The mood in the country is electric as Malaysians get ready to go to the polls on May 9. With election fever sweeping across the nation, the 14th General Election is bound to be a political spectacle. Of course, wherever there’s a spectacle, you can be sure of a crowd.
Sunday Star recently reported that GE14 is likely to boost domestic tourism (Cashing in on ‘election tourists’, published on March 25). Sleepy towns are bound to welcome curious travellers in addition to the usual group of Election Commission staff, media personnel, political party workers and voters.
Based on previous years’ trend, Tourism and Culture Ministry deputy minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin forecast inbound travel to increase by at least 20% in the period between nomination day (April 28) and polling date (May 9).
In any case, analysts agree that the bulk of the action will take place in Johor, Kedah, Selangor, Sabah, Kelantan and Terengganu.
The polling day, which falls on a Wednesday, has since been declared a public holiday. If you’re heading to these hotspots during the election period, why not extend your stay and make a vacation out of it?
The country’s southernmost state certainly deserves more credit than being a gateway to Singapore. For starters, there’s Legoland Malaysia Resort where everything’s awesome. In fact, the state is a galore of family-friendly theme parks with the presence of Sanrio Hello Kitty Town and Angry Birds Activity Park.
For something more rustic, the 120-year-old Kampung Sungai Melayu allows visitors to immerse in village life and tour the floating mussel farm. Meanwhile, Johor Baru’s youthful energy is concentrated at Kilang Bateri where you can find eclectic art installations and hip eateries.
Over in Ayer Hitam, there’s the Tropical Village with its miniature effigies of famous people and landmarks. The lively town is also famous for ceramics and the picturesque Sawah Sagil paddy fields. Beautiful islands here include Rawa, Sibu and Aur.
Most know of Kedah on two fronts: The country’s rice bowl in the mainland and the tropical paradise of Langkawi island. The former conjures images of lush green paddy fields while the latter is often associated with islets over turquoise waters.
Travellers are also often lured to Langkawi by the promise of duty-free shopping. But if retail doesn’t interest you, perhaps seeing a sunset at the renowned Tanjung Rhu beach will?
For more scenic views, head to the SkyBridge or ride the cable car to Mount Mat Cincang. Elsewhere, the myth of Mahsuri’s curse will enthrall at Kota Mahsuri.
Meanwhile, the less-visited mainland is not to be discounted from your travel itinerary. The Alor Setar heritage trail includes sites like the Balai Seni Negeri, Royal Museum and Zahir Mosque. Another site worth visiting is Bujang Valley with its ancient ruins.
Chances are out-of-towners will immediately associate Malaysia’s richest state with shopping. These days, you can even find adventurous thrills inside malls. Shopping complexes aside, though, the state also has plenty of interesting sights.
For some cultural flair, the Mah Meri Cultural Village and Batu Caves are not to be missed. Travel further from the urban areas and plenty of interesting sights are in store. Kuala Selangor is home to the Sky Mirror, Kampung Kuantan fireflies and Bukit Melawati. Sekinchan is also worth visiting for its scenic paddy fields and fresh seafood.
The royal town of Klang hosts some great historical structures. You can sign up for the free Royal Klang Heritage Walk to check out sights such as the Sultan Suleiman Building, Church of Our Lady of Lourdes and Sri Nagara Thendayuthapani temple.
Flora and fauna thrive in Sabah, home to the majestic Mount Kinabalu. Surrounded by beautiful turquoise ocean and picturesque islands, the state is also packed with culture and history.
When in the capital city Kota Kinabalu, be sure to visit the local market or tamu. The Gaya Street Sunday market is one of the more popular ones and sell an array of local crafts, food, plants and produce. Once you’ve got the retail bit covered, head to the great outdoors.
The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is home to five islands: Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. You can get to any of them via speed boat or ferries from the main jetty in the city.
Sabah is also one of the best places to catch beautiful sunsets. Tanjung Aru beach and the Waterfront are two places to catch the golden hues of dimming daylight. If you want to catch the sunrise, then head to Mount Kinabalu.
Warm Kelantanese hospitality is abundant in Malaysia’s northeasternmost state. Here’s where you can experience some truly unique Malay culture, heritage and cuisine. The food itself – from nasi kerabu to roti titab – is worth the trip here. For a taste of local life, fly the wau bulan and spin the gasing.
Kelantan is also home to traditional regal structures such as Istana Jahar and Istana Batu. Meanwhile, Pantai Cahaya Bulan is the place to be to sample some seafood with views of the sea.
The Siti Khadijah Market sells fresh produce, local snacks as well as handicraft and is a wonderful place for tourists to mingle with locals.
Travel to Gua Musang to experience living in an Orang Asli settlement in Kuala Betis. Then head to Pulai for the Swee Nyet Kong temple – which the locals call Tokong Mek – that offers breathtaking scenery.
Home to wonderful beaches and tranquil islands, there are 11 marine parks that offer great diving and snorkeling opportunities in this state. Redang Island – about 50km away from the Marang jetty – is surrounded by crystal clear waters.
Other islands to explore include Perhentian, Kapas, Gemia and Tenggol.
On the mainland, Kuala Terengganu hosts attractions such as the Central Market, Bukit Puteri, Tengku Tengah Zahara Mosque and Chinatown. Starting from May till September, Rantau Abang is the main nesting beach for giant leatherback turtles.
Terengganu is also where you can find Tasik Kenyir, the largest man-made lake in the region. Nearby is Tanjong Mentong, which serves as a new and interesting new gateway to Taman Negara.