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A Village Escape

I arrived at the beautiful airport of Kuantan town at nine o’clock in the morning. With just a rough idea about Kuantan, I was not quite prepared for the tranquil ambience I would experience there.

Kuantan, the capital of Phang State in the East Malaysia, has a population of about 250,000. As with the other parts of Malaysia, the population of Kuantan is composed of Malaysians, Chinese and Indians. Kuantan people live a relatively slow pace of life. Fishing is a way of life for many although the town has seen much progress. Life still flows simply and calmly in Kuantan; Fishermen go out either in the morning and come back in the morning. The catch will be sold in the local market or exported to nearby countries like Singapore.

According to the fishermen, the best time to catch the bigger octopus is from March to April, while the best seasons for catching the small fish for making keropok or fish crackers is from May to June; In the morning you will find fishermen at the seaside busy unloading their catch. The air rings with their shouts of joy as they unload big catches of prawns, fish and sometimes lobsters.

In the monsoon seasons, the unfavourable sea conditions force the fishermen to stay back in the village and put their time to mend their nets. Activities in the fishing village will then slow down. The monsoon season stretches from October to February. Form March onwards, the village will come alive again. I was told that they could earn RM5 per day by fishing and this supports the whole family.

The Besearah fishing village is well known for its salted fish or the fish and it has been said to even inspire many poets and painters. Sometimes you can see along the shore fish or the fishing equipment transported by the buffalo carts. Normally, buffaloes are fresh water beasts of burden employed mainly in rice fields.

With the help of the government, the housewives have opportunities to participate in the handicraft cottage industry, which allows them to earn more income for the family. Their efforts are showcased in a small kampong provided by the government.

Silkweaving is one of the fine arts for the housewives. To complete one piece, it will take one whole week. The finished products will be sold as souvenirs with the price ranging from RM90 to RM300 depending on their quality. I was amazed at the way they weaved the silk, this being tedious work that needs patience which city people may not have.

The beaches around Kuantan are rich with seashells. It is fun to spend a few hours just picking seashells. Housewives will make use of the seashells, coconuts, and pandan leaves to make all kinds of souvenirs. The results are intricate handicraft after many hours of labour. The unique patterns make them worthwhile to bring back.

Besides fishing, Kuantan people are also involved in plantation work like growing palm trees, coconuts and mangroves. There are six different types of monkeys in Malaysia, but only baboons are used to pluck the coconuts. Locals are not allowed to keep pet monkeys except for the plucking of coconuts for which only the male of the species is uses. They are fed with fresh milk, honey, raw eggs and chicken. They are strong and will even attack humans. It is dangerous to meet them united, as they are not friendly at all. Females are only used of demonstrations fort the tourists because they are not strong and fast enough to pluck coconuts efficiently. Once such female had amazed many visitors by posing for photos and using a straw to drink the coconut water.

Malaysia is the largest palm oil producer in the world. Rows of palm trees planted along the road way are a common scene in Kunatan area. Nowadays, fewer young people follow their fathers’ occupation of fishing. The new generations usually are well educated and tend to work outside Kuantan of in the factories where they can earn RM35 to RM 40 per day. Industries in Kuantan include petroleum, palm, and timber, cooking oil, flour and some foodstuff.

Nature lovers will like Lake Chini. It is 100 km away from Kuantan and is accessible by road from Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan and Singapore with a numbers of alternative routes. If you choose to travel by boat rather by driving, you have to start your journey at Kampong Belimbing, through he Chini Rive before reaching Lake Chini. It is an area that is almost untouched by civilization. The Jakun tribes still live along the shore. The natural beauty of the lake will enchant you.

Lake Chini is a habitat for over 144 species of fish, but the most often-seen will the toman. Fishing is great in Lake Chini during the months from July to January. Gardens of pink and white lotuses will blossom of the lake’s surface, contrasting brightly against the green lily pads. It is indeed a breathtaking scene and you can literally go in between and be part of it. I took a boat ride in between and wondered at the legends about the lake.

Lake Chini is Malaysia’s second largest natural lake. Shrouded in legends, one of the most famous tales is of a magical dragon, which lives in then lake. It is said to be the guardian of an ancient lost city of gold, which lies at the bottom of the lake. The villagers who live beside the lake have allegedly sighted this local “Loch Ness Monster” many times over the years, but to date, no scientific evidence has been found to prove its existence.

Lake Chini Resort is located at the Lake. I could have spent the whole day there doing jungle trekking, bird watching, fishing, camping, boating, canoeing, and mountain climbing; these are the package deal from the resort. I think I was not that adventurous type, I am more inclined to a quiet retreat, having occasion visit of a beautiful lakes, I would be satisfied.

Other than the Lake Chini Resort, Club Mediterranean in Cherating is well known among Singaporeans, Japanese, Australians and Europeans. It is the first village of the Club established in Asia. Entirely built form wood and on stilts, one can hardly feel any sense of urbanization. I have enjoyed my stay there and having to share my fruits with one squirrel; that makes me feel so close to the nature.

I found also there are many different chalets along the road to Cherating. A lady had started all these. She began her business by allowing visitors to stay with her and eat at her home. Back then it was just RM5 a day for food and board. Other kampongs have been roped into her “chain” and it is still comparatively cheap today at RM25-40 per day. I may try that on my next visit.

These simple four days’ away from civilization has brought me closer to the nature, and wondered at its beauty. It is a good village escape for a city girl like me. Given a choice, I would love to visit places like Kuantan now and then to have an ESCAPE from civilization.