The district administrative seat and the main economic centre of Kemaman is the town of Chukai, near the Terengganu-Pahang state border. Other important towns in this district are Kijal, Kerteh, and Kemasik. The district is administered by the Kemaman Municipal Council (Malay: Majlis Perbandaran Kemaman). With a total area of almost 1000 square miles, it is the third largest district after Hulu Terengganu and Dungun bordering the South China Sea.
Kemaman is divided into twelve mukims:Bandi
Based on the 2000 Population and Housing Census, the population of Kemaman totals 137,070 (15.6% of the Terengganu population ). In the 2010 census, there were 167,824 residents in MPK administrative area. Malays were the majority ethnic group with a total of 157,778, while 6937 were Chinese, 743 were Indian, and 264 were from other ethnic groups. Censuses until the 1940s showed that this district as the third highest populated area after Kuala Terengganu and Besut. The population distribution changed after the discovery of oil in the 1970s, placing this district second after Kuala Terengganu.
The geographical features of this district can be divided into three main areas which include coastal area, inland area and the foothill area (located only a few kilometers from the beach). The coastal area is a flat lowland with the majority of the people focus on fishing activities. This area stretches about 38 kilometers from Kuala Kemaman to Kerteh. More than half of Kemaman's population is concentrated in this area. The inland area of the district is a region of highlands with hilly features. This area is rich with tin ore, oil palm plantation and timber. So, the concentration of population here is related to local economic activities. The foothill area is the second highest populated area. The area is located between the coastal and the inland areas. The main occupation of the residents in this area is farming.
According to early history, Kemaman was started to be known since the second century B.C. by the name of 'Kole'. This is based on the map of Malay Land Peninsula which has been drawn by Ptolemy (a Greek astronomer and geographer, born in Egypt in the second century B.C.) noting that there were two ports in the East Coast, Perimula and Kole. Historians agreed that Perimula was the Terengganu River Estuary (present-day Kuala Terengganu) and Kole was Kemaman.
In spite of that, the history of the opening of this district is still vague as there is no written account and valid evidence about it. Anyway, local historian agreed that the district has begun to be explored about 300 years ago by Che Wan Teh and his followers. Che Wan Teh was from a noble Pahang family who migrated to this district from Kuala Pahang following a disorder and chaos situation in Kuala Pahang. He then set up a settlement in the coastal area and the first village found was Bukit Mengkuang Before the Malays came, the district (this particular area) was occupied by the Sakais who then moved to the inland area.
After sometimes in Bukit Mengkuang, Che Wan Teh moved to a new settlement area adjacent to Kemaman River estuary known as Tanjung Geliga. This new settlement was also unsecured as it was often disturbed by pirates and robbers threat. As a result, Che Wan Teh and his followers moved to another new area on the bank of Kemaman River (about 3 kilometers from Tanjung Geliga). This place was later known as Chukai. This event is strongly proved by existence of an old cemetery in the area. It was said that Che Wan Teh died shortly after opening Kampung Chukai. His followers and generations after him continuously explored new areas following the rise in population and the need for new agricultural areas.
Other than verbal explanation, there was another version which referred to some written accounts relating the opening of Kemaman District with a Pattani aristocrat known as Lebai Saris. Anyway, this version recorded the 19th century early event when Terengganu was under the rule of Sultan Ahmad Shah 1 (1808 – 1830) and indirectly coincides with the opening of Kemaman District by Che Wan Teh.
Kemaman's economy is primarily based on the petroleum, oil, and steel industries. Petronas The discovery of oil in offshore Terengganu in the 1980s has attracted immigration to Kemaman from rural areas as well as other parts of the country. Terengganu Petroleum Refineries in Kijal are the first refineries owned by Petronas. Kemaman Port also has a liquified petroleum gas (LPG) export terminal managed by Petronas, the national oil corporation. The presence of petroleum and oil industry here also causing this district well developed as well. Traditional industries include fishing, anchovies and salted fish manufacturing which was pioneered by the Chinese. One well known local fishing merchant was Soh Huat Keh who was among the successful pioneers of the salted fish manufacturing industry there. These seafood produces are exported throughout Malaysia and Singapore.
The presence of natural gas has also been the spur for the development of the iron and steel industry in Kemaman. A large steel making company, Perwaja, established direct-reduced iron/electric arc furnace (DRI/EAF) facilities, with its own import/export facilities on the East Wharf.
Among the beaches that can be found in this district are Kemasik Beach, Teluk Mak Nik, Telaga Simpul Beach, Cagar Hutan Beach, and Ma'Daerah Beach. Kemaman's beaches used to be nesting grounds for endangered green turtle and painted terrapins. However, due to local desire for turtle eggs, these sea creatures were declared extinct in the area since year 2004. Among serious efforts to get turtles back to nest on the nearby beaches is the setting up of a turtle sanctuary in Ma'Daerah Beach, called Ma'Daerah Turtle Sanctuary, which provides an undisturbed beach for nesting turtles and protection for eggs. This turtle conservation centre is operated under the joint auspices of Department of Fisheries, BP, and WWF Malaysia.
The first zoo in east coast region of Peninsular Malaysia, Bukit Takal Recreational Park and Mini Zoo, is also located in Kemaman. It was opened on 11 April 2009. Occupying a 54ha site in Kampung Ibok about 14 km from Chukai, it is a combination of fruit orchard, water theme park, herbal park, and zoo. Among the main attractions of this zoo is riding the train around the zoo, walking on the hanging bridge, riding on the elephants, watching different bird species, and experiencing the natural lights of the largest firefly habitat in Terengganu.
Kemaman is famous for food-based tourism. Keropok lekor can be easily found along the road to Kuala Kemaman. All kinds of local delicacies, such as satar, nekbat, lemang and otak-otak, are sold here and are different from those found in Kuala Terengganu and unique to Kemaman. These traditional foods are also commercially made and packaged in Kijal, Kemasik, and Chukai. Kuih is available at Kemaman Street Market at Jalan Sulaimani and Evening Market at Jalan Air Putih near the Chukai interchange from the East Coast Expressway. Along the roads leading to Kemasek, you can find a variety of stalls selling Kemaman-style lemang.
Kemaman is also popular for the famous Hainanese kopi tiam, Hai Peng Coffee Shop, at the Jalan Sulaimani crossroad. The shop is the original location of the business franchise Kemaman Kopitiam that can be found throughout the country. Halal food has been served in the premises since years ago as the Chinese owners have blended well with the Malay community for such a long time.
Kemaman is represented in the Dewan Rakyat of the Malaysian Parliament by Dato' Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek of UMNO, part of federal ruling coalition Barisan Nasional. He is currently the Minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries.
Kemaman in turn provides four seats to the Terengganu State Legislative Assembly:Kemasik;
All seats except Chukai are represented by UMNO. Ahmad Said, former Menteri Besar of Terengganu, is currently the assemblyperson for Kijal. Chukai is currently represented by PAS.
Popular shopping locations in Kemaman include the central area in Jalan Sulaimani and Jalan Da' Omar with the landmark being Kemaman Centre Point. In addition, branded and designer shops can be found at the Mesra Mall, located in Kemasik.