Cycling Road Trip: Terengganu

For most Malaysians, Terengganu is often associated with fish-based snacks, beautiful coastlines and bedazzled mosques. But for cyclists, Terengganu is also the home state to many of the country’s best riders, most notably, the pocket rocketman Azizulhasni Awang.

So in an effort to experience what these champions went through as they were growing up, we thought we would take a trip there. And because Terengganu is also known for its heavenly beaches, we thought we would take a 123 km cycling route around the northern Terengganu which hugs the coastal line mostly. This brought us to our starting point, Pantai Penarik, one of the last uncommercialised places in Terengganu.  

Being in Pantai Penarik, a textbook example of a picturesque village, all sense of urgency seemed to slip away. Rustic traditional houses surrounded by tall coconut trees on the beach overlooking crystal clear waters of the South China Sea, a veritable tropical paradise.

Located in the district of Setiu, Penarik is roughly 50km from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Terengganu. While it might not be far removed from the urban trappings of the state capital, the pace of life in this village is definitely a world apart. Here, fishing is a way of life and the slow deliberate pace of the locals reflect its serene surroundings.

Enjoying the sea breeze on our seafront accommodations, it was difficult to imagine that this is where champions are made. Idyllic and serene, there is magic in the air to take things slow as possible.

Getting there

For most, the 490km-plus journey to Penarik from Kuala Lumpur should take about six hours on the East Coast Expressway. This is quite a distance from home. To help us get there, we requested some help from Volvo Car Malaysia as we heard their new XC60 Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) is somewhat of a starlet when it comes to packing in bikes as well as long distance comfortable cruising.

A couple of XC60 Inscription Plus models were offered to us; one of Volvo’s star vehicles. This new one really will put a lot of other SUVs to shame. With an interior to die for as well as Plug-in Hybrid technology under the hood and power figures that will put hot hatches to shame, the XC60 didn’t need to do much to impress us but what it was like on a long haul journey really did put the icing on the cake.

To get to our location we headed northeast towards Gombak and took the (E8) Kuala Lumpur – Karak Highway to Kuantan/Genting Highlands. If you’ve ever been on this road, you know that it is a winding uphill road that puts a car’s handling capabilities to the test.

With three full sized bikes in the XC60 we thought that we would get some bike grinding against each other noises in the car, but surprisingly we didn’t which is a testament to the XC60’s stability. There was pretty much no wallowing as it stayed composed throughout the curvy highway. We believe this was down to the air suspension that is included in the Inscription model.

From there, we continued on the East Coast Expressway all the way to the end of the recently completed second phase of the highway and took the Kuala Terengganu exit. Driving the XC60 on a straight highway really did make us fall in love with the SUV.

Due to its great insulation and buttery smooth ride,we would have to slow down several times as we didn’t realise we had already breached the national speed limit, especially with the 16-speaker Bower and Wilkins sound system playing great tunes.

After the exit, make a right at the junction of Jalan Kota Bahru – Kuala Terengganu (3) and take the left at the traffic light by the Felda Building onto Jalan Tepuh – Batu Rakit (T147), continue on until you reach the Batu Rakit roundabout and take the first exit to Jalan Merang (3685). From here continue straight for 36km and take the left at the T- Junction and head straight past the next junction to get to Jalan Penarik – Mangkuk (T1).

From here, it was another 10 km to Penarik. The XC60 is also very fuel efficient, returning a 11 L/100km fuel consumption figure when we arrived at Penarik.

Cycling the gauntlet

With the anticipation of a century ride distance ahead, we started the journey from our accommodation in Kampung Mangkuk with haste.

About three and half kilometres into the journey we reached our first checkpoint, Kedai Makan Selera Pantai, a stall serving traditional Terengganu breakfast fare, nasi lemak, nasi minyak and the quintessential nasi dagang. With breakfast taken care of, we resumed our journey south towards Pulau Duyong with the sun hidden by a thick cloud bank.

