Kelantan: Journey to Malaysia’s Hidden Charm (Part 1)

While most tourists and travelers flock the usual and famous destinations in the country, I found myself exploring north east of Penisular Malaysia which is Kelantan where I felt a different charm most travelers miss.

Hotel Harmoni

From Kuala Lumpur, we took a long bus ride early in the morning after that delayed flight from Manila. Upon arrival around afternoon, we quickly searchd for a hotel where we can stay. We found Hotel Harmoni located a few walks from where our bus stopped at Kota Bharu, the state’s capital.

Hotel Harmoni

Hotel Harmoni offers different kinds of room suitable for your needs. What we got is an air-conditioned superior room with 2 beds, television and comfort room. That is for RM80 only. The room is clean and very comfortable. We were lucky then to decide to have a room with a window because if not for that we will not be able to witness an interesting festival that night.

Nine Emperor Gods Festival

We were already in our room when suddenly I heard some beating of drums. I quickly peeped through our windows to see what’s happening outside. And to my surprise I saw a flock of people all dressed in white. Some of them were doing a lion dance, while others were swinging a carriage.

9 Emperor Gods Festival - 8

9 Emperor Gods Festival - 10

But the most intriguing among those participants were those at the end of the line, they seemed like doing a sacrifice. We hurriedly ran out of the hotel to see it closely. I was terrified when I saw a metal rod pierced from one of their cheek which passes through the other. I still have no idea how was it called. So I asked someone from them but she can barely speak English but she was trying her best to explain.

9 Emperor Gods Festival - 4

9 Emperor Gods Festival - 5

We went back to our room researching what celebration or what is that parade for? I heard again drum beats led by a dragon dance and doing exactly the same of the first group that we saw. But this time it had more participants and more colorful. They have a grand float (which resembles a boat) lit with colorful fixtures and smoking incense sticks.

9 Emperor Gods Festival - 2

We later found out that the celebration is called 9 Emperor Gods Festival. And it was the 9th and the last day of it, that’s why there is a parade which will go all the way to the riverbanks. It is a Chinese festival to celebrate the return of the 9 emperors from heaven to earth. At first we thought that it was one of the Buddhist Festivals but we were wrong. It was Taoist’s celebration which begins on the eve of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

9 Emperor Gods Festival - 11

This festival is celebrated particularly in Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and also the Riau Islands. This is how they celebrated it here in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaysia.


After the parade, I felt so hungry so we walked to a nearby restaurant to eat. I saw the man frying something so I asked if I can have those. They call it murtabak or martabak, an Indian Muslim dish found in Yemen, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Yemen where it is called Motabbag, Arbic term which means “the folded”. It is a wrapped roti canai (roti cane) filled with minced meat, curry with eggs and onion. It is fried on a griddle until it becomes golden brown ( Its perfect dip for me is the sour-sweet vinegar with lots of onion slices.


The Clock Tower of Kota Bharu

The next morning, we woke up early to explore the state. We walked towards the nearby clock tower, one of the iconic landmark that will tell you you’re already in the capital of Kelantan, Kota Bharu. This clock tower is erected in the middle of the traffic circle also known as “roundabout”. The streets that points toward this roundabout are Jalan Sultan Ibrahim, Jalan Gajah Mati, Jalan Temenggong, Jalan Ismail and Jalan Hospital. This is one of the most busiest streets in Kota Bharu, Kelantan.

Clock Tower

In the morning

Clock Tower 1

At night

Istana Negeri 1

Istana Negeri

We hailed a taxi to tour us around Kelantan as we find it more convenient since we do not have enough time to visit the place. Our first stop was Istana Negeri is located in Kubang Kerian, a sub-district of the City of Kota Bharu. Istana is a Malay term for palace. This is the official residence of the Sultan of Kelantan and the royal family. Some important events that are being performed here are official appointments and enthronement ceremonies.

Istana Negeri

The facade of this palace is quite big which can be easily seen along the street. The entire area is covered with high concrete fence. Cannonballs were also used to design both sides of the main gate. Plants are shaped into an extraordinary work of of art, a proof that Kelantanese are really talented when it comes to craftmanship.

Istana Negeri 3

Since this is the official residence of the Sultan and royal family, no one can just easily enter the gate of this palace.

Istana Negeri 2

Tok Bali Bay and Fish Port

Tok Bali Bay 1

After Istana Negeri, we went straight to Tok Bali, its almost an hour away from Kota Bharu. I took advantage of that long travel to sleep and rest. I opened the taxi’s window for the fresh air. When we arrived, we felt that its not the Tok Bali Beach that is shown in the map that we have. Where we at seems like a fish port name Tok Bali.

Tok Bali Bay

The taxi driver talked to some of the fishermen in the area to ask where is that picture. It was only then that we found out that we were on the wrong side of Tok Bali, so without any time to waste we left the place and head to Tok Bali Beach which is just 10 mins away from the Tok Bali Fish Port.

Tok Bali Bay 2

Tok Bali Beach

Tok Bali Beach 1

Going to Tok Bali Beach is easy when you have you’re own car. Though its roughly 45 minutes away from Kota Bharu, I cant see any public transport passing by the area. What we did is we rented a taxi for the whole day for a tour around Kota Bharu and nearby districts, which for me is very much convenient. It is also best done in a group so you can split expenses.

After we parked and got off the car, I can completely feel how serene the place was that time. It was very quiet that only the crashing waves and the chirping birds are making the sound. We’ve also seen a group of students having their lecture under the trees beside the sea. I was not sure if during peak seasons and holidays the place will still feel the same. There line ups of stores which were closed when we arrived. But for me, at that very moment I felt so calm and relax.

Wat Photivihan in Tumpat

Wat Photivihan 6

Tumpat in Kelantan is famous for its Buddhist temples. In fact, there are 25 temples in the place and Wat Photivihanin kampung Jambu is said to be the famous among all of them. Simply because it houses the largest reclining Buddha in Southeast Asia measuring 40 meters in length and 9 meters in width.

Since Tumpat is near the border of Thailand, you can obviously say that the temple itself in this area are typical examples of Thai Buddhist Temples.

Wat Photivihan 2

Wat Photivihan 3

I haven’t been to a Buddhist temple before, that is why I make sure that it will be included in our itinerary. Its very visible upon entering the compound. Even if it doesn’t look colorful compare to other Buddhas and temples in the area, it still remains as the center of attraction because of its size.

Wat Photivihan 5

Wat Photivihan 7

Wat Machimmaram and the Sitting Buddha

After being amazed with the largest reclining Buddha, we headed to another temple. This time, its in Wat Machimmaram located in Kampung Bunuhan which is popular for its Sitting Buddha. They said that it is the second largest of its kind in Southeast Asia. Upon entry to its gate, we cant help but say “wow!”. Its really big and beautiful. It is also surrounded with other Buddhas and temples.


From Tumpat, we felt hungry after visiting temples. We decided to leave Malaysia from Pengkalan Kubur and crossed the border going to Thailand. We got that information from the tourism officer that we were able to spoke with prior to the trip. We passed through the immigration and paid RM1.00 for a few minute boat ride. I never expected I will be able to step at the Kingdom of Thailand just to have our lunch and bought some spicy tamarind.

**Part 2 of Kelantan: Journey to Malaysia’s Hidden Charm