As the capital, Kota Bharu is a good place to sample traditional Malay culture. It is also a good place to explore the surrounding countryside. The town signals the end of the east coast road, and the beginning of Thailand. It is situated on the northern bank of the flood-prone Sungei Kelantan (Kelantan River). It is also the center of a fertile rice basin, as well as the Kelantan Royal Family.
With modern architecture, Kota Bharu looks like any other east coast cities at first glance. But if you look closer, it has more to offer. Many visitors stop by before heading on to Thailand. They often end up staying longer than planned.
Museums in Kota Bharu are located close to one another near the "Padang Merdeka" (Independence Square). All are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except on Fridays.
Bank Kerapu (War Memorial Museum)
This museum contains collections of Japanese photographic memorabilia and documents relating to World War II. Dating back to 1912, the War Museum occupies the oldest brick building in Kelantan. Some artifacts, especially Japanese swords are on display.
Syura Hall (Islamic Museum)
The history of Islam in Kelantan can be found in this mosque-like building that is located across the road from Bank Kerapu. Artifacts and inscriptions document how Islam is so important in the everyday life of the state. The building itself was once known as "Serambi Mekah" (Verandah to Mecca), which refers to its days as Kelantan's first school of Islamic instruction.
Istana Jahar (Royal Custom Museum)
Built in 1887 by Sultan Muhamad II, this beautiful old wooden structure is definitely worth a visit. The carved wooden panels and intricate wooden framework displayed act as a testimony to the superb craftsmanship of the Kelantan people. Recently renovated and converted as a museum, it houses many valuable historical and cultural artifacts. Inside, do take note of the wrought-iron staircases on either side of the room that lead upstairs to a glorious wooden verandah.
Istana Batu (The Royal Museum)
This massive blue-and-white building is commonly referred to as the "Istana Bata" (The Brick Palace). Built in 1939, the Royal Museum served as the palace of the crowned prince from 1969, until it was donated to the state. It was used as a venue for royal weddings and to house royal guests. Today, the museum displays a variety of royal arts and artifacts, as well as historical paraphernalia that belonged to former "Sultans" (kings). Visitors can expect to see items such as a royal dining room, an opulent living room, replicas of crown jewels, and other royal bric-a-brac. On top of that, photographic exhibition on the life of the late Sultan of Kelantan can also be seen.
Kampung Kraftangan (Handicraft Village and Craft Museum)
Kelantan's exquisite range of handicrafts is on display here. Silverware, "songket", batik, and woodcarvings are exhibited here, as well as for sale. Other cultural activities are also depicted in this museum.
Istana Balai Besar (Palace of the Large Audience Hall)
Surrounded by walls, this palace is closed to the public. Located opposite the Istana Batu, the palace was built in 1840 by Sultan Muhamad II to replace his palace on the Kelantan River. It now serves as the venue for ceremonial functions and investiture ceremonies.
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