While there wasn’t much traffic on the trunk roads, we took the opportunity to enjoy the kampung road that runs right next to the beach. The delightful sea breeze and melodic rumble of the wave produced a hypnotic effect, slowing our pace as we enjoy the ride under the tall coconut trees and coastal vegetation for the next six kilometers.

As the scenic route came to an end, we had to join the main road to Kuala Terengganu, accented by an oil pipeline installation in Kampung Bari and the only natural incline we would encounter on our journey. On the trunk road, the ride was equally pleasant minus the ocean view.

While there wasn’t much traffic on the road, the occasional car zipping past can be a little intimidating. On this road there is a sense of a uniformed randomness, the flat road lined interspersed with coconut trees, roadside stalls, farms, schools and other institutions. Thinking of the long journey ahead, the road doesn’t seem to end.

After 27 km, the monotony of flat roads began to set in, separating the wheat from the chaff in our peloton. Luckily for us, the turn into Kampung Merabang Likar provides an opportunity for us to regroup. This was a 10 kilometer stretch that took us past quaint fishing villages that is synonymous with the Terengganu’s coastline.

Not quite hitting the halfway mark, we decided to stop at Pantai Tok Jembal, a popular spot among the locals, particularly the students of the nearby universities. At noon, the cloud cover that shielded the heat from us began to burn off as we took the opportunity to treat ourselves to drinks and snacks offered at one of the food stalls.

As the sun resumed its usual programming, it produced a retarding effect on our pace. Especially with the headwinds we encountered along the Sultan Mahmud Airport. Barely, eight kilometres into the journey, we succumbed to temptation and took refuge under the shade of pine trees that lined the beach of Pantai Seberang. Here we weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the therapeutic terrain, as lorry drivers joined us by the beach for their afternoon siesta. After the obligatory nap, we pressed on.

At half past one, we reached our destination of Pulau Duyong. Here we took the opportunity to wander around the maze-like streets of the island and take in the sights of the last traditional boat builders in Terengganu.

Here, traditional wooden yachts, in various stages of completion were scattered about the place -- under bridges and along the streets in the proximity of the boatyard. Under the scorching afternoon sun, there is little activity in this village, except for children scurrying home at the end of the school day. Taking a cue from the locals, we sought shelter in one of the restaurants in the area and stopped for lunch.

Exhausted from the morning’s exertion and the late hour, we opted against the scenic route for the return journey. To shave off over a dozen kilometres from our journey, we took the trunk roads and expressway for the journey north. Typically, riding within the city limits is a hair raising experience but the motorist in Kuala Terengganu are a courteous bunch.

On this occasion, the motorists were kind enough to help us while we navigated our way to the second exit of a roundabout. Taking the main road north, this symbiotic relationship between cyclist and motorist is crucial on such crowded roads.

However, as the miles roll past, the traffic seemed to ebb away.  With the return of the familiar kampung scene, we took the opportunity to take it easy, taking time off the saddle to sample the wares of the roadside vendors and relieve our sore butts.

Having reached Kampung Merang at five, we took the most important stop on our journey, the compulsory tea time snack. When in Terengganu, do as the locals do, which is to devour Keropok Lekor by the platter. At Bayu Keropok Lekor, a little unassuming stall by the road acts like a beacon, drawing traffic to its humble structure with the promise of scrumptious keropok lekor. Here we took the opportunity to relax and enjoy the local delicacy.

Although, we could have sat there till the cows came home, our journey wasn’t over. Running out of daylight with 20km to go, we blazed past the idyllic coastal landscape to reach our accommodation just after nightfall.

After 12 gruelling hours on the saddle, having experienced the whole gamut of Terengganu roads, it is clear why this is the land of champions. In Terengganu, it is only easy on the eyes with everything else a harsh master. Our struggle to keep a respectable pace was part of the training imparted by the land.