By Shahida Sakeri on January 9, 2019
Pristine beaches, colourful underwater corals and gorgeous islands has undeniably put Terengganu on the world map as the idyllic tropical destination. But believe it or not, this beautiful eastern state has plenty more to offer to travellers, including centuries-old legacies and one of the biggest man-made lakes in South East Asia.
Follow us through these pages as we introduce Hulu Terengganu, the state’s hinterland district, blessed with not only untouched natural beauty, but also sense of adventure. Whether you are hoping to relax or seeking a thrill, Hulu Terengganu will give you no shortage of things to do.
Why not start your journey by learning about traditional local architecture? Established since 2009, Warisan Pahlawan Resort was founded by Tuan Ahmad Tuan Abdullah, a passionate 58-year-old antique collector cum excellent craftsman with deep love towards all things classic. This family-run resort features 11 restored old houses, including the original house belonging to Mat Kilau (legendary Pahang warrior – read https://www.gayatravel.com.my/discovering-land-mat-kilau/ for more information) that has been around for almost 165 years.
The traditional Terengganu houses at the resort boast intricate ukir tebuk carvings, senggora (gable) roof, buton columns, and uses tanggam and pasak technique (a series of interlocking joints to connect the woods). On top of these, they are made of chengal wood that is known for its ability to survive the test of time and harsh weather. We suggest staying here for a night if you are an avid fan of traditional architecture. The entire premise exudes alluring charm of a glorious past, so convincing that even film directors are attracted to shoot movies here. One such movie is a local horror flick called Puaka Niang Rapik.
Step back into the past and experience how it was like living in 60s and 70s in Terengganu. This village, which located around two hours from the capital, offers visitors just that: a glimpse of the bygone era. Visitors will be garbed in traditional attire and need to take a boat ride for 10 minutes along Sungai Berang before reaching the village. Upon arrival, they are treated to a welcoming ceremony comprising silat (Malay martial art) performance and a traditional dinner where they have to sit on the floor like how it was back then. They will then proceed to Panggung Raja Sakti, an open stage where a group of dancers and musicians entertain guests with age-old songs full of pearls of wisdom and sketches.
I was particularly drawn into the Puteri Gunung Ledang sketch and especially amazed with the graceful moves of the dancers. Only then I discovered that these talented performers have performed for the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak five times. Today, they perform to the public every Friday from 10:00 p.m. until midnight at this village. Besides conserving heritage, Jenagor Village is also believed to be the place where the first Terengganu sultanate was declared and where Syarif Muhamad Albaghdadi, the one who established and enacted the famous Batu Bersurat (Inscription Stone that contains codified Islamic law), was laid to rest.
Today, terrapins are a critically threatened species due to its low rate of reproduction. Their nesting season happens only once a year, which is in February, and each female terrapin normally lays between six to 10 eggs per season. It will then require another two months for these eggs to hatch and obtain 70 to 80 percent of survival rate for each batch. Recognising this alarming situation, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) of Terengganu has set up a conservation centre to breed the species before releasing them to the wild once they reached two years old. Here, visitors can learn about the conservation efforts that PERHILITAN does and play with these cute little animals at the same time. However, be mindful when playing with terrapins because unlike their chelonian cousins, they have impressive claws.
Kuala Berang is also famous as the place where the well-known Batu Bersurat (Inscription Stone) carrying the earliest evidence of Jawi writing was found. To commemorate this important discovery, local villagers built an on-site memorial in Padang Tara, Kampung Buloh, near Sungai Tara bank. The replica of the Batu Bersurat is placed here while the original version is exhibited at Terengganu State Museum.
This Inscription Stone makes an invaluable heritage treasure for the country as it serves as testimony of the advent of Islam into South East Asia. Multiple theories cited that the script was written between 1303 to 1387 C.E. by Syarif Muhammad al-Baghdadi, an Arab missionary who eventually created a fiefdom in ancient Terengganu and instrumental in spreading Islam throughout the region. Today, this artefact is protected under the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme.
For a taste of authentic traditional dishes that even the locals approve, D’Aroma Kampung Gaung Restaurant may be the answer. Do not be fooled by the humble façade of this eatery as the food offerings do speak for themselves. Ikan baung (a type of catfish) is the star here, typically cooked in either mildly spicy tempoyak (fermented durian) gravy or asam pedas (spicy and sour gravy).
If swimming at the waterfall is not enough, then head on to Terengganu’s very own Little Amazon and explore the beautiful jungle in the most fun ways. There are a few activities available here including tubing, rafting, kayaking and cruising along the Sungai Berang near Kampung Lebak.
