Interview: Kelantan state director of tourism – Hafiz Hazin

In Kota Bharu – capital of Kelantan state, we met with Tourism Malaysia’s state director for tourism, Hafiz Hazin and his team. We asked him what the key assets of this state are…

Here in Kelantan, the state is well known for its food. We have a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indians, just like in other states, but there are also Thais because the state is located just near the border with Thailand. So, there is a mixture of Thai and Malay food, especially in Kota Bharu itself. For most people coming from outside Kelantan, this is one of the key attractions. Local dishes include Nasi tumpeng – rice with different layer of dishes wrapped in a cone shape with banana leaf; Nasi Kak Wok – the crispy, tender fried chicken cut into small pieces with gravy curry sauce; Khao Yam – a dish that evolved from Nasi Kerabu, influenced by Thailand cuisine; Laksam Laksei – a common dish from Kelantan and Terengganu, made from rice flour and eaten with gravy; and Nasi Ulam – a combination of Malay cuisine with Indonesia and southern Thailand, consisting of cold boiled rice that is mixed with shredded herbs such as daun kaduk (wild pepper leaf), pucuk gajus (cashew leaf shoots), onions and more. You’ll never go hungry when in Kota Bharu!

Also, here in Kelantan, we have a very rich culture and some of the cultural elements are influenced by Thai people because of the geographic location next to Thailand, so one might say that the unique selling points of Kelantan very much include the food and the culture.

What exciting things are happening in Kelantan?

We have the annual Kelantan International Kites Festival in Pantai Getting, which is a big highlight. People are wowed by the “wau” (the local name for the kite) as Malaysia’s giant kites of various shapes, sizes and colours take to the skies each August.  The festival has been held since 1982. In the past, participants from Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, India, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand took part to showcase their kite-making craft and kite-flying skills.

The highlight of the festival is certainly the kite-making competition along with kite-making demonstrations and workshops. Bazaars selling local food products and crafts will be set up for visitors to experience the local flavour. The event is aimed at promoting kite-flying activities so that it will not be forgotten by the future generations and at nurturing creativity in kite-making activities.

Pak Sapie Galeri
“Wau” making tradition is passed from father to son at Pak Sapie Galeri

This event is organised by the Tourism Information Centre (TIC) of Kelantan in collaboration with the Tumpat District Council, Kelantan Kites Association and Malaysia Kites Council, with the support from various government departments, agencies and the private sector.

It is the main kite festival in Malaysia. Basically, we are promoting the intricate design of the wau itself. During this time, the experts will show the best designs for the kite, but many are only for display purposes. We also have a dedicated museum in Kelantan, which is located in a village around half an hour to 40 minutes from Kota Bharu.

What are the key “selling points” of this state?

We are really focusing on green tourism. Kelantan has dense jungles, high peaks, incredible caves, exciting rapids and is shrouded in mystery and folklore. It hides romantic and exciting adventures, your endurance is tested, your physical and mental limits are reached. It is, for many, an off-the-beaten-track destination. We are increasingly promoting one of the highest waterfalls in the world here – the Jelawang Falls – which have seven levels – in Gunung Stong State Park (GSSP). To see them properly, you have to climb the mountain. It’s very popular, especially when they have what they call Gunung Stong climb. Basically, they have a competition for people to climb – ascend to and descend the mountain. The rugged landscape of GSSP offers many exciting adventures for anyone who loves nature and the great outdoors. GSSP not only has important eco-tourism values but also serves as a significant conservation area with rich flora and fauna diversity.  Animals such as the Asian elephant, seladang, great argus pheasant, Malayan tiger, serow and tapir are known to roam the forest in Stong. With the assistance of a qualified and knowledgeable trekking guide, the traveller’s exploration of GSSP will be made more meaningful as interesting aspects about the biodiversity of the area are pointed out.  The Bogo Rock Shelter, a cave-like formation, is a suitable resting point on the way to the summit of Gunung Stong, which can be reached within four hours of trekking. Meanwhile, Gunung Ayam, the highest peak in the area at 1,504m, is an ideal spot to catch beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  A campsite is available for overnight stays. Visit the breath-taking 225 million-year- old limestone caves at Dabong that house several bat species and rare flora, including an endemic balsam.

What are your main source markets?

We have a lot of border tourism, and are trying to attract more Thai people to come across the border, as there are three main entry points here with Thailand.
Another point that I would like to stress is that soon we will be having an international flight from Kota Bahru to Surat Thani in Thailand which is close to Ko Samui. This will be excellent for foreigners who want to do a “visa run”. After one month in Thailand, they have to come out of the country to renew their visa so it means they just have a one hour flight to Kota Bharu and then they can return. This will create some tourism influx to the region as the flights are only on Tuesday and Wednesday, meaning people will generally stay overnight in Kota Bharu on the Tuesday and fly back to Thailand on the Wednesday
Our airport operator is lobbying for an upgrade of the airport so that we can get more flights into Kelantan. There are several Chinese airlines requesting to fly from different regions in China straight to Kelantan from where they can disperse to other parts of Malaysia, which would bring cost savings for them.
Also it is worth mentioning that when people are traveling to Perhentian Islands from other parts of Malaysia, they will fly to Kelantan and from there travel to the jetty, as it is much closer than flying to Kuala Terangganu. One of the main things on our wish list is to have a proper jetty in Kelantan enabling direct links for those who want to go to Perhentian Islands.  They could stop for lunch and take a short transfer for maybe 20 minutes to the jetty and from there they can go to Perhentian directly. We have been lobbying for this jetty for the past three or four years. It would mean that people going to Perhentian would also be able to stay for one or two nights in Kota Bahru and take advantage of being here as well.