Before moving here, I did my share of googling – believe me – but unfortunately I can’t say I found a wealth if information about Kemaman. Aside from the fact that it was a district in the eastern province of Terengganu, there really wasn’t a whole lot to it. Terengganu, in general, boasts some of the countries most beautiful coastlines and islands and there was enough information about it for me to get mesmerized by Google Images, convinced that I’d be living in a tropical paradise of endless magical beauty, just like the stock photos. I’m not. The beaches I’ve seen so far along the eastern coast are wonderful but we haven’t gotten around to any sort of island hopping yet. Anyway, not being able to find information on Kemaman should have been my first clue, but it wasn’t. I kept googling, in hopes that I was just missing a goldmine of tourist information that would tell me exactly what to expect. No such thing, the goldmine was my ticket here, and I’m still working on it. What I did find, however, highlighted three main tourist attractions.. which I managed to do all within the first week of being here.
1) Mesra Mall: Check! This is touted as a state-of-the-art modern shopping experience. Ehh.. It was alright.. I’ve been here about 4 times and I’m not sure if it’s just the time of day that I go but it’s always empty. Most of the stores are local brands with some familiar names here and there. The food court is purely local, but they have a Pizza Hut (nothing like back home, however), Burger King, and.. that’s it. It may be my general disinterest in malls but Mesra Mall doesn’t do it for me… it’s nice that they’ve got a bowling alley and a movie theater though, but I must add that this is the ONLY movie theater in the entire province of Terengganu! (Sidenote: people were talking on their cell phones during a movie we went to! And it was no big deal. I tried cutting a few daggers but the dark rendered my powerful gaze ineffective). So, compared to the rest of the buildings and places to go around town, it definitely IS a modern, state-of-the-art shopping experience. However, I personally equate it to one of the smaller, lesser-liked malls from my hometown. I actually felt bad saying that, like I was hurting the mall’s feelings. Sorry?
2) Turtles: Check! Kemaman’s beaches used to be a nesting ground for endangered turtles and terrapins, until the locals started seeing their eggs as a delicacy and began stealing them, leading to the declaration of their extinction in 2004. This led to concentrated efforts to get the turtles back to safely nesting on Kemaman’s beaches, one of which was the opening of Ma’Daerah Turtle Sanctuary. Although I have yet to visit this sanctuary, I did take part in a turtle release program, as part of a Turtle Protection Program started by the resort that I have been staying at all summer. 1 day old baby turtles were released out to the sea to attempt to instinctively make their way down to Indonesia, which is where they were known to originate. Out of 1,000 that are released, only 1 turtle actually makes it there alive. Crazy, right? Crazy cute! (It wasn’t that cute when I felt a crab the size of a football scurry between my legs on the beach as I did this, however)
3) Kemaman coffee: Check! As much as I adored the turtles, I am in love with famous Kemaman coffee. In fact, the coffee is the main reason why the area is known for food-based tourism. Kedai Kopi Hai Peng, serves the original Kemaman coffee that is now so popular nation-wide that there are designated kopitiam (“coffee shop”) franchises all around Malaysia. The aroma was enticing – rich and smoky – and the coffee seems to be made with a little bit of condensed milk and is served as is (reminded me of Vietnamese coffee). It is traditionally served with roti kaya (bun with coconut spread), but is popular with any of the traditional specialties – Malay noodle and rice dishes (nasi lemak, curry mee, etc), various types sandwiches and spreads. Hai Peng is always filled with locals and pit-stop travelers alike, the aroma of coffee and food, and decor and memorabilia from a bygone era.
Old Town White Coffee, a popular franchise, also serves a type of roast unique to its origins: the city if Ipoh, Malaysia. White coffee just means that it’s black coffee that has the addition of cream, milk, or whitener, although at first I was convinced that it meant something completely outrageous as the term is unheard of in North America. It is kind of outrageous actually – the coffee beans are roasted in margarine, giving the coffee a caramelized flavor. Totally unorthodox, right?! In general, the east coast is brimming with fantastic coffee shops that serve better-than-expected roasts, and an array of traditional Malaysian snack food, and my favorite: real juices, smoothies, and yummy tea concoctions made with fresh fruits and herbs.
Don’t worry folks, there are plenty of other activities, eateries, and beaches in the Kemaman area that have sparked my interest. This was simply what Mr. Google claimed to be the “must-do’s”, and how funny, I did them in like, a minute. Next on my list: Go on a boat cruise at dusk on a popular river known for watching fireflies. After that, I plan to start batik painting classes in a nearby beach side village called Cherating Beach. This is, of course, after the headache of moving subsides, I get some wheels, and am brave enough to attempt driving on the “wrong” side of the road.. 😉