1. Best road trip for wok hei smokiness, cooling cendol and addictive assam addictiveness: KL to Penang
Total distance: 355km
Suggested duration: 3 days/2nights
Highlights: Sekinchan rice fields and Sungei Besar seafood, Taiping hawker treats, Georgetown’s culinary heritage.
Sekinchan rice fields and Sungei Besar seafood: To get the most out of this road trip take the back route to Penang and avoid the dreary AH2. Instead get on the E25 and head out to the coast where you can enjoy exploring small coastal communities on your way up to Penang.
Make a brief stop at Sekinchan, a town famed for its vast and beautiful emerald rice paddies that make for stunning photos. If you are a rice expert, you might be interested in joining a free tour of a rice factory, though foodies will be more anxious to get their hands on some of the plump mangoes that are sold on stalls on the main road. Avoid the temptation of the seafood restaurants and instead get back in the car, wind down the windows and enjoy the coastal breezes as you continue north to Sungei Besar. This small town has a distinctly laid back ambience, with many of the inhabitants working as fisherman. Foodies drive up here from KL to enjoy the super fresh seafood. We recommend popping into Chong Thai Restaurant for steamed white snapper, kung pao squid and shrimps in butter sauce; a meal of kings.
Taiping’s hawker treats: Continue north with a full belly and as the sun begins to set, you should be arriving in the charming and famously rainy town of Taiping. Build up your appetite with a walk around Taiping Lake Gardens or take a stroll through the well preserved historic heart of town before checking out the town’s food treats. The most famous place in town is the Larut Matang Hawker Centre on Jln Panggung Wayang where you can enjoy delectable (and deeply sinful) fried fish ball kway teow, a range of kueh (amazing ondeh-ondeh and kue lapis) and stall 83 is renowned for its wok hei infused char kway teow, an absolute steal at RM3. Dessert fans will fall in love with Taiping cendol at Ansari Cendol, with generous pourings of coconut milk and gula Melaka.
Before heading back on the road it’s worth getting a quality breakfast in at Yut Sun Restaurant on Jln Pasar. Locals flock here for Hainanese treats including Hainanese chicken chop or egg rolls washed down with intensely rich coffee that’ll make the drive up to Penang fly by.
Take advantage of the delicious cendols on offer on this road trip. Photo credit: Francis Chung / Flickr
Georgetown’s culinary heritage: Cruise over the bridge into Penang and feel your tummy rumble as you enter one of Malaysia’s prime makan destinations. Start your exploration in Penang’s beautiful Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and head to Jln Macalister at Yi Garden for a plate of Penang’s celebrated char kway teo with duck eggs, packed with wok hei punch and delicious to the last bite. Laksa aficionados will want to give the Penang laksa at Laksalicious at 123 Hutton Lane a try, with that tangy assam flavour leaving an addictive buzz. Fans of Indian grub won’t want to miss out of nasi kandar from Hameediyah on Lebuh Campbell, the fragrant yellow rice topped with curried meat and vegetables and liberally doused with fiery sauce. It’s not all about gargantuan feasts here: try the southern Indian crepe-like apom manis or the Teochew style cendol when you are in need of a bit of a sugary lift. The best people to guide you round Penang’s hawker treats are the locals, who are passionate about the city’s food heritage. If you want to know what’s hot, don’t be afraid to ask around, food is a language itself here.
Find out more about Penang’s culinary heritage and try your hand in a local kitchen with a Penang cooking class. Lean more at Nazlina’s Cooking Class
Char kway teow, arguably Penang’s best known (and most sinful) dish is packed with wok hei smokiness. Photo credit: m4.sh.3d / Flickr
Where to stay:
Taiping: Panorama Hotel. Business hotel a short walk from some of the best makan spots in town. Rooms from RM95
Penang: East Indies Mansion. Beautiful hotel packed full of charm and heritage. Rooms from RM390.
