Located near the mouth of Kuantan River and facing the South China Sea, Kuantan, the capital of Pahang is the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia with more than ¾ of its population being Malay. It is no wonder that potential travellers often visualise this bustling city as a destination of abundant beaches and mosques!
Regardless, did you know Kuantan used to be a popular destination for turtle-watching during the hatching season some two to three decades ago? While the turtle sanctuary has passed its hey days, there are more to this city that stays under the radar.
Imagine setting off on a sunset cruise to check out fireflies, tantalising your taste buds with rich, local food or literally walking through a dragon to find dinosaurs and moral teachings! Looking for a weekend getaway from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur? Here’s sharing some interesting things to do in Kuantan that even locals may not know!
Relax by the beach or go on a WW2 trail!
Blessed with year-round tropical climate, Kuantan is most recognised for its beaches and one of the main attractions is Cempedak Bay (also known as Palm Beach). Reputed to be one of the most beautiful and cleanest beaches in Malaysia, its name gives a hint of its former life where jackfruits were planted in abundance by early settlers!
With restaurants and shops lining at the fringe of the coast, one can easily spend the day or evening here; frolicking, flying kites, swimming or just people-watching. Beach-goers that are lucky to visit during the festive season such as Ramadan will find temporary markets selling food and merchandise like shoes and clothes!
For curious or adventurous travellers, there are several bunkers built by the British during the colonial period. Unfortunately, Cempedak Bay is the very site where the Japanese invaders attacked Kuantan from the sea during the second World War! While the memories may not be pleasant, there’s always a lesson or two to be learnt from the past. If you are itching to move on, there is a boardwalk that connects to Missionary Bay, a second beach but watch out for the numerous monkeys!
A note of caution for sunbathers: Malaysia is an Islamic country and modesty is highly valued. Think twice before baring any skin!
Try flavourful local coffee, snacks and curry noodles at downtown Pahang
As the first great kingdoms to emerge in this part of the world were Hindu kingdoms with much influence from India, there is substantial Indian influences in Malaysia. This is often reflected in the local cuisines. For foodies, don’t miss the curry noodles at Restoran Hoi Yin in the city center. You can choose your ingredients and soup base, but go for the rich coconut-milk based curry flavour anyway! It is the most popular choice.
A visit to Kemaman Kopitiam for local coffee and an extensive food menu ranging from local, Asian to Western is also a must! The interior design of the restaurant evokes nostalgia ambience and I was surprised how tasty the food was! The mee hoon goreng (fried rice noodles) with crispy chicken comes with that delicious, earthy taste of wok! Local snacks such as curry puff of various fillings are available too!
Now, did I mention the Fried Durian by Windy Hills? Made by 100% D24 durians from Pahang, this local dessert is hot and crispy on the outside, cold and flavourful within. If you are a lover of the king of fruits, don’t miss this! While you are here, this roadside cafe also sells food souvenirs for you to bring home to loved ones. Another recommendation by a couple of my GrabCar drivers was Mee Tarik at Cempedak Bay. While the selection was limited, know that this popular 2-story restaurant has branches at various locations in Malaysia.
Restoran Hoi Yin
Address: No. 31, Jalan Teluk Cempedak,25050,Kuantan, 25050, Kuantan, Pahang, 25050, Malaysia
Address: 21-42, Lorong Tun Ismail 12, Sri Dagangan Bussiness Centre, 25000 Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia
Website: Kemaman Kopitiam
Address: Pantai Teluk Cempedak, Kuantan 25250, Malaysia
Discover dragons, dinosaurs and Chinese legends at Lao Zi temple
Is it a place of worship, museum or tourist attraction site? Surprisingly, most people in Kuantan do not know the Lao Zi temple (that includes my friend who grew up in this state capital!). Lao Zi was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, and this temple is dedicated to him and showcases teachings from Chinese history.
The Chinese stand for less than ⅕ of the population in Kuantan. While mosques can be seen prominently in the downtown and around, the Laozi temple (established for close to three decades) is in the middle of nowhere, about 20-minute drive from the city center. Is this why this place remains off the beaten track for most locals and visitors in Kuantan?
Feeling like Alice in the Wonderland, my uphill journey to the main site began from the tail of a dragon! One needs to walk through a tunnel-like path lined with Chinese paintings of legendary figures and myths. There were also foot reflexology paths. At its peak, one emerges from the Dragon mouth to a site of folk religion, Chinese culture and dinosaurs! Yes, according to the owners, they wanted to let people know that dinosaurs used to exist before our times. This is not just a place of worship, it has much educational value!
Colours and intricate artwork abound amidst the surreal landscape that bears resemblance to Singapore’s Haw Par Villa, albeit at a smaller scale. Even if one is not religious or holds a different belief, the Lao Zi temple located between Sungai Lembing and downtown Kuantan is worth a visit!
Lao Zi temple
Address: No. Lot 362 KM12, Taman Impian Ku, Darul Makmur, C4, 25200 Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia
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Take a firefly cruise along Kuantan river
Like many destinations in the world, visitors tend to be more aware of leisure offerings than the hardworking residents. At sunset, there is an activity in Kuantan that most locals are not privy to: the firefly cruise. This 2-hour trip begins at the esplanade jetty near downtown, during which one can see amazing tiny, flying bulbs and crocodiles!
“Three years ago, that tree looked like a Christmas tree”. Our guide cum boat captain lamented as I squinted my eyes to have a better look of the elusive and faint blinking fireflies. Urbanisation and light pollution are invading Mother Nature and her inhabitants.
If you have never seen fireflies, this cruise promises a magical experience, and at the same time, give food for thought on urbanisation impacts.
Kuantan River Cruise
Address: Jeti Shahbandar, Kuantan 25100
Facebook: Kuantan River Cruise
Discovering Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia
With less than 48-hours, my sojourn in Kuantan was too short for me to explore the true potential of this land, but I was hooked. This is not a destination limited to sun, sand and sea. Did you know that this city is also home to a meditation retreat center in a palm plantation? Like most Southeast Asia destinations, there are multi-cultural aspects and abundant nature to explore.
If time permits, check out more things to do at nearby Sungei Lembing for a waterfall hiking expedition or some museum hopping fun! Kuantan is more than just mosques and beaches!
Travel Tips: Where to stay in Kuantan?
The Vistana Kuantan City Center, part of the YTL collection, lives up to its reputation in a central location with great service. As one can expect from a YTL hotel, my stay was a comfortable luxury experience with an expansive view that overlooks the inviting pool at ground level. Trees and mountains stretched beyond. A short walk from the hotel would bring one to a food center with great local variety. Travelling around the city and beyond has been made easy with GrabCar and Uber apps.
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