Kota Bharu

Sultan Ismail Petra Arch and environs

Kota Bharu (also Kota Bahru or Kota Baru) is the state capital of Kelantan, on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Many travellers simply pass through on their way to the Perhentian Islands, but those who spend a few days in KB have the chance to go to some of the museums mentioned below, eat some delicious food, look at a unique style of traditional architecture and get a little bit of the feel of a city that has an interesting cultural identity all its own.

Understand

Kota Bharu is the vibrant capital of the state of Kelantan, whose unique culture and dialect are proudly promoted and sustained in all aspects that do not conflict with orthodox Islam. Visitors can experience local culture in the form of the Thai and Indian-influenced cuisine, dress (the state is probably the most famous for batik in Malaysia), handicrafts, some traditional architecture, museums showing the state's cultural heritage, and the sound of the Kelantanese dialect. Speakers of standard Malay may not be able to understand the local dialect, although if you speak standard Malay, locals will understand you and reply in standard Malay. You can hear Bahasa Kelantan not only in the markets and on the streets but also on local radio stations.

Kota Bharu is a very socially conservative city in a state ruled by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). Visitors will hear the azan (call for prayer) from many mosques 5 times a day, and the khutbah (sermon) may also be broadcast from some mosques with loudspeakers. Visitors should be prepared for breaks to be taken in many places including the Pasar Malam (Night Market) during Islamic prayer times.

Get in

By plane

Kota Bharu's small but new and efficient Sultan Ismail Petra Airport (KBR) in Pengkalan Chepa currently receives flights from Kuala Lumpur provided by Malaysia Airlines and budget carrier AirAsia. Advance bookings especially for AirAsia can be very cheap (with best promotional fares you can end up flying cheaper than going by bus, if you have no check-in luggage).

Firefly, offers seven direct flights between Kota Bharu and Kuala Lumpur via Subang Airport and daily flight to Penang. It's also the first airline to connect Kota Bharu to the southern city of Johor Bahru. Prior to this, most people would make the trip by car or a 10-hour bus journey.

Recently, Firefly has also started flying from Kota Bharu directly into Singapore.

Getting to/away: The airport is 20 minutes from the city centre by taxi (fare was RM40 in January 2012). You can also catch a City-Liner bus No. 9 from the local bus station in the city centre (1.80RM, hourly, from 07:00 to 19:00, duration around 20 minutes).

By train

The nearest railway station to Kota Bharu is at Wakaf Bharu, some 6.5 kilometers away from the city center. You can catch public bus No 19, 27 or 43 (Fare RM 1.50, operates from 07:00 to 19:00) from Kota Bharu Central Bus Terminal to get there or just ask your hotel/guesthouse to arrange a taxi for you (RM35 in Feb 2011). The official taxis at the station have a rate sheet.

Trains run on the Jungle Railway to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. One attraction is the Jungle Train with its shuttle train service that does stop at almost every station between Tumpat and Gemas, allowing you to enjoy close-up contact with local people as the train travels through the heart of Peninsular Malaysia. The name "Jungle Train" is a misnomer: there is little if any jungle along the route. This is because the jungle has been replaced by palm trees - thousands of them. There are four day trains (Three shuttle trains and one express train) and two overnight trains (both express trains) making stops at Wakaf Bharu Station on their way southbound. For northbound direction, all the services terminate at Tumpat station, just a station beyond Wakaf Bharu. However, it is advisable to check the "KTM" (Malaysian Railways) timetable for any changes on this schedule.

Day Train

From Wakaf Bharu station: Two Shuttle trains No 81 and 85 depart from Wakaf Bharu Station at 04:00 and 14:17 respectively take you on board down south to their terminus at Kuala Lipis while another Shuttle train No 83 departs at 08.04 only terminate at Gua Musang. The Express train No 15 (Sinaran Timur) however, will take you further south to Johor Bahru and Singapore via Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut and Gemas. This train departs from Wakaf Bharu Station at 07.16 and reaches Woodlands CIQ Station in Singapore at 21:20. If you want to go to Taman Negara, you may board this train and get off at Jerantut.

To Wakaf Bharu station: The same train services with different train number may also get you into Kota Bharu through Wakaf Bharu station. Shuttle train No 82 and 86 that departs from Kuala Lipis, arrives at Wakaf Bharu station at 12.33 and 20:43 respectively. Another Shuttle train No 84 that departs from Gua Musang, arrives at Wakaf Bharu Station at 17:14. The Express train No 14 (Sinaran Timur) departs from Woodlands CIQ station in Singapore at 05.30, also arrives at Wakaf Bharu station at 18:52.

Overnight Train

From Wakaf Bharu station: One Express train No 29 (Senandung Wau) will take you to the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. This train departs from Wakaf Bharu Station at 19:02 and reaches Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station at 07:55 the next day. Another Express train No 27 (Senandung Timuran) will take you down south to Johor Bahru and Singapore. This train departs from Wakaf Bharu Station at 20:47 and reaches Woodlands CIQ Station at 10:15 the next day.

