Is Cherating worth going to?

It depends

What we say: 3.5 stars

Cherating Beach, set to the north of Kuantan and about three hours south of Kuala Terengganu, has long been heralded in guidebooks and the travel press as some kind of fabled East coast Malaysia backpacker beach hangout. The first I heard about it though was from another backpacker during our trek in Taman Negara National Park: “Cherating … when we were there a few weeks ago it was really quite disgusting — the beach was lined with nappies.” Of course I had to check it out.

Good morning Cherating.

Good morning Cherating.

So it would be fair to say I didn’t arrive with particularly high expectations. It would also be fair to say that Cherating didn’t exceed these already low expectations. I’m not saying it is awful — Cherating is not awful — but it certainly is not awesome.

I can see how it would appeal to some people who are just looking for a few quiet days by the beach, and in this regard, in a clapped out kind of way, Cherating does work. But for others, especially those who are even remotely picky about their accommodation, Cherating is just plain clapped out.

Taking a quiet moment.

Taking a quiet moment.

It’s not all bad though. The beach is pretty enough — certainly not world class — but the water is warm and across the three days I had there in early November, the weather was blisteringly hot — so hot I wished the water had been cooler. As the beach is southeast facing, it’s not much good in the sunset department, but early risers will find the sunrises more than satisfactory.

Cherating is also a popular place to learn to surf. There’s one solid surf-school, Cherating Point, which has a good selection of near-new learning boards along with some more advanced boards. The surf season however coincides with the monsoon, so keep that in mind if you have a non-surfing partner in tow. That be said, I was there during the early part of the monsoon and had brilliant sunshine, but no swell whatsoever . At least there are batik classes to fill in the day.

Unleash your inner batik.

Unleash your inner batik.

Cherating backs onto a mangrove-lined estuary and this really was quite impressive — not to the standard of say the mangroves on Langkawi, but with boat tours available during the day or night (the latter are to spot fireflies), this is worth considering. If you don’t want to do that, check out Little Bali which has a bar overlooking the mangroves — at night it’s quite pretty, if a bit neon. They also have a, umm, floorshow. Check it out. Kayaks can also be hired to explore the mangroves should you want a closer look.

Great for charcoal, but better still left alone.

Great for charcoal, but better still left alone.

Lastly, about a kilometre north, there is a turtle sanctuary and hatchery where you can visit and see the turtles (and at the right time of the year, participate in turtle releases — which have received rather mixed reviews). The Turtle Sanctuary is on the same beach as Club Med, and this is a far, far nicer beach than Cherating’s. And, while the Club Med staff may give you a hard time if you go and frolic in front of their digs, the beach goes an awful long way in the other direction — and is utterly deserted (save some other swanky digs, but it’s a long walk). While you could walk to here from Cherating, it would be a solid and rather unpleasant 45 minutes — we went by bicycle, hired from our guesthouse, for 10 ringgit per day.

Good with beer and a little garlic.

Good with beer and a little garlic. Kidding, kidding.

So that makes it sounds like there’s enough to fill a good few slow days in Cherating. But here’s the rub: the standard of accommodation near the village itself is generally dire. Yes, a couple of cookie-cutter hotels are located on the road in, the Club Med is over the headland, and other swanky stuff is a drive away, but traveller-orientated stuff within walking distance of the centre of things — bleah.

Just turn your back on Club Med ... and this is what you'll see.

Turn your back on Club Med… and this is what you’ll see.

A couple of central places are okay — Payung is the backpacker favourite, and where I stayed, Matahari, would do at a pinch — but generally, especially the joints towards the centre of the “village” are just awful — really, we mean that — awful.

As this was our first visit to Cherating, we’ve nothing to compare it to, but it feels like the area had a boom about 15 years ago and nobody has been back since — certainly there’s not been a lick of paint painted or an ounce of maintenance undertaken since then. Or maybe it was 25 years ago.

My digs at Matahari. Fix a few things & make the best budget bet in town.

My digs at Matahari.

Matahari was quite friendly, with pretty gardens and rabbits. The room (once aerated by just about hammering the windows open with a boot) was passable — despite the non-existent water-pressure and creaking fan — so for 40 ringgit we would probably stay there again.

Most places just felt like they were on the verge of falling apart. The two places that stood out, Tanjung Inn and Cherating Bayview Resort, are a long walk from “town”, are in the midrange budget and only stand out because everything else was so ordinary.

Accommodation aside, the food scene is mediocre, with three warungs, one after the other, dishing up standard fare akin to what you’d get in the bus station. Down the other end of town there’s a bar and cafe called Don’t Tell Mama — we assume a reference to their beer, with a small beer going for 15 ringgit, the cost of large ones next door. (Buy at the Chinese shop next door, or off the moneychanger down the road.) Beers aside, their tourist fare is okay — far better than their WiFi.

Breakfast with the amazing 9 ringgit lemon ice tea - ask before you quaff!

Breakfast with the amazing nine ringgit lemon ice tea — ask before you quaff!

There is a single proper beach bar, towards the centre of the beach, which opens just in the late afternoon. It’s a good spot for a chilled can of beer (10 ringgit) and some time listening to music or watching the volleyball. Cenang Beach, this is not!

The one place we did quite like, where it all seems to get hopping come the evening, is the beachview restaurant within the inaptly named Cherating Duyong Beach Resort. While the “resort” is an absolute dive, the food at the restaurant (Chinese, a little Thai and seafood) is good and not ridiculously overpriced — that the drinks are cold and fair priced is an added bonus.

Very ordinary rooms, but the spacious pleasant grounds at the friendly Tanjung Inn compensate.

Very ordinary rooms, but the spacious pleasant grounds at the friendly Tanjung Inn compensate.

So Cherating is one of those places with lots to do that is badly let down by the standard of the rooms. If you’re on the Perhentians and thinking of leaving early to check it out, we’d say just don’t bother. That said, if scungey accommodation doesn’t bother you and you just want some quiet time on the beach, or want to learn to surf, then give it a go.

Too early for a beer, but perhaps a surfing lesson?

Too early for a beer, but perhaps a surfing lesson?

To reach Cherating, get any northbound bus (or a taxi — 50 ringgit) from Kuantan or any Kuantan-bound bus from Kuala Terengganu. Be sure to let the bus driver know where you are going. From the main road where you are dropped off it’s a 10-minute walk to the beach. (There are two roads in, a northern one near the hill and a southern one near a big fish farm thing on the inland side.) Most places to stay do not offer WiFi, and the 3G signal with DiGi was very patchy, but I survived.

Last updated: 2nd October, 2014

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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