The East Coast is a part of Peninsular Malaysia. Largely rural and comparatively poor, the East's prime attractions are some of Malaysia's most unspoiled islands, featuring great beaches and excellent scuba diving.
The East Coast is the poorest and most culturally conservative part of Malaysia.
The economy is largely based on agriculture, and the people are fairly conservative. Most women wear a headscarf. Kelantan and Terengganu (but not Pahang) implement many aspects of Islamic law (syariah) in public. Beaches and supermarket queues are sex-segregated, and the availability of alcohol is limited. Unlike the rest of Malaysia, the weekend in Terengganu and Kelantan runs from Friday to Saturday, with shops and banks closed on Friday but everything open normally on Sunday.
On the resort islands, however, rules are far more relaxed. On these islands there is little gender-segregation and alcohol is readily available. If a backpacker decides to sunbathe topless in these areas, oglers (not imams) are her top concern.
The East Coast is highly seasonal, with strong monsoon winds and rains lashing the coast between November and February. Most resorts on the islands shut down during this period, transport links to them are very limited, and high waves and poor visibility make most water sports impossible. The "good" season is April to October, with June to August being the busiest months.
Standard Malay is spoken by nearly everybody, but the dialect of Kelantan is infamously difficult for outsiders to understand and the version of Thai spoken near the northern border may also be unintelligible to speakers of standard Thai.
There are regular mainline flights on Malaysian and Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur and Penang to Kota Bharu, Kuala Terengganu, plus turboprop services from both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Tioman and Redang on Berjaya Air .
The fabled Jungle Railway chugs over 500 km through the heart of Malaysia from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur up to Tumpat near Kota Bharu. There is a railway from Thailand, but it has no passenger services, so you'll need to take a bus from the Thai railhead at Sungai Kolok across the border to Rantau Panjang and onward to Kota Bharu.
One of the main attractions of East Coast Malaysia is the Scuba Diving and Snorkeling. There are several islands to visit and dive from. The smaller islands which have the least amount of dive centres are generally more rewarding. The coral around Pulau Sibu Island for example is in much better condition than the more famous Pulau Tioman (less bleaching and diver damage) East coast Malaysia offers some of best and closest scuba diving to Singapore and is a good option for Weekend breaks and long weekends.
The East Coast has several distinctive dishes, which usually fall under the moniker of Kelantanese cuisine and are thus covered under Kelantan, although they're widely available in Pahang and Terengganu as well.
These laws do not apply to non-Muslims, so Chinese and Indian shops may legally stock beer and spirits, but their stocks will often not be on public display and prices tend to be high. On the resort islands in particular, you'll be looking at upwards of RM 10 for a can of beer, so stock up before arrival. One notable exception is Tioman which is a duty-free island.