Why You Should Visit Kuantan

If we had planned a trip to Malaysia in the first place, we’d have chosen Kuala Lumpur rather than visit Kuantan. But the universe had other ideas.

We needed to get out of Australia. We’d booked two Australian house sits, but their timing exceeded the 90 days at a stretch we’re allowed. We needed to make a visa run. Hoping to exchange timeshare points, we looked in vain for a location in New Zealand.

With time running out, we had to expand our search. When a nice-looking resort in Malaysia popped up, all of a sudden, we were going to visit Kuantan. Quite frankly, we’d never even heard of it.

Photo Credit: vacationstogo.com

Photo Credit: vacationstogo.com

Kuantan is the capital of the Malaysian state of Pahang, located on the east coast of the peninsula that shares Thailand to the north, Kuala Lumpur to the west, and Singapore to the south. Distances in this part of the world are always somewhat surprising. We don’t tend to think of them as being as far as they are. To visit Kuantan from Brisbane, we first flew to Darwin for a quick overnight, and then on to Singapore, which is a 4-½ hour flight. From there we caught an hour-long commuter flight into Kuantan.

visit Kuantan

Kuantan’s airport is pretty basic, albeit under improvements

You’re probably wondering why should you visit Kuantan at all. If you do a quick search on the internet, attractions for visitors are pretty limited. You can take some tourist-y excursions ranging from a twilight firefly tour by boat (which actually sounded quite fun) to high-end shopping in Kuantan’s East Coast Mall (not our cup of tea) to a 25 km journey to look at some waterfalls.

But we’d advise you to change your expectations and put away the guidebooks. Honestly? We wouldn’t go out of our way to do any of these things. We’d head straight north out of town to the little beach community of Balok for another no-pressure idyll.

When you visit Kuantan, embrace the fact that you are in an under the radar location where it’s possible and preferable to just be. Keep the schedule as blank as you can. The rest of the world is far, far away.

Get up at dawn to walk Balok beach and you’ll be treated to amazing vistas.

visit Kuantan

South China Sea sunrise

Visit the Balok town market on Wednesday night for local color and amazing street food.

Cruise the oceanside highway for the freshest seafood and ethnic restaurants. Budget between $7 and $20 USD for a full meal for two with wine or beer (yes, it’s available, just not everywhere).

visit Kuantan

Russian men at Pak Su seafood restaurant

Go into Kuantan city proper for more hustle and bustle, designer knockoff merchandise (smaller sizes to fit the Asian physique), and franchise mimicry if you must.

visit Kuantan

Head coverings in every color

If you’re Caucasian, you probably won’t see too many people who look like you on the streets, in the mall, or on the beach. If you’re a female who doesn’t cover her hair for religious reasons, you may be the only one at times.

visit Kuantan

I was frequently the only one without a head cover at breakfast

As Malaysia is a Muslim country, you’ll see street cats, but no dogs.

visit Kuantan

Street kitty

None of these details really matter except to note in passing. We were welcomed with smiles and broken English, questions about where we were from, and expressions of pleasure that we would visit Kuantan. All was quite disarming and we were charmed.

visit Kuantan

Bright lights at the night market

visit Kuantan

Goats keep the median trimmed

visit Kuantan

Blue rice colored using a flower

visit Kuantan

Good, inexpensive fresh food for everyone

Sometimes as travelers or vacationers, we get caught up in chasing superlatives. We pursue the Bucket List with a vengeance, almost desperately. We hit the big destinations as rites of passage so we can swap stories and check things off. Yup, been there, did that. Yep, going next year. Yes, it’s on the list.

Part of this has to do with lack of time. It’s hard to justify spending precious resources on a lesser-tier destination when you’ve only got a week or two. But even with more freedom, this self-imposed conditioning can live on in the way we do things.

visit Kuantan

Flowers outside the spa door

But let’s plant a little seed. Consider: We forget that there are places in the world which offer us the chance to really slow down. We forget the value of experiencing the quiet beauty of everyday life. Of heading to a location where lots of people are, but no one we know has ever been.

Sometimes it’s not about the big stuff at all. Instead, it’s about a taste of something good, a smile on a friendly face, a bit of tension with the unfamiliar, with maybe a  spectacular sunrise thrown in. If this resonates with you, you’ll want to visit Kuantan.

Tips and Notes: We supplemented our timeshare exchange week at the Swiss Garden Resort Kuantan with a couple of extra days at our own expense. The transition was seamless. Swiss Garden is one of the area’s premier ocean-front resorts, and a well-known landmark with locals. Staff from the site manager, who personally drove us to the Balok Wednesday street market, to food service and housekeeping are all dedicated and outgoing, eager to please. Not all are English speakers, so you might get a “yes” as a default response. The property has the award-winning Samsara Spa with treatments for skin, hair and nails. Pricing is so affordable you will probably over-indulge as we did. Our suite and the resort itself could have used a bit of interior updating and attention to details, but all was very spacious and quite adequate for our needs. Internet was fast and free, but out for a day due to infrastructure damage from severe flooding in another area of Malaysia a few weeks prior. Food at the resort was tailored primarily to local tastes, but there was sufficient variety, particularly at the breakfast buffet, to satisfy an American palate. The pool area is large, with separate section for children. Out of deference to local custom, swim attire, including coverups, is limited to pool and beach. Beach and pool area are served intermittently with a casual bar which has a few snacks, but elaborate poolside service is missing. Both beach and pool were pretty much deserted during the week. There are two restaurants and one night club in the resort, as well as a lobby bar with a nice, but limited menu. Local restaurants in the neighborhood are within walking distance. The resort is about a half hour from the Kuantan airport by cab, which will run you about $20USD. Your cabbie will be happy to take you to an ATM for Malaysian money.


