History of Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu means “New Fort” and is the capital of the state of Kelantan. Kelantan’s history began around 8000-3000 B.C. During the early Chinese era, Kelantan was influenced by the Indianized Funan Kingdom of the Mekong River. In fact, farming methods used in Kelantan are based on Funan practices. Even the wayang kulit (shadow puppet show), a popular form of entertainment, and weaving methods are thought to have come from Funan, while some historians say from Thailad (Siam). This unique theatre show uses shadow and light bace called “Wayang Kulit”. It is carved using buffalo skin attached to bamboo, while the shadow displays on a fabric screen. Some of the stories displayed originate from the Indian classic poems “the Mahabhrata” and “Ramayana”.
Caves near Kota Bharu
Meanwhile, recent discoveries at two caves known as Gua Musang and Gua Cha in Kelantan show that there were human settlements dating back to prehistoric times.
The city itself was established in 1844 by Sultan Muhammad II, who wanted a new state capital in his honour, applying the Islamic architecture of the time. Many of the historical buildings remain and are well maintained, making the city an interesting tourist attraction.
The relative peace of the area attracted many Chinese immigrants, developing a strong Chinese influence and communities, adding a cultural flavour to the metropolis. There is also plenty of Indian influence, so connoisseurs can be delighted to expect a rich assortment of delicacies.
Diving around Kota Bharu
In WW2 the city became the landing beach head of the Japanese invasion as they fought off the existing British rule. This has created an abundance of sunken warships, now a tourist attraction for avid divers.
Since then the area became Islamically more conservative, and once the country became independent in 1968, the city was recognised as a strict, Islamic enclave.
A conservative Muslim enclave
When the Sultan Yahya Petra died of a heart attack in 1979, his body was moved to Kota Bharu and buried in the Langgar Royal Mausoleum, which has become a special cemetery for the aristocracy of Malaysia and most of the Malay royalty.
Over time the conservative element subsided, nevertheless, in 2005 the city was awarded the title of The Islamic City due to its adherence to the faith. At present, the Azan (the prayer call) can even be heard in the shopping malls, while the entire city respectfully stands still during these moments.
Being close to Thailand, the city also enjoys its influence, tourists frequenting a huge statue of sleeping Buddha – the Wat Pothvihan. There is also the RANTAU PANJANG FREE TRADE ZONE or PENGKALAN KUBOR FREE TRADE ZONE, where shoppers will find products from Thailand.
Other tourist attractions include the River cruise along Sungai Galas, exploration of the Gua Ikan caves, a visit to the Stong Waterfall, white water rafting at Kuala Betis, diving at the Japanese Invasion Wreck, and pristine beaches such as PCB Beach, Irama Beach, Pantai Perkasa, Pantai Sungai Dua and Pantai Kandis. Other popular caves include Gua Keris, Gua Batu Susun (Gua Lubang Gelap) and Gua Pagar.
Caving and natural splendor around Kota Bharu
The state of which Kota Bharu is capital, Kelantan, is famed for its unique cultural diversity, white sandy beaches, waterfalls and lush tropical jungle. Kelantan is a charming destination steeped in culture and heritage.
The land is home to some of Malaysia’s most splendid cultural legacies, such as wayang kulit, dikir barat and top-spinning. Many locals are skilled craftsmen, carrying on a tradition passed down by their forefathers. Among the exquisite crafts that are produced here include ornate silverware, colourful giant kites, textiles, beautiful woodcarvings and brass work. Kelantan is also famed for its cottage industries, where some of the country’s finest batik and songket fabrics are products of the state.
Kota Bharu Highlights
Some highlights include:
- Siti Khatijah Central market;
- Gelanggan Seni (Cultural centre): Rebana, Silat, Kertuk, Gasing and Shadow Play
Located on Jalan Mahmud close to the Perdana Hotel, the cultural centre is a veritable showcase of the living heritage of Kelantan. Demonstrations of popular folk art and pastimes are held daily. Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry) shows, Silat (the Malay art of self defence) performances, Gasing (Top spinning) displays, Wau (Kite flying) and Rebana (Giant Drum) playing can all be seen at the centre. Evenings see cultural performances featuring traditional Malay music and Wayang Kulit. The cultural centre is open three times a week from March to October each year. Performance times are 3.30pm to 5.50pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and 9.00pm to midnight on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
- Wakaf Che Yeh Night Market
- Museum and Istana Jahar wooden palace
- Jungle Railway trundling through the world’s oldest rainforest
- Chinese and Thai design temples at Tumpat district
Or off the beaten track:
- Pengkalan Anak Gajah colourful fishing boat & fishing village
- Makyong dance and Main Puteri performances
Also of interest are various museums and the unique architecture of the old royal palace still occupied by the King and Queen, off-limits to visitors, but viewable from outside. There are also the former royal buildings which can be visited in the center of town.
Nearby Sites and Sounds
Mount Gunung Stong is also an interesting tourist attraction, rising to a height of 1433km and diverse in flora and fauna, including the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. It is also the home of the spectacular Jelawang Waterfalls, acclaimed to be the highest in South East Asia. It is a favourite spot for trekking and mountain climbing.
The area is also rich in pristine beaches, such as PANTAI CAHAYA BULAN BEACH (BEACH OF THE MOONLIGHT), formerly known as Beach of Passionate Love. PANTAI SERI TUJUH (BEACH OF SEVEN LAGOONS) is located in the Tumpat district close to the Thai border (where our resort is located), this pristine beach sheltered by the longest lagoon in Malaysia and home to the annual International Kita Festival. Meanwhile, wind surfers will find ideal conditions at PANTAI BISIKAN BAYU (BEACH OF WHISPERING BREEZE).
Then there is the Kuala Koh National Park, a section on Taman Negara located in Gua Musang district, Malaysia’s premier national park straddling Kelantan and two other neighbouring states. Taman Negara is one of the oldest rainforests in the world, estimated to be 130 million years old. Kuala Koh serves as its northern entry point and is said to have the best potential for wildlife sighting.
Spread over an area of 1,043 sq km, this dense, undisturbed jungle is home to various flora and fauna – a paradise for nature-lovers. Over 200 species of birds are known to exist in the park, while the crystal clear rivers in Kuala Koh are perfect for kayaking or bamboo rafting. And make sure you don’t miss a visit to the Batek indigenous settlement to watch fire-making and blowpipe demonstrations!
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