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Quirky beach and street art: Kapas Island and the chinatown in Kuala Terengganu

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Sometimes, I’ll have a wonderful time but find it hard to explain in words. What makes you fall in love with a place and what doesn’t? There aren’t always hard-and-fast rules, sometimes you just do. Such is the case when I spent a weekend in Kapas Island, Malaysia.

I first heard about Kapas Island in another travel blog, saying that it’s the most beautiful island in the country. I’d never been on a beach trip in Malaysia before, but I’d seen the quality of beaches near ports and I doubt that Kapas Island is what it was described online.

[ Related Read: Best places to visit in Malaysia ]

I caught an overnight bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu, and then a short ferry ride to Kapas Island. My first impression is that it’s similar to a nice beach in Batangas in the Philippines at best. It was more matter-of-factly, I was not disappointed. I was already here, so why not push through?

I walked a good 15-20 minutes along the shore before reaching Captain Longhouse, an establishment that has a dorm room for backpackers. It was about 10 in the morning. By lunch time, I knew I’d made the right decision coming here.

Kapas Island, Kuala Terengganu

Quiet and beautiful in its own way

Beach in Kapas Island, Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia

Beachfront of Captain Longhouse, Kapas Island
Beachfront in Kapas Island.

Beach in Kapas Island, Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia

One of the things that amazed me about Kapas Island is the lack of tourists. It’s a great beach (by Malaysian standards) — the sand is fine, the water in shades of blue and green. Clear and warm, perfect for an afternoon dip. Despite this, there were only a handful of tourists here. Some were locals on a day tour, and the rest were foreigners who seemed to be spending several days in the island before going onward to their globetrotting adventure. There was a time when I was laying on the hammock and the only thing I could here was the sound of insects and tree branches swaying with the wind. I put on my swimwear and there were only three of us wadding in the beachfront of our dorm.

Again, I remembered how Kapas Island is described as a “sticky” island — a place that makes you stay longer than planned. Here, time passes by slowly, as if the whole island is operating on a different clock.

I swam, snorkeled, laid down in a hammock, listened to meditative music, took a nap, walked, pet the cats… repeat and repeat, and only 2 or 3 hours has gone by.

So yes, even though I’d seen better beaches elsewhere, Kapas Island has this quality that makes you feel that it’s one of a kind.

Off-the-radar and still comfortable

Kapas Island isn’t that “commercial” and it can even be considered an off-the-beaten find (it’s apparently mentioned in The Lonely Planet), but the island has everything that you need to be comfortable.

There are mid-range resorts, chalets and backpacker dorms. There are at least 2 camping sites in the island where you can sleep hearing the waves just several meters away. There are a few restaurants with delicious food — something that Malaysia always does right. I love my hot morning coffee, banana pancakes, rice with lobsters in yellow coconut sauce, sticks of chicken satay with peanut sauce. And all of these are available in prices that won’t break the bank.

I also love how the beach decors of the establishments in Kapas Island have a unique, quirky feel that reminds me of that in Koh Lipe. Bulbs covered with net, hanging seashell beads that made clang-clang-clang with the wind, wooden structures and coconut shells used as water dipper. I wish I could’ve caught everything in my camera.

Off-the-blog moments

Cat butler in Captain Longhouse
Butler of Captain Longhouse, who greets visitors by snoozing in the front stairs.

A lot of the fun in traveling are those that are impossible to capture in a camera. Long walks at the beach, for instance. Petting the cat that guard the front stairs of Captain Longhouse, and the other one that likes to roll around in the veranda. The clear water and how it feels to be surrounded by nature, feeling loved by Mother Earth herself. The way the water shimmers after stormy clouds harmlessly passed by, as if laughing at its own joke. A good night’s sleep. Fun and awkward conversations with the dorm’s assistant.

I love Kapas Island for these and more.

Postscript: Chinatown in Kuala Terengganu

Kapas Island is one of the few beaches that can be reached from the province of Kuala Terengganu.

In Sunday late afternoon, I caught the ferry back to the mainland and then took a short cab ride to the city. I went to Pasar Sayang, a local marketplace that sells kerepok (fried fish chips) and other local delicacies, as well as batik clothing and handicraft. Though I didn’t buy anything, I felt alive seeing all those unfamiliar items sold in the stalls, the flash of colors and smells. This is one of the reasons I love being abroad.

Kuala Terengganu chinatown streetart

Love locks in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia
Love locks.

Coffee art in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia

I then walked to find a coffee shop and ended up in Kampung China (chinatown) by accident. There were red lanterns on the main street, but more than that, there are hidden alleyways where you can explore various street art and a particular wall that I really like — doodled with love graffiti and a whole section dedicated to love locks. I wish Hali were with me, maybe we’d put one with our name on it. (The more popular destination for street art in the country is Penang.)

I spent a good hour in a coffee shop with this cute coffee art before taking the bus back to Kuala Lumpur.

Katherine in Kapas Island

Good bye Kapas Island, good bye Kuala Terengganu. I’ll see you soon.



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