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New Straits Times

.Stay: The Land of Palaces



1.The Lost Kingdom in Kampung Mangkuk is next to a coconut grove


2.Villas in Sesayap Courtyard, which is designed like a palace compound in olden days


3.Water fountains next to the swimming pool. The fountains are made of antique batu kisar, used to grind rice grains in the past


4.Walls with kerawang wooden panels. Kerawang is a floral pattern crafted by piercing right through pieces of wood or cloth


5.Traditional Malay crafts (clockwise from top right), batik sarong, mengkuang folder, brass tray with potpourri and tissue box, all placed on songket cloth


6.Wooden pedati, one of the many tools displayed underneath the old houses on stilts. A pedati is used to secure ropes used in ships


7.Ancient spindles for spinning yarn


8.The verandah with stairs that lead to the bedroom and vanities area


9.The bathroom with a wooden bathtub and His and Hers vanities


10.Alex's passion for antique Malay houses takes shape in Terrapuri


11.Villa with king bed. An air-conditioner is mounted on the wall. Decorative pieces include brass tray, mengkuang mat and wooden crate covered with songket cloth


12.Having breakfast in the verandah which opens out to the courtyard








On the shores of Pantai Penarik lies a cluster of century-old Malay houses that reflect the architecture of a lost kingdom. PUTRI ZANINA basks in the charms and tranquillity of Terrapuri Heritage Village
BEYOND the high walls and guarded by some wild coconut groves along a mangrove river and a long beach are a cluster of more than a century-old traditional Malay houses that reflect the architecture of a lost kingdom.

The cluster of ancient houses forms Terrapuri, a heritage village that has become one-of-a-kind treasure of Terengganu. The houses are kept with much care and passion in Kampung Mangkuk near Penarik, a place that’s slowly rising from its beautiful slumber.

It was still in that perfect quiescent state as when I first chanced upon Penarik 11 years ago and instantly fell head over heels in love with it. The narrow spit of land between river and sea is dotted with rows and rows of swaying coconut palms, singing their own melody that whirls through the softly blowing winds.
Just a stone’s throw away, waves lash at the shores of Pantai Penarik — a long beach with gorgeous sparkling white sand that contrasts with the silky bluish green waters of the South China Sea. In the horizon are some of Terengganu’s island jewels — Pulau Redang and Pulau Lang Tengah.

Inland are sleepy fishing settlements of both Kampung Baru Penarik and Kampung
Mangkuk with some houses perched on the banks of Sungai Setiu and its offshoot Sungai Penarik. Fringed by wild mangroves, the river in Penarik gurgles gently almost parallel to the beach.

A spot along the riverbank with clusters of coconut trees and a green field that swept towards the beach was then my favourite stopover. Today, Terrapuri stands at this very same spot.

Building a dream
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had fallen in love with this place. Like a magnet, Penarik (which literally means something that pulls), draws many to its tranquillity. While I remained an occasional visitor, a born-and-bred
Terengganu man went on to build a dream near here.

Alex Lee Yun Ping, 43, a self-made entrepreneur who runs Terengganu’s largest tour company, Ping Anchorage Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd, has created his own “palace” here, based on the classic abode of Terengganu Malay royalty.

Far from wanting to live in kingly pleasures, Alex, as he prefers to be called, has opened the doors of Terrapuri to all those who want to immerse themselves in old Malay heritage, architecture and natural surroundings.

Terrapuri, which means The Land Of Palaces, is the fruit of Alex’s passion for heritage and nature conservation, particularly the architecture of the lost Malay kingdom of the 17th Century during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah II with influences of 2nd to 16th Century Kingdom of Langkasuka. This spanned from northern Kedah to Pattani in the Kingdom of Siam on the east coast, including Terengganu.

It’s a passion that has cost him a whopping RM10 million over a span of 18 years, and perhaps, his image too as an astute businessman. Then there were the raised eyebrows of the skeptics because he is Chinese trying to save what’s Malay.

Some of his friends called it projek orang gila (mad man’s project), while his accountant kept telling him, “there’s no ROI (return of investment)”. But he plodded on, raising money here and there, even selling some of his Mercedes Benz vehicles.

Crazy? Yes, perhaps, but not to the man who truly loves the heritage of his beloved state, Terengganu, which eminent historian Tan Sri Datuk Dr Mubin Sheppard described as the cradle of Malay civilisation.