To Wakaf Bharu station: The same train services with different train number may also get you into Kota Bharu through Wakaf Bharu station. The Express train No 28 (Senandung Wau) that departs from Kuala Lumpur Sentral station at 20:30, arrives at Wakaf Bharu station at 09.21 the next day. Another Express train No 26 (Senandung Timuran) that departs from Woodlands CIQ station in Singapore at 19:00, arrives at Wakaf Bharu station at 08.44 on the next day.

Other trains

By bus

The state-run SKMK and Transnasional is the largest bus company, and operate all the city and regional buses, and most of the long-distance buses. It operates from the central bus station (city and regional buses) and the Langgar bus station (long-distance buses). All the other long-distance bus companies operate from Jalan Hamzah external bus station. On arrival in Kota Bharu some of the buses will drop you at the central bus station, but they don't depart from there. Transnasional is the easiest to deal with, as it has ticket offices at all the bus stations. Long-distance departures are from Langgar bus station but, just to make thing confusing, a few evening buses also go from central bus station. Ask which station your bus departs from when you buy your ticket, and book as far ahead as possible, especially for the Butterworth and Penang buses.

There are several buses to Butterworth (RM30, five or six hours) and buses to Penang (RM34.70, six hours and 15 minutes) with one long stop (60-75 minutes) at Gerik. Buses to Penang leave in the morning at 09:00 and in the evening. There are also regular buses to Kuala Terengganu (RM16, three hours) and Kuantan (RM33, six hours). Apart from that, there are also buses to Kuala Lumpur (RM40, nine hours), Johor Bahru (RM65, 12 hours), Singapore (13-14 hours), Melaka (RM55, 10-11 hours), Seremban (RM48, 10 hours) and Ipoh (RM35, seven hours). Other destinations are Alor Setar, Jerantut, Jitra, Gerik, Temerloh, Dungun, Kemaman, Kangar and Kerteh. The other bus companies cover many of the same routes and are worth trying.

From the Thai Border town of Sungai Kolok, there is a red city liner bus 29 (departs from the central bus station) for RM5, which operates the 36 km stretch. Just wait along the Malaysian side of the border along the covered walkway and flag it.

See

Pasar

Kota Bharu itself offers many museums near Independence Square (Padang Merdeka). Several of the museums and the nearby Istana Balai Besar (the downtown Royal Palace) were built in a unique kind of elegant architecture that is well worth seeing. Arguably the most amazing building is the central market (Pasar Besar). It is an octagonal building in the centre of town and houses a very colourful and active market every day. Nearby is a plain square which turns into the local food market in the evenings (Pasar Malam = Night Market).

Some visitors (particularly those interested in the history and cultural heritage of Kelantan) may also find the Muzium Negeri Kelantan (Kelantan State Museum) on Jalan Hospital 15000 of interest.

The following museums in Kota Bharu are all open from 08:30-16:45 every day except Fridays, when they are closed:

Great temples to visit in the nearby towns to Kota Bharu Town: near Tumpat there is Wat Pothivihan (huge reclining Buddha), Wat Mai Suwan Khiri (dragon Boat & standing Buddha), Wat Chonprachumthat at Kg. Dalam, Wat Machimarran Varran (sitting Buddha), and Wat Serova Buddhist Temples (Goddess of Mercy - Kuan Yin). At Bachok, there is a 30 m high standing Buddha at Wat Phothikyan and a Kuan Yin temple facing the South China Sea nearby.

Do

Poly-Chlorinated Biphenyl Beach?

No, PCB Beach isn't named after a nasty industrial chemical: the original name was Pantai Cinta Berahi or the "Passionate Love Beach". Alas, this was a little too daring for State Government, and now the official name is Pantai Cahaya Bulan, "Moonlight Beach".

Buy

Wau bulan for sale

Eat

Kota Bharu is full of delicious Kelantanese food, a unique cuisine influenced by Thai and Indian styles, among others. Lots of goodies are to be found in the pasars and in coffee shops throughout the city. Chinese food is also available at various restaurants and food courts.

Among the local specialities are:

For Chinese food, go to :

For Thai food, try restaurants in Taman Cemerlang and in nearby Wakaf Bharu town.

Drink

There are a few watering holes in KB - one has a disco feel about it (called Restoran), a few have a few "Thai drinks promoters".

Sleep

Budget

Hostels can be found in the area near the Central Market.

Mid-range

Splurge

Respect

Be respectful of the cultural and religious sensibilities of Kota Bharu's primarily Muslim inhabitants. There is no need for non-Muslim women to wear a tudung (scarf over the hair), but both men and women should consider wearing clothing which covers their torso completely.

Go next

Malaysia

Perhentian Islands (via Kuala Besut)

From the airport, train station (in Wakaf Bharu), and city you can take a taxi (45-60 min; 60-80RM) to Kuala Besut for regular boat connections to the Perhentian Islands. There is also a direct bus service to Kuala Besut Jetty - take bus 639 from the central station (6RM), the trip takes 1:30 hours and services by Cityliner Kelantan Bhd. leaves at 06:15, 07:30, 9h00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:39, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:30, 18:30. The same company also offers slightly discounted fast boat tickets at their Kota Bharu bus station ticket counter, which costs 70RM for the return trip, instead of the normal 80RM.

Thailand

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