Returning to Kota Bahru’s Central Market

The colorful central market in Kota Bahru holds a special place in my heart. I first visited in 1991 while traveling from Bangkok to Singapore via the famous Malaysian jungle railway. Despite the fact that I have been to a thousand markets across the world from Guatemala to Ethiopia to Tibet, this particular market remains one of my absolute favorites. I was eager to bring Thomas here to experience the visual feast.

And while a host of modern grocery stores are starting to erode the importance of this fabulous institution, it remains the highlight of any visit to the city. The colorful vegetable stalls and beautifully dressed Malay saleswomen are still very much present, although not quite in the same numbers as in 1991. It was also quite interesting to note the number of veiled women in the market, including several who were wearing the niqab. I looked through all my old pictures and I couldn’t find a single woman who was veiled. In fact, most were wearing an informal head-cloth rather than a true hijab. It’s worth noting that these changes further support the trend we described in Burkas and the Art of Roti Canai.

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