The beginning

Alex was born and raised in the Malay village of Marang where fishermen make a living from Sungai Marang and the sea that separates the mainland from nearby Pulau Kapas and beyond.

“I lived in a Malay-style house. My grandmother is Peranakan, descendants of 15th and 16th Century Straits Chinese whose culture has intertwined with that of the Malays,” says Alex who speaks mostly in English and partly in Malay with the lilting Terengganu accent that comes out effortlessly.

Twenty-three years ago, Alex, then a young boy of 20, turned parts of his grandparents’ shop in Marang into a backpackers’ guesthouse. Marang then was lined with rustic 19th Century wooden shophouses that charmed foreign backpackers so much that they called it the cowboy town of the east. It was from them that Alex learnt the value of conserving heritage, including old buildings. With a deepening interest in conservation, Alex bought his first antique Malay house in 1990.

His backpacker guests continued to come from all over the world. Business was good and Alex’s little guesthouse grew to become Marang Inn. But this had to make way for development when the local authorities demolished the “old and ugly” wooden shops and built modern, concrete ones. It was a fatal decision.

Tourism in Marang died overnight. The backpackers stopped coming.

It was a sad time for Alex. But quietly, he bought more architecturally authentic Malay houses, such as Rumah Bujang and Rumah Tiang 12, and everything that came with them, even things that the owners have left to rot, like wooden boat prows and fishing traps.

Alex searched for these houses in many parts of Terengganu. Some were falling apart and partially damaged. He bought them anyway, to use as spare parts. As years went by, he found himself the proud owner of 29 antique houses.

As they were built without using a single nail, it was easy to dismantle the houses. Ancient and authentic Malay houses are held together by wooden joints that are put in place by pasak (wooden pegs). Alex painstakingly marked each piece before moving everything and storing them on his parents’ land in Marang.

He dreamt of rebuilding the houses so that people could experience what it was like living in such houses. Four years ago, he started to build on his dream.

With the help of traditional Malay carpenters, artisans and friends, he rebuilt the old houses piece by piece. And they are the very same houses that stand today in Terrapuri Heritage Village.

Standing its own ground

Terrapuri snugly sleeps in its own cocoon, shielded by the high fencing that keeps out straying cows and curious village boys. Looking like something old in sepia tone in picture books, it defies surrounding development. Some of the coconut trees nearby have been ravaged and stripped almost of everything by people out to make money, who left whatever they didn’t want rotting and littering the ground. But the ground in front of Terrapuri is green and clean, and even the beach which it has “adopted” is free of litter that mars other stretches of the beach. What’s even more jarring are the giant concrete structures that loom in the sky to house swiftlets “reared” for the prized birds’ nests, no doubt bringing good money for the building owners. Sadly, these buildings, some of which are just next to Terrapuri, don’t belong in the scenery of gently swaying palms.

Even the people in Kampung Mangkuk nearby have either demolished or “extended” their quaint wooden homes, replacing them with modern brick ones, some looking as characterless as the swiftlet hotels. Gleaming cars, from Protons to SUVs parked in front, is an indication that life is better today for most of the people. Their houses have satellite dishes too but there are none at Terrapuri.

This lone village resort looks so charmingly different from all that surround it.

Treasures within

A tall gate opens to a sprawling courtyard with a moat filled with water, its glassy surface broken by floating cyperuses and hyacinths. Henna, herbal plants and fruit trees lend much to the kampung air, which is fragrant with the sweet smell of frangipani, jasmine and other flowering plants. With gurgling fountains and earthen jars, the garden is the centrepiece of the Sesayap Courtyard that’s linked by pathways leading to the swimming pool. At an angle, the pool water seems to merge seamlessly with the rippling mangrove river running at the back. The river ends at Terrapuri, making it even more special.

Surrounding the courtyard are some of the old wooden houses on stilts, restored to become lovely villas. Each bears the name of the village where the house originally stood. One villa was the location shoot for the recent Malay epic film Merong Mahawangsa.

The areas underneath the houses look like an open museum of sorts, where all kinds of tools like spindle and plough, and various old household items from bamboo ware to coconut scrappers are displayed. Each tells a story, just like each house with its own unique past.

