Our road trip started with no particular destinations in mind – we aimed to see as much of the Malaysian north western states in 4 days on mostly backroads . We ended up with a journey of 1,570km crossing 5 states, standing in front of 4 Thai-Msia border crossings, reaching the most northern town of Malaysia and many little tourist and kopitiam stops along the way.
We started our journey from KL using the PLUS highway towards Tanjung Malim. From the turn-off, it was the inner roads passing through the centre of Perak all the way up north towards Gerik. Then we hugged cross to the Thai border through Kedah & Perlis before ending at Wang Kelian. From that point, it was mostly coastal road heading south. Last stop was Kuala Selangor where we cut back into to KL.
(Quiet country roads encountered for most of our journey north)
Personally think that Malaysia is not a country with decent public transport to many tourist destinations. Yes there are buses & trains to get from one major town to the next, but tourist destinations are usually mostly accessible only by hired buses / vans for tourists.
Hence the beauty of a road trip.
– Our road conditions are pretty decent. Most of the backroads we used are nicely paved – some are really wide for just 2 lanes. Only section of rough driving was between Kuala Nerang to Sintok. Being so far up north in Kedah state, nobody drives on the road except for logging lorries and occasional trucks bearing Thai license plates. Therefore the narrow road was haphazardly designed for the hilly area with lots of potholes and gravelstones.
– There are plenty of nicely printed maps or the trusty GPS for guidance. GPS models these days come with easy access info for local attractions and even recommended places to eat. Eating definitely rank highly as one of M’sian past-time.
– Road signs are in either Malay or English – no funny characters to decipher such as Chinese or Sanskrit.
– Plenty of petrol kiosks to serve as toilet stops or places to ask for directions. We Malaysians do take our public toilets for granted, and only realize it when we travel overseas to places such as China. And distances between petrol kiosks are not tremendously far – plenty of opportunities to fuel up and buy cold drinks or snacks.
– Most local Malaysians understand spoken English. Otherwise pointing to the place you want on the map or piece of paper will surely get you in the right direction
– The drive itself is BEAUTIFUL. We passed through plenty of villages set amidst tranquil nature, forest and mangroves, paddy fields and seaside etc. And just watching people getting on with their daily life.
– PLUS drivers on these smaller roads tend to drive at a slower pace. So just sit back and enjoy the scenery unfolding, without the stress that some impatient drivers will start honking away. Somehow there’s some sedatives in the air – making everyone placid. Think we cityfolks need to get out more often into the countryside.
Just be forewarned that Malaysian directional signs are still NOT up to international standards. Some signs point left or right too early, and we are left to wonder when are we supposed to make the turn. And then there are left/right signs which are situated just at the intersection – giving us no early warning to slow down. Think this can be another beauty of our Malaysian-style road trip – it’s also a treasure hunt trying to keep up with the road signs!
(Vast paddy field during our drive around Perlis & Kedah)
We set out on this budget trip to camp as much possible. Somehow, our great outdoors do not promote camping freely.
Our first attempt to camp inside Royal Belum National Park requires a permit, which takes up to 1 week for processing. So no chance of rocking up to a suitable site and set up camp. We ended up camping halfway between Gerik and Pulau Banding at a designated picnic site in between the main road and a small river.
Our reward – unexpected elephant visits throughout the midnight hours. It was too dark to see outside, its deep growlings and trumpetings were enough to keep both of us dumbfounded and sleepless inside our tent.
NOTE – This area is elephant country with signs everywhere advising people about their sightings. Wildlife experts later advised us that camping in these risky area do require a proper guide who will not only find us a suitable spot, but also keep us safe from poachers (more likely to harm us with their parangs and rifles!)
Second attempt to camp outdoors was again diminished when we arrived at a closed-off Gua Kelam. Apparently the park has been closed off since end of Dec 2012 because of incidents affecting visitors due to rat’s urine in the river waters.
Our drive further north to Wang Kelian became fruitful when we found a small carpark area at a lookout point between Gua Kelam and Wang Kelian town. Great open vista to the landscape below and starry night – only downside was the strong winds coming from all directions. Tent required a good peg-down.
(Our campsite for 2nd night besides carpark at Wang Kelian lookout point)
Having to camp out doesn’t mean we have to be smelly & stinky! We always found great waterfall spots along our journey to rinse and wash ourselves. Lata Bayu and Bukit Ayer were two such wonderful stops – fairly big with several falls, decent pool right at the bottom for public to play in and really clean surroundings.
Our third night proved more difficult to find a decent campsite as we returned to greater urbanization in the state of Penang. Originally thought of camping besides Robina Beach, but ditched the plan as it was too public and being a Sat night meant more young people hanging around that area till the early hours.
