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Malaysia Road Trip - From Coast to Coast

Updated: Mar 9

#Roadtrip #MINI #Countryman #Malaysia #Bekok #Paloh #Melaka #Portdickson #Sekeping #Serendah #Sekinchan #Cameron #Belum #Kelantan #Penarik #Terengganu #Tanjungjara #Cherating #Kuantan #Mangala #Desaru



4 Wheels, 3 Leeches, 2 Coasts, 1 Trip, and 0 Elephant


I'm a big fan of road trips. Hence, it's not surprising that I've made umpteen drives into Malaysia since I bought my first car some 11 years ago. Looking back and counting, I've driven about 40 times to Melaka, 13 times to Cameron Highlands, many times to other towns and cities, plus 1 epic trip to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (Singapore-Thailand Road Trip). Not forgetting countless times to many Singaporeans' favourite neighbourhood - Johor Bahru.


Unfortunately in the past decade, it seemed like there had not been any chance to take on a longer road trip into Malaysia beyond a 3D2N window, not until recently. Without hesitation, I quickly charted a 12-day road trip plan for Peninsula Malaysia with the aim of visiting some places I've always wanted to, including staying in the forest retreat of Sekeping Serendah, spotting wild elephants along Gerik Highway, and driving along the entire east coast of the Peninsula from Kelantan to Desaru.


Hotel booking was straightforward and packing my bag was even more so. The most difficult and indecisive part of packing was probably my photo-video equipment. DSLR or mirrorless, which lenses, which point-and-shoot, GoPro, drone, tripod - it was a big headache which system and equipment I should be throwing into my bag. And choosing the right bag(s) was also a part of that complication (equipment list at end of blog).


Being a longer than usual road trip, a quick pre-trip health check for my senior citizen MINI Countryman was done at MCF Auto (https://www.facebook.com/MCFAutoSg/). This is my trustworthy go-to workshop to assure that she is in good health and ready for the 2,000+km marathon.


With (hopefully) everything packed and accommodation booked, I set off and embarked on my most extensive Malaysia road trip to date - a trip where 4 wheels had rolled and gripped through tarmac, mud and sand; where 3 leeches had feasted on me from neck to toe; where sunsets and sunrises were witnessed on 2 coasts on 1 single trip; and a disappointing 0 elephant sighting along the Gerik Highway.


West coast to east coast Malaysia road trip plan.

Itinerary:

Day 1 Singapore - Bekok - Paloh - Melaka - Port Dickson

Day 2 Port Dickson - Sekeping Serendah Retreats

Day 3 Sekeping Serendah Retreats - Sekinchan

Day 4 Sekinchan - Cameron Highlands

Day 5 Cameron Highlands - Belum Rainforest Resort

Day 6 Belum Rainforest Resort

Day 7 Belum - Bukit Banga - Penarik - Kuala Terengganu - Tanjung Jara

Day 8 Tanjung Jara - Cherating - Mangala Resort & Spa

Day 9 Mangala Resort & Spa

Day 10 Mangala Resort & Spa to Kuantan

Day 11 Kuantan to Desaru

Day 12 Desaru to Singapore



SINGAPORE - BEKOK - PALOH - MELAKA - PORT DICKSON

Exiting Yong Peng and heading to Bekok for breakfast before sunrise.

Arrived at Bekok in the early morning and watching an old KTM train rolling off the station.

The reason for this Bekok detour was my craving for some old school breakfast at my favourite coffee shop - Nan Kai. Serving charcoal-toast bread with homemade kaya, paired with half-boiled kampung eggs.

Took a light offroad path to the town of Paloh, feeding stray dogs along the way (I always keep dried dog and cat food in my boot).

Exploring this quaint and cool little old town of Paloh.

A quick coffee and brunch stop at Calanthe Art Cafe in Melaka. Decided to take the B-roads to Port Dickson from Melaka instead of the boring NS Highway.

Checked-in to Avillion Port Dickson, a beautiful resort with villas above the water.

A drone shot of Avillion. The white building on the left edge is Avi Spa.

Timelapse of the rising tide from 3pm to 7pm from my villa's bay window.



The sun setting at Port Dickson beach.

Dinner at La Playa Bar and Restaurant, housed in a beautiful bungalow facing the sea.

View of the sea and sunset while having my pizza and beer at La Playa.

Woke up early to explore the Port Dickson coastline, Managed to find a good spot close to the waters to enjoy the views. That's Avillion in the background on the left.

Getting ready my drone for some aerial fun. Connected to my iPad Mini for better viewing due to old-age poor eyesight.

Booked a pampering session at the highly rated, highly recommended Avi Spa within Avillion. The views were extraordinary and service was impeccable. (TOP LEFT: Rooftop patio; BOTTOM LEFT: After-spa drink at the deck; RIGHT: Drinks and fruits while soaking in the bubble bath.

