Cherating and Kuantan, or “In Which Nicole Climbs a Surprise Mountain”

After several hours aboard a bus, we finally reached Cherating, where we would be spending our Chinese New Year holiday before going to Kuantan (the capital of Pahang) for state-level orientation. We took a few moments that evening to explore the beach near our dorms, and climbed the water tower to get a better view.

Taking pictures of beaches ranks in the top ten of my favorite things.

View from the water tower. The first of many stair-climbing adventures.

The amazing (words cannot express the extent) Puan Faridah let the fifteen of us choose what we wanted to do for the long weekend. Our first stop was Teluk Chempedak. It was literally impossible to take bad pictures there.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

We then visited a batik factory. Batik is a style of cloth in Malaysia and Indonesia that is made from stamping wax on a plain cloth and then dipping it in dye (for an American audience: think of a more complicated, more expensive version of tie-dying that uses wax instead of rubber bands). Indonesian batik has tiny, intricate designs, whereas Malaysian batik tends to have bigger loops or regular patterns. I’m still very much a novice at recognizing batik, even though all the teachers at my school wear baju kurungs with batik designs every Thursday.

The man stamps a pattern in wax, and then will dip this cloth in red dye. The wax is then peeled off, leaving behind a white pattern. This can be done again and again until the design has many different colors.

After that, we went to a beach, played in the sand, and then went for a firefly boat ride. The water was unusually high that night, so we saw fewer fireflies than are usually seen. Regardless, fireflies came right up to the boat, so we could capture them gently in our hands, and then let them fly away again. I regret to say that I have no idea where we were; my journaling was sub-par (read: non-existent) during this part of the trip and Googling “fireflies in Kuantan” is not helpful. If you are a Pahang ETA reading this and know where we went, please send me an email. Thanks!


So peaceful. We were unaware of what would come next.

The next morning, we crossed Sungei Lembing (Lembing River) via a rickety rope bridge and then headed to Bukit Panorama. I should have known that something was afoot when Puan Faridah said she’d wait for us on the bus and didn’t follow us up the hill.

Bukit Panorama, or “Panoramic Hill,” is 325 meters (1,066 ft) high, not quite a mountain, but by any standards, it is quite a tall hill. Under normal circumstances, it would have been an energetic but doable climb; that day, it was a grossly unpleasant surprise and some of us (myself included) were not dressed for, nor were we emotionally prepared for the trek. After much bellyaching, we finally reached the top and enjoyed the panoramic view. After this day, “I refuse to climb a mountain today,” was a line often heard during our orientation.

View from the top.

In all our sweaty glory.

On the way back, we visited Charas Cave, which contained a Sleeping Buddha. After climbing Bukit Panorama, the last thing I wanted to do was climb more stairs, but walking around in the cave made me feel like Lara Croft, so it was worth it.

More stairs? Really?

“I will follow you into the dark…”

Buddha. Sleeping.

That night, we introduced Puan Faridah & Daughters to the glory of a beachfront campfire. We roasted the only bag of halal marshmallows in all of Kuantan (and about three years beyond its expiration date) over a fire fueled by driftwood. The more scientifically minded among us designed and implemented trenches to avoid rising tides for as long as possible. Ultimately the South China Sea reclaimed our fire, but it was fun while it lasted!

The next morning, we visited Tasik Chini (Late Chini). Tasik Chini is known for its Snake Hole and its orang asli population. We took a boat ride to see both.

The Snake Hole has various legends associated with it. My favorite is the one in which the dragon-snake of Malaysia went to fight the dragon-snake of Thailand, and after an embarrassing defeat, the Malaysian dragon-snake burrowed in the hole to sulk. Our tour guide told us that this particular dragon hasn’t been seen since the 1960s. It’s like the Loch Ness monster, except uniquely Malaysian.

Not exactly what I expected…

As for the orang asli – for those not familiar with the term, it means “original people,” and refers to indigenous Malaysians. Orang asli are nomadic people who live in the jungle. They generally speak their own languages, and this specific community has children that commute to a government school by boat. The orang asli have a reputation for being tough and self-sustaining; the man in this photograph told a story about fighting and killing a tiger.

Friendly locals with excellent English, thanks to the tourism industry.

After our tour, we had a little bit of time to explore Tasik Chini and I went kayaking for the first time! I was afraid my camera would be ruined with all the splashing and possibility of drowning, so I have no pictures of the experience. Except for this:

It’s shocking and awful how long it took me to draw this in Adobe Photoshop. Or, as I affectionately call  it, “Really Expensive Finger Painting.”

For dinner, the ETAs were treated to a special reception on the pier. This was the first of many chances I would have to embarrass myself singing karaoke. My first song: “This Love” by Maroon 5. In retrospect, there were better songs to sing to a Malaysian audience…

I have many fabulous pictures of Katie.

The next morning (have I mentioned how much we did during these few days?), we went to a Malay double wedding. A brother and a sister were getting married at the same time, and we were invited to the reception. Malay brides can wear whatever color they desire at their weddings; these two chose baby blue and neon yellow.

Wedding guests!

That night, we had a surprise birthday celebration at Pizza Hut (unexpected dinner #2), and finished up the night with karaoke.

So photogenic, guys.

“Rolling in the deeeeeeeep…”

These few days blur together in my memory, so if you are a Pahang person reading this and I got any of it wrong (possible/likely), please send me an email so I can correct it. We also did several things I didn’t photograph, which are now lost to me. I distinctly remember a dinner at a government official’s house where we all swayed and sang “Lean on Me” without knowing most of the words.

Whew! And after this sight-seeing-filled weekend, it was time to get started with Pahang orientation.


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