Change of plans delivered us further south to an unplanned Night Safari visit at Taiping Zoo and finally proper bed, air-cond and toilets. Finding a budget hotel in Malaysia at the last minute is equally simple enough. Save for busy periods because of major public holidays or festivals, there are usually rooms available when you roam around town. Hostels are more popular in the major backpacker destinations such as KL, Penang or Malacca – but everywhere else there are affordable 1 to 2 stars hotels which are frequented by business travelers or family on holidays.
We used a colourful Mapbook of Malaysia (RM17) for our guide which marked out interesting tourist stops with a red star. Actually quite fun hunting down some of these red starred places – some are major tourist spots while there are minor ones we remembered from our history lessons decades ago.
Highlights of our journey include:-
– Coastal drive along states of Perlis & Kedah. There were the paddy fields dotted with wooden kampong houses and clusters of coconut trees in the centre. Occasional limestone outcrops in the background. The long drive besides the seaside took us through several fishermen villages and more paddy fields as far as the eye can see.
– Lata Bayu Waterfall close by to Baling, Kedah was a great discovery. Quite a tall waterfall with several cascades, the park was nicely laid out with facilities for public. There are concrete pathways besides the waterfall on both sides, where it merged at the top nearby the highest fall. Authorities have also dammed up the bottom to create 2 big artificial pools where people can swim & play in. And it was clean – the whole area was clear of rubbish despite it being a weekend and popular with the locals.
(Lata Bayu Waterfall, Kedah)
– Kuala Sepatang Mangrove forest in north Perak. Apparently it is one of the biggest mangrove forest reserve in Malaysia. A proper boardwalk took us around the mangrove area with good interpretive signs along the way. Definitely a good place to educate the public on the importance of the mangrove ecosystem in protecting our shoreline.
– Segari Turtle Sanctuary at Pantai Remis seemed like heaven after driving for hours under the afternoon sun. There were several buildings which housed more information about what the sanctuary was doing and different pools for baby turtles and adult ones. The sanctuary area was cooled down under the shade of many coconut trees and we had the clean, white sandy beach of Pantai Remis just outside.
(Pantai Remis just outside the Segari Turtle Sanctuary)
– Kuala Selangor Melawati Hill where we ended our journey with a fantastic sunset scene. From the top, we had a spectacular view of the plains right up to the seaside. Just be careful with the silver leaf monkeys aka “local” residents here at the hilltop. They are not aggressive by nature, but do not provoke them.
– Taiping Lake Gardens with its majestic rain trees along the lakeside. Perfect timing when we arrived, the trees and surrounding hills reflected wonderfully on the calm lake waters.
We visited several historical sites during our journey such as the Lenggong Archeological Museum (World UNESCO Heritage site since June 2012) and Bujang Valley. My only disappointments with these sites are the lack of in-depth information and exhibits being displayed. So where are all our national treasures being housed??
A road trip around Malaysia is never complete without food. We Malaysians are passionate about food, and even plan our destinations to coincide with lunch, tea and dinner stops.
This particular road trip was not planned with food as priority #1, but we managed to satisfy our gastronomical cravings with some great finds.
– Hailam mee and awesome coffee at Yi Fatt, Parit. This corner coffeeshop besides the Perak river has been there for ages and is still being operated by the family descendents. Noodles were decent, but the coffee is super strong and with great aroma. Highly recommended.
(Hailam mee at Parit)
– Laksa at Kak Su Laksa in Alor Setar, Kedah. Restaurant was housed inside 2 shoplots selling only 1 dish – LAKSA in either normal or special (bigger) versions. Their fat rice noodles are freshly made daily, and go well with the fishy broth. Even the BBQ prawn pulut was delicious with plenty of shrimps inside.
– Cold cendol at Ansari, Taiping– icy concoction served with home-made cendol, brown sugar+santan in perfect harmony of sweet with slight saltiness. BLISS!
– Coconut jelly at Seri Manjung – refreshing treat with just the right natural sweetness. Business started 5 years ago by an enterprising Indian man who wanted a unique coconut product to sell.
– Great affordable seafood dinner at Restaurant Long Xiang along Jln Raja Uda. Our dinner with 1 steamed fish, 1 big plate of lala (small shellfish) and stir-fry paku (local ferns) came up to RM 46.60.
– Another wonderful seafood dinner to cap off our wonderful road trip at Restaurant Jeti at Kuala Selangor. Even though the restaurant was set up to cater to the masses of tourists, food was still yummy and affordable.
Our country is definitely a great country with still many hidden gems to be explored. Armed with a car and some friends, it is a safe country to drive around and see the sights. Distances are not so great that one would need to stock up petrol, camping food and stuff. There are plenty of things to see along the way to warrant stops after 2 to 3 hours of driving. Even the scenery during the drive is enough to blow our minds away!
Next adventure – probably the North East states of Malaysia such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.
More pics can be found at