Photo: Old and new in Kota Bharu.

Introduction

Our rating:

Kota Bharu, the capital of Kelantan, is the launching point for many travellers heading to the Perhentian Islands, just off the northern coast of Peninsular Malaysia.



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Why should you go to Kota Bharu?

Possibly partly due to Kelantan’s strict Muslim ideology, although also due to very cheap domestic flights and easy transit straight to the port town of Kuaka Besut from the airport, Kota Bharu is not the traveller centre it once was, but its history, culture and architecture make it well worth some exploration—slow down.

Shades of yesterday. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Shades of yesterday. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The city is quite pedestrian friendly, and boasts a small but eclectic bunch of museums, some excellent eating and a pretty riverfront area. There is also a Thai consulate in town, making it a popular pitstop for travellers doing visa runs from Thailand. Lastly, the airport is the closest domestic airport to the Perhentian Islands—if you are island bound, you’ll be passing through town (or at least the airport).

When to go to Kota Bharu

The annual monsoon that hits the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia peaks between November and February. Large seas make boat timetables erratic and flooding can be a serious problem. In 2017 over 14,000 people were evacuated due to flooding in and around Kota Bharu.

By the river. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

By the river. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Outside of wet season, expect warm and dry weather, and slightly lower temperatures between December and February.

Malaysia has quite a few school holidays in addition to nationwide holidays and this means transport, especially long distance buses, can get booked out. Across the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan some businesses may close and eating options during the day may be somewhat limited.

Orientation

The Sultan Mohammed II of Kelantan established the city Kota Bharu in 1844; building the new capital of Kelantan as a legacy to himself. The city was built in the Islamic architectural style of the period and many of the original buildings still stand, such as the Muzium Islam, built in 1902. Prior to the British Treaty of 1909, Kelantan was part of Siam and today, due to its proximity to Thailand, Kelantanese culture is still influenced by Thailand, especially when it comes to food. Traditional dances like Mak Yong are no longer practised because the perceived Hindu influences are thought to contradict Islam.

At the Cultural Centre. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

At the Cultural Centre. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Adding to an already culturally and historically rich area, the 19th century also saw an influx of Chinese migrants seeking prosperity and freedom in the region. As a result, Chinese from other parts of then-Malaya also gravitated to Kota Bharu to establish what has become a considerable presence in the city today.

You won’t find much in the way of alcohol in Kota Bharu, but the few Chinese restaurants in town will have some in stock; it may not be on the menu, so ask. Although there is no dress code in Kota Bharu, this is a very conservative Muslim area. Dressing in appropriate attire is respectful.

Kota Bharu has plenty of ATMs. If you need a money changer next door to Azam Hotel.

A wealth of information can be obtained from Kota Bharu’s tourist office—they are an excellent source for free maps and information brochures.

Tourism Information Centre Jl Sultan Ibrahim, Kota Bharu. T: (09) 748 5534.

For medical care, head to Kota Bharu Medical Centre.

Kota Bharu Medical Centre: PT 179-184 Jl Sultan Yahya Petra, Kota Bharu. T: (09) 743 3399. http://www.kbmc.com.my/

The Royal Thai Consulate-General can issue Tourist Visas and Non Immigrant B visas. The Visa and Consular office is open Sunday to Thursday 09:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 15:30. Forms can be downloaded from their website.

Royal Thai Consulate-General 4426 Jl Tok Guru, Kota Bharu T: (09) 748 2545 http://www.thaiembassy.org/kotabharu/th/home

Border crossing
A popular stopover on the route between Thailand and Malaysia, the most popular and reliable crossing is between Sungai Kolok on the Thai side and Rantau Panjang on the Malay side. Vehicles must stop here for immigration formalities and you’ll need to get off with all your belongings to stamp out of Thailand and into Malaysia (or vice versa). Once you’re in Malaysia, Kota Bharu can be reached by State Bus #29 or a shared taxi. Sungai Kolok has frequent minibus departures to Hat Yai and other destinations in southern Thailand and also has a train station, with daily departures to Hat Yai and beyond.


