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Travel Times (New Straits Times)

May 3 - 9 2005

If you think Terengganu is all about islands in the sun, you're missing a lot. The Marang River Cruise, for instance, shows you the rustic charm of village life along the river. Story and pictures by SHANTI GUNARATNAM

TERENGGANU is not all about the islands of Kapas, Tenggol, Redang and Perhentian. Tired that for so many years now, tourism is concentrated mainly on its islands in the South China Sea, the State Government has decided to open its lakes and rivers to visitors. For instance, along its rivers, there are plenty to see that do not involve getting wet, snorkelling, scuba diving or sunbathing on the beach.

One particular river that's fast becoming popular is Sungai Marang. There's a regular River Cruise available which offers visitors a glimpse of the daily life that goes on along its banks. Villagers are working together to make a living from tourism. Small kampong houses have turned into "little factories" producing coconut sugar and exhibitions on attap roof weaving are held among other activities. You can sample Terengganu delicacies like nasi dagang and its ma,ny sweet delights and watch monkeys plucking coconuts., So excited are the villagers about the change that some elderly couples have opened their homes and hearts to visitors anxious to see what kampung life is all about - for free!

In some villages like Kampung Gong Nangka and Jerang, time seems to have stood still. "We are happy that things have remained the same here. For us, what is important is ensuring visitors go home happy and that not too much development comes about," says Zaleha Mat Su, 30, who makes coconut sugar for a living. Operating from her home, Zaleha makes the sugar from fermented coconut water and charges RM1.50 a piece. She sells some 20 to 30 pieces a day. The income is enough for her and she is quite content for things to stay this way. "City folks love coconut sugar because it can used to make traditional cakes, bubur and drinks. Many soya sauce makers also buy the sugar from us."

Down the road from her house, 74-year-old Pak Uda Mohd and his monkeys make a living plucking coconuts. Through signs and a special language only understood by master and his primate, the monkeys can pluck some 100 coconuts a day- which earns Pak Uda about RM20."Tourists are absolutely fascinated by what the tame monkeys can do and sometimes, these animals are in a mood to show off," he says. "Many visitors spend whole afternoons following me around to watch the monkeys up to their tricks. Some foreigners, especially the Japanese, are so taken up by the kampong lifestyle that they often come back for more," he adds. Pak Uda is also a medicine man who sometimes advises tourists on what to do and what to eat if they are coming down with an ailment. He doesn't charge for consultation but grateful tourists have rewarded him. According to Pak Uda, July to September are good months to visit the villages because it is the fruit season.

Kampung Gong Nangka is also where mengkuang bags are made, mainly by housewives who want to earn some extra income. These are sold to Kraftangan Malaysia, which in return exports the bags. Don't be surprised if you see Elizabeth Hurley or even Posh Spice totting one of Mila Karmila Mohd Mokhtar's colourful bags which come in all shapes and sizes."I have 34 women working," says Mila Karmila, 24, who started the business two years ago with her mother. "Those with young children and babies take their work home and we collect the finished products. "My bags are exported to China, London and other parts of the world and on a good month, we are able to produce some 6,000 to 7,000 bags and more,than 1,000 boxes. Tourists purchase the bags here because they are cheap. Depending on the size, each is sold between RM20and RM40".

Those keen to explore Terengganu or want to take the Marang River Cruise can call Ping Anchorage Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd at 09 6262020.


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