More museums and culture in Kota Bahru - Kelantan Malaysia

Just to the side of these large Palace gates sits a white stone bunker, not more than 10 feet high. An unobtrusive structure, this used to be Kelantan's State Treasury Bank. Somehow, this bank looks a lot less intimidating than the ones that we have now! - sort of a no nonsense 'put your money in, take your money out' deal. This bank was in use well into the 1900s!

Just a stone's throw from the craft museum gates is this tiny strong room which was the State Treasury Bank (1889 - 1890), built by Sultan Muhammad III

Through the arch and across the road sits Padang Merdeka or Merdeka Square. Nearby is Masjid Negri or the State Mosque. Also known as Serambi Mekah or Veranda of Mecca, this is Mosque was instrumental in spreading Islam throughout the state.

The older parts of Kota Bharu town retains some of its charms and kampung lifestyle, as the rest rushes on towards 2020. This below would likely be how it was in the old days when the main streets were lined with timbered houses and shops

It is said that during the early years, a religious teacher returned from years in Mecca to disseminate the teachings of Islam. His reputation travelled far and wide. Soon many came, eager to learn, set up their temporary huts close to the mosque and began their daily readings with the teacher. At one stage, there were over 300 people living outside the mosque grounds in individual makeshift huts.

Right next to the mosque is a quaint timber building with shuttered windows lining the top floor. This building houses Kelantan's Islamic Museum. The Islamic Museum exhibits Islamic arts and crafts as well as pictures of some of Nabi Muhammad's (Prophet Mohammad) personal belongings. The museum also documents the history of Islam in Kelantan and the influence of Islam in the building of the state. Opening times: 8.30am - 4.45pm except Fridays.

The most interesting War Museum I have personally visited in Malaysia is perhaps the World War II Memorial, right next to the Islamic Museum.

The chronological order of events leading to the Japanese landing in 1939, interviews with villagers who witnessed the landing at the Sabak Beach, the war heroes, the hardship, the Allied troupes, the victory and end of war - it's all well documented and worth the RM2.00 entrance fee and about an hour or two spent.

Upstairs has a collection of bric-a-brac, a selection of photos, some interesting accounts of ordinary people especially the capture and execution of Tok Janggut(a local revolutionary) and a Mr. Chapman who helped the local folk during the trying times of post war. A typewriter with jawi keys makes a unique centrepiece, not to mention the age-old local fascination with Hindi or rather Bolliwood blockbusters hits like Bobby as found in an old collection of vinyls! Opening times: 8.30am - 4.45pm except Fridays.

A pillbox similar to ones built by the allied forces to defend the beaches of Dasar Sabak.The pillbox at Pantai Dasar Sabak no longer exist.

After a whole day at the museums, maybe it would be a good idea to take a break. The riverbank is just towards the end of the square from the War Museum (coming out of war museum, turn right). There's a barge parked by the bank where you can have a well-deserved refreshing soda or rejuvenating limejuice. If it's not too late, you may be able to catch a ferry across to Kampung Laut , some 20minutes downriver. The ferry stops at a makeshift dock just a little distance from the food and drinks barge and leaves at stipulated times stated on the whiteboard, roughly every 1/2hr or so, sometimes when the ferry is full. This little village is also accessible by road, but it can get a little complicated winding through the village roads. What we found most complicated was trying to get out of KB itself! Be forewarned; an updated road map of KB has not caught up yet with the fast moving pace of this town.

Riverboats used to line the length of the Kelantan River. This no longer applies as the river becomes less important from the economic point of view and the fisherman's way of life slowly becomes extinct. Photo courtesy of Arkib Negara

Kampung Laut is the sleepy village where missionaries enroute to Pattani (or down to Jawa, history books are not quite clear on this matter) built the oldest working mosque in Malaysia somewhere in 1730's. (For more, look into: Masjid Kampung Laut). As massive floods began eroding the banks, the local authorities decided to move the mosque further inland; to a place now known as Nilam Puri. After all the fuss and fame of the old Mosque, Kampung Laut has once again returned to its village pace. Those interested in looking for a more authentic kampung walkabout, this may be the place. There is a small cottage industry thriving on cooking and packing 'serunding' for the local markets. 'Serunding' is a Malay speciality, a sort of spicy meat floss that can be eaten as a side dish with rice or as filler with bread.

Once at Kampung Laut, one can't possibly not visit a famous local gentleman by the name of Pak Usop. (or Pak Yusoff Mamad). He is one of the best 'Wayang Kulit' or Shadow Puppeteers in Kelantan and his reputation far precedes him. However, one must be able to catch him at the right time as he spends his mornings as janitor at a nearby school and in the afternoons, he's either entertaining guests at home or visiting fellow artists living in other villages. At the moment, he also spends quite a bit of time teaching the art of wayang kulit and also silat (A form of self defence art specific to the Malay archipelago) to interested students all the way in Kuala Lumpur, which means that he travels and spends at least half the week in the capital city. He also performs wayang kulit at Wisma Pena, just off the Edinburgh Circle in KL. If you would like to know more about where to go, call Pak Usop at (6) 09 - 725 3148. (Only thing, Pak Usop speaks little English).

Pak Usop's old friend, Pak Mat handcrafts the puppets for his performances and also makes a few extra to sell as gifts. Pak Mat makes a variety of sizes from bookmark-sized puppets to performance sizes and costs from RM40 to RM600. Puppets made from cowhide is much more expensive as it takes a long time to treat the pieces bought from the wholesalers. It is also becoming more expensive to buy as most are sold to shoe manufacturers at more attractive prices. Goat hide is more common and are readily available in the market. Once treated and processed, Pak Mat starts his work, using just nails and a hammer to create the many designs.

If you would like to see him at work, Pak Mat works from Pak Usop's house and usually starts about lunchtime right through till evening. If you would like to catch Pak Usop's Wayang performance, pop by the Gelanggang Seni just opposite State Stadium on Wednesday afternoons. He is scheduled there on particular days and at certain times. Gelanggang Seni is the cultural centre of Kota Bahru. One can watch a variety of cultural activities such as kite flying, wayang kulit performances, spinning gasing (top spinning) and Rebana (Giant drum) performances. Check with your hotels or inns for the updated schedule for performances at Gelanggang Seni. Or you could visit the Tourist Information Centre at Jalan Sultan Ibrahim for more information. Operating hours are from:

8.00am - 4.45pm (Wednesday - Sunday)
8.00am - 4.30pm (Thursday)
1.00pm - 2.00pm (lunch break)

Kelantan's old flag symbol used in the early 1920's

Around the corner from the Tourist Information Centre is the State Museum. It is worth a short snoop around just to get a rough idea of the traditions and history of the Kelantan folk, their longterm relationship with the Siam Kingdom and their closeness with Patani in Southern Thailand. Entrance fee: RM2.00per person Opening times: 8.30am - 4.45pm except Fridays.

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