Story idea: Terrapuri – rediscovering the architecture of a lost kingdom

Terrapuri (The Land of Palaces) is a conservation and restoration project of Terengganu Malay classic houses – reported to be the first of its kind in the state.

In Penarik, about 90 minutes north of Kuala Terengganu, the resort is made up of antique houses, most of which belonged to the Royal family, each between 100 and 250 years old, bought-up in various villages, disassembled, transported and reassembled to form a resort inspired by the 19th century palace of Sultan Mansur II and its surrounding buildings. Terrapuri consists of around 28 exclusive restored villas, a gallery and a beach house. At the time of our visit in July 2018, 15 villas were completed and open to the public. The remaining villas being worked on are finished on the exterior, but a number of inside touches are still being completed.

Most are able to sleep three people, generally with a double bed and a single bed.

Terrapuri Heritage Village is a conservation and restoration project based on the following objectives:

  • To rescue and restore centuries old Terengganu classic houses that otherwise would have been demolished or would have fallen into ruin;
  • Preservation, understanding the cultures, motifs, symbolic, tales and values behind these treasures,
  • Gaining more appreciation of Malay architectural techniques and educating young generations of carpenters (Tukang Kayu) on the eroding heritage of the Terengganu Malay classic house.

In a 20-year labour of love, tour operator Alex Lee, the managing director of Ping Anchorage, has spent close to RM 2-million buying 28 traditional Terengganu Malay houses, the first being purchased in 1990. Over the years, Lee has been snatching up not only old houses but also everything inside them – from highly ornate quail traps and boat prows to coconut scrapers and cookie moulds. He also bought houses that were half-decayed for use as spare parts. Old cengal wood is long lasting and superior to new cengal wood which comes from less mature trees, according to Lee. It all comes together to form a “magical” experience at this place.

Terrapuri 49Lee explains that the Terengganu Malays have long had links with (and possibly originated from) the ancient civilisations of Champa in central Vietnam and Cambodia, and that many renowned traditional Malay art forms, including wayang kulit and dances like Mak Yong and Menora, hail from this area.

The early ancestors of the Malays came from the ancient civilization of Champa in Indochina and Cambodia and settled along the east coast of the Malaysian Peninsular. From 2nd to the 16th century, Terengganu was part of the Malay kingdom of Langkasuka.

Terengganu Classic Houses

Terrapuri 25The Terengganu classic house (Rumah Bujang & Rumah Bujang berserambi) is similar in a number of ways to Cambodian and Thai houses. With its raised platform on stilts, triangular shape, steep gabled roof, gently curved gable ends (Peles), rhomboid-shaped terracotta roof tiles, its walls are made of timber panels slotted into grooved frames.

No nails, screws or bolts are used, meaning houses are able to be disassembled and reassembled like Lego and moved from one place to another. Built entirely of Cengal wood (Neobalanocarpus Heimii), the walls, doors, windows and gables consist of separate wood panels which are fitted together using wooden joints held in place by pasak (wooden pegs) from penaga wood.

Terrapuri 45Maslina Mansour, Director of Sales for Terrapuri resorts explains that while similar to other parts of SE Asia, the design is particular of this region in Malaysia. “The outline of the gable is in the shape of Makara – the goddess of the sea. In those days, people believed Makara would protect the owner from the sea monster. In Cambodia and Thailand, they still have the actual figure of Makara. But here, because of the Islamic influence, there is just the outline of Makara. Even the staircase, if you look, is in the shape of Makara. The roof is the ‘body’ of Makara. With this project, we are sharing certain elements of architecture with Cambodia and Thailand. The houses used to always be positioned next to rivers or the sea, because that used to be the main source of transport. The reason the houses are set quite high is because in the days they were built, there were a lot of wild elephants and other animals that would come around. The elephants would scratch their backs against the pillars, which is why they were so big.”

Terrapuri sits on a tract of land flanked by the South China Sea on one side and mangrove river on the other (Setiu Wetland). In this area, one finds a speckled array of lagoons, marshes, deltas, peat swamps, and Melaleuca forests – offering refuge to many plants and animals. The wetlands serve as feeding and roosting ground for seasonal birds and are stopover sites for migratory birds. Marine turtles find their way to the beaches between May to September. Adding to Setiu’s ecological value are the presence of endangered painted and river terrapins that travel down river to nest in the sandy shores of the river mouth and beach fringes.

Terrapuri 17Setiu is a priority for the Malaysian Tropical Forest Conservation Project (MTFCP) run by the Coral Cay Conservation, a not-for-profit group headquartered in the UK and WWF Malaysia run conservation of marine turtles and painted terrapins.

Under the Government’s East Coast Economic Region plan, Terengganu is destined to become the “tourism hub” for the East Coast.

Terrapuri 52“When we started this place, we thought the guests would all be foreign tourists, because there is no TV, and no Wi-Fi, and the area is not a traditional tourism spot”, says Mansour.   “Main markets are Germany, UK, France, and Dutch, and about 50 Malaysian. We didn’t think Malaysians would like it, because in our culture, these old houses made in wood are not so attractive compared to contemporary housing.”



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