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.
Kota Bharu is a very socially conservative city in a state ruled by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). Be respectful of the cultural and religious sensibilities of its 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. Also, be prepared for breaks to be taken in many places, including the Pasar Malam (Night Market) during Islamic prayer times.
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. Firefly , a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, flies 5 times a day between Kota Bharu and Kuala Lumpur Subang Airport. Flights take just under an hour and can cost from as low as RM45.95 before tax and surcharges.
Firefly has also announced an international flight to Singapore, commencing in October 2009.
Getting to/away: The airport is 15 minutes from the city centre by taxi. You can also catch a Transnasional bus from the local bus station in the city centre.
- Malaysia Airlines: Mezzanine Floor, Kompleks Yakin, Jalan Gajah Mati, 15050 Kota Bharu. Tel: +60-9-7483477 (ticketing), +60-9-7448066 (general)
The nearest railway station to Kota Bharu is at Wakaf Bharu, some 5 kilometers away from the city center. You can catch a public bus there or ask your hotel/guesthouse to arrange a taxi for you (RM15-20, @ Feb 2010). 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 which stops at almost every station between Tumpat and Gemas, allowing you to enjoy the jungle as the train travels through the heart of Peninsular Malaysia. Officially the Mail Train 91, it leaves at 05:21 from Wakaf Bharu station and reaches Gemas at 20:00, travelling via Jerantut (for Taman Negara National Park). Gemas is located on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore trunk line and you can catch connecting trains there.
Other trains are:
- To Kuala Lumpur: The Ekspres Wau departs at 18:40 daily.
- To Singapore: The new Ekspres Lambaian Timur departs at 06:20 daily (not running anymore - 13/08/2009). This train allows you to see the jungles of Kelantan and Pahang as it covers that stretch during the day. The Express Timuran departs at 20:30 daily (around RM70 for an air-con 2nd-class sleeper).
- To Thailand: There are no train services directly into Thailand. You will have to catch a bus to Rantau Panjang and cross the border into Sungai Kolok and proceed from there.
The state-run SKMK and Transnasional is the largest bus company, and runs all the city and regional buses, as well as 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), the buses to Penang (RM34.70 , six hours and 15 minutes) with one long stop (60-75 minutes) at Grik. Buses to Penang leave in the morning at 9 am 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 19 for RM5.10, which runs the 36km stretch. Just wait along the Malaysian side of the border along the covered walkway and flag it.
Kota Bharu itself offers many museums ( Malay-language only) 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, however, 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 8:30am-4:45pm every day except Fridays (when they are closed):
- Muzium Kraftangan (Handicrafts Museum [with attached gift shop selling handicrafts])
- Muzium Negeri (State Museum [see above])
- Memorial Peperangan Dunia Ke II (World War II Memorial [very small but worth a quick visit for history buffs])
- Muzium D'Raja (Royal Museum [which contains photos of the current and previous Sultans and such-like])
- Muzium Islam (Museum of Islam)
- Muzium Adat Istiadat DiRaja Kelantan (Museum of Royal Kelantanese Traditions [which contains interesting artifacts and exhibits for those interested in cultural history])
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 100 foot high standing Buddha at Wat Phothikyan (just opened to public in June 2009) and a Kuan Yin temple facing the South China Sea nearby.
- Cultural Show at Culture Centre 3 times a week @Saturday 3.00pm-4.45pm & 8.00pm-11.30pm, @Monday 3.00pm-4.45pm, @Wednesday 3.00pm-4.45pm & 8.80-12.00pm.
- River cruise along Sungai Galas down to Dabong (2hours).
- Explore the caves at Gua Ikan,Dabong.
- Stong Waterfall, reputed to be the highest in Southeast Asia, drops from a height of about 990 metres.
- Mount Stong State Park. One of the main attractions at the state park is Gunung Stong@Mt.Stong (1,422 meters), a dome-shaped granite complex more than 500 million years old.
- Nenggiri Rafting Adventure - The selected leg of the journey covers approximatedly about 50 km, departing from Kuala Betis / Gua Cha and ends up at Kampung Star.
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 PAS, and now the official name is Pantai Cahaya Bulan, "Moonlight Beach".
