Kota Bharu might not be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia, but it’s certainly worth a visit. One of the largest cities along Malaysia’s sleepier east coast, it’s perfect for a quick weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, or a short stay en route to an island vacation at Pulau Perhentian. Here’s our list of the best attractions to visit while you’re in the area.
1. Pantai Cahaya Bulan
An obvious benefit of visiting Malaysia’s less touristy regions are the considerably cleaner beaches. Pantai Cahaya Bulan (often shortened to PCB), translating to “moonlight beach”, is notable in that regard. A lovely stretch of coast a 20-minute drive away from the city centre, popular for the restaurants and hawker food shacks that line it, Kota Bharu’s main beach is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic or evening stroll. Better yet, wait till sunset to witness Pantai Cahaya Bulan draped in the light for which it was named. Kick back and envelope your feet in its shimmering sand, to the sound of frolicking waves, the gorgeous horizon in the distance, while sampling some of the finest seafood Malaysia has to offer, fresh from the various villages nearby. There’s nothing quite as blissful as a day at the beach, particularly one as kempt as Pantai Cahaya Bulan.
2. Muzium Negeri Kelantan
If you’re a history buff, you were probably already eyeing the Kelantan State Museum. Established in 1990, it’s the official state museum of Kelantan, packed to the brim with fascinating exhibits detailing the history of Kelantan, from its formation right up to modern times, as well as some of the state’s cultural arts, including traditional musical instruments, local dances like mak yong & menorah, not to mention wayang kulit, a one-of-a-kind storytelling experience of epic folk tales through the extraordinary medium of shadow puppets, and, sadly, an increasingly rare art in Malaysia. If you’d like to watch wayang kulit, you may do so at Gelanggang Seni (Cultural Centre), which is a 10-minute walk away from Muzium Negeri Kelantan.
3. Bank Kerapu
The first-ever stone structure to be established in Kelantan, Bank Kerapu was constructed in 1912 for the Mercantile Bank of India. During the Japanese occupation of Malaysia in the course of World War II, the bank was seized by the Kenpeitai—the Japanese military’s secret police—for use as their headquarters. Upon the conclusion of World War II, Bank Kerapu continued to function as a bank until 1992, when it was converted into a war memorial and museum. It now houses more than 1000 exhibits focusing on the Japanese occupation and the war’s impact on Malaysia, including military vehicles, an assortment of tools the soldiers used, and war photographs.
4. Istana Jahar and Istana Batu
The beautiful Istana Jahar was constructed in 1855 as a royal place of residence, but has now been repurposed as Muzium Adat Istiadat—a museum of the traditional customs and ceremonies of Kelantan. The museum itself is a fine specimen of Malaysian architecture from that era, and various royal artefacts such as garments, all sorts of jewellery, and metalwork can be seen on display. One can also visit the former royal armoury at the back of the building, containing traditional swords/daggers like the keris, lembing, and kelewang.
There’s another former palace converted into a museum just a short walk away: the Istana Batu, prominent for its vivid yellow façade. It’s now a museum on the history of the Kelantanese Sultanate where one can take a rare glimpse into royal life through exhibits on a plethora of personal belongings, the genealogy of the royal family, and family photos.
5. Muzium Kraftangan
Those of you more interested in arts, crafts and culture than history have to pay a visit to the Handicraft Village and Craft Museum (Muzium Kraftangan) just opposite Istana Batu. Yet another of Kota Bharu’s captivating museums, the Craft Museum showcases some excellent examples of Kelantanese craftsmanship through its displays of local arts and crafts. Be wowed by the beauty of the textiles, garments, carpentry and metalwork exhibited, or witness the making of some of these crafts at the Handicraft Village. Demonstrations are hosted there by seasoned artisans on the age-old arts of traditional embroidery, songket weaving, batik printing, wood-carving and silversmithing. You can even take some of these beautiful craftworks home from the Handicraft Village’s gift store!
6. Pasar Siti Khadijah
Speaking of shopping, you can do plenty of that at Kota Bharu’s Central Market—the Siti Khadijah Market (Pasar Siti Khadijah). A bustling hive of constant activity, the Central Market is a multi-storey traditional market where locals and tourists alike can gather to shop. While it caters primarily to residents looking for fresh produce, don’t miss out on the chance to sample some of Malaysia’s tropical fruits and vegetables if you aren’t from these parts! Also up for grabs are a plethora of herbs and spices if you’d like to give your meals an Asian twist. More interested in the end result than the process? The Central Market has an array of food stalls and restaurants stocked with all kinds of delectable Malaysian fare. Aside from the selection of foodstuff available, household items, traditional garments and textiles, plus other odds and ends can be found here.
7. Masjid Muhammadi
Being primarily Muslim, Kota Bharu is home to a number of magnificent mosques, but none are as grand as the Muhammadi Mosque, locally known as Masjid Besar, which is also the State Mosque. Originally constructed in 1867 out of wood, it was rebuilt with masonry and concrete in 1992 and has since undergone several more renovations to expand it and maintain its beauty despite its old age. The mosque can now accommodate up to 2400 people simultaneously. Part of what makes it unique is its Colonial architectural style and open design plan. With its intricate carvings, colossal Roman columns and Moghul-style domes, it’s a sight not to be missed.
8. Sleeping Buddha Statue
Another famous tourist attraction around Kota Bharu is the Sleeping Buddha Statue at Wat Phothivihan, a Thai Buddhist temple one 30-minute drive away from Kota Bharu. It’s one of the most popular Buddhist temples in all of Malaysia, let alone Kota Bharu. The primary attraction, of course, is its tremendous, 40-metre long sculpture of a reclining Buddha, which is one of the largest in Southeast Asia and truly a sight to behold.
9. Sitting Buddha Statue
Another Thai Buddhist temple in Kelantan famous for an enormous depiction of Buddha is Wat Machimmaram, home to Malaysia’s largest sitting Buddha statue. It’s a 30-minute drive away from the Kota Bharu city centre, and Wat Machimmaram’s primary attraction is immediately visible. Perched atop the temple’s roof, the 30-metre tall, cross-legged statue of Buddha sits on a lotus throne. It was the tallest sitting Buddha statue in Southeast Asia upon its completion in 2001, but has since been dwarfed by the 92-metre tall Great Buddha of Thailand. They may not be the largest of their kinds, but Kelantan’s sitting and reclining Buddhas are still breathtaking feats of engineering.
10. Pulau Perhentian
Last but certainly not least, Pulau Perhentian is one of the prime spots in Malaysia for a tropical island retreat. Featuring white, sandy beaches and waters oh-so-clear, Pulau Perhentian consists of two islands, Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (big and small respectively), and is a sanctuary for all kinds of local flora and fauna.
Pulau Perhentian Kecil is the place to be if you’re on a budget, with plenty of decent options for both food and accommodation available to you. Pulau Perhentian Besar, on the other hand, while on the pricier side, is certainly better-developed, and is therefore better-equipped with resorts and chalets. Either way, there’s plenty to do on both of the islands. Go scuba diving or snorkelling to get up close and personal with the coral reefs, hire a boat and ride it out to sea, or just spend some time basking in the warmth of the sun. Pulau Perhentian guarantees you an island vacation you’ll never forget!
Now that you’ve all these exciting places in and around Kota Bharu to visit, all that’s left is to find suitable accommodation. Fret not, Tune Hotel Kota Bharu has got you covered. Clean, comfortable and unfussy, it’s everything you want in a hotel room, whether you’re in town for one night or a few. For affordable living in a central, easily-accessible location, book your stay at Tune Hotel Kota Bharu now!