The East Coast is a part of Peninsular Malaysia. Largely rural and comparatively poor, the East Coast's prime attractions are some of Malaysia's most unspoiled islands, featuring great beaches and excellent scuba diving.
Known for being relatively poor with farms, fields and old villages. Nevertheless, it has a distinct culture from the rest of Malaysia, even to the point where the state's dialect of Malay may be unintelligible to speakers of most other Malay dialects.
The largest and most ethnically diverse state in Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysia's oldest national park, Taman Negara, is mostly within Pahang, as are the famed British hill stations of Cameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill. The state is also heavily influenced by the 459-km Pahang River, the longest river in Peninsular Malaysia.
Popular for its islands but also full of coastal villages and fresh fruit and graced with beautiful views across Kenyir Lake.
Other destinations edit
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 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 home to Batek people, a group of Orang Asli, the Indigenous population and the oldest inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia. They are nomadic (i.e. they move from one place to another) with their main homelands consisting of Taman Negara and whatever is remaining of the surrounding virgin forests that remain unlogged.
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 dialects of Kelantan and to a lesser extent Terengganu are 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. The major cities like Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu and Kota Bharu are also home to ethnic Chinese communities that speak various southern Chinese dialects, but most of them are also able to speak standard Malay and the local dialect of Malay.
Get in edit
By plane edit
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.
By train edit
The fabled Jungle Railway chugs over 500 km through the heart of Malaysia from Gemas 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.
By bus edit
By car edit
The E8 lebuhraya (East Coast Expressway) connects KL, Pahang, and parts of Terrenganu; the expressway ends just to the west of Kuala Terengganu, meaning you'll have to use normal country highways if you're travelling to Kelantan by car. There are plans to extend the expressway to Kota Bharu, but an opening date has yet to be released. There are no expressways along the East Coast south of Kuantan, so if coming from Singapore and Johor Bahru, you'll have to drive on regular country roads via Kota Tinggi, Mersing and Pekan.
Get around edit
Getting around these states is usually by car, but there are also bus networks within and between each state.
Probably the most famous attractions are Taman Negara, the virgin rainforest park in the interior of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan, and various offshore islands, though Kenyir Lake in Ulu (upriver) Terengganu is also a beautiful spot. The East-West Highway that connects the states of Kelantan and Perak across the hilly interior, is scenic, too, but the most common pleasant sight on the East Coast is the series of kampung (villages) with coconut trees that dot the coastal highway.
One of the main attractions of East Coast Malaysia is scuba diving and snorkelling. 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). Malaysia's East Coast offers some of best and closest scuba diving to Singapore and is a good option for weekend breaks and long weekends, and many dive shops in Singapore organise weekend trips here.
The East Coast has several distinctive dishes. Kelantanese cuisine, covered under Kelantan § Eat, is particularly famous, but all three states have delicious food.
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.