Old and new

Wooden stairs creak as my husband and I go up to our villa, a rumah bujang berserambi (literally bachelor’s house with verandah). Named Tembakang, after its original home, Kampung Tembakang, it’s a classic Terengganu house with raised platform on stilts, triangular shape and steep gabled roof. It has gently curved peles (gable ends) and terracotta roof tiles while the walls and floors are made of the hardy cengal wood. Little wooden pegs hold the panels together while selak (latch) are used to close windows and doors from the inside.

Inside, I remove my jeans and wear the batik sarong in the old wooden gerobok, which reminds me of the cupboard in my late grandma’s house. In fact, everything in the villa reminds me of the furniture of Malay homes in the olden days - brass trays, wooden chests, earthen jars. But while the basic house structure and furniture are traditional, the amenities are similar to those provided in modern, luxurious villas - the fan, air-conditioner, refrigerator and electric jar to make hot drinks.

The most charming part of the house is the bathroom on a lower platform with a glass panel through which you can see the coconut grove, the river and the sea outside.

There are His and Hers vanities, shower room with rain showerhead and a wooden bathtub! It’s the kind that you see in old cowboy films. Never mind that these amenities are not typically Malay, as the resort is after all catering to a discerning clientele.

Food from the heart

Food served is mostly typically Malay. Our breakfast of nasi dagang with tuna curry fish and pickles (a Terengganu specialty), and toast, scrambled eggs and sausage is served right at the serambi of our villa where we sit bersila (cross-legged) on the floor.

The cook, Hamidah Idris, a bubbly woman from Kampung Mangkuk, even helps the service staff to clear our trays. Everyone multi-tasks here, even the chambermaid. Shy but friendly, they have the gentle sweetness of rural Malay women. Before long, we are all chatting on the verandah as if we are village neighbours.

All our meals are served privately at the verandah except for dinner which is served at Tanjung, the dining villa. Service is fine-dining style here with a butler on hand to make us feel like a king and queen. But really, it’s Hamidah’s dishes that steal our hearts. We can feel that they are cooked with love. The simple kampung fare like ikan singgang (soupy fish dish), ayam masak merah, stir-fried kangkung, ulam, sambal belacan, budu (fermented anchovies) and tempoyak (fermented durian) make a most satisfying dinner for us.

Silent night

While the day is spent lazing at the courtyard and the pool, there’s hardly anything to do at night. The lure is in the quietude for total relaxation. It’s the kind of place where I can’t figure out what day of the week it is. My husband says Thursday but I think it’s Friday.

So, for a while, we are lost in time. With no nightlife outside, and no TV inside, I wonder aloud: “What did the people do in the past when they had to go to bed so early?”

Though the room is dimly lit, I could see a naughty glint in my husband’s eyes as he replies: “They make babies, silly!”

Attractions and arts

FULLY restored houses have become residential villas. Some are used as the reception villa, dining villa (Tanjung), reading room and arts and crafts gallery (Pulau Rusa), meeting room (Berang) and beach villa. Residential villa rates start from RM399.

In the pipeline are a spa villa offering Malay traditional treatments, a shop selling antiques, books and crafts, and a studio for resident artists whose works will be displayed at the gallery.

The village will also revive dying Malay performing arts, including mak yong, by bringing experts to perform and teach the arts within its compound.


Sightseeing tours in and around Terengganu and Kelantan are available. Not-to-be-missed tours include Fireflies Tour on Sungai Setiu and the Floating Art of Langkasuka Tour in Kota Baru, Kelantan.

Hour-long guided tours of Terrapuri for day visitors are held twice daily at 10.30am and 3.30pm at RM20 per head, including refreshments.

How to get there

Terrapuri Heritage Village, Kampung Mangkuk, 22120 Setiu, Terengganu. Tel: 09-624 5020. Fax: 09-622 8093. Email: Website:

Kampung Mangkuk is 45 minutes by car from Kuala Terengganu. From the East Coast Expressway, exit at Jabor, then take Highway 3 to Kuala Terengganu. From there, take the coastal road towards Merang where the jetty to Pulau Redang is located. From Merang, follow signboards to Kampung Penarik then Kampung Mangkuk. The resort provides transfers to and from Kuala Terengganu Airport, Merang Jetty, Kuala Besut Jetty and Kota Baru Airport in Kelantan.





Terrapuri | Kampung  Mangkuk, 22120 Setiu, Terengganu, Malaysia.  T : +(609) 6245020  +(609) 6312081  F : +(609) 6228093  E :