Ask the expat: Kelantan, Malaysia

Ask the expat: Kelantan, Malaysia

Kelantan Expat Advice :

We asked Sara, an expat living in Kelantan, to share her knowledge and top picks when roaming the beaten track of Malaysia. Here’s what she had to say.

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I live in Kelantan on the north-east coast near the Thai border (the dodgy part of Thailand unfortunately..). But it’s gorgeous up here, truly tropical!  

Due to Kelantan’s location and its relative isolation, it is very rural and maintains the rural lifestyle.

Lush paddy fields, rustic fishing villages and beautiful beaches make up the majority of this beautiful peninsula. It is a joy to live here and experience the simplistic life.

Kelantan Expat Advice

1.What do you love most about Kelantan?

What I love most about Kelantan, is that they still use monkey’s to get coconuts from the trees.  Rural living at it’s best!  I also love the fact that there are so many coconut and banana trees everywhere.  Like I said before, it is truly tropical. (Not so much in the main city Kota Bharu though)

2.Name your favourite hang-out spot?

There are lots of great hangout spots but my favourite would have to be the Thai-Chinese restaurant called Chiang Mai.  It offers great food and it’s hidden away just enough to allow for a few sneaky beers too.  

You will come to realise that drinking alcohol is not common practice in Kelantan.  It is one of two states that has actually banned it and therefore it’s hard to come by, but there are a few hidden cellars.  

3.What is your biggest daily challenge?

Getting used to the mosquitos, has to be my biggest daily challenge or annoyance, I would say. They are the worst!  The dress code and having to cover up, also takes a while to get used to. Being a muslim country it’s expected, but in the boiling heat it can be unbearable, you do get used to it however.

4.Recommend a local dish to tantalise the taste buds.

I would recumbent ‘Ayam percik’. It’s a chicken dish, cooked in coconut chilli sauce. It’s delicious. A must try for someone passing through.


5.Local Lingo : Tell us one word you should learn to live like a local?

Trying to speak the language will certainly earn you brownie points with the locals. ‘Boleh’ means ‘can’. If you need to know if something is ok or allowed just ask ‘boleh?’

If it’s ok they’ll say ‘boleh’ back and f it’s not you’ll hear ‘tak boleh’.  It’s a very simple language to learn.  Other useful phrases are: 

Yes- Ya

No – Tidak

Thank you- Terima kasih

Please – Sila

Delicious -sedap



6.Name a place of interest in Kelantan.

There are numerous places of interest close by; waterfalls, rivers and rainforests. Part of Taman Negara (natural park) is actually in Kelantan, so there’s an abundance of natural scenery and things to see and do. 

If its historical sites that interest you then the Istana Jahar (Jahar Palace) which used to be the royal residence in Kota Bahru is situated in Kelantan.  The Central Market (Pasar Siti Khadijah) is also worth a visit, and great for shopping.

7.Describe the best way of getting around.

The best and easiest way to get around would be by scooter, bike or car. They are cheap to rent in Kelantan and give you more flexibility to explore the area.  Just be prepared for unpredictable driving, very much the standard in most of Asia.  

8.Day tripping: One place we should see on a day trip.

I would suggest heading in the direction of the Perhentian Islands, which are easy assessable from the jetty less than one hour away. When you arrive you will be welcomed by white sand beaches and perfect blue waters. Makes for a perfect day trip?  

The Perhentian Islands are made up of two islands, both worth visiting; the small island, Perhentian Kecil and the larger, Perhentian Besar.  

Tourism here is popular due to the number of budget accommodations and locals ability to speak good English.  The scuba diving and jungle trekking also bring in the tourists as well as other popular activities like camping, water activities and snorkelling.

You can see why this island hopping experience can make for a great day trip or a long weekend getaway from mainland Malaysia.  Best times to visit are between April and September when the weather is warm and rainfall is at its lowest.


9.Tips on the best ways to meet people.

Chinatown or the only bar available in Kota Bharu are probably the best places to meet local chinese expats or like-minded people travelling through.  Another spot recommended by lonely planet is the Bike Station Cafe.  Here you can meet local expats, rent bikes or enjoy a few drinks with a view.

10.Finally your Words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom, Kelantan Expat Advice: My words of wisdom for anyone coming to Malaysia would be to wear mosquito repellent….always! Other than that, enjoy the food, soak up the culture and marvel at the sights and sounds Malaysia has to offer.

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I hope you enjoyed our Kelantan Expat Advice.

To read more on our Expat Series click here!


Janine & Janice | Irish Travel Bloggers | Portugal Based Work Smart | Travel Often | Explore More Two Ladies on a mission to life an Unconventional Life, full of Love & Adventure.

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