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Where to stay in Kota Bharu


2879-P Seksyen 12 Taman Laksamana, Jl Mahmood, Kota Bharu
Under 60 ringgit

KB Backpackers Lodge
# 2879-P Seksyen 12 Taman Laksamana, Jl Mahmood, Kota Bharu T: (019) 944 5222 newkbbackpackerslodge@gmail.com https://www.facebook.com/kbbackpackerslodge/

Kota Bharu may not be the backpacker hub it once was, but the spirit lives on at KB Backpackers Lodge.

A home away from home. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

A home away from home. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Run under the care of uber-hospitable Pawi, KB Backpackers Lodge encompasses almost all of a renovated house on a side street within easy walking distance of the bus station and plenty of the eating in downtown Kota Bharu. Offerings include dormitory, private rooms with bathroom and larger family rooms. There’s also a large and comfortable common area, a (slightly scruffy) garden area to relax in and plenty of travel information on the walls.

Throughout, including the share bathrooms, the place is spotless—it is really clean and well kept. Our private room was well larger than we expected, with a comfortable bed (bottom sheet only), plenty of space and an attached bathroom. The common area includes a simple kitchenette which is handy if you’re grabbing some takeaway and there is also a small library and bookswap on site.

A private room interior. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

A private room interior. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The real selling point here though is the owner Pawi, who is a good host and an absolute intelligence bank on what to see and do both in Kota Bharu and in the surrounding area. Tell him you have a lazy week and he’ll fill it with activities and sightseeing. The foyer walls are laden with maps and transport information for getting to the airport, Perhentians and other destinations.

Overall this is a great backpacker crash pad, and the location, down a quiet laneway, delivers a quiet atmosphere in the evening. Recommended.


Jl Mahmood, Kota Bharu
120 to 250 ringgit

Hotel Perdana Kota Bharu
# Jl Mahmood, Kota Bharu T: (09) 745 8888 https://www.hotelperdanakotabharu.com/

A modern and large, business-orientated hotel, we thought the Hotel Perdana offered good value for money at this end of the market.

Downtown business digs. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Downtown business digs. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The lobby area is quite glitzy and the rooms, while comfortable probably don’t quite meet the downstairs glam standards, but they are still solid fare. Expect swirly carpets and comfortable beds (with real linen!), a business desk and chair setting, and, depending on the room, perhaps a view. The bathroom in the room we were shown was spotless. Facilities include complimentary internet, flat screen TV and minibar.

Outside of the rooms, there are a handful of restaurants, including a rooftop restaurant that we didn’t see, but as it is on the 11th floor, the views should be decent. There is also a fair-sized swimming pool on site. We found the staff to be so efficient they had started to check us in before we pointed out we just wanted to see a room. There are no shortage of business hotels in the city, but the Perdana has a good location, and for the money, is decent value—improve that value by shopping around online for a discounted rate.


Lot 440-443 & Lot 448-452 Jl Hillr Kota, Kota Bharu
60 to 120 ringgit

Royal Guest House
# Lot 440-443 & Lot 448-452 Jl Hillr Kota, Kota Bharu T: (09) 743 0008 http://royalguesthse.com/

If you’re looking for something a step up from a hostel and don’t want to angle towards a business hotel, Royal Guest House could fit the bill.

Set in the heart of Kota Bharu’s museum district, Royal Guest House has a bunch of air-con rooms (think functional rather than well decorated) divided across a few floors. Decor is dated, with old, box-style TVs and frumpy curtains, and the carpet is well worn, but, for the money, the room we were shown didn’t strike us as bad value.

A standard room interior. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

A standard room interior. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The main selling point is the location. You’re spitting distance to most of Kota Bharu’s primary attractions and there is also some very good eating to be had in the immediate area surrounding. If you’re planning on doing a course at the Muzium Kraftangan, then you couldn’t ask for a better location than here.

he ground floor has a small cafe and we found the staff to be pleasant and helpful. They told us the name is just a name—the hotel isn’t owned by royalty. Shop around online for a discounted rate.