- Go to the day and night markets. Have Nasi Kerabu for lunch at the day market and Ayam Percik at the night market, or get whatever else strikes your fancy.
- Walk around the downtown area.
- Bicycle around Pengkalan Chepa area (airport), see old WW2 British pillboxes near beach at Pantai Sabak. For history buffs only but no beach anymore due to erosion.
- Go to the beach, either PCB Beach or Irama Beach (Beach of Melody). PCB Beach has batik shop, best is Citra Batik about 500m from the beach. Also eat fried seafood at PCB Beach or Irama Beach with coconut water.
- Beautiful south china sea beaches at Bachok. - Pantai Perkasa, Pantai Sungai Dua, Pantai Kandis.
- Hand-Printed Batik clothes. Kota Bharu Trade Centre (KBTC), which offers a variety of choices, is located just beside Pasar Siti Khadijah. Other places to buy hand-printed batik include Citra Batik at PCB Beach or at the KB Mall in town (the latter has higher prices but is more convenient).
- Silverware - at the touristy museum in Kota Bharu town.
- Crystals and gemstones - you can find them at the local wet market or morning market or specialist shops. Emerald (locals call them zamrud), ruby, sapphire, topaz, tiger's eye, etc. etc can be found. But let the buyer beware, as there are many fakes being sold.
- Kites - forget about the waus (they are far too expensive and flimsy looking). It is better to buy the plastic types for the kids, and these kites can really fly.
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 Chinese restaurants and food courts.
Among the local specialties are :
- Ayam Percik, chicken which is roasted over a wood fire and combined with coconut/peanut sauce and delicious local herbs and greens. Yati Ayam Percik (847, Jalan Long Yunus) has got to be the best around;
- Nasi Ulam (locally called Nasi Kerabu), rice with fragrant, fresh-picked leaves and shoots, traditionally dipped into budu (fish sauce), sambal belacan (shrimp paste with hot pepper, et al.) or/and tempoyak (fermented durian sauce);
- Murtabak, savory or sweet crêpes; and a wide variety of Kuih (little cakes). Murtabak Raja is the famous one on Jalan Bayam.
- If you visit around Hari Raya time, don't miss the chance to try Tapai, which is sweet fermented cassava or rice, wrapped in tapioca leaves. If you like tea, wash everything down with Teh O (tea with sugar) or Teh Susu (tea with sweetened condensed milk).
- Keropok Lekor Losong (the local version is Keropok Gote), originally from Losong village and considered by Kelantanese to be the benchmark of all fish paste sausages. Comes fried or boiled. Kelantan Keropok Gote is not like Terengganu Kerepok Lekor Losong; it is thicker, about 4cm.
- Durian puffs (locally called Lepok Durian or Gelembung Buaya, they are in 3 colors: red, yellow, and green), at Kubang Pasu wet market in the mornings - for durian lovers with strong stomachs only. These delicious pastries are sold at wet market surrounded by fish. Buy from the lady at the corner, not in the middle of wet market.
- Morning Satay, same lady, but not so delicious. Just for the experience. It also can be found in various restaurants in town. There are a few famous Satay sellers like Satay Baung, Satay Suria, etc.
For Chinese food, go to :
- Jalan Kebun Sultan - restaurants opposite Public Bank, and food court
- Jalan Post Office Lama - restaurants
For Thai food, try restaurants in Taman Cemerlang, and in nearby Wakaf Bharu town
- Coconut water from the fruit, then scrape and eat the flesh
- Beer - Yes, there is beer in Kota Bharu.
Go to the Chinese restaurants where beer is served to non-Muslims only.
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".
However, if you are into coffee - look for cafes / kopitiams. Some have wi-fi facilities. Go to the riverside (Pelangi Mall) for a refreshing river view and freshly brewed coffee.
- Soon Lee Agency, Selling wines, spirits and beers. Address: 5565-D Jalan Pengkalan Chepa,Kota Bharu (in city center, on the way to Thai Embassy) Telephone: 09-7446689. Operating: 10:30AM-6:30PM.
Hostels can be found in the area near the Central Market.
