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Reasons to Visit Kuantan: Things to Do and Places to Stay

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Reasons to visit Kuantan: go off the beaten path in Malaysia with great things to do in Kuantan and tips on best places to stay in Kuantan.

One of the reasons to visit Kuantan was that we needed to get out of Australia. We’d booked two Australian house sits, but their timing exceeded the 90 days at a stretch Americans are allowed. Hoping to exchange timeshare points, we looked in vain for a location in New Zealand and had to expand our search.

reasons to visit Kuantan beach photo market scarves

The main Kuantan attraction was that we needed to make a visa run. 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. It’s true not many Western travelers consider Kuantan a place to visit above other destinations in Malaysia.

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Reasons to Visit Kuantan

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, our Kuantan trip itinerary had us take an hour-long commuter flight into Kuantan.

visit Kuantan
Kuantan’s airport is pretty basic, albeit under improvements

You’re probably wondering what the reasons to visit Kuantan actually are or what to do in Kuantan. The truth is, there really aren’t that many things to do in Kuantan. Examples of what to do in Kuantan at night are super scarce.

If you do a quick search on the internet, Kuantan attractions for visitors are pretty limited. Places to visit in Kuantan range from tourist-y excursions ranging such as a twilight firefly tour by boat (which actually sounded quite fun). This was consistently the main attraction in Kuantan that everyone mentioned. Resources tout the best place in Kuantan for high-end shopping : Kuantan’s East Coast Mall (not our cup of tea) as well as a 25 km journey to look at some waterfalls. There were few other attractions in Kuantan.

But we’d advise you to change your expectations of Kuantan. Things to do are low-key and places of interest in Kuantan are as well, so 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, one of the best things to do in Kuantan is embrace the fact that you are in an under the radar location where it’s possible and preferable to just be. Don’t worry about where to go in Kuantan, just keep the schedule as blank as you can. The rest of the world is far, far away.

Best Things to Do in Kuantan

One of the best things to do in Kuantan, in our opinion, was to get up at dawn to walk Balok beach. This rarely appears on lists of Kuantan tourist spots. You’ll be treated to amazing sunrise vistas and you’ll have the beach virtually to yourself. This beach tops our personal list of interesting places in Kuantan. The solitude will soothe you.

Kuantan what to do: morning sunrise on Balok beach
South China Sea sunrise

Probably our favorite experience: a visit to the Balok town market on Wednesday night for local color and amazing street food. If you look for “Kuantan night market” results will show this one.


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).

Kuantan's best place for seafood seaside seating
Russian men at Pak Su seafood restaurant Kuantan’s best place for seafood

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 Kuantan
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. The few Kuantan places of interest slowed us down without us realizing that was just what we needed.

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.

Best Hotels in 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. This is where to stay in Kuantan. 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, a top place to visit in Kuantan for personal care, 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. Kuantan travel is best done by taxi and they’re constantly available.

Pinnable Images:

reasons to visit Kuantan
10 best reasons to visit Kuantan
head coverings kuantan shopping

Tips for Trip Success

Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using Kayak, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.

Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
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Wednesday 2nd of October 2019

Thanks this post, taking us along to an unknown place. I love to get off the beaten path and explore local culture and for sure the markets. It seems that Kuantan has still retained its original charm and it reminds a bit of our stay in Langkawi in 1994. The people were so friendly and the morning and the evening at the beach were awesome.


Tuesday 11th of September 2018

As a local who was born & was lucky enough to get to work in Kuantan, i'm glad that you guys enjoyed your stay in Kuantan.. Kuantan is very laidback compared to the vibrant Kuala Lumpur. That's what make me love Kuantan. Amongst tourists attractions in Kuantan, Balok is well known amongst the local. There's Cherating Beach which is loved by foreign tourists.. It is about 15-20 minutes drive from Balok. Perhaps one day you may try visit there. Thank you for the nice write up! Have a nice day

Visit Malaysia? Oh, Yes! - Passing Thru

Friday 14th of August 2015

[…] you’ve been following our journey as full-time travelers, you know that we’ve visited Kuantan (on the east side of the Malaysian peninsula) and stayed in Johor Bahru (across the International […]

Johor Bahru: Bridging Old and New in Malaysia - Passing Thru

Friday 17th of April 2015

[…] we’ve done has made me realize how pathetic my knowledge of world geography is. We’d enjoyed our previous Malaysia stay in Kuantan, so we looked forward to […]

Charles McCool

Thursday 12th of February 2015

Kuantan looks like a place I would love to visit. Excellent write up. And house sitting gigs? Brilliant!

Betsy Wuebker

Thursday 12th of February 2015

Hi Charles - I bet you would love it, so happy you enjoyed our report.

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