Kota Bharu (also Kota Bahru or Kota Baru) is the state capital of Kelantan, on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Many travellers simply pass through on their way to the Perhentian Islands, but those who spend a few days in KB have the chance to go to some of the museums mentioned below, eat some delicious food, look at a unique style of traditional architecture, and get a little bit of the feel of a city that has an interesting cultural identity all its own.
Kota Bharu is a very socially conservative city in a state ruled by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). Be respectful of the cultural and religious sensibilities of its primarily Muslim inhabitants. There is no need for non-Muslim women to wear a tudung (kerchief over the hair), but both men and women should consider wearing clothing which covers their legs and torso completely, and if you are a woman, also consider covering your arms. Tourists dressed in shorts and skimpy shirts seem out of place on the East Coast of Malaysia, but it's not like you won't look out of place if you aren't Asian, anyway. Also, be prepared for breaks to be taken in many places, including the Pasar Malam (Night Market) during Islamic prayer times.
Kota Bharu's small but new and efficient Sultan Ismail Petra Airport (KBR) in Pengkalan Chepa currently receives flights from Kuala Lumpur provided by Malaysia Airlines  and budget carrier AirAsia . Advance bookings especially for AirAsia can be very cheap. Firefly , a subsidiary of Malaysia Airline which calls itself the country's first "community airline", flies Fokkers daily between Kota Bharu and Penang as well as Subang Airport. Flights from Penang to Kota Bharu depart at 11:35am and leave Kota Bharu at 8.30am. For Subang Airport-Kota Bharu route, flights leave Kota Bharu at 1:45pm and 11:45pm. Flights take just under an hour and can cost from as low as RM29.99 before tax and surcharges.
Getting to/away: The airport is 15 minutes from the city centre by taxi. You can also catch an SKMK bus from the local bus station in the city centre.
- Malaysia Airlines: Mezzanine Floor, Kompleks Yakin, Jalan Gajah Mati, 15050 Kota Bharu. Tel: +60-9-7483477 (ticketing), +60-9-7448066 (general)
The nearest railway station to Kota Bharu is at Wakaf Bharu, some 5 kilometers away from the city center. You can catch a public bus there or ask your hotel/guesthouse to arrange a taxi for you (RM30-40).
Trains run on the Jungle Railway to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. One attraction is the Jungle Train which stops at almost every station between Tumpat and Gemas, allowing you to enjoy the jungle as the train travels through the heart of Peninsular Malaysia. Officially the Mail Train 91, it leaves at 05:21 from Wakaf Bharu station and reaches Gemas at 20:00, travelling via Jerantut (for Taman Negara National Park). Gemas is located on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore trunk line and you can catch connecting trains there.
Other trains are:
- To Kuala Lumpur: The Ekspres Wau departs at 18:40 daily.
- To Singapore: The new Ekspres Lambaian Timur departs at 06:20 daily. This train allows you to see the jungles of Kelantan and Pahang as it covers that stretch during the day. The Express Timuran departs at 20:30 daily (around RM70 for an air-con 2nd-class sleeper).
- To Thailand: There are no train services directly into Thailand. You will have to catch a bus to Rantau Panjang and cross the border into Sungai Kolok and proceed from there.
The state-run SKMK and Transnasional is the largest bus company, and runs all the city and regional buses, as well as most of the long-distance buses. It operates from the central bus station (city and regional buses) and the Langgar bus station (long-distance buses). All the other long-distance bus companies operate from Jalan Hamzah external bus station. On arrival in Kota Bharu some of the buses will drop you at the central bus station , but they don't depart from there. Transnasional is the easiest to deal with, as it has ticket offices at all the bus stations. Long-distance departures are from Langgar bus station but, just to make thing confusing, a few evening buses also go from central bus station. Ask which station your bus departs from when you buy your ticket, and book as far ahead as possible, especially for the Butterworth and Penang buses. There are several buses to Butterworth (RM30 , five or six hours), the buses to Penang (RM34.70 , six hours and 15 minutes) with one long stop (60-75 minutes) at Grik. Buses to Penang leave in the morning at 9 am and in the evening. There are also regular buses to Kuala Terengganu (RM16 , three hours) and Kuantan (RM33 , six hours). Apart from that, there are also buses to Kuala Lumpur (RM40 , nine hours), Johor Bahru (RM65 , 12 hours), Singapore (13-14 hours), Melaka (RM55 , 10-11 hours), Seremban (RM48 , 10 hours) and Ipoh (RM35 , seven hours). Other destinations are Alor Setar, Jerantut, Jitra, Gerik, Temerloh, Dungun, Kemaman, Kangar and Kerteh. The other bus companies cover many of the same routes and are worth trying.
