Kota Bharu, Kelantan’s capital and Malaysia’s very own ‘Newcastle’, is an Islamic city with a large Malay population. Hence, Kota Bharu has a rich Malay culture evident in the food, language, lifestyle and sights. It’s also the reason why alcohol is prohibited although there are some Chinese who will sell you beers behind closed doors.
Still, life here remains pleasant and peaceful. Old trishaws still ply the streets to pick up tourists, but most of the time, are busy transporting housewives to and from the Central Market.
The Central Market is a popular market that practically everyone in Kota Bharu goes to for shopping. Come early morning, traders are busy setting up stalls; some smoke hand-rolled cigarettes while sitting cross-legged on a sheet of fruits and vegetables, others cradle babies in their hands. As the clock ticks, the central market itself becomes alive with the din of haggling.
For food, Kota Bharu has a special dish called ‘Ulam’. It is a local salad served with a special anchovy sauce and flavoured with thinly sliced 'kedondong' (a tropical fruit) and spicy hot chilli.
Batik, a form of silk, is a popular sale in shops as are traditional Malay handicrafts and apparels such as the ‘songket’ a type of Islamic prayer hat. For a good taste of history, visit the Royal Museum, also called the ‘Stone Palace’ for being one of the first establishments made of concrete in Kelantan.
A visit to Kota Bahru is a trip through the richness of Malay culture and tradition so don’t miss it!