PORT DICKSON - SEKEPING SERENDAH

Thunderstorm brewing while traversing Rawang towards Serendah. In fact, it rained almost every day throughout the trip.

Sekeping Serendah was one of the few places I've always wanted to visit. It's a forest retreat comprising independent houses that integrates harmoniously with the forest. Designed by Malaysian landscape architect Seksan, staying here would require a bit of bravery and a sense of adventure. And there is no wifi or cellular network. A true retreat indeed. ABOVE: My night's accommodation at Glass Box 2.

There are 2 swimming pools in Sekeping Serendah. This is Pool 2 which sits on a steep slope in the forest.

My walking tour around the forest retreat was a memorable one, not just because of the wonderful nature and architecture, but the bloody leech bite on my toe.

Getting ready to leave the next morning with my bonnet showered with gifts from the Serendah forest.

Driving out from Sekeping Serendah retreat. It's easy to miss the tiny sign when getting there.

SEKEPING SERENDAH - SEKINCHAN - CAMERON HIGHLANDS

My colourful accommodation at Sekinchan - Padi Box. Constructed with shipping containers and surrounded by vast paddy fields (my container room in light green).

Sekinchan's fishing port.

Catch of the day at Hai Seng Huat Fishery.

Woke up early to catch sunrise and enjoy the fresh air amidst the fields of gold.

Ready for harvest.

Stunning view from the air. Had no regrets buying the Mavic Pro.

Lost in the fields.

Harvester getting ready to roll out.

Sekinchan is a good place for bird watching as well.

A quick snack at the iconic bus cafe next to Padi Box before departing for Cameron Highlands.

A friendly dog which loves my biscuits and didn't want to leave. Just had to give him all I have.

Arriving at my favourite hotel in Cameron Highlands - The Cameron Highlands Resort by YTL Hotels.


On top of the new watchtower inside Mossy Forest. The original watchtower at Gunung Brinchang summit is closed, due to safety reasons I believe.

Spectacular views of the Titiwangsa range from the watchtower in Mossy Forest.

A compulsory stop for most visitors - the Sungai Palas BOH Tea Centre.

There is a new building to cater to the increase in number of visitors. Reach early (main vehicular gate opens at 8.30am) and you'll be guaranteed a window seat.

Another pampering session at Spa Village in Cameron Highlands Resort. A well deserved tea bath and massage for all the hard work and driving done so far.

CAMERON HIGHLANDS - BELUM RAINFOREST RESORT

Exiting the NS Highway at Kuala Kangsar towards Gerik. Other than Sekeping Serendah Retreats, Belum Rainforest Resort was the other key destination on this road trip. Of course, driving on the famous Gerik Highway was also one of my must-dos!

Arriving at Royal Belum, crossing the scenic bridge towards Banding Island over the Temenggor Lake (pardon the background voice from my TomTom GPS, courtesy of Yoda).


Arrived at Belum Rainforest Resort.

Spectacular view from my room's balcony. The small swimming pool against the majestic Temenggor Lake.

A Mavic Pro's perspective of the Temenggor Lake and the Belum State Park - one of the oldest rainforest in world dating back over 130 million years. And the entire Belum-Temenggor rainforest is 4 times the size of Singapore.

Chilling out by the pool at Belum Rainforest Resort.

Going for breakfast in the early morning and greeted by these adorable kitties. There are a lot of cats in the resort.

Booked the "Discover Lower Belum" tour through the resort front desk. This is the resort's very own jetty where all tours would depart from.

Surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the 130 million year old rainforest while the boat cruised quietly down the mirror Temenggor Lake.

Mesmerizing views of God's wonderful creation.

The Lower Belum Tour. It was rougher than I had expected.

The best of Rafflesia we could see - a dead one.

The life had ended for the Rafflesia, another life had just started on something really fertile - an elephant dung.

Interacting with a cute and interesting pill millipede in the forest, all curled up in self-defense.

One of the celebrities in Belum is the hornbiill. I was awestruck when I saw half a dozen of wild hornbills while staying at Capella Sentosa last year. Well, there were easily 30 over this time right in front of our boat! This visual spectacle was definitely the highlight of my half day tour.

Not the most pleasant photo here but a truly memorable one for me. Got another 2 leech bites - one small bite on my ankle and one big one above my collar bone (above). The first leech encounter was at Sekeping Serendah if you have forgotten.

Bird's eye view of the Belum Rainforest Resort.

My Heineken every evening accompanied by spectacular views of the Temenggor Lake.

For the 2 nights I was staying at Belum, I woke up before dawn and drove 10km in both directions from the resort along Gerik Highway, hoping to meet the wild elephants. Sadly, I spotted none.

BELUM - PENARIK - KUALA TERENGGANU - TANJUNG JARA

With an achievement of 3 leeches and 0 elephant so far, I left Belum Rainforest Resort and headed towards Kelantan and the east coast.

The Malaysia-Thailand border at Bukit Bunga.

