Kota Bharu means ‘New City’ in Malay, which is a bit of a misnomer as this is one of the most traditional places in all of Malaysia. Kota Bharu (which is sometimes also spelt Kota Baru) is the capital of the state of Kelantan on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and numerous people visit it as part of a trip to the gorgeous Perhentian Islands off the coast. Only using Kota Bharu as an entry and exit point is a shame, however, as there is plenty to enjoy here for a few days and you will get to see a completely different side of the state.
The east coast of Malaysia is known for being far more conservative than the west coast and the central region, but this allows you to glimpse a fascinating culture here. This includes beautiful Islamic architecture in the form of graceful mosques. You can also enjoy traditional museums and a range of toothsome local dishes that are unique to the state of Kelantan.
Have breakfast at Restoran Capital
If you want to kick off a trip to Kota Bharu with one of the best breakfasts in the city, head to Restoran Capital to try a local favourite called Nasi Kerabu, including blue rice and several delicious curries that you will only find in Kelantan.
A plate of Nasi Kerabu comes with hard-boiled eggs and crunchy prawn crackers, and you can also get coffee or tea here if you fancy a drink. Bear in mind that this is more of a breakfast venue than anything, and if you arrive after 9 am then the Nasi Kerabu may already be sold out. It’s that good.
Relax on Irama Beach
Many people don’t immediately think of beaches when they think of Kota Bharu, although if you are prepared to explore outside the main city centre, you will be rewarded with many choices. One of the most famous of these is Irama Beach which means ‘Melody Beach’ in Malay.
The beach is known for its stretch of sand as well as its little local stalls which will sell you a fresh coconut and make the perfect place to stop off in the afternoon and relax.
Ride on the Jungle Railway
The Jungle Railway is one of the main reasons why many people travel to Kota Bharu in the first place. The railway runs along the east coast and through the centre of Malaysia and passes through Kelantan where it stops at the city of Tumpat.
When you travel on the railway, you can spend time enjoying the exotic jungle views, and the train carriages hark back to another era when one of the only ways to travel here was by train.
Have a drink at Bike Station Cafe
If you want to have a drink and look out onto the pretty Kelantan River, consider heading to Bike Station Cafe. Here you will find many dishes and drinks available, including a range of local snack options like spring rolls called pope.
You can also relax with a fruit juice or an iced coffee, but if you are feeling active, there is also the opportunity to rent a bike here (hence the cafe’s name) and zoom up and down the main waterfront promenade.
Take a boat ride down the Galas River
The Galas River is one of the main rivers in Kelantan and is also a tributary of the main river artery in the state known as the Kelantan River. Many people come to Kelantan to take a boat ride down the river, and this is one of the most magical experiences you can have in this part of Malaysia.
The river snakes through thick areas of jungle, and you can choose different kinds of tours such as short jaunts up the river or longer trips that can take several days if you are game.
Stop off at Muhibah Aneka Cake House
If you want some tea and cake, then look no further than Muhibah Aneka Cake House. This is the spot to visit if you’re going to order a good coffee cup and you can also choose from the well-stocked bakery. Some of the treats on offer here include traditional cakes, iced puddings and pillowy doughnuts.
Many cafes in Kelantan do not serve a huge selection of coffees and teas outside the traditional beverages. Still, at Muhibah Aneka Cake House you can order all manner of delights such as a green tea frappe or an iced cappuccino.
Shop at the Central Market
One of the main attractions in Kota Bharu is its primary market, which is famed as one of the best local markets in Malaysia. The market comes in two forms, and the ground floor area is made up of fresh produce. This comes in the form of colourful local fruits and vegetables and fish, meat and seafood.
When it comes to the upper floor, you will find spices, brassware and textiles, and this can be a great place to go and pick up some cheap and authentic Malaysian batik as with many markets in Asia you will also find several food stalls here if you want to grab a lunchtime snack.
Go shopping at Kampung Kraftangan
Another one of the leading markets in Kota Bharu is called Kampung Kraftangan and is located opposite Istana Batu. The market is mostly geared towards tourists although it has an excellent range of local handicrafts if you are looking to pick up some souvenirs.
The market also has an adjoining museum which tells you more about arts and crafts in Kelantan such as woodcarving, batik making, puppet making and brass ware.
Take a trip to Gua Ikan
Gua Ikan means Fish Cave in Malay. The locals claim that the reason for this is that many small streams bisect the cave and are the home to cave-dwelling fish.
The cave is around five kilometres away from Dagong on the Jungle Railway, and it makes an excellent place to come if you have exhausted all the sights of Kota Bharu and want to see something a little different when you are on your way out of the city. Other caves in Gua Ikan area include Gua Keris which is so-called because it has a large stalactite inside that looks like a ‘keris’ which is the Malay words for ‘dagger’.
Visit Bazaar Buluh Kubu
Located close to the central market in Kota Bharu is Bazaar Buluh Kubu. This market is a good spot if you want to pick up some traditional gifts and souvenirs and you will find a range of pieces such as batik and other Malay textiles.
You will also find a nice selection of jewelry here and even though it is a little more expensive than other places in the city the souvenirs here are high quality.
Plan your Kota Bharu escape now with Tripcarte Asia!