Road Trip – Penang to the east coast of Malaysia by car

We booked a holiday at the Perhentian Islands, departing from the jetty at Kuala Besut, but neither the flight schedule nor the bus schedule was convenient for us, and there is a secure parking area near the jetty, so we drove.  Besides, it is an interesting drive. It would take about five hours non-stop, and is about 350KM, much of the way being on Route 4.

map of route

In fact, it was an adventure – due to the driving of many of the other road users. We departed earlyish Sunday morning, thinking that traffic would be light.  And we decided to take it slowly and look at a few sights along the way. At first one drives along the motorway, and then a fairly flat and straight road past Kulim. Traffic was light.

flat and easy going

Later it starts to climb, and is hilly until one reaches  the plain on the other side, around Jeli.

slightly hilly

The traffic stayed reasonably light at the slopes became steeper, and there were some lorries and a few buses, but most traffic was passenger cars.

some hills were terraced

A small but significant minority of drivers took the risk of overtaking around blind corners or before the crests of hills. I took the precaution of following another vehicle where possible.  Unfortunately, it was not always possible. Now that it was quite hilly and many curves, overtaking was often difficult.  One oncoming driver didn’t let the small matter that he couldn’t see the road ahead over the crest of a hill discourage him from overtaking a lorry, nor when he noticed our car in his path heading straight towards him did he abandon his manoeuvre.  Fortunately for us there happened to be a verge on the side of the road – usually there wasn’t – and I braked hard then pulled off the road, while that driver carried on his suicidal way, past the lorry, and on possibly to shorten someone else’s life.

the earth was very red

So far there had not really been anywhere to stop, apart from mostly uninviting looking mini-hawker centres. No where to stop and admire the view. However, now we come across Lake Temengor. As you approach the bridge shown below, there is a military base on the left, with a tank displayed at the front, and a parking area where you can stop. On the right is a resort hotel, but up high, seemingly without access to the water.  I was going to drop in and see the rooms…

Lake Temengor

…but on the other side of the bridge is Belum Rainforest Resort, and I spent so much time there I thought we had better not dawdle any longer.


To enter Belum you have to pass through a security barrier – just tell the guard anything and they let you in. They have a very nice cafe, pictured below. The resort is very pleasant, the rooms, of which there are a great many, small but clean and modern – although the room I saw smelled a bit musty. You can take tours of the rainforest, see Rafflesia, swim in waterfall pools and generally enjoy nature. My only concern would be bugs – as soon as I alighted from the car a mosquito immediately located me and had its fill before I could eliminate it.


Moving on, we later spotted an elephant sign. I only noticed two elephant signs on our route, most signs being of cattle. Elephants are apparently nocturnal, so an elephant appearing suddenly in front of your car is another reason for not driving at night. Another major one being the cars with no rear lights that suddenly loom up in front of you.

one of two elephant signs we spotted

Later on you reach the summit of the mountains, and there is a big parking area, big hawker centre, and a nice view. We didn’t stop this time. Later still there is a swimming spot near a waterfall on the right hand side – it is signposted, so easy to find. And then a bit further on is my favourite spot, near the intersection of Route 4 and Route 200.  You cross a bridge over the river Sungai Pergau, then turn left, then left into a small lane soon after, and you reach the base of this hill. Last time I was here I could swim, but the river was a bit too rapid this time. However, one man was swimming. There is a small hawker centre there, too.

swimming spot

It was now 1PM, so we decided to carry on and get to Kuala Besut. Traffic was becoming heavier – then I realised that Sunday was a working day in this state (Kelantan State). Children were going to school, or returning home, and businesses were open.  Once we approached Jeli traffic was crazy. Cars pull out in front of you from left or right as they cannot just wait five seconds for a clear moment, and then just crawl along as if they weren’t in any hurry after all.

Kelantan River

This situation continued for quite a distance to about the turn off to Route 8, and then suddenly it was light traffic all the way to the turn off to the south.

after this the traffic improved

We are not sure what this giant concrete fruit is. We saw some interesting names of villages around this area – Kampung Pak Mud, of a river – Sungai Satan…


After the turn off to Kuala Terengganu it is a nice four lane road, and then another 15 minutes or so down an ordinary two lane road to Kuala Besut.

GPS on arrival at Kuala Besut

We had booked the Hotel Samudera for the night as it seemed like the best of a bad lot. But it is well past its prime, and I wouldn’t recommend it.  Close by is a newly renovated hotel called T’Lodge (Tel. +609-6978777;, with a nice cafe called C Putera on the ground floor. This looks a much nicer place to stay. (By the way, the 208KPH was not registered on this trip – it was in Germany in a friend’s Porsche. The traffic was too heavy to go fast, he told me.)

Air Tawer beach

Air is Malay for water. And Tawer is probably Malay for tower. We drove south along the coast and found nice beaches. And there was next to no litter. Amazing.

another beach

About 20 minutes drive along the coast towards Kuala Terengganu we found the Bukit Keluang Beach Resort.  This is a nice place to stay, and the staff are very friendly.  The only disappointment was the pool. The beaches nearby are very nice, so the pool is not so important.  While waiting for the next day’s boat to Perhentian Island, I’d stay either here or at the T’Lodge, the latter costing about one half to one third of the former.  Without a car, of course T’Lodge is far more convenient.

It’s a nice drive across the peninsula, and there are lovely beaches to welcome you.  But you need a driving strategy to avoid head-on collisions – drive with your headlights on, follow another vehicle if you can, and be aware that a car could be coming straight at you.



  1. I’ll be sure to come back to this post when we plan our Perhentian road trip. I’m hoping you’ll write about the island, too. I’ve heard wonderful things about it.

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