Kota Bharu itself offers many museums ( Malay-language only) near Independence Square (Padang Merdeka). Several of the museums and the nearby Istana Balai Besar (the downtown Royal Palace) were built in a unique kind of elegant architecture that is well worth seeing. Arguably the most amazing building, however, is the central market (Pasar Besar). It is an octagonal building in the centre of town and houses a very colourful and active market every day. Nearby is a plain square which turns into the local food market in the evenings (Pasar Malam = Night Market).
Some visitors (particularly those interested in the history and cultural heritage of Kelantan) may also find the Muzium Negeri Kelantan (Kelantan State Museum) on Jalan Hospital 15000 of interest.
The following museums in Kota Bharu are all open from 8:30am-4:45pm every day except Fridays (when they are closed):
Muzium Kraftangan (Handicrafts Museum [with attached gift shop selling handicrafts])
Muzium Negeri (State Museum [see above])
Memorial Peperangan Dunia Ke II (World War II Memorial [very small but worth a quick visit for history buffs])
Muzium DiRaja (Royal Museum [which contains photos of the current and previous Sultans and such-like])
Muzium Islam (Museum of Islam)
Muzium Adat Istiadat DiRaja Kelantan (Museum of Royal Kelantanese Traditions [which contains interesting artifacts and exhibits for those interested in cultural history])
Great temples to visit in the nearby Kota Bharu Town: Wat Pothivihan (huge reclining Buddha), Wat Mai Suwan Khiri (dragon Boat & standing Buddha), Wat Machimarran Varran (sitting Buddha), and Wat Serova Buddhist Temples (Goddess of Mercy - Kuan Yin).
- Cultural Show at Culture Centre 3 times a week @Saturday 3.00pm-4.45pm & 8.00pm-11.30pm, @Monday 3.00pm-4.45pm, @Wednesday 3.00pm-4.45pm & 8.80-12.00pm.
- River cruise along Sungai Galas down to Dabong (2hours).
- Explore the caves at Gua Ikan,Dabong.
- Stong Waterfall, reputed to be the highest in Southeast Asia, drops from a height of about 990 metres.
- Mount Stong State Park. One of the main attractions at the state park is Gunung Stong@Mt.Stong (1,422 meters), a dome-shaped granite complex more than 500 million years old.
- Nenggiri Rafting Adventure - The selected leg of the journey covers approximatedly about 50 km, departing from Kuala Betis / Gua Cha and ends up at Kampung Star.
- Go to the day and night markets. Have Nasi Kerabu for lunch at the day market and Ayam Percik at the night market, or get whatever else strikes your fancy.
- Walk around the downtown area.
- Bicycle around Pengkalan Chepa area (airport), see old WW2 British pillboxes near beach at Pantai Sabak. For history buffs only but no beach anymore due to erosion.
- Go to the beach, either PCB Beach or Irama Beach (Beach of Melody). PCB Beach has batik shop, best is Citra Batik about 500m from the beach. Also eat fried seafood at PCB Beach or Irama Beach with coconut water.
- Batik - hand printed clothes, buy from Citra Batik at PCB Beach or at the KB Mall in town (higher prices but mor econvenient). By own designer.
- Silverware - at the touristy museum in Kota Bharu town.
Kota Bharu is full of delicious Kelantanese food, a unique cuisine influenced by Thai and Indian styles, among others. Lots of goodies are to be found in the pasars and in coffee shops throughout the city.
