According to more than a few online sources, there are around 25 Buddhist temples in Tumpat, Kelantan. I don’t know about that because I’ve been to Tumpat a few times and there are only three that really stand out in my memory; my Tumpat Temple Trifecta; The Standing, Sitting and Reclining Buddhist Temples. In my opinion, these three are the best Buddhist temples in Tumpat and worth the effort to visit.
Visitors seeing these 3 postures of Buddha so predominantly displayed, in the sleepy little North-Malaysia town, may be a bit surprised considering predominantly Muslim Kota Bharu is just 15-kilometers down the road. Maybe that’s what makes this part of Malaysia so interesting, the religious respect Kelantan displays throughout their communities is refreshing.
Historically speaking, the Thai influence of Tumpat is no real mystery as Kelantan, Malaysia and the present-day Thai Provinces of Narathiwat and Patani were once part of Malaya. Kelantan is one of 4 Malaysia (Malaya) states that were under Thailand control until 1909, when the British and Thai powers-that-be changed the Thai-Malaya land borders. Kelantan then became part of British Malaya.
In 1826, Kedah, Perlis, Terengganu and Patani were declared Thai Provinces under the Burney Treaty; signed by Rama III and British officials. After the signing of the Anglo-Siam Treaty of 1909, Kedah, Perlis, Terengganu and ‘part’ of Patani became part of Malaya again with the Malaya part of Patani referred to as Kelantan. During World War II Japan gave Kelantan back to Thailand for two years before being returned to Malaya in 1945. To say Kelantan has been through a lot is an understatement. You can read more about Kelantan’s Thai relations HERE
Top 3 Buddhist Temples in Tumpat, Kelantan
It was a 2014 visit to Wat Machimmaram, that really piqued my interest in Tumpat, as it’s an especially unique temple I’ve had in my memories for years. But if I’m going to send you all the way to Tumpat to see it, then you might as well see the others as well. So, without further ado here is my Tumpat Temple Trifecta of the best Buddhist temples in Tumpat.
1. Wat Pikulthong – Standing Buddha Temple
Located in Kampung Terbok, near the intersection of Route 21 and Route 176, Wat Phikulthong is easily spotted from the main road and the ‘Welcome to Tumpat’ sign. I’ve seen more impressive Standing Buddha statues elsewhere, but at 60-meters tall it’s still a crowd draw.
The temple itself was started in 1986 and wasn’t completed until 1996. It is an expansive area which includes several buildings, a cemetery and a school. This ‘Standing Buddha’ is actually a walking Buddha that represents Buddha’s return to Earth.
Getting there: It took me one GRAB taxi from Kota Bharu (who dropped me erroneously in the middle of nowhere) and the kindness of strangers (because there were no GRAB taxis ‘available’ in the middle of nowhere) to get to this temple. In fact, that particular day, the APP said there were several taxis in the area but they were simply not available. I’m forever grateful for the kindness of Malaysian strangers, because a woman and her kids took pity on me and actually drove me to the temple from the seemingly middle of nowhere.
2. Wat Machimmaram – Sitting Buddha Temple
Located in Kampung Jubaker, off of Route 134, if you only have time for one temple stop, this one would be my top recommendation. Especially if you appreciate the truly bizarre. I first saw Wat Machimmaran back in 2014 and some of the graphic imagery inside the Buddhist temple has stuck in my head ever since.
Some of the images are a bit shocking and not necessarily something young children should see, so keep that in mind if you are traveling with sensitive kids. The Buddhist depictions of hell (Naraka) reminded me of a Hieronymus Bosch painting and immediately made me wonder if Bosch had studied Buddhism at some point in his life.
The seated Buddha is 30-meters in height and is perched on the temple’s rooftop as if in deep meditation. He’s big and sports a very dark tan (unlike his happier-looking and paler brethren). Another 10-year temple construction project, Wat Machimmaran was started in 1990 and completed in 2000.
