Is it the gleaming efficiency of Changi Airport, the too-good-to-be-true deals of the budget airlines or the seductive allure of Singapore Airlines’ hostesses that are so irresistible? When people leave for a holiday from our city – even if they’re going to nearby Malaysia – they are usually flying to their destinations, not driving.
However, as Ralph Waldo Emerson (and later Aerosmith) observed, life’s a journey, not a destination; and there’s nothing like the freedom and spontaneity of a good old-fashioned road trip, the kind of holiday where getting from A to B is a significant part of the travel experience.
Many destinations in mainland Malaysia are within a reasonable driving distance from Singapore, and the North-South Expressway makes the western coast easily accessible. On the other hand, while you can go farther faster in the west, the less-developed road system on the eastern coast can offer more sightseeing along the way. Although the choices are numerous, these are a few worth pulling over to visit.
#1: Endau-Rompin National Park
Distance from Johor Bahru (JB): 200km
The journey: Coming up from JB, turn off 5km east of Kahang. Then follow about 60km of rough roads (a four-wheel drive is advisable), leading to the park entrance at Kampung Peta and the Park Visitor Centre.
Highlights: Hiking, waterfalls and rainforests with a variety of wildlife, including the rare Sumatran rhinoceros, tigers and dragonfish.
Where to stay: Camping under the stars is the only way to go.
Distance from JB: 225km
The journey: Take either a leisurely drive up the coastal road via Pontian Kechil Batu Pahat and Muar, stopping if something catches your eye, or take the North-South Expressway if you have a need for speed.
Highlights: A vibrant Chinatown, Peranakan shophouses, some of Malaysia’s best cuisine.
Where to stay: Heeren House (www.heerenhouse.com)
#3: Cameron Highlands
Distance from JB: 430km
The journey: The winding roads up to the Highlands make the lucky one behind the wheel feel like a rally car driver – and the passengers feel like puking. However, stunning views make up for the inevitable nausea. Stop at the Lata Iskandar waterfall (at the 20km marker on the way up from the town of Tapah).
Highlights: Tea plantations, strawberry farms, cool temperatures, hiking, scones and jam, Tudor-inspired architecture.
Where to stay: The Olde Smokehouse (www.thesmokehouse.com.my/ch.htm), Cameron Highlands Resort (www.cameronhighlandsresort.com)
Distance from JB: 680km
The journey: The long drive up the coast offers plenty of opportunities for fun detours. Stop at places such as Malacca, Port Dickson and Pulau Pangkor.
Highlights: Beaches, the culture and history of downtown Georgetown.
Where to stay: The Lone Pine (www.lonepinehotel.com)
Helpful tip: Rent a car from Hertz in JB and you can drop it off in Penang for an additional fee, which leaves you free to fly home from there or to continue your expedition by ferry.
Contact the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (Tel: 6532 6321; Email: email@example.com) for more information on driving through Malaysia.
This story first appeared as 'Causeway to go!’ (Apr 2009)