Tell me: when you think about holiday destinations in Malaysia, where does Kelantan fall on that list? Is it on that list at all? ?
If I’m being honest with you, prior to this article, Kelantan wasn’t on my travel radar either ?. But the north-easternmost state of Peninsular Malaysia is underrated and should get more appreciation for how fantastic it is! It’s filled with culture, good food, eco adventures, and shopping opportunities that make it well-worth the 6-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur ?
In my (now educated) opinion, it’s the perfect place to go to if you want to have an authentic Malaysian experience without having to deal with the crowds. So, quickly, read through 8 reasons this state is a not-so-hidden gem and plan your next trip there before everyone else realises how great it is! ?
1. Go hunt for street arts in Kota Bharu
Credit: Tourism Malaysia Kelantan on Facebook
Get a (very Instagrammable ?) feel of the culture by checking out some gorgeous murals and colourful walls! There are a plethora of styles and subjects too so you know it’s not just one person determined to paint the entire town.
Credit: @myamism on Instagram
Most notable among them has to be Souk Fil Madinatul Jadid (Arabic for ‘Market in New Madinah’) in an alley at Jalan Dato Pati—a massive mural that makes you feel like you’re in the Middle East. This artists who created this local secret were so determined to give it a Middle Eastern vibe that even the ground has been painted to look like a carpet! ?
Credit: Khairul Nizam on Facebook
Address: Jalan Dato Pati, Bandar Kota Bharu, 15000 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
2. There’s so much more to their cuisine than just nasi kerabu
No travel experience is complete without trying the local food and Kelantan has plenty of good stuff to offer. In Malaysia, there are many dishes that make up an entire meal on its own and Kelantan is home to three (other than nasi kerabu, of course ?): nasi tumpang, nasi dagang Kelantan, and laksam Kelantan. Kelantan is also where ayam percik originated from. ? There are also a handful of classic Malay desserts that are native to Kelantan and worth trying such as akok, bahulu, and serimuka.
Credit: @upehlekor on Instagram
Pictured: nasi tumpang, a dish made up of rice and varying side dishes (often including an omelette and serunding or beef floss) packed into a cone shape within a banana leaf.
Credit: @bitesizemish on Instagram
Pictured: nasi dagang, a dish made up of rice steamed in coconut milk, a fish curry, and pickled vegetables.
Credit: pnbperdanakl on Instagram
Pictured: laksam Kelantan, a dish made up of rolled rice noodles and thick fish and coconut milk broth. Toppings include bean sprouts, lemongrass stalks, and cabbage.
I bet you’re now salivating and wondering where you can find these delicious dishes. The short answer: everywhere. A lot of the places to find really good food are roadside stalls and markets that are scattered all across the state—an authentic experience through and through! To simplify matters (and satisfy those cravings ASAP ?), we’ve limited the recommendations to just Kota Bharu.
Pasar Kubang Pasu
Credit: amrufm on Flickr
This pasar tani (morning market) may not seem like much from the outside, but hey, when it comes to food, it’s what’s on the inside that counts! Locals swarm here for breakfast and get their fix for a variety of kuehs, and the nasi tumpang and nasi kerabu especially are universally agreed to be excellent ?
Address: D1, Kampung Pak Nik Ya, 15000 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 7AM-1PM daily
Pasar Tani Wakaf Che Yeh
Credit: @myamism on Instagram
Wakaf Che Yeh is another wet market that is primarily visited by locals but if you want your fix of Kelantanese sweet treats such as akok, bahulu, and serimuka, you should definitely head on over! ? The market runs from 7AM-6PM daily but the pasar tani portion (where you can find the good food) is only on Fridays from 7AM-12PM.
Credit: @kb.brewster on Instagram
Pictured: akok, or baked custard. It can be eaten as a snack or dessert.
Credit: raymondtan85 on Flickr
Pictured: Bahulu, a soft traditional Malaysian cake that is often served during Eid-ul-Fitr and Chinese New Year. It is sometimes called ‘Malaysian Madeleines’.
Credit: @rasa_ili on Instagram
Pictured: Serimuka, a malaysian dessert comprised of a bottom layer of glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk and a top layer of pandan custard. A common variation of this is serimuka durian, in which the top layer is made up of durian custard instead.
Address: 2711, Jalan Desa Harmoni, Desa Harmoni, 15100 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 7AM-6PM daily
Pasar Siti Khadijah
Credit: @armfarizi on Instagram
If you look up ‘Kelantan’, a picture of this market is bound to show up. ? As my Kelantanese friend said, ‘it sells everything under the sun’. Food-wise though, this place is especially recommended for snacks such as keropok (fish crackers), akok, and bahulu!
Credit: @embong_batek on Instagram
You could also find beautiful cloths to bring home as gifts or to make baju kurung for yourself ? From silk batik and cotton prints to hijabs and songket, you could find hundreds of designs at a steal!
