Sunday, June 11, 2006

Kelantan, From Backwaters To Tourist Haven

Yes, Malaysia is getting ready for the Visit Malaysia Year 2007. Kelantan State, not wanting to be left behind, is making preparations for the arrival of tourists for the Visit Kelantan Year 2007.

The following is an article taken from the New Sunday Times (Malaysia) June 4, 2006 Edition, written by Sulaiman Jaafar.

Kelantan's image of a conservative tourism backwaters is changing.

Industry players are reinventing tour and travel packages to transform the State from just a stopover to Perhentian Island and a place to shop for cheap and imitation goods at the bazaars of Rantau Panjang and Pengkalan Kubor border towns.

Besides the usual city and countryside tours, many operators are targeting local and foreign travelers who have a thirst for adventure, river rafting and ecotourism.

The State authorities are also on an aggressive drive to promote Kelantan overseas in an effort to increase the number of visitors from the 3.5 million recorded last year.

Kelantan Tourism Information Centre (TIC) offifials have so far gone to Dubai and Singapore and will be heading to China soon.

TIC manager Mohd Arif Mohd Nor said the response to the promotional drives was good, especially in the island republic and he was confident of a 10 per cent rise this year.

"Besides the usual focus on culture, traditional handicrafts and shopping, priority is being given to ecotourism - especially at the Stong State Nature Park in Kuala Krai and Sungai Nenggiri in Gua Musang," he said.

Boasting dozens of caves, peaks and a multitiered waterfall reputed to be the highest in the region, the Stong Park is rich in flora and fauna.

Sungai Nenggiri is gaining a reputation for white-water rafting. It is also being developed as a sanctuary for the kelah (Malaysian mahseer).

Arif said TIC was in discussions with travel agencies on ways to increase promotions on the destinations and to improve the facilities.

Several other places are being high-lighted on TIC's foreign trips. These include the Buddist temples in tumpat, which has the largest reclining Buddha in Southeast Asia and one of the biggest sitting Buddhas in the region.

"Buddhist tour operators in Singapore especially, were intrigued when told about the statues as Kelantan is perceived to be an Islamic State," Arif said.

KB Backpackers Holiday Sdn Bhd managing director Nazri Hassan, whose company offers packages to Gunung Stong and Sungai Nenggiri, welcomed TIC's initiatives.

Nazri said the Gunung Stong nature park was fast making a name for itself. His company brings in an average of 200 visitors a month. They comprise mostly local students and a sizeable number of foreigners.

"With the increasing number of visitors, we need to upgrade facilities, particularly toilets at Kem Bahar, the base camp at Stong."

Nazri said the Sungai Nenggiri packages, although relatively new, are popular with student and youth groups.

Besides rafting, visitors are also taken to Orang Asli villages and a limestone cave, Gua Cha, the site of a Neolithic settlement.

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