On the mouth of the Kuantan River, facing out into the South China Sea lies the under-the-radar Malaysian city of Kuantan just waiting to be discovered by adventurous travellers who prefer to take the road less travelled. The fast-growing commercial side of city life does not overpower the age-old charm of this vibrant place and modern skyscrapers coexist harmoniously with old colonial buildings offering a unique atmosphere that is well worth experiencing. The surrounding area is also beautiful – typical South East Asian scenes of idyllic beaches with swaying palm trees, stunning waterfalls and mystical temples all lie within an accessible distance. To help you on your way we’ve compiled a list of 6 unmissable things to do when you get there, so hold tight, search online for great hotel deals and then book that flight…
Sungai Pandan Waterfalls
About 40 minutes out of the city and easily reachable by public transport you will find the 25 hectacre expanse of The Pandan Forest Reserve, named for the beautiful (and sometimes edible) Pandan Plants that thrive there. The reserve is the perfect place to spend a relaxing day breathing clean air and nature. Amidst the verdant green plants and the rich tropical jungle are the spectacular Sunghai Pandan Waterfalls. A network of cool clean crystal waters cascading over rocks into calm clear pools perfect for a dip or a swim. The reserve and falls are very popular with locals who escape there for camping, barbecues and family fun and if you get there you will find yourself enjoying an authentic Malaysian experience far removed from the organised tours and tourist traps that are sometimes difficult to avoid.
The state mosque of Sultan Ahmad the first is an awe-inspiring modern masterpiece of white and blue that almost seems to become part of the sky around it. It rises majestically from the municipal park and provides a centrepiece for the city. All around the mosque are other noteworthy heritage buildings dating back to colonial days. The interior is a wonderful modern moorish style incorporating intricate tile designs and soaring pillars and domes, at capacity it can house up to 8000, yes 8000 worshippers and is a truly unmissable stop when exploring the city.
Thai Buddhist Cave Temple
As you enter the magnificent Pachang cave you will likely be handed incense to offer to the enormous reclining Buddha that resides within. These beautiful limestone caverns attract tourists and geologists alike. Winding their way up a steep hillside like the intricate petals of a flower each cavern has a unique character accentuated by the pale light that filters down and illuminates the strange and wonderful rock formations from a small opening at the top of the caves. When you reach the very top of the network of caverns you emerge to the most verdant of panoramic views across the palm oil estates below.
A day trip to Tioman Island
Reputed to be one of the most beautiful in the world Tioman Island is the largest of a group of volcanic islands off Malaysia’s east coast, around 60km away from Kuantan. The island paradise is said to be the final resting place of a fabled dragon princess who stopped at the island en route to find her prince and immediately fell in love with its beauty. She settled on the island and dedicated the rest of her life to offering food and shelter for weary travellers passing through. The island is now a haven of fishing villages, friendly locals, vegetation and white sandy beaches. Perfect for exploring the underwater landscapes and discovering some rare aquatic life or enjoying the peace and sunshine on the beach, cooling off with a dip in the azure blue ocean.
The Pahang Art Museum
This is more than just a museum, the centre plays an indispensable role in the continuing development of local artists and handicrafts particular to the area, most famously the rich woven silk known as Tenun Pahang Diraja. Brought to the region in 1722 by the master weaver Tuk Tuan karaing Aji the fabric soon became coveted by rich officials and the royal family and the industry flourished. The Pahang Art Museum displays some of the regions finest artwork and also works closely with artisans to ensure that the old skills are passed down to the new generation and continue to flourish. It is a must-visit for anyone who is interested in eastern art and textiles.
Kuantan Night markets
Trade in a night on the town for a stroll around one of Kuantan’s many night markets known locally as Pasar Malam. From 4pm until 10pm many of the city’s streets are blocked to traffic and transformed into a colourful array of stalls selling anything from local artisan designs to fresh produce and food. Kuantan is proud of its culinary history and the night markets are an ideal place to immerse yourself in local culture and try some of the delicious local cuisine such as Laska, Noodle Soups and spiced rice. There are many markets in the city, one of the largest stretches along the river bank by Taman Gelora on a sunday and you will not regret leaving your hotel and wandering along the river with the lights reflecting off the water and a profusion of colours and smells awaiting you at every turn.
Although, Kuantan is often overshadowed by the larger and more well known Kuala Lumpa but it is a city well worth exploring and it provides an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding area, so if you enjoy discovering new places and the quirkier side of travel be sure to add this intriguing under-the-radar city to your bucket list!