Malaysia is the one country that Singaporeans like myself visit the most due to its close proximity. However, most travellers will probably hit the major cities as their main destinations due to a combination of a lack of time and information. However, if one looks beyond the major cities of Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Georgetown, there are actually plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered that can give you a wholesome experience when taking a road trip in Malaysia.
Given that I will be sharing five different locations spread out across West Malaysia, it may seem difficult to complete them within the same trip. However, with some route planning, it is definitely possible! I myself visited four of the five on the same road trip to Malaysia (no prizes for guessing which one was on a separate trip). I do suggest that they should be visited separately so that more time can be spent at each of them. As most of the locations are accessible by car only, it is my responsibility to remind drivers to please drive safely, as some of the roads to these locations are rather narrow and winding.
So here are just five of them that you should definitely visit on your next road trip to Western Malaysia:
1. Balok, Pahang
Situated between Kuantan and the more touristy Cherating, Balok is located on the lesser visited East Coast of West Malaysia. With many resorts featuring views of the South China Sea and private beaches, it is definitely the perfect place for couples looking for a weekend of sun and sand. Located less than 30 minutes away from Kuantan, good food is readily accessible from Balok. The area around Balok combines the ideal pairing of a quiet beach getaway and small town goodness while not being too far away from the city. Prices here are also relatively cheaper than the much hyped Cherating just slightly north of Balok. Unfortunately, Federal Highways in West Malaysia mainly covers the West Coast. The fastest way to Balok from Singapore will be through Mersing up Federal Route 3.
2. Batu Ferringhi, Penang
Another beach destination, this time on the island of Penang! When people talk about visiting Penang, what comes to mind is usually Georgetown and its surroundings, including Penang Hill and Armenian Street. An often neglected destination is Batu Ferringhi, which is located on the northern tip of Penang Island. 30 minutes away from Georgetown by car, Batu Ferringhi faces the Malacca Straits and is a heaven for water activities at reasonable prices. This includes jetskiing, parasailing and banana boating. When night falls, walk along the night market that stretches a kilometre long (!) for street eats and souvenirs to bring home. With its glorious white sand and blue seas, Batu Ferringhi is the place to check out for a weekend chill and tan!
If you’re feeling adventurous, it is not a bad idea to rent a small car and take a round island trip! Penang Island is small enough to complete within a day, but also big enough to last more than a couple of hours. Of course, there are plenty of interesting things to see and EAT along the way! It’s Penang after all, what would it be without the food?
3. Cameron Highlands, Pahang
Perhaps not so much of a hidden gem, but definitely not as well-visited by visitors to Malaysia as compared to other cities and towns on the peninsular. A three-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands is made up of a series of small towns embedded in the mountains on the north-western tip of Pahang state bordering Perak. With temperatures averaging at 18-22 degree celsius, it makes for a welcome escape from the heat for most of us living in the region. The highlands are not dearth of activities either, though if you are looking for some excitement it will probably serve you well to visit Genting Highlands instead. The towns are littered with plantations due to its perfect climate condition for tea, strawberries and a number of other fruits and vegetables. There is also a weekend night market in Brinchang town where you can get your fair share of Malaysian street food and fresh local produce.
Beyond that, Federal Route 185 from Cameron Highlands to Gua Musang should delight drivers and passengers alike with great roads and magnificent views. Drivers should note that while the route may be awesome to drive on, it is not advisable to speed as the route is mainly a downhill drive and it may be difficult to brake in the corners, especially as some corners may be hidden.
4. Lake Kenyir, Terengganu
Probably the most inaccessible of the five location4s in this list, Lake Kenyir is about an hour’s drive from Kuala Terengganu, which itself is an eight-hour drive from Singapore. An artificial lake resulting from the damming of Kenyir River, it is the largest man-made lake in Southeast Asia at more than 200,000 hectares. Since the lake borders Taman Negara, it is an alternative gateway for those looking to go hiking in the national park. There are a number of resorts surrounding the lake, offering activities like fishing and day trips to nearby waterfalls (there are many).
5. Sungei Lembing, Pahang
Sungei Lembing is a little town located off Kuantan (again!), upstate Pahang. It takes about an hour’s drive to get there from central Kuantan, and you can spend a night or two at one of the numerous accommodations by the river or uphill. One of the more popular sights here will be the Sungei Lembing Hanging Bridge, a tiny wooden bridge mainly used by locals on their motorcycles to cross the river. Crossing the bridge may cause panic to a few but remember that if it can hold the weight of a motor scooter, it will definitely hold yours. Essentially, Sungei Lembing is a great location to just get out of the hustle and bustle of city life and just relax and recharge for a couple of days in a little town by the river.
Now then, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags for your next drive up to Malaysia!