Malaysia’s East Coast – Around Kuala Dungun

Terrenganu, a state on the eastern coast of peninsular Malaysia and one hour by plane from Kuala Lumpur, is known to be one of the more rural regions of modern Malaysia, where true Malay customs and Islamic culture pertain in every day life perhaps more than in any other Malaysian state. Regardless of its distance from the capital metropolis, petroleum and gas make up the vast majority of today’s income for most of the population since its discovery in the South China Sea.

The harbour and markets of Dungun, situated amongs almost infinite stretches of dream-like sandy beaches of Terrenganu state, exhibit a wonderful microcosmos. They provide the mean of survival for some of the fishing villages on the outskirts of the town. Monitor lizards, free roaming cats, large birds of prey, crabs, and turtles frequent those vast coastal spaces.

Due to blazing heat of sunrays, interrupted by short bursts of torrential rain and brooding thunder, the streets of the local Kampung villages are mostly empty. In the far distance, a loud speaker from the minaret of a mosque (locally called a ‘masjid’) delivers educational lifestyle advice. Locals sit by the beach and dip their feet in the clear waters. For some reason, they seem more hesitant than the tourists to bathe in the blue.

Across the long bridge over Dungun river and left lies the local market. Here, fresh fish is dissected according to the buyer’s wishes, an abundance of fresh fruit decorates the sellers’ stands, and a myriad of kitties (many of which with clipped tails) are roaming underneath the tables, hoping to get some throwaway goodies. Above the visitors’ heads, large Malaysia and Terranganu flags hang proudly from the ceiling.

The people here don’t shy away from contact, and they are some of the friendliest and welcoming folks you will ever meet. While humongous fish is demonstratively chopped to bits, someone shout “Welcome to Malaysia!”, arms are waved, and initially suspicious stares are usually finished off with welcoming nods and small, shy smiles. Under everyone’s feet, the floor is covered in sea water and diluted fish blood at which the small kitties are lapping away.

Further inside the market, the dry section sells toiletries, gadgets, and Islamic literature, while outside, an infinite stream of small boats keeps arriving and unloading their fresh catch. This is Malaysia at its best.

The people in this beautiful region were some of the most friendly, welcoming and wonderful I have met so far on our planet. An incredible part of the world, where one feels home regardless of religion, ethnicity and standard of living. Terrenganu is somewhat off the beaten path in a broader context of travelling across Malaysia, but it is absolutely worth visiting.

Images taken using my Leica M6, on Kodak Tri-X film. Lenses: Summicron 35mm and Elmarit-M 90mm. Home-developed and scanned.

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