Nice expansive beaches, fireflies, monkeys and more — Cherating in the East Coast is a good bet for a weekend getaway.
Tourist attractions, especially the nice beaches, tend to be mobbed by, well, tourists. You can just imagine how they are during the peak season as locals and visitors alike descend on a smallish stretch of seafronting real estate.
And so it was an eye-opening experience when we visited the East Coast and enjoyed a relaxing vacation away from the madding crowd. That place was Cherating.
Located at the northern part of Pahang, it is a place of wide and long stretches of white sandy beaches and soothing breezes. A 45-minute drive from the airport is all it takes to reach the place. My friends and I were just so happy to have the beach virtually all to ourselves that we spent the whole of our first day there.
The beaches here are unique in that they slope very gently towards the sea with no sudden drops. During low tide, the sea retreats so much that you can stroll 50m out. It was just wonderful being able to wander around the beach, gaze at the magnificent sunset and be soothed by the refreshing sea breeze.
One of the lesser known tourist gems here are the firefly tours up Sungai Cherating. We followed Hafiz, a local tour guide who is so passionate about the insect that he became a Malaysian Nature Society member and participated in international symposiums on firefly research. His tours are not business as usual with customers taken straight to the fireflies without so much as an introduction.
Conducting only one tour every night at 8pm sharp, Hafiz begins with a 10-minute briefing on the wonder that is the insect. He ensures that everyone, especially the children, learn about the firefly’s behaviour, habitat and what makes it special.
When it was time for the tour proper to begin, we donned life jackets and were taken on a boat for a cruise along the still river as the stars shimmered in the night sky. Each time we came close to a firefly-populated area, Hafiz would whip out his own contraption, a special torch, and begin to draw the fireflies to the boat without causing any harm.
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The descending insects were like stars falling from the sky. Little twinkles of light drew near, and some even rested on my shoulders and hands. The river trip is a great reminder of the beautiful natural heritage in Pahang.
Unfortunately, trying to capture the fireflies on camera was close to impossible — flash lights would overpower their natural light, and they would not stay still long enough for a low-light picture. So it’s best not to fret over not being able to take that picture-perfect moment. Just sit back and enjoy Mother Nature’s show.
After this awe-inspiring night, we decided to follow a guide to see the cultural attractions in the area. A particular favourite was to watch a monkey called Salleh plucking coconuts. It was marvellous to see the communication between the master, Pak Ali Sulong, 67, and Salleh, whom he had trained since young.
With his strong and deft front limbs, the monkey would twist the fruit approved by Pak Ali until it fell to the ground. Pak Ali cut open a few coconuts and we had a refreshing drink as we listened to his tales. He even showed us his skills in balancing a 3kg gasing (spinning top) and said he frequently participated in tournaments .
Another local cultural activity worth witnessing is pandanus weaving. Our guide brought us to the weaving centre where we met Zainu Abdullah, 53, who started weaving when she was only 12. She carefully showed us the process of removing the thorns and cutting the pandan leaves into strips before bleaching and soaking them in dye. The strips were then used to weave mats, bags, baskets and even fans.
Our stomachs were growling after a few futile attempts at weaving the leaves, so our guide brought us to sample the must-try local delicacy in these parts — keropok lekor. Keropok lekor is essentially fish sausage, produced using fish meat blended with sago flour and other spices. This would be rolled into small sausages and fried or steamed, depending on your preference.
On our last day in Pahang, we decided to be more active and take a plunge at the Bukit Gambang Resort City in Kuantan. The resort city has the biggest water theme park in the East Coast at 243ha, and utilises cashless transactions for all visitors. This cashless system, or e-value system, basically incorporates a prepaid wristband that allows you to pay for food, tubes and even locker rental within the water theme park without having to carry a wallet around.
The lockers also use a RFID (radio-frequency identification) wristband which eliminates the need for coins. We raced each other at the six-lane Racer Slide. The many twists and turns of the Crystal Slides had our adrenalin pumping.
As the day drew to an end, we packed our bags and headed for the airport with a tinge of sadness. All of us looked forward to returning to calm and serene Cherating soon. – By Edmund Ngo
Firefly offers direct flights to Kuantan from Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore three times a week.
For more information, visit: www.pahangtourism.com.my