A TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant

Author: Melissa Taylor


Perched on the back of a motorbike with the wind whipping through your hair is one of the best ways to see the real Malaysia. I was here for a holiday to explore this vibrant country and experience the traditional culture of this cultural melting pot, Malaysia is made up of Indians and Chinese as well as the Malay themselves. Kota Bharu is where the action was today, at the bustling wet market so that was the plan.

My motorbike driver was speeding along the windy roads that were lined with palms, banana trees and a trickling stream on one side, in the height of summer the vegetation was still a healthy lush green oasis. The driver, Nabil, pulled up at the market and lit a cigarette and got him self some rice with fish as I made my way to the market.

The colored shawls hanging outside flapping in the breeze were a stark contrast to the dilapidated building the market was housed in. As usual, people were surprised and curious to see a foreigner and didn’t hide it as they watched me curiously as I browsed the stalls. Inside was like a colourful maze, it was like something that could swallow you up if you were not careful.

Tiny stalls were packed in against the next tiny stall, all selling stunning hand made batik, diamante head scarves, tassels, fabric samples, silks, gloves and luxurious hand made silk bags. Making eye contact with the sellers meant most of the time they would take advantage and try to sell you some of their wares, ‘’cheap for you miss, cheap for you today” was a common one! Then they would chase you down the corridor offering you a cheaper deal if you declined! The smell of dried salted sardines wafted through the hot, muggy air and people were walking around snacking on nuts and iced tea, drank from a plastic bag with a small straw to cool themselves down. The second area of the market is the wet area, the ground is absolutely covered in exotic fruits and vegetables with women in equally bright headscarves selling them to the passers by. The women were sitting cross legged on the floor whilst gossiping to their fellow stall holders. The colors of the fruit were amazing, some fruits which you would never see in western countries are plentiful, like dragon fruit with its bright purple skin and specled black and white flesh. There were piles of fruit everywhere and the room was huge.

After the market, next stop was a look at the ocean just across the road, the water calmly lapping at the shore was almost as hot as the air outside, about thirty six degrees, not very refreshing! Nabil was now snacking on freshly fried fish cakes with chilli sauce from one of the many road side stalls, food here is a national obsession, so much to choose from and such an array of dishes. Tiny crabs were dashing along the grey sand, and a breeze was wafting along the shore, the salty air smelt good. As prayer calls were being made from the nearby mosque, women and children slowly made their way over to pray. Most of the women were dressed in the traditional Malay dress, a baju kurung and the more wealthy always wore silk ones, covered in swirls of painted patterns. They looked beautiful and its great to see they are still wearing the baju kurung over easily accessible western clothing. Malaysia is a truly unique and vibrant country, seeped in tradition.