By Jeremy Khalil on March 2, 2012
Terrapuri Heritage Village – situated in laidback Setiu, Terengganu – is actually a project that deals with conserving and restoring 29 antique Terengganu Malay wooden houses. Being the brain child of Mr. Alex Lee, the property is laid out like a 17th century Terengganu Palace.
20 of those restored houses are designated as villas for guests’ accommodation, offering those who stay there a remarkably unforgettable experience.The placement of all of these elegantly rustic and gracefully aged wooden structures that were sourced from various places into one area allows guests to learn about the traditional Terengganu Malay architecture in greater detail, hence instil greater appreciation. Though all of them possess similar design principles, each one of the houses differs in terms of dimensions and personality.There is a reason why Terrapuri is aptly described as a heritage village rather than a resort: the collection of authentic traditional Terengganu Malay wooden houses set in one area rekindles the welcoming spirit and warmth of a tranquil and laidback east coast Malay village that steadfastly holds onto its unique identity, culture and character.
Here, guests can relive an almost authentic Malay village lifestyle, especially when the resort does not provide television sets and telephones in those houses. However, each one of them does come with air-conditioning unit and ceiling fans. Out of the monsoon season, during clear and sunny days, it is safe to suggest that guests can luxuriously go barefoot when walking around the compounds of the resort, offering them a sense of liberation and the opportunity to feel more connected to nature.As Gaya Travel team entered Terrapuri, we felt we were being magically transported back to the times of Langkasuka, an ancient Malay kingdom based in Pattani (now part of Thailand) that stretched down to Terengganu at the south and Kedah on the west. The resort sports colours that are raw, honest, earthen and natural, which invoke guests’ reverence towards the greatness of nature, upon which the traditional Malay life hinges upon. We also learned that traditional Malay civilisation was found on the basis of respecting nature and working with it, thus the Malay architectural principles and design sensibilities always take into account natural elements such as wind, water and earth.
Mr. Lee, who is also the owner of an established Kuala Terengganu-based travel agency Ping Anchorage, fervently believes that the distinct Malay culture and character, particularly from Peninsular Malaysia East Coast, can be leveraged upon as a veritable strength. And Terrapuri is the testament to that strength. Throughout the resort, guests are able to get up close and personal with not just the classic Terengganu Malay architecture but also artefacts that were once part of the East Coast Malay traditional daily life such as old wooden spindles and looms to make songket (traditional richly woven fabric made from golden thread); ornately carved traditional kitchen utensils such as coconut graters, mortars and pestles; decorative wood carvings that once graced the traditional fishermen’s boats that bear ancient Malay mythical symbolisms; enduring brassware; and handicrafts made from pandanus leaves.According to Mr. Lee, each wooden house has a story of its own. The name given to each house is based on the place that they originated. In acquiring the house, Mr. Lee had to undergo the lengthy process of persuading and dealing with the previous owners to sell off the houses (some of which were already dilapidated) to him, getting them to be systematically dismantled, then transported to a different spot and eventually reassembled.
The effort in preserving and conserving the traditional Terengganu Malay houses helps to propel interest, especially among Malaysians, towards the contemporary use of wood and the benefits derived from dwelling in wooden buildings. It also helps to perpetuate the Malay wood craftsmanship, which face the risk of dying should traditional wooden structures be no longer in existence. That would be such a shame because valuable knowledge in creating and maintaining wooden structures that has been synonymous to the Malay culture and civilisation would unfortunately be lost.Traditionally, Malay houses possess large windows and lattices to allow cross ventilation. Traditional Terengganu Malay houses also possess high pitched roofs lined with clay tiles and no ceiling to allow hot air to rise up away from the floor, thus promoting thermal comfort. Traditional Malay houses, especially on Peninsula Malaysia’s East Coast, were usually set on tall stilts to accommodate the seasonal floods since traditional communities were founded close to the sea and riverways that were often used as routes for transport. The generous space made available below the house also allows the air to pass underneath, thus cooling the structure in the process. It also allows space for animals to roam and be reared here, apart from doubling as the place to store boats and other household items.
A classic traditional Terengganu Malay house would normally be embellished with motifs and patterns derived from local traditional beliefs and philosophy. They were also built using chengal wood that employs tebuk-pasak (mortise and tenon) technique at the joints, avoiding the need for nails during original construction. Such technique facilitates the ease of dismantling and reassembling of the structure, convenient when it needs to be relocated. Upon closer inspection, guests will notice the three layers of cloths (white, red and black) inserted in between pillar joints. According to Mr. Lee, these cloths have special incantations written on them that help to ward off evil spirits and protect the inhabitants of the house. Another reason for those cloths might also be to tighten up the joints, ensuring that they would not dislodge easily.A factor that caught the attention of the Gaya Travel team is Terrapuri’s commitment to practice responsible tourism – the existence of Terrapuri intentionally benefits the surrounding local communities that reside in Malay kampungs or villages. Rather than importing staff from other areas, Terrapuri conscientiously employs its personnel from the surrounding villages such as Kampung Mangkok and Kampung Rhu Sepuluh. The resort also sources its food and beverages from Kampung Mangkok so that guests will be able to savour the authentic local fare.
In the near future, we were informed that Terrapuri intends to add more features and facilities such as bicycles for guests to use in exploring the surrounding villages; traditional Malay houses that are set closer to the ground for easy wheelchair access; including placards and labels that briefly describe each traditional artefact that is displayed so as to educate guests and increase awareness and appreciation towards traditional Terengganu Malay culture. It is recommended that guests inform the resort of their special needs prior to arrival.Essentially, Terrapuri Heritage Village does not only conserve and preserve the Terengganu Malay architectural heritage, it also gracefully beckons us to truly savour the gentle and laidback traditional Malay lifestyle amidst an elegantly rustic and palatial setting.