Terengganu is undeniably one of the warmest (temperature-wise) states in Malaysia, so why not cool off in the refreshing waters of beautiful waterfalls while admiring the pristine surroundings? One of the locals’ favourites is the seven-tier Sekayu Waterfall that is located around an hour’s drive from Kuala Terengganu. The cascading waterfalls along with resting huts, camping sites and affordable chalets make an ideal picnic getaway for visitors to relax for a day or two, and should they want to see more, there is a huge State Agriculture Park nearby, complete with tropical fruit orchards, a restaurant, a mini zoo and a swimming pool.
Haven’t had a long peaceful sleep? We invite you to try staying on a boathouse, which does not only offer you serenity and slumber-inducing still nights but also allows you to be one with nature. Our personal pick is the Kenyir Eco Resort with its comfortable beds and plenty of activities to keep you entertained, including the fun banana boat rides and fishing. The boathouse is run by a lovely local man, whose wife prepares delicious meals for guests to savour.
Kenyir Eco Resort is closed from November to December due to monsoon season. The rate for a Quadruple Room (Sleeps 4 Guests) is between MYR280 to MYR300 per night (depending on season), but there is also the dormitories option for larger group of guests.
I personally love swimming in Kenyir Lake because the freshwater remains comfortably warm throughout day and night. However, due to the notable depth of the lake (up to 145 metres), it is always important to wear life jackets when swimming. During clear weather, travellers could even witness the beautiful starry sky at night.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/kenyirecoresort.com.my/
If you love watching adorable elephants up close, consider visiting this sanctuary, which is home to 18 rescued elephants. There is a show held twice a day, and if you don’t mind getting wet, visitors are welcomed to bathe the elephants at a nearby tributary. The village spans 256 hectares, but only 10% of the area is developed to provide the best natural habitat possible for these elephants. There are also canopy walks in the area for visitors to admire the beautiful surrounding greenery.
Entrance Fee: MYR40 per adult (MyKad Holder) and MYR100 per adult (Non-MyKad Holder); MYR20 per child (MyKad Holder) and MYR50 per child (Non-MyKad Holder)
How do you feel about having hundreds of fish not just swimming but also slithering between your feet? Well, you won’t know until you try it at the Kelah Sanctuary, which is the breeding and nursery ground for the king of river fish known as kelah (mahseer). This endangered fish, commercially valued at MYR100 per kilogram, is facing extinction due to overfishing and the destruction of its habitat. Besides, mahseer takes three years to grow to a size of three kilogrammes when it is sexually mature, thus require more time to reproduce.
At this sanctuary, visitors are welcome to play with the fishes and feed them with fish pallets that can be purchased for MYR2 per pack, but no fishing is allowed in the area. Visitors also need to trek 1.75 kilometres on easy trail before reaching the tributary where the fishes can be found, therefore wearing appropriate and comfortable footwear is strongly recommended. Besides feeding the fishes, there is also a 100-metre canopy bridge that visitors can walk along to appreciate the surrounding greenery. The sanctuary is closed from November to February due to monsoon season, as well as the ideal time when the fishes start to breed.
Entrance Fee: MYR10 (MyKad Holder) and MYR20 (Non-MyKad Holder)
Boat Transfer Rate from Pos Kawalan Jetty: MYR5 for return trip
The park sits on Sah Kecil Island, covering over 15 hectares of land with almost 26,000 trees of 240 herb species. Visitors are welcome to roam around the small island and explore the herbs on their own, but if they want to listen to more in-depth explanation, guides are available upon request. There is also an on-site spa that offers traditional treatments such as aromatherapy and herbal baths. Be sure to taste the complimentary Tongkat Ali, Kacip Fatimah and Mahkota Dewa drinks while you are here and learn about their health benefits.
Free entry from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day.
Kuala Terengganu is the usual gateway for travellers entering the state by air, before continuing their journey further to the other parts of the east coast. We suggest that travellers stay at a hotel in the middle of Kuala Terengganu and take the time exploring the city. Hotel Seri Malaysia makes an ideal base for travellers because it sits right within the commercial district and is only a stone’s throw away from various tourist attractions such as Chinatown and Pasar Payang. The rates are also affordable.
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Tourism Malaysia Terengganu and the Central Terengganu Development Authority (KETENGAH) for making our trip to Terengganu a reality. Interested travellers who need assistance in arranging their trip to the above locations can contact Go Nature Travel Agency (www.facebook.com/GoNatureTravel) for a fuss-free holiday experience.