When it comes to traveling in my own country, it’s safe to say I’ve done all there is to do and see in Malaysia. I’ve hit the street food corners in Penang, dived through colorful corals in the islands of Terengganu, went mall-hopping in congested Kuala Lumpur, enjoyed an evening of scones and tea in Cameron Highlands and day-hiked in one of Sarawak’s many national parks.
I am always on the look out for new trends in local tourism and once sleepy hollows rejuvenated into the next best travel destination, like what I alluded in a previous blog post on Malaysia’s need to shift our tourism strategy from being product-based to an experiential journey. Here are five alternative local travel destinations that are getting the right attention from Malaysians and have potential to attract the international traveling community.
1. Go On A Glamping Trip In Bentong, Pahang
Glamping, or glamor camping, has taken Malaysia by storm with glamping sites set up as far as Tioman and Nusajaya. It’s a hybrid of a resort and camping where you get three to four star hotel facilities but you’ll be sleeping in a large tent surrounded by wilderness. If you want to try out glamping not far from Kuala Lumpur, the district of Bentong in neighboring Pahang offers a couple of good options.
Sailor’s Rest in the resort town of Janda Baik offers comfortable beds in giant camping tents with common bathrooms available. Meanwhile, Caravan Serai near the town of Bentong props up neat-looking safari tents and the resort can arrange activities like jungle trekking, ATV rides and even durian buffet if its the fruiting season. So, if want to make the best out of the cool highland air and take in the sound of the jungle without roughing it out, glamping’s the best bet for you!
2. An Underrated Gastronomic Heaven In Muar, Johor
KL and Penang has always been touted as a foodie destination where you can get tasty street eats at dirt-cheap prices but you need to put in a lot of effort to find the best of the best. Nowadays it’s really tough to find a stall where the owner still cooks the food themselves and draws the crowd from all races and age groups. This isn’t much of a problem if you head south to the royal town of Muar, Johor where family-run businesses continue to flourish.
Start the day like a Johorean by ordering a plate of Satay and a bowl of sweet and spicy Mee Bandung, both breakfast staple around here. For lunch, head on over to the fishing village of Parit Jawa for a hearty serving of Ikan Asam Pedas, fish cooked in a cauldron of chili tamarind stew. Head back to Muar for a cup of local roast 434 Sai Kee coffee and end your day with either a giant plate of Murtabak Singapore at Tanjung Agas or Ikan Bakar at Sabak Awor. More details here.
3. Rebirth Of The Heritage Trail In Taiping, Perak
My one and only visit to idyllic Taiping was back in 2011 with four other friends on a four-day road trip to as many cities in Perak as we could. Taiping is one of the earliest tin mining towns opened by Colonial British and has turned into quite a sleepy hollow ever since the last ounce of ore was extracted. Most of the pre-War buildings still remain and the serene Lake Gardens, where jogging paths are lined with rain trees, make a perfect picnic spot by the foothills of Bukit Larut.
It is with great surprise to find out that the Perak state government has bought into the “heritage craze” and launched the Taiping Heritage Trail last week. The 11.5 km trail exhaustively runs through the whole of old town and Lake Gardens in a big loop covering “The First 35” buildings that marked the foundation of this grand old town. I do hope that the next phase would involved adding content and story to the colorful and once bloody history of Taiping.
4. Bask In Four-Star Hospitality In Pekan, Pahang
Pekan is slowly booming into a tourism destination and the recent opening of Ancasa Royale by the banks of the Pahang River has raised the royal town’s profile up a notch. A one night stay during a working trip confirms my belief that it is deserving of a four-star status although the operations need to be smoothed out a bit. Don’t be afraid to try the Western dishes in the coffee house because the meals are cooked to the palate of us urbanite.
You can use the hotel as a jumping point to visit the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum in the old quarter and I was particularly intrigued by the section on Orang Asli, especially their wood carvings of jungle spirits and ghouls. While the Sultan Abdullah Mosque is still being refurbished into an Islamic museum, you could drive along the solitary coast to the town of Kuala Rompin for its giant freshwater shrimp and a bout of deep-sea fishing.
5. The Idyllic Kampung Life In Balik Pulau, Penang
There are two contrasting sides to Penang Island – one is the always bustling stretch from George Town to Bayan Lepas and the other is the charmingly laid back Balik Pulau. Literally meaning “the other side of the island,” Balik Pulau is a quaint vastness of communal villages, paddy fields and fruit farms. It has been gaining traction among those wanting a rural escape with bicycle tours and home stays sporadically mushrooming from Pulau Betong to Pantai Acheh.
Balik Pulau has one of the few great Laksa on the island and other good fares like Mee Rebus and Cendol. If you happen to stay there, make sure to visit the night market to sample the best of Malay treats. Nature lovers can go hiking at Penang National Park in Teluk Bahang where a hike across the jungle will be rewarded with a dip in the sea at the end of trail as the park is home to a number of often secluded beaches.
Do you think these places are worth exploring? Do you have any suggestions for alternative travel destinations in Malaysia? Let me know in the comment section below.