Welcome to Kota Bharu, Malaysia!
Located only a few miles away from the Thai border, Kota Bharu is a city in Malaysia that while bears a lot of resemblance to other Malay cities, is still very unique in its own way. Kota Bharu is an old city and a beautiful one, with sunny hot weather and beautiful beaches that can only be found in these parts of South Asia. Because of its geographic position, there are a lot of Indians, Chinese, and Thai that call Kota Bharu home and these influences give Kota Bharu its distinct personality.
Kota Bharu loosely translates to “new city,” and while that might have been true at one point, Kota Bharu has a lot of history behind it, as well as a lot of cultural mixing unique to this part of Malaysia. Every worldwide local knows that the unique eccentricities are what make a city worth seeing. This insider’s guide will help you uncover all the hidden gems there are to uncover.
Worldwide Local Tip: Kota Bharu is a pretty socially conservative city governed by the Islamic Party of Malaysia, and visitors should be respectful of cultural sensibilities. Western women don’t have to wear a headscarf, but both men and women should always wear clothes that cover their torso and shoulders. Also, be aware of the city coming to a bit of a stop during prayer hours.
Don’t Miss the Kota Bharu Beaches
After a long flight into the Kota Bharu airport, you’ll likely be ready to relax in the sun. Luckily for any travelers heading to Kota Bharu, there are some beautiful options for beaches. The Pantai Cahaya Bulan means “moonlight beach” in Malay, and is considered one of the best and most beautiful in Kota Bharu. Locals usually refer to it as PCB, which will come in handy if you’re asking for directions. Along the beach, you’ll find some delicious restaurants nearby, serving freshly caught seafood, making PCB a perfect way to spend a hot day.
Worldwide Local Tip: PCB is probably the most popular beach, meaning it will be the most crowded one in the city. If you’re looking for a quieter place, consider heading to Irama Beach. It’s a short distance outside the city center but the views and the water are just as amazing. Nearby, local stalls sell fresh coconut water. It’s a little less popular, a little out of the way, but definitely a great alternative.
Enjoy the Kota Bharu Food
Speaking of deliciously fresh seafood, Malaysian food is some of the best in Asia. Being at the confluence of many countries means that every ethnicity and culture comes together. Each brings their food from their native land and in turn the culinary landscape of the country changes. For breakfast, consider a plate of Nasi Bharu, which is a plate of blue rice, crunchy prawn crackers, and hard-boiled eggs seasoned with curry only found around these parts of the country. Kota Bharu also has a large Tamil community, so if you’re craving roti or mango lassi, then you’re in luck. The Sri Devi restaurant reportedly has some of the best Sri Lankan fares in the city.
Worldwide Local Tip: Because of food restrictions in this very Muslim city, certain items normal to a western non-Muslim palate might be unavailable. If you head to Chinatown, however, you can indulge in some delicious pork spare ribs and some alcohol, which is rarely seen in other parts of town.
Immerse Yourself in Nature
Kota Bharu is full of natural beauty. Lush green landscapes of the jungle and the crystal blue waters of the sea, make Kota Bharu a truly beautiful place. Take a trip down the Galas River, one of the main waterways in the state. People come from all around the country to get a view of the river and the jungle that surrounds it. Tours are recommended if you’re going to take this trek, and they generally last anywhere between a few hours to a couple of days if you’re up to it (which you should be!).
Worldwide Local Tip: If you’re not up to spending some time in the jungle and prefer easier sightseeing, check out Bike Station Cafe. This cafe not only serves some great iced coffee and fruit juices, but guests can rent a bike and cruise along the waterfront promenade for the afternoon.
Enjoy Your Stay!
Kota Bharu is probably one of the least visited cities in Malaysia, but a worldwide local knows that seldom-visited cities often hide some of the most authentic experiences. Kota Bharu is home to beautiful beaches, lush jungles, diverse food options, and it should be your next Southeast Asian travel destination.