Around the spacious compound there are several smaller temples of Buddhas and Chinese Deities. There is also a rather loud gong inside that tourists seem quite eager to bang on regardless of the venue being a temple. For people who don’t like loud noises, this indeed would be theme appropriate and hellish.
Getting there: Was it easy to get to Wat Machimmaran? Yes, I lucked out with a lone Kota Bharu GRAB driver who finally answered my call all the way from Kota Bharu. And amazingly enough my destination was just 10-minutes away and was chump change fare for her efforts.
Was it easy to get to my next stop? No. GRAB App went crickets on me again. I walked to the nearby main road and looked for a bus stop, nothing. I asked shop keeps if they could help me call a local taxi… nothing. And tacky tourist that I am, I even tried hitchhiking to no avail. I felt foolish and looked like a disheveled mess.
However, I went back to the Sitting Buddha temple and spotted a tourist group with a van. They were generous enough to let me hitch a ride to their next stop; which happened to be exactly where I was also going; the Wat Phothivihan. Moral of the story? In a pinch, don’t be shy, just ask someone for a ride. (And be sure to at least offer to chip in for petrol, because it’s a nice gesture).
3. Wat Phothivihan – Reclining Buddha Temple
I can remember the first time I ever saw a reclining Buddha and it was indeed a wow travel moment for me. I cherish that memory to this day. I’ve seen a few others since then, and they are always a wonderment. Wat Phothivihan’s reclining Buddha is no exception. The statue at 40-meters long, 11-meters high and 9-meters in width is huge. In fact, it’s presently the largest reclining Buddha in Malaysia.
This temple is located in Kampung Ana near Sungai Peng Nangka (Nangka Peng River). It’s one of the more popular temples and attracts many visitors. Construction of the temple started in 1973 and was completed in 1979 at a cost of about RM350,000.
The Wat Phothivihan reclining Buddha is tucked tightly under a protective roof and open-air walk space. Behind the statue is a row of seated Buddhas and (Naraka) hell-themed tiles. The Reclining Buddha posture represents Buddha’s final stage of life on Earth, before reaching nirvana-after-death.
Getting out of there: There is a taxi stand near the Pengkalan Kubor Jetty at Sungai Bang Nara Golok (river), which gives hope that a GRAB might be available in the nearish area. However the taxi I (gratefully) found at the Pengkalan Kubor Jetty was of the old school variety; no aircon, roll down windows and a slight exhaust leak which made for a long, hot, sleepy ride back to Kota Bharu. And after my lengthy day of temple hopping, I wasn’t sure if I was suffering mild heat stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning or experiencing a state of nirvana, but I was grateful for the ride never-the-less.
Getting to Tumpat
The four postures of the Buddha are reclining, sitting, standing, and walking, so being able to see three of these in relatively close proximity is a great opportunity. However, if you don’t have your own transportation, it could get challenging, but it’s worth the effort. It’s easy enough to get to Tumpat from Kota Bharu, but getting back to Kota Bharu is the problem.
You can also take a city bus from Kota Bharu to Tumpat, or a train, but once you get there getting from point A to Point B on foot is not going to be a lot of fun. And despite GRAB taxis being readily available in the Kota Bharu area, Tumpat seems to be very hit or miss.
Best advice for those without their own transportation? If you are coming from Kota Bharu, you will be able to hire a GRAB or regular taxi for about RM30 to 40, but if you can negotiate with your driver to ‘wait’ at each temple then you should definitely do it. It won’t take you long to visit the three main Buddhist Temples in Tumpat and it will save you a lot of time between locating taxis between site visits. (I know this from personal experience by the way).
If you are coming from Thailand and crossing the border into Tumpat, you’ll be able to get a taxi near the immigration office area easy enough, but it might not be an optimal situation to go ‘sightseeing’ if you are carrying a lot of luggage. But never the less, there are your options. Oh, and be sure to start your Tumpat temple tour early in the day, because trying to find a ride after dark could be extra challenging. Happy temple hopping!