    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Patti – Time zone differences were in our favor. The Balok beach sunrises are truly spectacular. One of the most beautiful beaches ever.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Katrina – I think you might be right about Malaysia. Thailand gets all the attention. Everyone we encountered in Malaysia was just lovely.

  1. says

    I love the looks of that market and the seafood. I believe there are great things to see and discover wherever we are, whether it is a popular bucket-list destination or some under-the-radar place. Did you ever feel uncomfortable because of being one of the few women with uncovered hair?
    Donna Janke has an awesome blog post here: Long Distance FriendshipMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Donna – No, I never felt uncomfortable without a head covering, and I think I was the only one making the distinction. You’d love that market! 🙂

  2. says

    Wow it looks like you truly explored this place, and you were right I’d never heard of it. Malaysia has never really been high on my list but I’d definitely consider bumping it up after getting hungry just looking at the food 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Matt – You’d love the variety of food. Pete could have crawled around that market every night!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Josie – You’re right about slow travel, and Kuantan is definitely one of those gems.

  3. says

    Your comment “Sometimes it’s not about the big stuff…” really resonates with me because we feel that travel is a great way to experience a slowed-down life as well as enjoy the amazing sights. We like off-the-beaten-path locations and Kuantan, Malasia looks like a very appealing place to stop and watch the world around us.
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – You’re right. If we concentrate too much on the big stuff, we don’t see the little details and places that can be so much more rewarding.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Sean – That’s a great way to look at having to do a visa run. There’s no way we would have visited Kuantan without the necessity of doing so. Funny how things work.

  4. says

    You are so right. I too often find the most pleasurable travel experiences in places I hadn’t planned to vsit or even heard of before finding myself there. Not only is this an excellent post on Kuantan, but a great testimony about getting away from the most poplular tourist desinations — at least once in awhile!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Marilyn – We’ve got to be ready to be spontaneous, don’t we? And that is so hard to do when there’s a structured plan and limited time. We’re grateful we can be as flexible as we have been.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Noel – I think you’d enjoy it. It’s a bit off the track and that’s a good thing. 🙂

  5. says

    Thanks for the comprehensive introduction to Kuantan. I’d never heard of it before, but you’ve given some pretty compelling reasons to give it consideration. I’ve never been to Malaysia at all — though I almost made that happen last year. Glad that you mentioned the beer and wine — I was actually wondering about that. 🙂
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Cathy – Yes, we do like to have our cocktail hour, so we were happy there wasn’t too much work associated with it. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – we really did. It’s definitely not a smooth, sleek location, but that’s part of its charm.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Elaine – Yes, although the locals don’t live in a resort like we did, we tried to get out and experience everyday life as much as possible.

  6. says

    We returned to a smaller version of this market on Saturday to have dinner. Fabulous. I think I had one of everything. BBQ was Wow! Fried chicken could not get enough. Plus soft serve ice cream cone for dessert.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi GypsyNesters – We do, too. We’re hoping for more of the same type of happenstance!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – It never really occurred to me either until I thought about it. I’m such a dog lover I don’t think I could stay long in a place where they weren’t welcome.

  7. says

    Hi Betsy. Thx for this great travelogue on Kuantan. I’d not previously heard of it either! I agree that sometimes things happen for a reason, and that is is likely that you needed the “slow-down” that Kuantan offered you. We just ret’d from a one-month retreat which I specifically chose because of its slow-down appeal. We loved it!
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Doreen – A one month retreat sounds heavenly! Can’t wait to hear about it. 🙂

  8. says

    That Chinese Sea sunrise photo is incredible. The morning Swiss Garden resort video is great, looks so peaceful and beautiful there 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Alli – Yes, that was a good morning for photography. The location was always peaceful and virtually deserted. 🙂

  9. says

    Amazing Betsy! I love your way of telling the story and including the terrific photos and video. I really get the feeling of being in Kuatan. I especially liked the short videos of the street markets. Guess we need to add Kuatan to our travel list.
    Sue Reddel has an awesome blog post here: Deliciously Unique Le ChiqueMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Sue – Thank you! You would definitely get a kick out of the Balok Wednesday market.

  10. says

    I get more intrigued by Malaysia all the time. I may be one of two people on the planet who isn’t all that keen on Thailand after giving it multiple tries so Malaysia seems like a calmer, less tourist-trampled alternative.

    Having been the only blonde – and with blue eyes and no head-covering – quite a few times in Muslim countries, I’ve never felt uncomfortable about the lack of a head covering. I have felt like what my sister calls “a traveling freak show” because so many people have asked to have their picture taken beside because I’m so weird looking (I hope only to them)!

    This is a well-written and very enjoyable post – thanks!
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kay – I think you may be right in comparing Malaysia with Thailand, although I can’t say for sure. I did notice surreptitious glances from folks as we walked through the market and at local restaurants (not in Kuantan proper, but more in Balok). But they were friendly and we were approached several times with “Have a nice day!” and “Welcome!” – clearly their only English.