Personal and photographic impressions
of Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia

Written by Paul Bourke
July 2012

First, the usual disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are based upon the authors own experiences and cultural background. Additionally, they are based upon a whirlwind visit of three days, two of which were largely involved in the purpose of the visit, namely employment. Documents such as this also age with time and the location it describes changes.


Kuala Terengganu is the largest city in the state of Terengganu (population around 400 thousand), located on the east coast about 50 minutes plane flight from Kuala Lumpur. It was settled by Chinese traders and thus has a thriving Chinatown district on the waterfront and near the central markets.

The city area is a nice size, one can ready walk around the central area within a few hours. Taxis are not that easy to get on a casual basis, they are generally booked in advance. They are reasonably priced although for some reason more expensive that many other Asian cities. There are generally no meters, the price is in 5 ringgit increments depending on the distance.

The population now are mostly Malay, 90% at last reckoning, and the predominant religion is Islam. The author found the people extremely friendly although as expected English speakers are not that common. Unlike many larger cities in the region that are big tourist spots, Kuala Terengganu hasn't been "spoilt" by hoards of tourists (aka Bali for example). Similarly the population is not earning significant income from tourists and are thus not trying to squeeze every drop they can or grossly overcharge those who are clearly visitors (aka Bangkok for example). Undoubtedly due to the religious beliefs, the city seemed very safe.

Batu Bersurat Monument

This is a monument to the first Islamic scholar to the region. This monument is a scaled up version of the original stone with writings by the scholar, the original is housed in the local museum, see later.

The inscribed stone was found by villages in 1887 who, not realising the significance, used it as a platform for washing feet before entering the village. 15 years later it was rediscovered and transported down stream to Terengganu and presented to the then sultan. The stone has spent time in the Raffles hotel in Singapore as well the national museum in Kuala Lumpur, returned to Terengganu in 1991.

Why they had to recently place that tasteless LED signage at the top is totally unbelievable!

Each side of the side is inscribed with "commandments", some are incomplete because the top portion of the stone was broken off at some stage. The translation was performed around 1922 at the request of the British adviser in Terengganu, these were performed from photographs by a Japanese photographer. Many of the writings are the standard things one would expect to find. First an introduction.

  • Behold the Prophet of God and his apostles.
  • Praise the God Almighty for giving us Islam.
  • With Islam, truth revealed to all Thy creatures.
  • On this land the religion of the Holy Prophet shall prevail.
  • The Holy Prophet, the upholder of Truth in Thy kingdom.
  • Hear ye kings, these messages.
  • Messages from the Almighty, ye doubt not.
  • Goodwill with thee fellow men saith the Almighty.
  • Be it known, the land of Terengganu first to receive message of Islam.
  • On the noon of Friday in the month of Rejab whilst the sun was in the north by religious reckoning.
  • Seven hundred and two years after the demise of the Holy Prophet.

Then some pretty standard rules for living.

  • Take ye not, lose ye not, gold in thy hands.
  • Fifth commandment give thee alms and pay thy tithes.
  • Take thee not gold from others.
  • If taketh thee the gold, return it.
  • Peril be to adulterers.

Then it gets a bit tricky with the consequences of adultery, whippings for the men to buried at the waist and stoned for women. "Even if the offender is the daughter of a prophet", which I take to mean he probably had a difficult daughter himself. There are also some interesting fees that apply if someone does not get married, and the amounts due for a dowry. And finally some "threats".

  • Obey ye this command for the wrath of God is great.
  • Perils and pain await those who heed not the commandment.

Street views



China Town

China town extends for about 1km just to the north of the central markets. A nice walk although both times I visited many of the stores were shut.



Down one of the small side alleys is a collection of bronze faces of local dignitaries. The following 3D model is created from 5 photographs of the face, in this case it is Dato'Toh Seng Chong, a state executive councillor.

3D model as OBJ file:

Crystal Mosque

Designed by a German Architect, this is one of the more beautiful mosques in the town.

Entrance gateway






Lovely light passing through the engraved glass walls

Ho Ann Keng Temple





On the stonework to the left and right of the entrance are some lovely engraved depictions, up to 10cm deep. The following is an example, the 3D model automatically reconstructed from 6 photographs.

3D model as OBJ file:

Tian Hou Temple

Also it seems to be sometimes spelt as "Tean Hou". This was the first temple or Mosque I entered where the local "priest" asked for money before I could take any photographs. I suspect he's "on the take" since he took the donation rather than asking me to place it in the locked barrel.





Mustaf Bilan Shah Mosque



Floating mosque





(Not a great pano - handheld, no tripod)

Museum: Kompleks Muzium Negeri Terengganu

Boasted as the largest museum in Malaysia, it is indeed a huge and impressive building but fairly thinly occupied. An hour is easily enough to see all the exhibits. If you visit by taxi simply ask the driver to return at a time of your choosing, taxies do not pass regularly although there is a bus service along the road in the front of the museum.



A theme of the museum, and indeed many of the shops around town, are knives, daggers, swords.



Central markets





Lots of high quality watches

... and piles of non-biodegradable shoes

Stands outside the markets, great for a cold cup of coconut drink




State library


Even knives on the over road gates

Walk bridge at the north end of the central markets

Planetarium and Science Centre

Lovely black dome of the planetarium

The science center is housed in a shopping and office building

Entrance to the Science Centre

Entrance to the Planetarium


Stayed at the Primula hotel close to the ocean and just south from where the fishing boats leave from the river channel. An above average hotel without being an "international" hotel. They have bikes for hire which I unfortunately only found out too late. One can walk to the city in about half an hour, a taxi to the furthest point in the town (Central Markets) is 10 ringgit. Don't be fooled by the "bar", no alcoholic drinks here! Lots of smokers though, which I suspect is a form of compensation.

Obligatory panoramic shot from the hotel window. The harbour and circular breakwater are currently under construction, it will be transformed into a public space with hotels and general waterfront development.