Address: Jalan Buluh Kubu, 15000 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 7AM-6PM daily
Contact: +609 748 4477
Kedai Kopi White House
This kopitiam, or Malaysian coffeehouse, is an absolute must-go when in Kota Bharu. It’s open for breakfast and supper and the pictured meal is what is most strongly recommended: roti bakar (kaya toast), half-boiled egg, and coffee. This traditional cafe also serves pre-packed nasi dagang and nasi lemak so you won’t even have to eat any meals between your breakfast and supper here ?!
Address: 1329-L, Jalan Sultanah Zainab, 15050, Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 8AM-1PM, 9PM-1AM daily
Contact: +609 748 4119
Yati Ayam Percik
Credit: @shafik_jaafar on Instagram
Bet you’ll never guess which Kelantanese dish they specialize in here ?! This restaurant is so famous that is has franchised and can now be found all over Malaysia. Among Malaysians, if you say ‘ayam percik’, most people will automatically think ‘Yati’—that’s how well-known it is. But what’s the big deal about ayam percik? It’s grilled chicken that has been marinated and coated in coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, chili, and tamarind. In other words: Malaysia’s juicy, flavorful twist on grilled chicken. What’s not to love? ?
Address: Jalan Long Yunus, 15200 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 12-11:30PM daily
Contact: +609 747 9867
3. It’s got eco adventures aplenty
Now that you’ve planned all your meals, you’re probably thinking of ways to burn it off. Well not to worry, you don’t have to confine yourself to a treadmill because Kelantan has plenty of eco adventures for you! This state is filled with caves and waterfalls and rivers, but we can’t possibly list them all here so here are the top 3. ?
Gunung Stong State Park
Credit: @pertualangan_senja on Instagram
If you want a one-stop shop for an eco adventure, then this is it. This park has a hiking trail, camping sites and several peaks of varying difficulties. Oh, and not to mention the seven-tiered Jelawang Waterfalls, one of the highest waterfalls in Asia. How about that for satisfying your outdoorsy needs ?
#HHWT Tip: Hiking all the way up Gunung Stong is not recommended for first time hikers, but there are many very doable stops along the way to the summit.
Address: Dabong Forest Reserve, 18200 Kelantan
Contact: +609 748 2014 (Kelantan State Forestry Department)
Taman Etnobotani Gua Musang
Credit: @wernjune on Instagram
Chalk up friends, because it’s time to go rock climbing. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something so very cool about rock climbing outdoors on actual rock. ? But if that’s not your speed, that’s fine too because this garden was built for you to learn about the medical uses for the plants that grow in it so you can just enjoy a quiet day in the park. There’s also a deer habitat there, so maybe you’ll see some as you go about your day!
Address: Bandar Baru Gua Musang, 18300 Gua Musang, Kelantan
Opening Hours: 9AM-5PM daily. Closed on Fridays and for special activities
Entrance Fee: Free. But you must book via KESEDAR prior to your visit
Credit: @rosepiaf on Instagram
This one’s for those who have an appreciation for nature but don’t want to do anything extreme. Lata Rek is technically classified as a waterfall but is more of a cascade with a shallow, clear river flowing from the bottom. ❤️ Climb the rocky bit at your own risk (especially in the rainy season when water levels are high and the current is stronger) but the river is very gentle, making Lata Rek a popular destination for family picnics. A refreshing, cool river in the hot sun—what’s not to love?
Address: Jalan Kuala Krai - Gua Musang, 18000 Kuala Krai, Kelantan
4. It has charming fishing villages
Credit: @amazingkelantan on Instagram
A recurring recommendation when looking up things of interest in Kelantan is their fishing villages. The colorful Thai boats and agricultural-based lifestyle has a charm to it that outsiders find attractive. (I personally am indifferent to it because I spent a portion of my childhood in a small coastal town myself but hey, whatever floats your boat ?) To have the full experience, we recommend you head to Pengkalan Chepa at around 2:30 pm when the fishing boats come back from their journeys out to sea, boats heavy with fresh fish (some still alive and kicking ?!). Then you can bear witness to the chaos of haggling that ensues, all with the scenic backdrop of the shore and the brightly-colored boats bobbing along it.
Credit: @khairi95 on Instagram
If you get hungry while out sightseeing, drop by the floating market in Pengkalan Datu! You'll see sellers on boats with plenty of local dishes to choose from, be it sweet or savoury. ? There are also sellers who cook the dishes on the boat and it's quite a refreshing sight!
Address: 2617, Jalan Raja Sakti, Kampung Kedai Lalat, 16150 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
5. You can shop till you drop (duty-free!) at Rantau Panjang
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Everyone knows that Southeast Asia is a relatively cheap shopping destination as is. But throw in the wonder of duty-free between two state borders and you’ve got something truly magical on your hands ✨ You get Rantau Panjang.
