Many Malaysians would be familiar with the balik kampung experience: Sitting at the back of the car as a kid, listening to an endless loop of festive songs and asking our parents every hour or so if we were “there yet”.

While arriving safely at our respective hometowns is the end goal, the journey – along the scenic highways (or trunk roads) – can be a rewarding experience too. In fact, the drive doesn’t have to be long and dull with some great Malaysian road trips.

Popular stopovers such as Ipoh and Melaka aside, we take a look at some interesting detours along two major highways in the peninsula – the North–South Expressway (NSE) and East Coast Expressway (ECE) – where you can do some sightseeing or grab a bite, before continuing the journey.

Temerloh, Pahang

Pahang’s second largest town is sometimes known as Bandar Ikan Patin (Silver Catfish Town) and for very good reasons. After all, the ikan patin dishes – especially the tempoyak – are some of the best you can taste in the country. The verdict is still out there on the best restaurants, though, and an online search will bring up various restaurants and stalls.

But perhaps one thing everyone can agree on is the host of nature and wildlife experiences available. The Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre allows visitors to get up-close and personal with the usually gentle giants. Catch an educational and interactive show between the mahouts and rescued elephants. The nearby Deerland Park, despite its name, actually hosts a variety of animals.

Head to the gasing court at Kampung Sanggang to learn more about the traditional spinning top game. If you’re in town on a Sunday, visit the Pekan Sehari. Located along the riverside, the weekend market – said to be the biggest and longest in Pahang – sells all kinds of fresh produce and goods.

Temerloh

The tempoyak ikan patin is worth making a stop at Temerloh in Pahang for.

Kemaman, Terengganu

The many oil refineries aside, the southernmost district of Terengganu is actually an interesting stopover. Its coastal location means that there are many beaches to visit: Kemasik Beach, Teluk Mak Nik, Telaga Simpul Beach, Cagar Hutan Beach and Ma’Daerah.

The beaches used to be nesting grounds for endangered green turtles before their eggs were hunted to the brink of extinction. Today, the Ma’Daerah Turtle Sanctuary seeks to bring Kemaman back to its glorious nesting days.

Elsewhere, the Kemaman Zoo & Recreation Park combines fruit orchard, water theme park, herbal park and zoo in one venue.

Terengganu’s famous kerepok lekor is also widely available in Kemaman. Other unique delicacies to look out for are satar, nekbat, lemang and otak-otak. Many also flock to Kemaman for coffee and toast at the famous Kedai Kopi Hai Peng. The establishment is unique because despite being a Chinese business, it serves halal food and you will see people of various races and ages dining here.

Kemaman

The MaDaerah Turtle Sanctuary is trying to bring back the glorious nesting days in Kemaman, Terengganu.

Taiping, Perak

Rainfall volume in this town is the stuff of legends. But don’t let the wet terrain deter you from making a stop to enjoy the tranquility of its Lake Gardens or see more than 140 species of animals at the Taiping Zoo. The oldest zoo in the country is situated at the foot of Larut Hill (otherwise known as Maxwell Hill).

The heritage town has plenty of attractions and the best way to do some sightseeing is to go on a heritage trail on the electric shuttle bus. The 11.5km-long route passes through places such as the Perak Museum, First Galleria and the Taiping jail on a 40-minute trip.

After the tour, refuel at Kedai Kopi Prima that serves a selection of halal and non-halal food. Popular dishes include mee jawa, hor fun and pak cham kai (poached chicken). Another favourite in Taiping is cendol.

Both the Ansari and Bismillah stalls along Jalan Barrack have been operating for over 70 years. For a quick perk-me-up before the drive, grab some coffee from Antong Coffee Mill.

Kampar, Perak

Kampar

Fishball noodles at the morning market is a must-have when youre in Kampar, Perak.

You will need to drive further along the trunk road after exiting the NSE (northbound exit at Tapah and southbound exit at Gopeng) to get here. But this once sleepy town – which has been injected new life with the presence of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman – warrants a visit.

In fact, the university’s impressive architecture against the backdrop of serene mountains and lakes is quite a sight. Kampar’s “new town” – where the majority of students stay – is populated by hip bubble tea businesses, cyber cafes and photocopy shops. Here’s also where the Kinta Tin Mining Museum is located. Drive to the old town and you will find a more laidback vibe.

Visit the Kampar market in the morning to buy fresh produce and sample local favourites such as the fish ball noodles (pic, right), glutinous rice with curry, roti canai, charcoal-fried char kuey teow and dry loh shu fun. More delicious food can also be found at 36 Stalls along Jalan Baru.

If you’re visiting in the evening, have some claypot rice at one of the many stalls. Pack some curry chicken bread from Kam Ling Restaurant for the road.

Ayer Keroh, Melaka

It’s easy to overlook this sleepy town for its more vibrant city in this historical state. But Ayer Keroh’s position as a gateway from the NSE to Melaka city does come with touristy virtues. If anything, there’s certainly no shortage of themed attractions and parks.

For starters, the Mini Malaysia & Asean Cultural Park showcases replicas of traditional Malaysian and regional homes. Then there’s Melaka Wonderland Theme Park where both kids and parents can cool down after a hot drive. For more educational adventures, the Melaka Planetarium is dedicated to all things astronomy and science.

Other attractions worth checking out include the Melaka Zoo, Malacca Crocodile Farm, Melaka Bird Park and Orang Asli Museum. The museum which is situated near the Crocodile Farm displays exhibits from the Senoi, Jah Huat and Mah Meri tribes.

When it comes to food, there’s your Malay and Chinese restaurants here but Ayer Keroh is not exactly known for its culinary pursuits.

Ayer Keroh

The Mini Malaysia & Asean Cultural Park is a theme park in Ayer Keroh, Melaka, that showcases traditional houses from every state in Malaysia and around the region.

Yong Peng, Johor

With the exception of being Malaysia’s first town to launch its own tourism year in 2017, this township in Batu Pahat district has been largely under the radar among tourists. But Yong Peng does have some notable attractions. There’s the Black Dragon Cave Temple with its children’s pool for kids below the age of 10, and beautiful decorations.

Kids might also enjoy the 107m-long fortune dragon sculpture at Yong Peng’s Che Ann Khor.

Head towards the border of the town and you’ll find Zenxin Organic Park. The venue combines education and recreational fun to give some insights into organic farming. Looking for traditional Malay music instruments? Then make a stop at Perusahaan Kompang dan Jidor Mokhtar that specialises in crafting musical instruments such as the gamelan, jidor and gendang.

Some delicacies to look out for are the loh mee, duck meat noodles as well as Fuzhou noodles and biscuits. Restoran Kari Kambing 40 Hari is popular for its nasi Arab, lamb rendang and roti canai. On the subject of roti canai, don’t leave until you’ve tried a thin and crispy version of the flatbread dish at an unmarked stall (13, Jalan Meng Seng) hidden within a residential area here.

Yong Peng

Visitors posing for picture in front of the fortune dragon sculpture at Yong Peng’s Che Ann Khor.

NEXT PAGE: Tips for a smooth and pleasant balik kampung journey.