Map of where to stay in Kota Bharu

Map of where to stay in Kota Bharu

Map legend

Click on the hotel name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Where to eat

If you’re coming from of going to the Perhentian Islands, Kota Bharu is a top spot to a reintroduction (or final tasting!) of excellent and varied food. You will not go hungry.


Settling in at Kedai Kopi Din Tokyo. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Settling in at Kedai Kopi Din Tokyo. Photo: Stuart McDonald

While it is a little bit of a walk from downtown, for breakfast start your day at Kopitiam Kita. Famous for its signature Roti titab (starting at 4.50 ringgit with a bunch of varieties), the classic is a slice of white toast with four dollops of kaya at the cardinal points and a runny egg at the centre. It is better than it sounds and goes well with a piping hot coffee (1.50 ringgit).

Another good breakfast (and lunch) spot is Kedai Kopi Din Tokyo. We loved the retro wrap around bench seating and our roti canai (1.20 ringgit) hit the mark. They also do a wide variety of other dishes, either prepared on spec of served from the ready-made trays out front. Nasi lemak (1.80 ringgit), nasi goreng kampung (4.50 ringgit), nasi ikan gulai (3 ringgit) and sup ekor (7 ringgit) among many others.

Kopitiam Kita: A different take on breakfast. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Kopitiam Kita: A different take on breakfast. Photo: Stuart McDonald

If you’d prefer a more western style cafe with air-con and cheesecake, Arnold Cycling Cafe is a solid centre of town choice. The cheesecake comes with elephants painted on your plate with chocolate sauce—yes, finger licking is permitted. This is a good spot to scape the heat in the middle of the day.

Moving on to lunch, for tastes from the subcontinent, Shan Sri Dewi Restoran was not disappointing. We went for a simple rice and chicken dish with a side of roti canai and a masala coffee and it was great. We can’t tell you the exact dish, nor the price as our photo of the menu board was blurry, but it was affordable! A good spot for lunch or dinner, though open for breakfast as well.

Point and pick at Shan Sri Dewi Restoran. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Point and pick at Shan Sri Dewi Restoran. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Another good lunchtime spot is the back to basics Restoran Hover in the centre of town and quite convenient to the gaggle of museums in this part of town. Choose from the trays of ready-made dishes out front, but be warned, they are not kidding about the spice levels here.

Also near here, Nasi Ulam Cigku came frequently recommended, especially for their anchovies, but we ran out of time to try it. Worth a try by the sound of things and, as with Restoran Hover, convenient to Kota Bharu’s museums.

Grazing at Restoran Hover. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Grazing at Restoran Hover. Photo: Stuart McDonald

If we had to pick one place for dinner, we’d be making a beeline for Nasi Kulus Kebun Sultan which does a range of ready made dishes for eat in or take away. We went with the nasi ayam pedas warisan and take our word for it it lived up to the pedas claims. You will need to queue up!

If you need something to cool your mouth after hitting the previous joint, swing by PK Corner for a mango and sticky rice (eat in or takeaway). Delish!

Kota Bahru’s new night market is a small affair and we found better fare at most of the above-mentioned places. You’ll find it at the corner of JL Doktor and JL Hospital.

Grazing at Nasi Kulus Kebun Sultan. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Grazing at Nasi Kulus Kebun Sultan. Photo: Stuart McDonald

If you’re just killing time at the bus station, Thai Square offers some local interpretations on Thai food (we’re being generous here!) but it is within sight of the bus station so you won’t miss your wheels while filing your tummy.

If you fancy a cold beer come the evening, pub-style (few and far between in Kota Bharu, look for the clover leaf insignia) Restoran Golden City has iced beers on tap and is centrally located on Jl Padang Garong.

Map of where to eat in Kota Bharu

Map of where to eat in Kota Bharu

Map legend

Click on the restaurant name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.


