places to visit in kota bharu

A Bad Start

We have arrived in Kota Bharu after a lovely time at the beautiful Perhentian islands and exploring Kuala Terengganu. It’s late afternoon, and we’re only booked into our room for one night. We’ve decided to try the book-one-night-and-hunt-for-something-better-when-you-arrive plan before diving into the best places to visit in Kota Bharu. We’re very hungry and grotty at this point and we get some food at a decent-looking eatery. Maybe we ordered the wrong things, but it was really terrible. Our mood is darkened further as we go hotel to hotel to find a deal.

Unfortunately, none of the hotels we visit are up for haggling. We’re all tired and it’s not a fun experience, but after a bit of traipsing around, we finally get a good deal at a decent hotel at the other side of the city, and book in for the following 3 nights.

We try to book in the hotel lobby but can’t, and as we leave the hotel to walk to our current accommodation, the rain starts to fall, heavily. The gods are against us. As a last-ditch attempt to salvage something positive, I frog march us to a coffee shop which is apparently good and allegedly not far away.

My goodness, we’re glad we did.

Arnold Cycling Cafe, we love you. We get great coffees and a nice piece of chocolate cake in the cool, modern cafe, and feel a lot better.

We’ve not got the best of vibes from KB so far, but we’ve had a long day, and hopefully everything will be brighter after a sleep.

Things do not ‘get brighter.

Unfortunately, KB turns out to be fairly disappointing.


One of the main reasons we have come here, is to see the handcrafting of traditional items like kites, woodworking, and furniture. We trek to the tourist information office and are told that for a few weeks after Ramadan, the craft festival is not on (this is the first we’ve heard about this). We’re pretty disappointed, especially as KB appears to be a somewhat functional city with little to recommend it. We were advised that the food is great, and we did have a few great meals, but we also had some rotters.

The city is neither attractively modern nor historic and pretty. There are no green spaces or playparks, no riverside walk or promenade. We don’t find any street art or culture, and there’s a lot of litter and more poverty than we’ve seen elsewhere. We look into leaving early, but with the room already paid for, it’s a non starter.


We do witness two bored workers at a car wash amusing themselves by playing tennis with flipflops for rackets and a roll of sellotape for a ball, however, which is a highlight, but not necessarily a on the places to visit in Kota Bharu shortlist…

I notice that I’ve barely taken any photos in KB. We visited a large indoor market and that was great to see and take some snaps at (see below), but even that was a bit grim, with rats running around, and the whole market building being in a real state of disrepair and beggars in the stairwells.

We book the bus to Penang (7 hours on the night bus: eek!) across the other side of the country, and try our best to enjoy ourselves.

Best places to visit in kota bharu: A summary

There ARE good places to visit in Kota Bharu, and we DID have a good time, don’t let me seem like a total misery. Here are some of the places to visit in Kota Bharu if you are looking to come here:

  • Cookery course & village tour: At the tourist information, there is a man named Roselin. He is an absolute character and makes the tourist info a place to visit in Kota Bharu by force of personality alone. He runs cooking courses and can arrange a tour of the villages. We did neither, due to the lack of car seats, but we understand both are excellent fun and good value.
  • Arnold’s: Already mentioned here, this is a modern cafe with great cake and superb coffee.
  • Shan Sri Dewi: Great Indian food on banana leaves, served by super-friendly staff. Nice mango lassi, too.
  • Istana Jahar (museum): There are a few museums all together (and the Handicraft Village) and while it was not the most dynamic of places, it does give a nice insight into traditional weddings and their customs. The Handicraft Village we found a bit meh.
  • Night Market: It’s rustic. And when I say that, I mean that it’s in a car park. And not a very good car park. BUT the food is great, and cheap, and it’s got a good atmosphere. One for the intrepid foodies.
  • Central Market: We love markets, and this was one of our first places to visit in Kota Bharu. It’s a bit rough around the edges but, again, a must-do if you want to take in the sights, sounds, and smells (good ones!).

Penang is reportedly a great island with lots to do for families, so we’re looking forward to that.

Still, a night bus…..