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December 27, 2006

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Happy New Year! Last week we left off from Kuala Lumpur (here’s the link to the archives). This week we hop on an intra-country flight to the coast of Terengganu. This is in northeast Malaysia (only a 3-hour drive from Thailand), in what is considered the country’s most Islamic of all 13 states. If you want see an incredible resort situated along the shores of the South China Sea, bring your bathing suit – we’re checking in to the Tanjong Jara Resort. If you’re in a hurry or have ADD, don’t worry; there’s a 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week’s story.

I’ve heard lots of questions about the effects of the 2004 tsunami that devastated 11 countries along the Indian Ocean -- especially Sri Lanka, the beaches on Phuket (Thailand) and the entire northern tip of Sumatra (Indonesia). Although 68 people died in Malaysia, the country feels lucky; since 229,866 people were lost in the region. Malaysia was fortunate, because Indonesia shielded the wave(s). I’m guessing that’s why the Malaysian government doesn’t put up a bigger stink about Indonesia’s fires. That was the biggest bummer about Malaysia for me. Every year Indonesian farmers burn their crops and forests as a cheap way of cultivating the land. This creates thick smoke and serious health problems, not only for Indonesians but also their neighbors in Malaysia and Singapore. Someone has to stop this. It was so bad when I was there in early October that it shut down some airports and schools. I don’t recommend traveling to this region when these burns take place (in 2006 they began in July; the worst occurred in October). For more information about the 2006 Southeast Asian haze, click here.

There are two good things about taking the 28-minute KLIA express train to the airport from the city: It cuts your travel time in half, and you can check in for your flight (including your bags) at the station. All I had to do at the airport was go through security and wait for my flight. I browsed the shops, and grabbed a breakfast sandwich and fresh- squeezed watermelon juice at a nice café (all for the low price of 18RM [$5]). I also logged on to the free wireless internet signal (why can’t all U.S. airports have this too?). My 35-minute flight to Kuala Terengganu was uneventful. I flew on a half-full Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737, with friendly flight attendants who served juice and coffee. Round- trip tickets cost 316 RM ($90). That’s a lot better than a 482 km (300 mile) drive that takes roughly 6 hours.

Terengganu, Malaysia’s most Islamic state, was the first Malay state to receive Islam (as attested to by a stone monument dated 1303). Until a few years ago, strict laws governed everything from Western bathing suits (no bikinis) to shutting down movie theatres (Malaysia had very strict censorship regulations). But a new regime changed all that. They now embrace tourists – in fact, they’re even building a new Kuala Terengganu airport. On the flight over I had no idea what to expect – especially after seeing that everyone on our plane was Muslim. But as all travelers should do, I kept an open mind.

Our group was picked up by our resort in two Volvos; the cost was 300RM [$84] per car. Instead of driving an hour and 20 minutes directly to the resort, we stopped after 20 minutes at the Kuala Terengganu central market (known locally as Pasar Payang). The market, located near the Terengganu River, is said to be one of the most popular tourist spots in Kuala Terengganu. Well, where were the tourists? We were the only Westerners there. We stuck out so much, I expected the music to stop like in the movie Animal House when we walked into the indoor/outdoor market. However, that didn’t happen. Everyone was very friendly, and did not push their goods on anyone. When I asked if I could take somebody’s picture (it’s always a good idea to ask), they all kindly obliged. The huge market sells everything from clothes to machetes to sweets to fresh seafood, vegetables and fruit. One kilo of rambutons cost 1 RM (30 cents). Bottled water was the same -- is that unreal?! They also sell keropok lekor, a local delicacy made from a mixture of fish and sago (a powdery starch). The highlight for me -- besides interacting with the locals, including teenage girls who giggled when I told them I was from California -- was seeing all the rickshaws lined up outside.

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Copyright 2006 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Malaysia Airlines


Boarding The 737


Kuala Terengganu


Drive To Market


Central Market






Fish Market


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