. Unfortunately, we did not spot any turtles.
The dinner buffet spread was delicious. However, it was disappointing to see some tourists wasting food and having bad table manners. One of these guests even spat in public, and it landed on my friend’s foot!
On our last day in Kuala Terengganu, we went to Pasar Payang to shop for souvenirs. Pasar Payang, built in 1968, has been an iconic feature of this town, where locals and tourists flock to get the best deals. However, the state government has decided to demolish it, to make way for a bigger, more spacious complex.
Before heading to the airport, we took a detour to Keropok Lekor Tawakkal at Kampung Surau Panjang. This stall is a local favourite, as the keropok lekor is made to order. Keropok lekor is integral to the local diet and is eaten at any meal. Our host even served keropok lekor as one of the dishes during dinner.
I left Terengganu with a different view of this beautiful state. Terengganu is friendly, clean, pristine and … delicious!