Among the local specialties are :
- Ayam Percik, chicken which is roasted over a wood fire and combined with coconut/peanut sauce and delicious local herbs and greens. Yati Ayam Percik (847, Jalan Long Yunus) has got to be the best around;
- Nasi Ulam (locally called Nasi Kerabu), rice with fragrant, fresh-picked leaves and shoots, traditionally dipped into budu (fish sauce), sambal belacan (shrimp paste with hot pepper, et al.) or/and tempoyak (fermented durian sauce);
- Murtabak, savory or sweet crêpes; and a wide variety of Kuih (little cakes). Murtabak Raja is the famous one on Jalan Bayam.
- If you visit around Hari Raya time, don't miss the chance to try Tapai, which is sweet fermented cassava or rice, wrapped in tapioca leaves. If you like tea, wash everything down with Teh O (tea with sugar) or Teh Susu (tea with sweetened condensed milk).
- Keropok Lekor Losong (the local version is Keropok Gote), originally from Losong village and considered by Kelantanese to be the benchmark of all fish paste sausages. Comes fried or boiled. Kelantan Keropok Gote is not like Terengganu Kerepok Lekor Losong; it is thicker, about 4cm.
- Durian puffs (locally called Lepok Durian or Gelembung Buaya, they are in 3 colors: red, yellow, and green), at Kubang Pasu wet market in the mornings - for durian lovers with strong stomachs only. These delicious pastries are sold at wet market surrounded by fish. Buy from the lady at the corner, not in the middle of wet market.
- Morning Satay, same lady, but not so delicious. Just for the experience. It also can be found in various restaurants in town. There are a few famous Satay sellers like Satay Baung, Satay Suria, etc.
- Coconut water from the fruit, then scrape and eat the flesh
Hostels can be found in the area near the Central Market.
- Crystal Lodge, 124 Jalan Che Su +60 9-747-0888 firstname.lastname@example.org, . 3 stars, RM100.00 onward. Standard Twin Room RM129.
Hotel Politan, Jalan Doktor (city center), tel. +609-741 8887, email@example.com, . From RM60.
- KB Backpackers Lodge, 1872-D (above Azam Photo), Jalan Padang Garong, 012-988-5068. Rates RM8-35.
- Lee Guesthouse, 263 Jalan KK1/9 (off Jalan Pasir Puteh) +60 9-747-9663, +6017-980-6638 .Free usage of internet broad band facilities (WIFI) & Satellite Television in the living room . Rack rates from RM65.
- Minora Lodge is a 20min walk from the night market. Clean, variety of rooms from dorm to doubles with air-con, RM20-60.
- Royal Guest House, Jalan Hilir Kota +60 9-7430008. Formerly Safar Inn. Rates from RM110.
- Hussin Palace Budget Inn and Guest House, Jln Bayam, +6019-9961960 [mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org]. The guest house was recently renovated. Great Place for Large Families. RM 150 for 2 bedrooms house,RM180 for 3 or 4 bedrooms house,no limit of occupancy. 
- Azam Hotel, Beside Azam Photo, Jalan Padang Garong, +60 9-747-0508, Email Us Rack rates from RM70 - RM100.
- Dynasty Inn, 2865-D&E, Jalan Sultanah Zainab, +60 9-747-3000, email@example.com, . Rack rates from RM100.
- Grand Riverview Hotel, Section 9, Jalan Post Office Lama, +60 9-743-9988 firstname.lastname@example.org, . RM150 onward.
- New Pacific Hotel, Section 26, Jalan Pengkalan Chepa, +60 9-735-1111, email@example.com, . Rack rates from RM188.
- Renaissance Kota Bahru Hotel, Kota Sri Mutiara, Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra, +60 9-746-2233, . 5 star, RM380 onward.
- Pelangi Riverview Kondominium, B-21-09, Pelangi Mall, Jalan Post Office Lama, +60 9-917-5690, ., 4 rooms kondominium, RM200 onward.
From the airport, train station and city you can take a taxi to Kuala Besut for ferry connections to the Perhentian Islands (45-60 min; theoretically only RM25 but good luck paying much less than RM50). If you want to stick to public transport, there is also a direct bus service to Kuala Besut.
This page was last edited at 12:23, on 21 March 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Jani Patokallio, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.