Cherating is beautiful, but…

by Feb 6, 2017

Year 2017 is supposed to be Visit Pahang Year but instead of attracting tourists enjoy what Cherating has to offer, people are forced to take a short drive across the border to Kemaman, in Terengganu, where the happenings are.

The beaches in Cherating are indeed a spectacular sight. Although without going into the sea when the tides are high and the red flag is up, just being able to sit by the beach and listening to the waves is already so relaxing.

This is why I have always fallen in love with the beaches here since visiting the Legend Cherating on several writing assignments back in the 1990s, I have not been back to Cherating until this long holiday to show my children places that I have visited in the past.

No Changes

Over 20 years, Cherating has never changed. The town is basically still the same with the old hawker stalls along the East Coast Highway, with not much improvement or anything to really shout about.

We tried out the local restaurant but decided that we would not visit the same stall a second time. Instead, we decided we would try out the famous Tong Juan seafood restaurant in Kemanan on the second night.

Disappointingly, I have to say that several of the places that were the highlights in the 1990s are now gone.

One of the batik proprietors could only say,

Cherating is a dead town during off peak seasons

But when exactly is peak and off peak seasons? Most local tourists would prefer to avoid these places during peak seasons. Interestingly, on the first night that we were there, the hotel was fully booked. There were both Malay as well as Chinese local tourists visiting Cherating.

For us, Cherating is just a three-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. When we love the place, we can come during off-peak seasons and just enjoy the sea and the beautiful beaches.

Imagine what a big disappointment it must have been to many tourists who come this way and go back, not enjoying their holiday in Cherating to the fullest.

Using the Waze to locate the handicrafts complex was also a disappointment, as the building no longer hosts the handicrafts. I told my children that it could have been converted into a school of hospitality. But where then is the handicraft complex? Nothing seems to appear on the map although Pahang Tourism mentions about the complex.

Along the way there are only a couple of small batik painting shops. I remember back in the 90s, there were some bigger workshops with lots of batik painters. Tourists were flocking to this batik outlet to see how the batik handpainting is done, and some bought the batik to bring home along with them.

The next big thing in Cherating is the turtle conservation. It is a great place to educate the young people about conserving the leatherback and hawksbill turtles.

The turtles are now considered endangered species, but the place has not changed very much since 20 years ago. The State tourism should at least have provided educational guides to talk to people about the turtles or project some video on conservation efforts undertaken by the government. Nothing of that sort is being done!

It is the same old pools with turtles in them. There is one area that we merely assumed to be the turtle eggs hatchery, as signboards were not even placed there to explain to children how long it normally takes before the eggs are hatched. How do you expect the public to learn and appreciate turtle conservation if the explanations are not given?

Despite attracting so many local and foreign tourists, no one was there to even sell drinks or ice cream. We would have enjoyed some coconut drinks if they were sold here at prices we could never get in Kuala Lumpur!

I believe a lot could be done to improve the charms of Cherating if only the Pahang State Government gives it some attention, instead of being busy approving the bauxite mining and the Lynas rare earth mining company.

Some good suggestions

Deep sea fishing for fishing enthusiasts: Despite the high tides, some tourists would love to go out into the sea, provided that there are bigger boats that are safe to go out into the deep sea.

I remember years ago, the general manager of Legend Cherating took me out into the sea to watch the seagulls. It was a fascinating experience.

The Best of Cherating Food: The state government should put together some of the best hawkers in one location for people to enjoy the local cuisines. At the moment, there appears to be just one famous item to bring home – the keropok lekor. Besides that, what else can tourists enjoy while visiting Cherating?

Kite Flying: The beaches here are beautiful, but if we cannot go into the sea, where can we find the kites? Where can we find a place where we can show the children how to play tops? Forget about the karaoke, where in Cherating can we find a place at night to show them what a wayang kulit show is like?

Pahang Tourism and the state exco for tourism should do more work to promote Cherating especially during its “off-peak” seasons. People do like to come to Cherating during the long weekends, and not only during school holidays.

Kemaman attractions

We ended up staying in beautiful Cherating but spending our money in Kemanan. It is such a big contrast between the two border towns. One is well-developed, the other clearly shows a big neglect by the state government.

One highly recommended restaurant is Restoran Kopi Hai Peng. Although it is a simple restaurant, it has a history of over 76 years.

The restaurant was started in 1940 by 102-year-old Wong Sang Hai, who arrived from the province of Hainan in China. The restaurant is the equivalent of Restoran Kow Poh in Bentong, which offers the famous Bentong ice-cream.

Here, it is like a muhibbah coffee shop, because people of different races sit together under one roof to enjoy the patriarch’s specially brewed coffee and roti bakar. They have since added the nasi lemak, the laksa and a number of other local cuisines.

Prices are still reasonable. This is important as tourists do not like to feel they are being slaughtered when they eat here.

The place is kept clean and presentable. A local person, for example, would not hesitate to bring foreign tourists to try out the coffee here because it is still affordable.

I must commend the grandson of the Wong Senior, Richard Wong is able to keep up with the times. One cannot visit Kemaman without trying out the coffee in Restoran Hai Peng.

Kemaman is also famous for its fisherman’s jetty where people can buy the fish straight from the day’s catch. There are also a number of homestay chalets in Kemaman, which we may try out on our next trip here if Cherating no longer offers all the attractions one would expect.