Getting sandblasted by strong sea breeze at Penarik.

Enjoying the beauty of the east coast at Penarik all alone. Huge waves, white sandy beach, and zero people.

Drove till the end of the road, literally.

Arrived at Tanjung Jara Resort, also managed by YTL Hotels (same as Cameron Highlands Resort). This was my other "must-visit" destination in this trip.

Ended my day with a nice dinner at Nelayan restaurant in Tanjung Jara Resort.

ABOVE: Sunrise at Teluk Bidara beach, Tanjung Jara.


Drone's eye view at Teluk Bidara Beach. Having the white sandy beach all to myself.

Feeding adorable stray cats at Tanjung Dungun Lighthouse.

The second Spa Village for the trip at Tanjung Jara Resort (first was at Cameron Highlands Resort). I've heard so much about Tanjung Jara's Spa Village and this was also on my "must-do list" for this trip. It was 2.5 hours of royalty treatment in a huge bungalow, the largest treatment room (house) I've ever had for myself.

CHERATING

Visited the Cherating Turtle Sanctuary.

Playing with and feeding more stray cats outside Cherating Turtle Sanctuary. Was running out of cat food by this time.

Just enjoying the sea breeze and views of Cherating beach.

Bird's eye view of Cherating, with the Turtle Sanctuary on the bottom left.

Club Med Cherating.

This was my first time in Cherating. In fact, I was quite impressed by the vibrancy along Cherating beach. There are several beachfront bars and restaurants offering great food, great drinks, and great views.

Settled down for dinner at Don't Tell Mama Eco Bar.

My drinking buddy.

The sun setting at Cherating beach, a popular surfing destination.

Overview of Cherating beach where the bars and restaurants are located.

The sun signing off.

Time to say goodbye to Cherating.

MANGALA RESORT & SPA, GAMBANG, KUANTAN

Have always wanted to visit this beautiful place - the Mangala Resort & Spa.

Mangala Resort & Spa was transformed from an abandoned barren mining land over a 15-year period. Beautifully done. Jala Villas on the left fringing the lake, Vana and Amani Villas on top-right (with private pools), and Sara Villas facing the wetland on the right (small orange roofs partially covered by trees).

My accommodation - the 55sqm Sara Villa.

Perched on the edge of the Mangala Wetland, the Sara Villa is perfect for nature lovers and those who wish to be close to nature. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see or shoot many birds.

Amazing view of the wetland from the Villa balcony deck.

My bicycle and Sara Villa 101. Bicycles are available for all guests to ride within the resort for free.

The Jala Villas overlooking the serene Mangala Lake.

Hanging out on the edge of the infinity pool.

Set off at 5am from Mangala to catch sunrise at Bukit Panorama (Sungai Lembing). Surprises along the way on the pitch dark roads. Better to have bright headlights and never speed.

Arrived at the foot of Bukit Panorama at 5.20am.

The pavilion marks the starting point of the trail. At 5.30am, the stairs leading up to the summit was still pitch dark. Good torch lights are a must.

Took me 1 hour to reach the summit. It was really tiring for me, almost breathless at some point. Do bring along some energy food, banana, and ample drinking water.

This is the view everyone has climbed up for. That block of rock sticking out of the sea of clouds is Gua Charas.

Good morning Bukit Panoroma.

The charming nostalgic old town of Sungai Lembing with the iconic old tree.

KUANTAN - DESARU

Decided to stay 1 night in the heart of Kuantan for some civilisation after 2 nights at Mangala Resort. Chose the Zenith Hotel located right in the city centre.

Right opposite Zenith Hotel is East Coast Mall, the largest shopping mall in Kuantan and probably the biggest mall on the east coast. Managed by our familiar real estate giant, it's not surprising that it has everything.

Dark clouds loom over Teluk Cempedak, Kuantan. Another wet afternoon.

Arriving at Desaru. Saw a lonely stray dog and decided to pull over to give it a happy meal.

Wrapping up my coast to coast road trip on the white sandy beach of Desaru.

Always love cruising down Desaru beach and hitting the waves.

A relatively new hotel - the Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast. Chilling out by the pool and lobby bar on a hot afternoon.

Sunrise at Desaru.

Serving breakfast to a few cats on the beach with my last pack of cat food.

Many kilometres of pristine white sandy beach for an absolute sense of (driving) freedom.

Shall end with a splash... literally, with a closing video of Desaru taken on a previous trip, making splashes on the beautiful Malaysian coast.



Photo/Video Equipment Used:

  • Panasonic Lumix LX10 (small, light, fast - my main everyday camera)

  • Sony RX10 III (for bird photography, e.g. catching the hornbills at Belum)

  • Huawei Mate 20 Pro

  • Nikon D750 w/ 17-35mm f2.8 and 24-120mm f4

  • GoPro Hero 7 Black

  • DJI Mavic Pro

  • 2 X Crumpler Camera Bags