Bustling markets selling local handicrafts and spicy Kelantanese cuisine—a mix of Thai and Indian flavors—are an essential stop during any trip to Kota Bharu. History-loving travelers can explore British pillboxes from World War II on epic bicycle treks through Pengkalan Chepa, while temple-seeking travelers can visit Wat Phothivihan, home of the reclining Buddha. Culture and crafts enthusiasts can visit the Craft Museum (Muzium Kraftangan), which explores the history of local artisans. The trails of Mt. Stong State Park provide hikers with rewarding routes.
Things to Know Before You Go
Kota Bharu is a great place to get off the tourist trail and observe local Malaysian life.
If you’re planning to take advantage of the city’s natural surroundings, ensure you bring proper hiking equipment as trails can be steep.
The city is considered socially conservative, and visitors should be respectful of the culture and traditions of the mostly Muslim population here.
How to Get There
On the east coast of Malaysia, Kota Bharu is about a 5-hour drive from Penang and a 7-hour drive from the capital of Kuala Lumpur. To get here by public transportation, take a train to Wakaf Bharu railway station or travel via the state-run SKMK bus company.
When to Get There
If you can, time your visit to coincide with one of the thrice-weekly shows at Kota Bharu’s Cultural Center. These shows offer the opportunity to experience regional traditions in the comfort of one of the city’s most-visited sites. Check the website for an up-to-date schedule.
The Gateway to the Perhentian Islands
Unlike many of the islands in Southeast Asia, the Perhentian Islands are still relatively unknown among travelers. Although Long Beach serves up a healthy dose of nightlife and international food, most island accommodation is scattered throughout bays and jungle-clad enclaves only accessible by foot or taxi boat. The archipelago also offers some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities in Asia.