Take an amazing road trip on Federal Route 3 along the east coast of the country, and you will be passing scenic countryside, agricultural farms, and yonder, the azure blue of the South China Sea. Make a stop at Bachok at the edge of the sea where coconut trees sway peacefully in the breeze, and experience one of Malaysia’s best-kept secrets.
Malay woodcarving culture
Spend an afternoon at Akademi Nik Rashiddin (Nik Rashiddin Academy) for a thorough understanding of the Malay culture through its strong roots in traditional woodcarving.
The founder, the late Nik Rashiddin Nik Hussein, was an accomplished woodcarver who was passionate about the history of the region’s woodcarving traditions, particularly the Malay’s. The gallery is a treasure trove of valuable artefacts such as the traditional wooden Malay house and its architecture, Malay kris (dagger), bird cages, bird traps, traditional cake moulds, bed frames and more, all of which reflect the sophistication of the Malay culture. Special guided tours are available and, if lucky, are conducted by Nik Rashiddin’s widow, Rosnawati, who herself, is deeply knowledgeable on the subject.
You will leave the gallery awed and inspired by the brilliance of the Malay people whose deep affinity with nature was reflected in their highly astute sense of design and artistry.
For a predominantly Muslim state, there sure are plenty of Buddhist temples around, but that’s due to Kelantan’s proximity to Thailand.
In Bachok, make time to visit the Photikyan Phutthaktham temple famous for its 108-foot gleaming white standing Buddha statue which can be seen from miles away. A pair of colourful dragons framing the entrance welcomes visitors to this temple. Other sights at the temple include the wishing three, where devotees throw colourful ribbons of wishes onto its branches, and the seated Buddha image behind a seven-headed dragon.
The call of the sea
Bachok’s seaside attraction is Pantai Irama, or the Beach of Melody, so-named due to the lulling call of the wind and waves as it hits the shore.
It’s a major gathering place for the locals over the weekends (the east coast states consider Fridays and Saturdays as the weekends) so it’s the perfect place to get into the local action. Expect to see lots of activities then, such as banana boat rides, kite flying, fishing and such. Pack a picnic, light a barbecue or get snacks from the nearby vendors, and just chill with your feet in the sea – highly therapeutic! It faces the South China Sea and gets some fierce waves during the monsoon season (usually from November to March), so swimming is not advisable then.
Jetty to yonder!
Planning to visit the Perhentian Islands nearby? Bachok is a great place to put up the night before you make the 30-minute journey to Kuala Besut where boats await to speed you off to the twin tropical paradise islands. Tip: get the earliest boats in the morning before the waves get choppy.
Kelantan food is quite different from what you get in the west coast cities. Here, rice is a big thing, especially eaten for breakfast. There’s even a local festival that celebrates the 101 types of rice dishes in Kelantan. In Bachok, it’s easy to find a variety of rice dishes including nasi dagang, nasi berlauk, nasi tumpang and nasi kerabu. At tea time, don’t forget to order a nice cup of hot, sweetened tea to go along with the glutinous rice eaten with freshly-grilled fish, a real delicacy here. And if possible, always go for the seafood; fishing is one of the main economic activities of those living on the east coast, and you are always guaranteed to get the freshest catch of the day! Our favourite? The etok salai, freshwater shellfish that’s beautifully smoked with local herbs and spices to bring out its best flavours.
A history lesson
Bachok was one of the first landing points of the Japanese army when it invaded then-Malaya in 1941. A visit here would be an insightful experience for history buffs of how the war was fought between the British Indian Army and the Empire of Japan on the east coast.
The Nami Island of Kelantan
Instagrammers on the lookout for unique landscapes that capture the social media world’s imagination will not be disappointed with what Senok Beach has to offer. This beachside locale is a stretch of land where pine trees stand erect in neat rows, their pines needles catching in the gentle breeze. It’s a favourite spot not only for selfies and wefies, but also to commemorate special occasions such as weddings and graduation forever. The backdrop of the sea and the pine trees make a natural landscape for memories you want to keep.
Kelantan is one of the main producers of singgora tiles – hand-produced thin clay tiles used on the roofs of many traditional wooden homes in the east coast. These tiles are favoured here due to the cooling qualities of clay and its ability to reduce indoor temperatures naturally.
The singgora tiles workshop (which can be visited) run by these two elderly ladies – Madam Noraini and Madam Natrah – are said to be the only one left in the entire of Malaysia.