Read more: 10 best road trips for beaches in Malaysia
Best road trip for fresh strawberries, mountain views and frothy white coffee: KL to Ipoh
Total distance: 295km
Suggested duration: 3 days/2 nights
Highlights: Tapah town, Cameron Highlands farms, Ipoh’s renowned cuisine
The charms of Tapah town: Let’s face it, the sweat and grime of the tropics can get a bit much after a while, so head out of the city on the AH2 and drive north leaving the city behind as you make your way to Tapah, the gateway to the glorious Cameron Highlands. By the time you’ve reached Tapah, you’ll probably be feeling a bit peckish so for a slap up lunch head to Restoran Hao Yi Lou in Taman Tapah Indah and treat yourself to a plate of deep fried mantis shrimps with salted eggs, a steamed catfish with ginger and a masterstroke of dish in Four Heavenly Kings (sautéed vegetables with samabal belacan, fern leaves, petai and ladies fingers).
Cameron Highlands farms and fresh air: From here it’s a windy drive up to the Cameron Highlands, but the temperature seems to drop deliciously with every turn so wind down those windows and enjoy the fresh air. At an altitude of between 1100m and 1600m, the Cameron Highlands is all about freshness: fresh air, fresh strawberries and fresh honey. It’s a great place to tour farms and grab a taster or two. Start at Ee Feng Gu honey farm, which has a beautiful garden and kids play area with a shop selling a selection of fresh honey, before heading over to Raaju’s Hill Strawberry Farm just outside Brinchang where you can pick strawberries (RM30 for half a kilo), order amazing fresh strawberry juice or channel your British side with a tea and scones with jam set. You can’t possibly claim to be a foodie and miss out on some of Malaysia’s finest tea so pop over to the Boh Sungei Palas Tea Estate which has free tea factory tours and a gift shop and café where you can stay perky with a fresh cuppa.
Scones and fresh strawberry jam are the perfect accompaniment to the stunning Cameron Highlands views. Photo credit: Jim Champion / Flickr
Ipoh’s renowned cuisine: It’s a 2 hour drive to Ipoh from the refreshing Cameron Highlands, and as you leave the beautiful hills in your wake, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you’re heading towards some of the finest food the country has to offer. Ipoh is renowned for its heritage colonial architecture and beautifully preserved Chinatown alongside its fantastic array of food. The first thing you’ll need after a long drive is a cup of famous Ipoh white coffee. Sin Yoon Loong at 15 Jln Bandar Timah has been going since 1937 and serves up its aromatic coffee with toasted slices of Hainanese white bread spread with homemade kaya and butter. Enjoy a walk around the city before weighing up your dinner options. Ipoh is renowned for its bean sprouts and one of the best places in town for a chicken and bean sprout extravaganza is Lau Wong Tauge Ayam on Jln Yau Tet Shin. The chicken is high quality free range and served with crunchy bean sprouts from the nearby Kinta Valley – match these with their lively chilli sauce and you have the perfect Ipoh dinner. On a hot evening, grab a bowl of cooling beancurd for RM1 from Funny Mountain on Jln Theatre – though one might not be enough!
Coffee is an important part of daily life in Ipoh. Photo credit: Chris Wronski / Flickr
Where to stay:
Cameron Highlands: Hotel De La Ferns. Top location with beautiful scenery and fantastic service. Rooms from RM232.
Ipoh: ibis Styles Ipoh. Superb value at this well-designed chain hotel with top facilities. Rooms frm RM179.
Best road trip for coastal exploration and Melaka’s late night delights: KL to Melaka
Total distance: 160km
Suggested duration: 3 days/2 nights
Highlights: Banting and Tanjong Sepat coastal cruise, Melaka’s vibrant diverse food scene.
Coastal jaunt from Banting to Tanjong Sepat: You don’t need to travel too far from the capital to find a bit of small town charm and quality makan so we suggest getting on to the E26 and then the 5 to Banting in Selangor. Banting is a small and quiet town famous for its poultry and betel leaf industry and is close to the beach at Morib and the old historic town of Jugra. A good bet in town is Seong Lai Bak Kut Teh on Jln Delima 22, always packed for lunch and with a strong, intensely herbal soup that really pulls in the punters. After lunch get back in your car for more small town exploration by following the coastal road down to Tanjong Sepat where you can get a bowl of extremely fresh fish soup on Lorong 5 in an ancient looking coffee shop with a zinc roof. Mushroom fans will want to pop into Ganofarm Medicinal Mushroom Farm here which has an extraordinary display of mushrooms of all shapes and sizes – it’s all very Alice in Wonderland.
