WITH its picturesque beaches, idyllic islands, delicious cuisine and people so friendly that senyum sokmo (smile always) was adopted as the state’s unofficial tagline, there is no shortage of reasons to visit Terengganu.
I must confess I have always been partial to the east coast. Family ties notwithstanding, I grew up on keropok lekor and nasi dagang, and spent many school holidays in or around the South China Sea.
Incidentally, one of our favourite spots was Resorts World Kijal, formerly known as Awana. Only four hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, it offers a perfect setting for a weekend jaunt to recharge with sun, sea and sand.
The opportunity for a revisit recently was too good to pass up.
Departing from Kuala Lumpur in the morning, we were at Resorts World Kijal by lunch — just in time to sample the sumptuous buffet spread at the hotel’s Restoran Kampong Meraga Beris, which included authentic East Coast fare such as nasi ulam, singgang, ikan celup tepung and more.
For those with a sweet tooth, the range of treats from western cakes and sweets to local delights should be enough to satisfy the most demanding dessert connoisseur.
A quick tour around the hotel revealed not too much has changed over the years, but the staff offer warm hospitality to make guests feel at home.
The sprawling property, offering 340 rooms — including majestic Anjung and Putra suites, Premier and Deluxe units — is the only five-star resort in the area, with a private beach that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Even with a huge resort full of guests to your back, it is easy to feel like the 7km of pristine coastline is yours alone to traverse, accompanied only by the sounds of crashing waves.
A surprising fact: There are seven turtle landing spots along the beach.
The resort’s fun and adventure manager K. Ragunathan said: “When turtles mature at around 20 years old, they come back to the same beach they were hatched to lay eggs.
“A few years ago we noticed turtles coming back to this beach.”
The resort capitalises on this by offering “turtle packages” — a three-day, two-night stay which includes a turtle watching experience.
“We would keep a lookout all night for turtle landings. When one comes to shore and she’s ready to lay her eggs, we’d call the guests to come see,” said Ragunathan.
“It takes around three hours for a turtle to lay 80 to 120 eggs per batch.”
The best time to witness this is during turtle season, which is from May to September, according to the resort’s general manager Julia Ter Abdullah.
“We’ve had around 500 turtle landings this year.But of course, we cannot predict when a turtle might come up,” she said.
In the event there are no turtle landings, guests can still have an enjoyable and educational experience. At the hotel’s hatchery, guests can ‘plant’ turtle eggs, mimicking their natural incubation state in an environment safe from predators and poachers.
If there are hatchlings ready for the sea, guests are invited to be part of the release, which was what happened during our trip.
After a hearty dinner at Oasis Beach Restaurant, we headed to the waterfront where dozens of little baskets were waiting. The turtle hatchlings inside climbed over each other, eager for their first taste of the ocean.
Ragunathan warned against using flash photography, which may blind the hatchlings. Guided by flashlights and excited cheers (as if the hatchlings understood us saying “Go that way, baby turtle! Towards the sea!”) the hatchlings made their way to their natural habitat.
Baby turtles are surprisingly fast. We waited with bated breath until all the hatchlings were out of sight.
It was a magical experience tinged with bittersweet sadness at the knowledge that their chances of survival are tiny at best.
“Out of the dozens of hatchlings released, perhaps one will make it back. We’ll see in 20 years or so,” said Ragunathan.
The spacious and comfortable room might keep you in bed the next day, but early risers will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the sun rising over the South China Sea.
To explore what the city can offer, day trips to Kuala Terengganu can be arranged by the resort.
A must-visit attraction is the Crystal Mosque at the Islamic Heritage Park. Its architecture and reflective exterior of glass, crystal and steel is truly magnificent.
For souvenirs and local delicacies, head to Pasar Payang. The sheer range of keropok, serunding, and kuih on offer will make you want to sample everything — and the vendors are more than happy to offer a taste and explain the differences between the different treats.
Noor Arfa Craft Complex offers a fascinating look at how batik is made. Established in 1980, the company has been a pioneer brand in crafts for decades.
Visitors will get an insight on traditional songket is weaved and how the two different types of batik — batik terap and batik canting — are designed and produced.
You can even try your hands at painting your own batik on pre-designed cloth, which makes for a great keepsake.
Back at the hotel, it was time for some rest and relaxation.
There is something for everyone at the resort.
Golfers will appreciate the driving range and 18-hole championship course, with equipment available for hire if you forget your clubs.
Guests can also get pampered at the Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa, which offers holistic spa and massage packages.
Meanwhile, young ones can keep themselves occupied at the Children’s Smarty Club and huge playground of the children’s pool.
There are also quad bikes and bicycles for hire to explore the grounds, as well as jet skis and banana boats for adrenaline-fuelled fun at sea.
And all too soon, it was time to say goodbye.
Julia and the rest of the hotel staff waved us off with warm smiles and calls for us to “come back soon!”
Leaving felt much like the turtles that always find their way back to the same beach — I knew it wouldn’t be too long before my next visit.