When it comes to flydrive holidays, certain destinations instantly spring to mind.
The US, with vast landscapes between cities begging visitors to hit the open road; South Africa, home to the famously scenic Garden Route; Australia, where the journey from A to B is part of the experience.
As yet, Malaysia hasn’t appeared on any top 10 motoring holiday lists, but a new push by the tourist board aims to raise awareness of the country’s potential for flydrive.
According to Tourism Malaysia director UK and Ireland Razip Hasan, all the key ingredients are there. “We have modern highways, beautiful countryside, friendly people and good links to key destinations and resorts. Flydrives are something we want to promote to the British market.”
Among UK operators featuring flydrives to the country are Premier Holidays and Magic of the Orient. Discover Malaysia plans to start offering them shortly.
Discover Malaysia managing director Peter Ward said: “It’s something I feel would work; the infrastructure’s well developed, it’s safe and easy to navigate.”
As I take to the wheel outside Kualu Lumpur to head up the west coast, it all feels promisingly familiar. Driving is on the left and signs are in English – unlike in neighbouring Thailand – so British drivers feel at home quickly.
Over the next few days, we cover more than 500 miles on a round trip, reaching Alor Star in the north and taking in places as varied as Kuala Lumpur, the garden city of Shah Alam, and Penang island. Holidaymakers would linger, travelling at a more leisurely pace – and not as part of a convoy as I am – but it doesn’t take long to appreciate the ease of driving here, and the diversity of attractions along the way.
Not far from the capital, traces of the city start to peter out and it’s palm trees, not houses, that line the roads. Shah Alam in Selangor state is worth a stop – the Blue Mosque here features one of the world’s tallest minarets at over 465ft high, and the distinctive blue and silver dome is among the largest in the world.
For a taste of history, the 18th-century fort at Bukit Melawati combines the past with great views – and monkeys – but it’s the villages en route that give an insight into local life.
Roadside stalls sell tropical fruit, children wave as you drive past, and the state is encouraging homestays for anyone wanting more experience of typical Malay life.
Further north in Perak state lies Lumut, 125 miles from Kuala Lumpur. Usually just a jumping off point to the luxury hideaway island of Pangkor Laut, it’s a laid-back, fairly undiscovered region that’s perfect for relaxing. The Swiss-Garden Resort and Spa Damai Laut is one of few properties along the coast here, and its golf course ranks as one of the best in the world.
Nearby is the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, with palaces, mosques and the Royal Museum of Perak, housed in a traditional Malay building made of woven bamboo, built without using a single nail.
The joy of self-driving through the country is having the freedom to explore sites and landscapes most tourists never see as they fly directly to island resorts. Wherever we head, the roads are in perfect condition, it’s incredibly clean, and modern and traditional sit side by side. We gain glimpses of the varied culture – Malay, Indian and Chinese – pass rubber and banana plantations, and the countryside is lush at every turn.
The province of Kedah, known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Malaysia, is a patchwork of paddy fields – there’s even a paddy museum, detailing the history of rice production and an incredible 360° mural depicting surrounding views.
In the sleepy town of Alor Star, Malaysia’s second-tallest tower soars 543ft into the sky, offering stunning panoramas of the green landscape. In its shadow lies the bustling Pekan Rabu market, selling everything from traditional medicine to local handicrafts – the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was once a trader here.
Our final destination is Penang island, reached by bridge or ferry from the mainland. The busy capital city of George Town contrasts with the well-developed beach life and it’s a lovely place to kick back for a while.
We could have taken a short flight to Penang from Kuala Lumpur, saving our time for the beach. But what we’ve seen along the way more than makes up for any missed sunbathing opportunities.
As Tourism Malaysia’s Hasan said: “Of course, if you drive you’ll see more of the real country – and it’s more of an adventure than simply getting on an aircraft.”
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