- Hotel Politan, , Jalan Doktor, located at Kota Bharu City Center. Near long distance bus station and taxi stand. Free WiFi & Astro TV inside rooms. Price from RM60/USD19
- KB Backpackers Lodge, 1872-D (above Azam Photo), Jalan Padang Garong, 012-988-5068. Rates RM8-35.
- Ideal Travellers House, +60 9 744 2246, 3954F&G Jalan Kebun Sultan, access also from Jalan Pintu Pong, clean, friendly, garden tables, quiet despite being in town, tour info, public transport info in each room, wifi, internet PCs,  Rooms from RM15-40, dorm RM10
- Zeck's Traveller's Inn, Jalan Sri Cemerlang, quiet, clean, tiled floors, parking, outdoor seating, reasonably close to town,10 minutes walk to Thai Consulate, tour info. Single & double under RM30.
- Kota Timur, Jalan Dusun Raja, clean aircon doubles with own bathroom, furniture, clothes drying rack, and TV, great value at RM30, balanced with looking drab and being a little further to walk into town
- Lee Guesthouse , 263 Jalan KK1/9 (off Jalan Pasir Puteh) +60 9-747-9663, +6017-980-6638 , email adddress:-firstname.lastname@example.org. 5 minutes walking distance to the Hospital University. Free usage of internet broad band facilities and satellite television in the living room, cooking facilities available. The hotel provides airport, Wakaf Bharu Train Staton and Central Bus Station pickup services to the guesthouse at a reasonable rate. The guesthouse owner also can arrange the return boat tickets and snorkeling package tours for travellers to Perhentian Island, Lang Tengah and Redang Island. Rack rates from RM75.
- Minora Lodge is a 20min walk from the night market. Clean, variety of rooms from dorm to doubles with air-con, RM20-60.
- Royal Guest House, Jalan Hilir Kota +60 9-7430008. Formerly Safar Inn. Rates from RM110.
- Hussin Palace Budget Inn and Guest House, Jln Bayam, +6019-9961960 [mailto: email@example.com]. Great Place for Large Families. RM180 for 3 or 4 bedrooms house, no limit of occupancy. Additional bed and pillow provided with no additional charge 
- Min Homestay & House-camp, Jalan Kubang Kerian, +60139225440 . Safe, peaceful and clean village environment for small group, up to family gathering. No limit of occupancy, free extra bed. RM70 for triple-room, RM120 for connected 2- triple room & RM170 for a big house. 
- My Place Guest House,  2984-F, 1st Floor (above Shahid & Omer (M) Sdn. Bhd.), Blok C, Jalan Parit Dalam. +6010-9199505. Fourteen (14) clean, comfortable and affordable rooms, four (4) of which has an en-suite shower stall. All rooms are of shared bathroom basis. Fan rooms, free breakfast and friendly staff. Newly open in April 2010. Rates from MYR 10 - 45 / night.
- Azam Hotel, Beside Azam Photo, Jalan Padang Garong, +60 9-747-0508, Email Us Rack rates from RM70 - RM100.
- Crystal Lodge, 124 Jalan Che Su +60 9-747-0888 firstname.lastname@example.org, . 3 stars, RM100.00 onward. Standard Twin Room RM129.
- Dynasty Inn, 2865-D&E, Jalan Sultanah Zainab, +60 9-747-3000, email@example.com, . Rack rates from RM100.
- Grand Riverview Hotel, Section 9, Jalan Post Office Lama, +60 9-743-9988 firstname.lastname@example.org, . RM150 onward.
- New Pacific Hotel, Section 26, Jalan Pengkalan Chepa, +60 9-735-1111, email@example.com, . Rack rates from RM188.
- Renaissance Kota Bahru Hotel, Kota Sri Mutiara, Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra, +60 9-746-2233, . 5 star, RM380 onward.
- Pelangi Riverview Kondominium, B-21-09, Pelangi Mall, Jalan Post Office Lama, +60 9-917-5690, ., 4 rooms kondominium, RM200 onward.
From the airport, train station and city you can take a taxi to Kuala Besut for ferry connections to the Perhentian Islands (45-60 min; theoretically only RM25 but good luck paying much less than RM50). If you want to stick to public transport, there is also a direct bus service to Kuala Besut.
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