Restaurant contact details and addresses

Arnold Cycling Cafe Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. T: (09) 744 6888 https://www.facebook.com/Arnoldcyclingcafekebunsultan Mo–Su: 09:00–24:00
Kedai Kopi Din Tokyo 3945 Jl Tok Hakim, Kota Bharu. Mo–Su: 07:00–19:00
Kopitiam Kita 4357-A Taman Desa Jaya, Jl Pengkalan Chepa, Kota Bharu. T: (019) 981 0888 Mo–Su: 06:00-14:00
Nasi Kulus Kebun Sultan Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. T: (019) 968 7878 Mo–Su: 17:00–22:00
Nasi Ulam Cigku Kampung Kraftangan, Jl Hilir Kota, Kota Bharu. T: (09) 744 6665 Sa-Th: 11:00-16:00
New night market Corner of JL Doktor and JL Hospital, Kota Bharu. From 19:00
PK Corner 2 Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. Mo–Su: 12:00–24:00
Restoran Golden City 3950G Jl Padang Garong, Kota Bharu. T: (10) 801 9993 https://www.facebook.com/GoldenCityRestaurant/ Mo–Su 16:00–24:00
Restoran Hover 1963-A Jl Dato Pati, Kota Bharu. T: (09) 748 1439 Mo–Su: 07:00–16:00
Shan Sri Dewi Restoran 4213F, Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. T: (09) 746 2592 https://www.facebook.com/shansridewi/ Mo–Su: 07:00–21:30
Thai Square S/11 Lot 505, Jl Hilir Pasar, Kota Bharu. Mo–Su: 08:00–22:30

Arnold Cycling Cafe
Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
T: (09) 744 6888 Under 5 ringgit
Kedai Kopi Din Tokyo
3945 Jl Tok Hakim, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
Under 5 ringgit
Kopitiam Kita
4357-A Taman Desa Jaya, Jl Pengkalan Chepa, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
T: (019) 981 0888 Under 5 ringgit
Nasi Kulus Kebun Sultan
Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
T: (019) 968 7878 Under 5 ringgit
Nasi Ulam Cigku
Kampung Kraftangan, Jl Hilir Kota, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
T: (09) 744 6665 Under 5 ringgit
New night market
Corner of JL Doktor and JL Hospital, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
Under 5 ringgit
PK Corner
2 Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
Under 5 ringgit
Restoran Golden City
3950G Jl Padang Garong, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
T: (10) 801 9993 Under 5 ringgit
Restoran Hover
1963-A Jl Dato Pati, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
T: (09) 748 1439 Under 5 ringgit
Shan Sri Dewi Restoran
4213F, Jl Kebun Sultan, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
T: (09) 746 2592 Under 5 ringgit
Thai Square
S/11 Lot 505, Jl Hilir Pasar, Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu, Peninsular Malaysia
Under 5 ringgit

What to see and do

Muzium Adat Istiadat Diraja Kelatan (Jahar Palace)

Near Istana Balai Besar and Merdeka Square
T: (09) 748 2266Sa-We: 08:30–16:45 Th: 08:30–15:30 muzium@kelantan.gov.my
http://www.muzium.kelantan.gov.my/index.php/ms/muzium3/muzium-adat-istiadat-istana-jahar

Set in a beautiful building which was once a sultan’s palace, the Muzium Adat Istiadat Diraja Kelatan (better known as Jahar Palace), is well worth a look for insight into the sumptuous life the upper echelons lived.

Lovely displays. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Lovely displays. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Built in 1887, Jahar Palace is named after the Jahar tree which grows on the grounds, and was the palace of Sultan Ismail Ibni Sultan Muhammad IV (1920-1944). The enclosure includes two buildings, the primary palace and, to the rear on the right, a smaller weapons museum—both are worth a look.

The buildings themselves are a large part of the attraction. They’re wooden throughout and cool under foot (you need to remove your shoes to enter). In the main building the displays are split across two floors and focussed of daily sultanite life. Think royal beds, jewellery, clothing, wedding garb, betel nut containers and spittoons. Much, almost all, in a soft yellow hue. The upstairs area includes a large deck that is easily imagined hosting celebrationary events.