This town is neatly located on the Malaysian-Thai border in Kelantan and is known for its busy shopping street. Here, you can find virtually anything Malaysian and Thai. Toys, jewelry, snacks, spices, pickled fruits, sandals, batik, electronics, fresh produce—you name it and they’ve got it! But the most popular item here is - mattresses! ?? Tourists from all over Malaysia would come here and buy mattresses in bulk. Good luck trying to walk through the entire town without spending a single cent ?
Address: Zon Bebas Cukai Rantau Panjang, Kampung Rantau Panjang, 17200, Rantau Panjang, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 9AM-8PM daily
6. It’s home to Malaysia’s Nami Island
Credit: @qamarul17 on Instagram
Compared to all the other reasons I’ve mentioned, this one is incredibly specific but I included it in here anyway because it does not look like a place you’d find in Malaysia. It’s stunningly unique—so much so that a lot of people go here for their wedding photoshoots. A trip to Kelantan is a lot cheaper than a trip to Korea, after all ?
Credit: @miazomia on Instagram
Address: 16020 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
7. It is rich with Malay arts and crafts
One can make the argument that Kelantan is the heart of Malay culture due to how densely-packed it is with performing arts, traditional crafts, and trinkets. ?
Credit: @artfulstumble on Instagram
Though this centre is often used to host festivals that celebrate Malay culture, there are also year-round displays. Each day is dedicated to a different art however, so you should check with the state tourist office if you’re looking for something specific. (This information isn’t listed on their website, you’ll have to give them a call.) The activities in the weekly rotation are gasing (top spinning), silat (martial arts), wau bulan (moon kite) making and flying, batik, rebena ubi (drums), congkak (a marble game) and dikir barat (singing), and wayang kulit (shadow theatre, pictured above). Whichever day you pick, it will definitely be worth your time! ?
Credit: @instaufikart on Instagram
Address: Jalan Mahmood, 15200 Bandar Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 10:30AM-5:45PM daily. Closed on Fridays and between the months of November to January. Also closed during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Entrance Fee: Free.
Contact: +609 748 3543
Contrary to its name, Kampung Kraftangan is not, in fact, a village but rather a touristy market which is the spot to do all your souvenir shopping. Here, you can find all sorts of handicrafts such as wooden carvings, paintings, wicker baskets, kites, silver trinkets, batik—you get the picture. Almost every traditional Malay souvenir one could think of can be found here. And not only can you buy them there, but you can also witness some incredibly talented craftsmen create these pieces! And if you get hungry, there’s plenty of food around, the restaurants Nasi Ulam Cikgu Hamid and Balai Sulur Gadung being ones that are especially well-loved by previous visitors.
Credit: @dianayanmanan on Instagram
Address: Jalan Hilir Kota, 15300 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Operating Hours: 8:30AM-4:45PM daily. Closed on Friday
Contact: Kelantan Tourism Office at +609 747 7554 (phone) or +609 747 8010 (fax)
Galeri Wau Pak Sapie
A wau, a traditional kite that's unique to Kelantan and Terengganu, is a sight to behold. Visit Galeri Wau Pak Sapie and see how traditional waus are made! ? With the skills and dedication put into making every piece of kite, it does not come cheap to own one.
Credit: @amazingkelantan on Instagram
Address: 15350 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Famously flown during the International Kite Festivals held twice a year, tourists from all over the world travel east to witness the event. Happening this coming August, you still have time to plan a trip to Kelantan!
Credit: @didizrushdi on Instagram
Visit their Facebook page for more info.
8. There are plenty of resorts and chalets ☀️
So I bet you’re now about to look up places to stay in Kelantan but have no fear, for #HHWT is here ? Lucky for you, Kelantan is nothing short of an accommodation buffet. Want to stay in a resort? Sure, head on over to Tok Aman Bali Beach Resort, Morak Villa Resort, or Pasir Belanda Resort!
Credit: @mydailygarbage on Instagram
Or maybe you just want to have the most comfortable stay possible and would prefer a classy hotel? Then the Grand Renai or Hotel Perdana are the places for you.
Credit: @thegrandrenaikotabharu on Instagram
Or perhaps you’d like a more authentic experience? Then no worries, there are plenty of homestays here such as Homestay Ala Riverview Lodge Kota Bharu, Cheqma D’perdana Apartment Kota Bharu and Sam Suite D’Perdana. Making a family reunion out of it? I have the perfect homestay for you: Villa Impiana Perupok—a gorgeous seaview villa that comfortably sleeps 18 ?
So, tell me, are you surprised by just how cool Kelantan is? Maybe it’s time that you add Kelantan to your list of holiday destinations in Malaysia ?