It is foreseeable that there won’t be much of 2020 left after the Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia has been deemed flattened enough for the restrictions associated with the Movement Control Order (MCO), Malaysia’s version of the lockdown, to be lifted.
Designated as Visit Malaysia 2020, the pandemic could not have come a worse time for all the business sectors associated with the Malaysian tourism industry. Even if travel restrictions were to be lifted and there is every chance of that happening in the very near forseeable future, the Malaysian international borders are not expected to be opened anytime soon, to allow for international travel, both inbound and outbound.
There may be one or two countries that will open up their international borders for both inbound and outbound traffic, but it would seem to be the exception rather than the norm. For the moment at least.
Despite the doom and gloom, if there is something good to have come out from all this troubled times, is that the air seems fresher nowadays with improved visibility and the waterways seems to have recovered enough to allow for the fishes to thrive with marine and aqua wildlife, whom we have thought to have gone from the face of the earth, to suddenly make an appearance again.
Taking all that into consideration, my travel plans for this year shall logically be restricted to within the shores of Malaysia, as it has been all this while for circumstances far different from what it is today.
My top five destinations, in no particular order, for the year 2020 (or whats left of it) are as follows :-
(1) Sabah – Kota Kinabalu / Ranau / Kundasang
I have always had a soft spot for the state of Sabah ever since I first set foot in Kota Kinabalu way back in 1989. Located at the northern part of that big island of Borneo, I have, since then, returned several times, with almost all of the trips being work-related assignments with the occassional side trips squeezed in whenever the opportunity presented itself.
In planning for the Sabah trip, a subject that has to be paid special attention is timing, what with the monsoon seasons and long weekends availing itself in the Malaysian calendar. As is for any trip, I suppose.
The planned trip to Kota Kinabalu or KK as it is most commonly referred to by Malaysians, will be a mix of fun in the city and relaxation in the countryside, with a view of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia (if I am not mistaken) thrown into the bag.
Well, thats the general idea anyway. But based on my preliminary research as well as recommendations from Sabah-based friends, the problem may not lie in the number of interesting places to visit or the sort of activities that we can look forward to but rather on how much time can we spend in KK and Kundasang.
Sounds great already, as if we did not know that to begin with.
(2) Kelantan – Kota Bharu
The east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu are often referred to as the ‘traditional’ Malay states of the Peninsular Malaysia, though what with nine Malay Sultans installed as reigning monarchs from the eleven states located in the Pensinsular, I must disagree with the definition of ‘traditional’ here.
The state of Kelantan is famously known for its handicrafts, its folklores, its distinct local cuisine, as well as its unique Kelantan way of life and Kelantan Malay dialect or more famously referred to as ‘Kecek Kelate’.
The history of the state of Kelantan is never far from the legacy that of Cik Siti Wan Kembang. So interwoven is her legacy into the fabric of Kelantan, its people, its arts and its culture that it would be fascinating to watch and observe the Kelantan people at work and at play.
Of all the different destinations that Kelantan has to offer, the state capital, Kota Bharu, is the destination of choice with the Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah (The Siti Khadijah Main Market) topping the list, and followed by as many artisan workshops that Kelantan is famous for, as possible. Not forgetting, of course for a history buff like me, a visit to the museums.
(3) Terengganu – Redang Island
Next door to Kelantan is the state of Terengganu who is no less well known for its arts and crafts, its own distinct and interesting history, and its cuisine, as is its neighbour to the north, Kelantan.
The first time I ever been to Terengganu was in 1989. Little did I know then that as I was making my way from Kuantan to Kuala Terengganu, driving by the many small towns (they were small back then) along the way, taking in the rustic ambience, consistently catching glimpses of waves crashing onto the Terengganu coastline, with the cool sea breeze wafting in from the open seas bearing a hint of salt in the air, coconut trees swaying to my then favourite music cassette playing on my car’s stereo, I was slowly falling in love with Terengganu.
Admittedly, I have been to Terengganu many times since then, mainly for work purposes with the last being in late 2019, but this time around its off to the islands. Well, thats the plan anyway.
Terengganu has many islands off its shores and many have been developed to cater for both the domestic and foreign tourists. The white and fine sands of the islands coupled with the sounds of the crashing waves lend the island a laid back lifestyle, making many visitors make a beeline for the islands for a fun-filled sun-kissed relaxing getaway.
One of these islands is Redang Island and from the many pictures posted online, it looks like its going to be a very pleasant holiday : white fine sand, clear blue water, more than pleasant modern accomodation (of course with wifi!), good food and cool evening breezes.
Altogether now….. yessss!!!!
(4) Kedah – Alor Setar
Across the peninsular, up in the northwest lies the state of Kedah. Kedah is a big state alright, with many attractions ie museums, palaces etc. Like in any other state.
Well almost, except for archaelogical dig sites and museum in Sungai Batu and Lembah Bujang respectively. If you are into archaelogy, then that be your preferred destination.
That, by itself, is worth a visit, I will grant you that. Afterall, Kedah’s history goes back a long way, to the time when Merong Mahawangsa established the present-day Kedah Sultanate much much earlier than the great Melaka Sultanate of the 1400s.
But for us, the destination specified for Kedah is the state capital itself, Alor Setar. Museums are a thing with me. I find them to be very interesting, and spending time on the exhibits, reading the accompanying information to be not only educational but also enlightening and humbling.
So is architecture and as it is with architecture, so is the appreciation of old but distinguished buildings. That said, amongst the list of places to visit are the Masjid Zahir (or the Zahir Mosque), the Kedah Royal Museum, the not-so-old Alor Setar Tower (with a vew of the whole of Alor Setar in the offing) , to name but a few.
(5) Penang – Georgetown
We last had our family holiday in Georgetown, Penang in June 2018. Five days and four nights in total. we thought that it would be sufficient but alas no.
We had made a list of things to do for that 2018 trip to Penang : places to visit, eateries to patronise, as well as other fun-filled family activities. But some places on the list could not be ticked off as it was inconvenient due to the weather or the likes, making a return trip to Penang a foregone conclusion.
But this time, it won’t be a family holiday I guess. The kids have all grown up and and have their own lives to lead, what with work and college etc.
The last time around, we had planned to go to Balik Pulau but were unable to, so this time it is in the planned itinerary. Any mention of Balik Pulau can only allude to one thing : that Malaysian king of fruits, the durian. But be warned, durians are an acquired taste. Some swore by it, whilst some swear by it.
Another activity to add to the list is a trip to the Penang National Park, the smallest national park in Malaysia, so I have been told. Reviews of the park that have crossed my way thus far have been very encouraging and it will coincide with my first ever trip to a national park.
A definite feature of the trip being planned would be gastronomy. After all, how can one visit Penang without a foray (or two) to the nasi kandar eateries, with steaming hot curries, naan breads, and what have you. A kilo in added weight before leaving Penang would not be surprising.
That being the Top 5 list of destinations for the Covid-19 year of 2020, the question is now, will it be realised? We will have to wait and see, won’t we.