Pick your weapon. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Pick your weapon. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The weapons display includes an impressive collection of tools for maiming, with a maddening variety of traditional blades, speaks and other pointy objects. While many of the blades are labelled in English, large signboards explaining the individual parts of a kris for example are in Malay only unfortunately.

This is one of our favourite museums in Kota Bharu—allow an hour.

Location map for Muzium Adat Istiadat Diraja Kelatan (Jahar Palace)

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Pasar Basar Siti Khadijah

Jl Pintu Pong, Kota Bharu

Pasar Basar Siti Khadijah is Kota Bharu’s central wet market and it sells just about everything—really.

Not your typical wet market. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Not your typical wet market. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Well, perhaps not absolutely everything, but fresh fish and meats, batik wear and massive amounts of sweets seems a solid starting point. What makes it more interesting (and photogenic) is the large atrium topped by a gigantic fan. Climb the stairs and make your way through the alleys between the stalls to be able to look down into the atrium for the Instragram-worthy photo.

Depending on which entrance you take, you could slide your way past fish entrails or exotic herbs and spices, either way it’s all worth investigating. There are also several stall-type kitchens upstairs that serve up some serious local eats, like nasi kerabu, fresh crab and curries. Overall the market is well worth a visit even if you in the market for nothing whatsoever.

Location map for Pasar Basar Siti Khadijah

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Muzium Islam (Islamic Museum)

Just east of the War Museum, Kota Bharu
T: (09) 748 2266Sa-We: 08:30–16:45 Th: 08:30–15:30 muzium@kelantan.gov.my
http://www.muzium.kelantan.gov.my/index.php/ms/muzium3/muzium-islam

One of the best presented museums in Kota Bharu, the Muzium Islam (Islamic Museum) goes well beyond a staid religious presentation to deliver an interesting and largely bilingual presentation on Islamic influence in the region.

One of our favourite buildings in town. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

One of our favourite buildings in town. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Built in 1902, the building was originally the residence of the Kelantan Chief Minister, later housing the Islamic Religious and Malay Cultural and Ceremonial Department. The museum opened in 1991.

Spread across two floors, displays include signboards illustrating the spread of Islam along with lovingly displayed ceramics and religious texts. The ceramics in particular are noteworthy and include some stunning bowls and platters decorated with Arabic script.

Lovely ceramics are on display. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Lovely ceramics are on display. Photo: Stuart McDonald

By the entrance there is also a scale model of a famous mosque Masjid Kampung Laut which is believed to have been the oldest mosque in Malaysia (built by travelling Javanese) but which was badly damaged by flooding in the 1960s.

Location map for Muzium Islam (Islamic Museum)

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Muzium Diraja Istana Batu (Royal Museum)

Jl Tok Semian, Kota Bharu
T: (09) 748 7737Sa-We: 08:30–16:45 Th: 08:30–15:30 muzium@kelantan.gov.my
http://www.muzium.kelantan.gov.my/index.php/ms/muzium3/muzium-diraja-istana-batu

Istana Batu, which translates to “concrete palace”, was apparently the first concrete building in Kelantan state. Today is contains a varied collection ranging from the interesting to the out of place.

Big and yellow. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Big and yellow. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The 1939-built palace was a wedding gift for Sultan Yahya Petra and his bride and passed through a number of hands following then till being transformed into the museum in 1991. Today it presents a history of the sultanate through their possessions.

A grandiose dining room is the top shelf attraction, though this is a museum where it pays to slow down and see what you can find—the model A380 for example. Plenty of historic photos grace the walls and, as with Jahar Palace, a soft yellow hue features throughout. Unfortunately little is labelled, though most is fairly self-explanatory. Photography is not permitted within the museum.

Not quite everyday garb. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Not quite everyday garb. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Allow thirty minutes for a visit and as Istana Batu is in the heart of the museum district it is easily combined with some of the other nearby attractions.

