Dasar Sabak Beach near Kota Bharu is one of the first spots where the Japanese Army landed its invasion force on 8th December 1941. It is said that fighting here commenced an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbour began due to an error by the Japanese in calculating a time difference. This beach therefore could claim to be the scene of the spark that ignited the Pacific War.
There is little here today to mark the events as coastal erosion has changed the beach’s appearance beyond recognition.
I have a guidebook which was written only written a few years ago and in it Sabak is described as ‘the soul of Malaysia’s east coast’ and ‘a rustic fishing village where fleets of perahu (local fishing boats) can be seen beached on the beach after the day’s catch has been landed’.
It used to look something like this (which is actually a different beach several miles away)and there were old WWII pillboxes on the beach.
Over the past 10 years or so, 200 meters of beach has been lost to erosion taking pillboxes with it.
This is how Sabak beach looks today:
Some 70% of the Kelantan coastline is said to be affected by coastal erosion.
There are still a few nice beaches left and I have written about three of them on my Malaysia Traveller website.
Better visit them soon before they all disappear!
On my recent visit to Kota Bharu I was interested to visit the War Museum, housed in the former premises of a Mercantile Bank branch. This building was completed in July 1922. The branch was downstairs and the bank manager lived upstairs. The original room layout of the manager’s flat has been retained and it is easy to imagine that it must have been a spacious and elegant residence.
In the grounds of the Museum is another building which appears to date from the same period.
Perhaps this was accommodation for junior assistants working at the bank or quarters for domestic staff.
The sign over the Museum entrance says Bank Kerapu and the plaque outside says that Mercantile was known locally as Kerapu Bank in reference to the rough textured exterior of the building. Strange – my Malay dictionary (and Google Translate) says that the word kerapu means ‘grouper’ (the fish). Perhaps it means ‘rough’ in Kelantanese dialect.
I have a different theory for the origins of the word. In World War II the Japanese invasion first came ashore at Sabak beach a few kilometers from Kota Bharu. My theory is that a Japanese officer came to Mercantile Bank to cash his travellers cheques and was told to queue up like everyone else. He became angry and complained bitterly about the service. “This is a kerapu bank” he shouted. Just joking – I am sure that Mercantile Bank’s service was never kerapu.
More seriously the safes were converted to prison cells during the war and torture was carried out on the premises by the notorious Kempeitai, Japanese military police. After the war the building was used again as a bank. Mercantile Bank was taken over by The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank in 1959.