After a great stay in the Perhentians, we decided to stop one night in Kota Bharu and fly from there the next day. At first sight, Kota Bharu appears to be a glauque, uncharming, dirty, somewhat dodgy city. This is not far off the mark and I would say that most people would not want to stay more than one night there. But, if you happen to be there before heading to Penang (as we were), you will notice the incredible and interesting contrast between these two areas in the north of peninsular Malaysia.
We arrived in the city in the late afternoon and were kind of let down by the total lack of charm given off by the absolutely unattractive concrete buildings. The people didn’t seem particularly friendly (or perhaps they were just totally ignoring us and our baby, the only foreigners around, which a travelling mum certainly should not complain about) and our guesthouse seemed rather… simple.
We headed to the night market on Jalan Maahad for dinner. This night market – the kind of place where you feel slightly uncomfortable and don’t quite get how things work. We looked around; stalls with noodles, skewers, and unknown edible things (I think). We just queued at one of the stalls and eventually got something to eat. We figured out while observing the locals that this was not a place to spend hours; you go, you eat, you catch up on the last episode of whatever soap opera show is playing on the screens. It was half uncomfortable and half interesting. We browsed around for more food (and something to give our allergic-to-rice baby…) and filled up our bags with all sorts of sweets I had never seen anywhere else. Bright green sweet coconut pancakes, green sweet and sticky coconut rice balls, sweet potatoes and coconut balls, etc. There were no other tourists there and I had a feeling that we had entered a very conservative Muslim area of Malaysia (indeed we had – Kelantan state regularly elects representatives from the Islamic Party of Malaysia). All the women, including very young little girls were covered from head to toe. This was not the place to pull out my breast and feed my baby in public like I am used to in Australia, no no!
The Chinese area
Still on the hunt to find a decent (i.e., not too rich in sugar or salt…) dinner to our baby, we walked until we reached the Chinese area. We found a totally different side of city there. Women were not covered up, vibrant chinese music was playing, and people were just sipping on beer, and eating or chatting lazily at one of the many tables on the street. That’s one thing I figured out in Malaysia: always seek out the Chinese when you want to drink a beer. We got a Tiger beer and a steamed red beans bun and ended our not-so-big night out in Kota Bharu.
The charming guest house
Charming is not really a word I would use to describe the US$9-a-night guesthouse we stayed in, but considering many other places we passed, I must say that “Mama” and “Papa” at the guesthouse were indeed very welcoming. US$9 only gets you half a wall at Zack’s Guesthouse. The only bathroom of the house is also shared with the neighbours so it got quite busy at rush hour. Someone mistakenly turned on the switch of our room’s light, which was outside the room, in the middle of the night but… oh well! We fell asleep to the sound of burps, coughing, and conversations of our friends next door. We got free water, tea, and coffee, and we even got free sheets and a towel for the baby (normally rented for 2 ringgit). For the price, we really couldn’t complain.
A place you can skip
Yep, Kota Bharu isn’t exactly a sexy town. I mention it here because I really couldn’t find any info about it, and for good reasons. Having known that there wasn’t much to do there I probably would’ve spend longer in the Perhentian Islands.