Location map for Muzium Diraja Istana Batu (Royal Museum)

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Muzium Perang (Bank Kerapu) War Museum

Across from Merdeka Square
T: (09) 748 2266Sa-We: 08:30–16:45 Th: 08:30–15:30 muzium@kelantan.gov.my
http://www.muzium.kelantan.gov.my/index.php/ms/muzium3/muzium-perang-bank-kerapu

Kelantan was one of a number of Japanese invasion points in World War Two and the Muzium Perang (Bank Kerapu) War Museum has detailed not just the invasion but the greater war as well.

Setting the theme. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Setting the theme. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The building commenced life as the Mercantile Bank of India in 1912 and later (1942-1945) was used as the headquarters of the Japanese Secret Police and as a lock up and interrogation centre. After the war it reverted to banking until 1992, when it was officially opened as the War Museum.

The War Museum houses quite a selection of World War II memorabilia including a very detailed blow by blow look at the invasion routes of the Japanese. Other displays include models of the atom bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and the outdoors area displays war relics including an airplane propeller. Look out for the excellent map of the Thai-Burma Railway—it is exceptional.

Things that go bang. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Things that go bang. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Considering Kelantan was the invasion point of the Japanese military forces, even non-historians will find a visit here to be of considerable interest. Allow an hour.

Location map for Muzium Perang (Bank Kerapu) War Museum

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Kota Bharu Cultural Centre

Near the corner of Jl Mahmood Jl Jalan Bayam

Kelantan Cultural Centre is dedicated to the preservation of promotion of traditional Kelantese culture. If you have an interest, do make the time to stop by for a demonstration.

Showtime. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Showtime. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Performances are on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday between 15:30 and 17:30 (Saturday has an extra session between 09:00 and 11:00). The performances vary day to day—on the day we visited, Rebana (Giant drum), Silat Tari (self defence) and Gasing Pangkah were on offer. Others demonstrations include Kertok (coconut husk percussion) and kite making. While you can just watch, don’t be shy when you’re asked to have a go yourself—the performers at the centre can be quite enthusiastic.

Unless there is a tour bus parked out front, don’t expect crowds—on the day we visited, there were just two other onlookers. Performances are free.

Location map for Kota Bharu Cultural Centre

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Muzium Kelantan (Kelantan State Museum)

Jl Hospital and Jl Sultan Ibrahim
T: (09) 748 2266Sa-We: 08:30–16:45 Th: 08:30–15:30 muzium@kelantan.gov.my
http://www.muzium.kelantan.gov.my/index.php/en/muzium3/muzium-negeri

Originally the Kota Bharu Town Council offices, the Muzium Kelantan (Kelantan State Museum) was established in 1990 and offers a small and moderately interesting collection spread across two floors.

Easy to spot from the street. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Easy to spot from the street. Photo: Stuart McDonald

While this wouldn’t be our top choice if you only had time for one museum in Kota Bharu, the collection is nevertheless interesting. When we last visited in mid 2019, the ground floor was mostly given over to a photographic exhibition of Kota Bharu now and then photos along with a few bicycles and a pedicab. Look for the comparative photos of the floods on Jl Tok Hakim in 1967 and then again in 2014—aside from the signage, little has changed.

Upstairs contains more typically State Museum matters, with fairly well presented displays of mostly musical instruments, recreations of daily life, and plenty of puppets—look for the stage mockup, showing how the shadow-play is presented in real life. Back on the ground floor, there is a (not well signposted) recreation of Cha Cave where archaeological finds date back some 10,000 years.

No shortage of puppets on display. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

No shortage of puppets on display. Photo: Stuart McDonald

We preferred both Jahar Palace and the Islamic Museum to here, but if you’re in the area, swing by—mostly for the photographs. Allow thirsty minutes or so. Photography is not allowed within the museum.

