Kuantan; In which we do not stay at the Fook Yew Hotel

There isn’t much of interest in Kuantan, and believe me, I wasn’t interested. We’d only meant to stop there for an hour on the way to Cherating and then got stuck overnight. It had been a five-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur. The guidebook mentioned that the buses to Cherating left from near Kuantan’s tourist information building - not at all close to the main bus station. As the bus came into town we saw the tourist information centre on our right and asked the driver if we could get out while he was stopped at the light. He’d just let some locals off, but told us “just a minute” and then proceeded to drive to the bus station anyway, more than a kilometre away. What is it with bus drivers? No matter where you go they’re jerks. I think they must have to take asshole exams.

So it was a twenty-minute walk in the steaming heat with the packs, all the way back to the tourist information building. Kuantan’s a sizeable town but most of it is suburbs and malls and the downtown isn’t much. The walk was sweaty and unpleasant but it took us past the only thing in Kuantan worth seeing - the state mosque. It’s graceful sky-blue domes and minarets were definitely worth walking past and definitely not worth coming to Kuantan for.

Unused again to the heat as we were, by the time we reached the tourist building we were thoroughly fried and the building’s frigid air-conditioning was welcome. Less so was the news that the local buses didn’t leave from there anymore, but instead left from behind the Central Market which was - you guessed it - right beside the long-distance bus station we’d just come from. I’ve grown to hate guidebooks. The worst problem with them is that they lead you to think that you already know a particular thing, but their information is wrong or outdated. Case in point, if we knew that we had no idea where to catch the bus to Cherating, we’d have asked someone and been spared a long hot walk. But we thought we knew and so didn’t bother to ask. I’ve been caught by this enough times to know better, but this time I was complacent. A word to all wise travellers: never trust any guidebook. Any information in them is suspect until confirmed by locals (although how you know which locals to trust is a subject for another dispatch).

We hadn’t decided at that point whether to head to Cherating, a quiet beach strip an hour away, or stay in Kuantan to visit the beach a few kilometres out of town. Neither of us really felt like another bus at that point - not to mention the hot, sweaty walk back to the bus terminal, and even if we did spend our time on the local beach we’d be staying in town to save money, so we set out to look for a place to stay the night. The dire state of accommodations in Kuantan made the decision in favour of Cherating, but by the time we’d looked at half a dozen filthy, overpriced fleabag hotels (one called the Fook Yew Hotel, I am not kidding) it was too late to go on and we were committed to staying the night in Kuantan - now firmly tagged in my mind as the worst place in Malaysia. The last hotel on our list turned out to be all right for a night, though like all Kuantan hotels it was more expensive than it should have been. RM50 (about CAD$15) is roughly twice what we usually spend on a room. This got us a concrete cubby-hole reeking of cigarette smoke and an air conditioner we didn’t want but used anyway because we’d paid for it.

The benefit of knowing that there’s nothing interesting to see in a place is that it frees you of the traveller’s guilt that comes whenever you take a bit of time off and stop trying to maximize your travel experiences. Still re-acclimatising to the lowland heat, we spent a rare couple of hours enjoying the air-conditioning in the nearest of Kuantan’s many malls, and watching the Malaysian middle-class at its favourite pursuit and reason for living - shopping.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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