More than temporary pit stops, R&Rs are also part and parcel of the Malaysian highway experience and a boost for sleepy and hungry travellers.

REST and Service Areas are a common sight along the PLUS Malaysia Berhad-operated North-South Expressway (NSE). Better known by as R&R – for Rest & Relaxation, or the Malay term (Kawasan) Rehat Dan Rawat – they have become an integral aspect of the Malaysian road trip experience.

With an array of amenities, several R&Rs offer more than just a temporary stop for weary travellers to unwind and freshen up after a long drive. Some of the facilities available include air-conditioned restaurants, children’s playground, petrol stations, surau (Muslim prayer areas) and auto-teller machines (ATMs).

For Sherlene Qua, 23, her occasional journey from Penang to Kuala Lumpur would not be complete without a stop at both the northbound and southbound R&Rs in Tapah. The piano teacher makes it a point to visit the Dunkin Donuts store.

“The only Dunkin Donuts outlet in Penang is located at the airport. Unless I’m making a domestic departure from the airport, I won’t drive all the way to the airport for doughnuts,” she says.

Qua recalls having a great plate of hot steaming nasi lemak at one of the R&Rs along the highway. Although she couldn’t quite place the exact location of the R&R, she remembers the lovely meal giving her a boost on a long journey.

The Sungai Perak R&R underwent major renovation in 2007.

Sales executive Wong Kim Yoong, 24, who makes frequent business trips from KL to Johor Baru, Seremban and Malacca, recounts how a quick stop kept him awake during a long drive.

“Two hours into my drive from KL to JB, I was having a hard time keeping my eyes on the road. Luckily, there was an ice-cream store at Ayer Keroh R&R. So I thought, ‘Eat&Drive would definitely be better than Sleep&Drive’. The ice cream kept me awake until I reached JB safely,” he says.

Wong recommends using the automated massage chairs found at some R&Rs, which he says provide quick relief for aching backs after a laborious drive.

According to PLUS section manager Shatri Ahmad, 45, drivers are encouraged to rest at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving.

“Rest areas provide a safer option for tired drivers to stop and take a nap as there are personnel who make their rounds at the parking areas,” Shatri explains. However, Wong points out, there have been instances where he was approached by handphone peddlers while he was at the parking bays of certain rest areas.

“There would be some guy in shady clothing calling me and showing the latest unit of the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Something should be done regarding this,” he says.

Completed in 1994, the NSE is the longest expressway in the country at 772km running from Bukit Kayu Hitam in Kedah to Johor Baru. On normal days, according to PLUS, the highway logs an average of about 1.2 million users whereas the numbers increase to 1.5 million during the holiday period.

Muslim travellers can perform their prayers at the surau located at the R&Rs.

Today, there are 24 R&Rs, 43 lay-bys and four overhead-bridge restaurants along the expressway. The R&Rs are located at every 50km to 80km while lay-bys are found at every 20km to 40km along the highway. Although smaller and not as fully equipped as the R&Rs, lay-bys provide sufficient facilities for a short break.

Apart from serving as rest stops, R&Rs and certain lay-bys also play a crucial role in improving the lives and socio-economic status of more than 500 small-time entrepreneurs and their families who reside along the highway.

Miseral Siran, 43, who operates a beverage shop with his wife Dalilah Rahib, 40, at the Nilai lay-by, says they enjoy brisk business throughout the year.

Currently, food stalls make up 34% of the total number of stalls on the PLUS highways. Twenty-eight percent sell beverages, 20% are made up of fruit stalls while the rest sell handicrafts and other products. The Bukit Gantang lay-by, for one, is known for its selection of fresh fruits.

“It’s like a haven of tropical fruits. We stop by Bukit Gantang almost all the time for fresh-cut fruits with asam boi to have in the car during our drive up north,” says Sai Durgeswari Rajan, 20, who regularly travels with her family to their hometown in Alor Star.

Like Sai and family, Wong also purchases local fruits when he stops at the Seremban R&R. “During the harvest season, you’ll find fruits like duku langsat, durians and mangosteens. Once I saw a crowd of Chinese tourists nodding their heads in approval after eating durians at the Seremban rest area,” says Wong.

Another highway user Ang Guat Cheng, 50, occasionally stops at the northbound Sungai Perak R&R to purchase items from a stall set up by the Orang Asli Affairs Department.

“They sell some really good rattan walking canes and I’ve purchased a couple for my (late) mother in the past. Apart from that, I also buy their wild honey,” says Ang, who makes regular trips from Selangor to Penang with her family.

The Sungai Perak R&R provides a comfortable dining experience at its spacious food court.

“We support local communities by allowing them to market their products in a healthy and sustainable market,” says PLUS chief operating officer Mohammad Fuad Khusairi, 50.

Mohammad Fuad adds that the stalls are part of PLUS’ initiative to encourage highway users to stop at the rest areas before they continue their journey. Another approach is through the periodic upgrading of the R&Rs and lay-bys that has been implemented since the highway started operations in 1988.

The upgrades include the renovation and expansion of existing facilities such as the food courts, washrooms and parking area. According to Mohammad Fuad, 80% of the R&Rs and lay-bys have undergone renovation.

Sai was pleasantly surprised to find an escalator fitted at the Sungai Perak R&R after the place was renovated in 2007.

“Since my grandmother has backaches and knee pain, the presence of the escalators really saved her from having to do too much walking to reach the washroom,” she says. However, Sai notes that there’s still room for improvement when it comes to the cleanliness of the washrooms.

Another common grouse is the lack of parking at the rest areas during peak seasons such as festive periods and school holidays. Mohammad Fuad acknowledges this and says PLUS will deploy Rela members during these periods to help regulate traffic.

He adds that users may direct their complaints or suggestions to the PLUSLine (1800-88-0000).

“We’re always looking to meet highway users’ expectations because we want more people to stop and rest at the rest areas. It also promotes safety on the highways,” he concludes.

Do you have your favourite R&R stops or perhaps a go-to stall? Share your experiences with us at Better yet, send us an appropriate picture or two, with relevant captions.