Location map for Muzium Kelantan (Kelantan State Museum)

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Muzium Kraftangan, Handicraft Museum

Kampung Kraftagan (Handicraft Village), Jl Seri Akar, Kota Bharu
T: (09) 748 2266Sa-We: 08:30–16:45 Th: 08:30–15:30 muzium@kelantan.gov.my
http://www.muzium.kelantan.gov.my/index.php/ms/muzium3/muzium-kraftangan

Half museum half handicraft centre, the Muzium Kraftangan (Handicraft Museum), exhibits various handicrafts such as textiles and songket weaving, batik printing and some silverware.

Pleasing grounds at the Handicraft Centre. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Pleasing grounds at the Handicraft Centre. Photo: Stuart McDonald

While the museum (it was built in 1991) doesn’t hold a candle to others in Kota Bharu, it is worth popping in to help support their efforts and the displays within the museum section (on the upper floor) are quite well presented. Of interest to the more crafty, courses are on offer should you wish to try your hand at one of the handicrafts on display. There are also souvenirs for sale. Allow thirty minutes or so. Right next door is Nasi Ulam Cigku—do stop by for lunch.

Location map for Muzium Kraftangan, Handicraft Museum

Click on the map to open its position in Apple or Google maps.



Getting there and away

Air

Kota Bharu’s Sultan Ismail Petra Airport (KBR) in Pengkalan Chepa has direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru and Singapore. This airport is about 15 minutes from Kota Bharu by taxi while the rather slow bus takes close to an hour. The bus costs 1.80 ringgit and picks up from the main road out front of the airport.


Train

The nearest train station is about 5 km from the city centre in Wakaf Bharu. Bus #27 plies this route 7:00-20:00, otherwise a taxi will be needed.

The stretch of track cutting through the forested mountains of Kelantan and Terengganu states is known as the Jungle Railway. The line runs to Jerantut (jump off there for Taman Negara Park). Unfortunately the train from Kota Bharu runs at night, leaving Wakaf Bharu at around 19:00 so unless you have packed night vision glasses, no scenery for you.

You can view schedules and buy e-tickets on the useful Malaysian Railways website: https://www.ktmb.com.my/


Bus

There is a bus service from Kuala Perlis and Kuala Kedah in the northwest, Penang/Butterworth mid peninsula, Kuala Lumpur in the south and plenty of other places throughout the country.

At Kota Bharu bus station. Photo taken in or around Kota Bharu, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

At Kota Bharu bus station. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Sample fares include:
Ipoh: Morning and evening only, 7 hours, 35 ringgit
Kuala Lumpur (TBS): Throughout the day and evening, 9 hours, 44 ringgit
Kuala Terengganu: Throughout the day and evening, 3.5 hours, 17 ringgit
Kuantan: Throughout the day and evening, 6 hours, 35 ringgit
Penang: Morning and evening only, 7 hours, 41 ringgit

For those who want to book online, Easibook is a user-friendly choice with minimal extra charge for the service. Travel agents can also help you book your tickets if you are booking in advance.

If you are arriving in Kota Bharu with the goal of immediately hitting the Perhentian islands, bBus #639 runs between Kota Bharu and Kuala Besut, leaving Kota Bharu 11 times daily between 06:15 and 18:30 and in the reverse direction, leaving Kuala Besut ten times daily between 07:30 and 18:30, costing 6 ringgit and taking around 90 minutes. Bear in mind that if you get the 16:00 bus you will miss the last official boat to the Perhentians and will need to overnight in Kuala Besut. While there are plenty of hotels in Kuala Besut, we think Kota Bharu is a preferable overnight spot. Kuala Besut bus station is around one kilometres from the port.

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Getting around

Kota Bharu taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced, but the public bus system is extensive and user friendly as well. Taxi prices will increase about five ringgit during "sleeping hours" (aka night time). Grab also operates in Kota Bharu.

City Liner buses are a consistent and reliable option. Handy routes include:

#639 for the jetty in Kuala Besut
#10 for PCB beach
#9 for the airport
#27 for Tumpat and Wat Machimmaram
#29 for the Malaysia/Thai border



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