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Worlds apart: From Terengganu’s beaches to Kuala Lumpur’s city action

It was a small but heartwarming moment. There I was, sipping teh tarik at a coffee shop in the middle of a fishing village in Terengganu, sitting opposite an elderly pak cik who was patiently rolling his own cigarette with wizened but steady hands. As I watched him, he suddenly looked up and flashed me a toothy grin. I smiled back, and took a sip of my frothy, milky tea.

It was a small but heartwarming moment. There I was, sipping teh tarik at a coffee shop in the middle of a fishing village in Terengganu, sitting opposite an elderly pak cik who was patiently rolling his own cigarette with wizened but steady hands. As I watched him, he suddenly looked up and flashed me a toothy grin. I smiled back, and took a sip of my frothy, milky tea.

A shared moment; and the world suddenly seemed a lot sweeter.

This down-to-earth friendliness of the locals is probably what keeps Singaporeans returning time and again to Malaysia.

It doesn’t hurt that our neighbour boasts some of the best coastlines facing the South China Sea, and one of the places to experience such small town sincerity, coupled with a bliss-out beach holiday, is at Dungun, Terengganu.

A direct flight via Firefly takes you from Singapore to Kuantan. From there it’s a three-hour drive to Tanjong Jara Resort in Dungun. This exclusive hideaway is fringed by the serene Tanjong Jara Beach, and having only 99 rooms means you get tranquil privacy. My suite was extremely spacious with tastefully decorated interiors — nothing too ornate or fussy. The attached verandah looks out to lush gardens and, in the distance, the jeweled waters of the South China Sea. As much as I wanted to throw myself down on the enticing bed, I decided to venture out to Dungun Night Market, the largest in the area.

NIGHT AND DAY

Like most night markets, Dungun’s is a smoky, noisy affair filled with all kinds of scents, both familiar and foreign. The market is divided into two sections — retail and food — but the food is obviously the main attraction here.

I kicked off my voyage with the ubiquitous kerapok lekor, a type of deep fried fish sausage. It comes in various shapes and sizes and you can choose between the original and spicy versions.

Other local favourites I sampled were nasi daggang (rice topped with a fish curry that’s more sweet than spicy) and putu bamboo (rice flour rolled in shredded coconut then steamed in hollow bamboo pipes). I stuffed myself silly — where else was I going to get such yummy bites all at once?

Thankfully, to counter my expanding waistline, the resort has Quiver, a five-star PADI-certified dive company, conveniently located on site. The dive session I signed up for brought me to Pulau Tenggol, a lick of an island located about 45 minutes away from the resort by speedboat.

Unlike other popular islands like Phi Phi in Thailand or even Pulau Redang in Malaysia, Tenggol is still pretty much untouched. Perhaps it’s due to its small size — there are currently only two locally owned resorts on the island. There were hardly any other tourists barring those in my group. No complaints there.

But it’s what’s underwater that really grabs you: The glorious abundance of marine life around Tenggol would surely impress whether you’re a first-time diver or a seasoned pro. (Just note that the monsoon season in Tenggol is from November to February so the best time to visit will be in March, April, October or November.)

At the first dive site in Tokong Timor off the coast of Tenggol, I quickly realised I was being followed by an adorable longfin batfish, which are known for their peaceful, sociable nature.

But not all the sea creatures encountered were as welcoming as that little friend. A titan triggerfish, known to be especially aggressive during mating season, butted my dive instructor in the head and kept charging at her repeatedly. It took a good 10 minutes of thrashing about before she was rid of it. Thankfully, our second dive at Raja Wali was far less eventful. At times, it felt like I was in Finding Nemo, as I spied clownfish (Nemo), a Moorish Idol (Gill) and even a sea turtle (Crush).

If you’re not a fan of underwater activities, you can sign up for the resort’s cycling tour, which takes you to the nearby Kampong Seberang Pintasan. These tours only run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and the two-hour journey whizzes past Tanjong Jara’s shoreline right into the heart of the village.

Don’t worry; you won’t be cycling non-stop. There is a refreshment break midway through the tour during which you can refuel at the village coffee shop to devour crispy roti Chennai and teh tarik.

FROM KAMPUNG TO KUALA LUMPUR

After two idyllic days by the beach, it was a bit of a jolt to fly into the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, just 45 minutes away by plane.

The epicentre of the city has to be Changkat Bukit Bintang, an affluent suburb just a stone’s throw away from Hotel Majestic, where we stayed. This area truly comes alive in the evenings with the many bars and restaurants in its vicinity. It’s a cosmopolitan melting pot of sleek, sexy hangouts. You can indulge in Pisco-based cocktails, and eye candy at Pisco Bar, before heading over to No Black Tie just a few doors down for a glimpse of the artistic soul of Kuala Lumpur, as the crowd unwinds to jazz tunes, Brazilian funky beats and poetry reading.

Another great way to unwind is to step back into Malaysia’s genteel colonial history at the Hotel Majestic. It had its grand opening last December, and the handsome building — built in 1932 and located just across from the old railway station — is the latest baby by the Malaysian hospitality group, YTL Hotels.

The Tower Wing, a spiffy 15-storey Art Deco building and the Majestic Wing are both grand, but I soon discovered there’s a distinct advantage to staying in the latter. For starters, there are sumptuous fittings in the rooms: Plump pillows, claw-foot bathtubs and bay windows that recall the hotel’s glided past as a residence for dignitaries. And you have round-the-clock butler service, too.

Lunch at The Colonial Café in the Majestic Wing serves “colonial Malaysian cuisine”, with dishes as varied as prawn noodles and T-bone steak. One particularly winning dish is the baked seafood shell crab, which is a creamy blend of seafood heaped into a hollowed-out crab shell. By the time we were done with such a decadent meal, it was almost time for dinner.

Men can get a taste of colonial pampering of a different sort at Majestic Spa, where there’s a dedicated grooming space for them too in the form of Truefitt & Hill, also known as the British royals’ official hairdresser. Ladies can indulge in treatments like Queen Victoria’s Lavender that begins with a foot scrub in a floral porcelain tub and the English Afternoon Tea that has nothing to do with leaves but consists of a Garden Berries Massage and an English Rose Facial.

The royal treatment? Definitely. Where else can you get a chance to attain that Kate Middleton-esque glow to hit the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur?

This trip was made possible by YTL Hotels. For enquiries or reservations, please contact YTL Travel Centre at travelcentre.sg [at] ytlhotels.com.

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