Melaka’s vibrant diverse food scene: Pull into historic Melaka around dusk and make your first port of call Hajjah Mona Asam Pedas on Taman Kota Laksmana to sample their long menu of sour and spicy delights. It’s an unassuming eatery that gets packed in the evenings. Take your pick from different types of fish starting at RM4.50. Melaka is justifiably famous for its Peranakan cuisine and a good bet is Nancy’s Kitchen in the heart of the charming old town on Jln Hang Lekir. Be prepared to queue here, but the wait is worth it for its solid honest sambal sotong and sek bak (braised pork) and try to get here for lunch as the place closes in the late afternoon. Tandoori fans should make a beeline for Pak Putra Tandoori on Jln Laksmana, a shop which is claimed to sell the finest tandoori chicken in all Malaysia. This place shuts after midnight so great after a bit of night exploration of the beautifully lit up city centre. One of Melaka’s most famous culinary offerings is satay and if you head to Sun may Hiong Satay House on Jln Kota Laksmana, you’ll get a chance to try beautiful sweet Hainanese pork satay served with crushed pineapple in the sauce. It’s a truly delicious way to round off a trip to Melaka.
_Tandoori chicken is the perfect midnight feast. Photo credit: Vincent Chow / Flickr_
Where to stay: Melaka. Layang Layang Guesthouse. Beautiful design, funky artwork and fantastic atmosphere. Rooms from RM89.
Best road trip for off the beaten path treats: KL to Johor Bahru
Total distance: 390km
Suggested duration: 3 days / 2 nights
Highlights: Fresh Segamat biscuits, Muar’s Glutton Street, Kluang Station Café and JB treats.
Small town exploration: Instead of enduring the monotonous AH2 down to JB, get on the smaller E21 and 10 and enjoy the beautiful rolling countryside heading towards Segamat. More energetic road trippers might fancy a mountain climbing mission up Gunung Ledang, a short drive from Segamat, though those more inclined towards gluttony will be more interested in checking out the small town’s food offerings. Segamat is more of a place to stop off on the way to somewhere else so think of this as a snack break and pop into Fu Sean Biscuits on Jalan Kuning where you can see biscuits being made such as the flaky sweet lotus paste filled biskut panjang. These biscuits cost RM3 for a dozen so pick up a few packs to fuel you for the short drive over to exciting Muar, one of Johor’s major foodie haunts and a wonderfully charming and historic town. A good area to visit in Muar is Jln Haji Abu, also known as Glutton Street and here you can stroll along in the evening and take your pick of succulent pork satay, spicy Muar otak otak and for a real calorific treat, a visit to an o chien (oyster omelette) stall is a must.
Soak in the calories with a plate of oyster omelette in Muar. Photo credit: Alpha / Flickr
The underrated foodie heavens of Kluang and JB: After a night in Muar, it’s easy to be tempted to plough on to JB, but hold back and head back into the interior of Johor for a visit to Kluang. Going to Kluang might not seem like one of your major priorities in life, but once you have sampled the food scene here, you’ll be glad you gave the little town a try. The first port of call has to be Kluang Railway Station Café, an old fashioned kopitiam with a wonderful olde worlde ambience. Sit back and enjoy a Kluang coffee (the beans are roasted in butter), and help yourself to a nasi lemak or kueh which are left on the table for you to take your pick from. Another good bet in Kluang is Tangkak Beef on Jln Langsat famed for its amazingly fragrant bowls of beef broth with tripe, innards and beef slithers. The drive down the 91 to JB should be smooth sailing after your Kluang adventures. Johor Bahru, Malaysia’s second city doesn’t frequently feature on many Malaysian’s top makan destinations, but the city has a wealth of eateries to explore that’ll leave you well pleased that you made the effort to get here. Hwa Mei Bak Kut Teh is located under the shade of a huge and ancient tree on Jln Lumba Kuda and has been in business since the 60s serving up bowls of subtle, light Johor Bak Kut Teh. Match that up with a dish of pork belly and rich, gelatinous pig skin and you are in piggy heaven. Dinner at Tapai Tang in Taman Melodies won’t disappoint. The salt baked chicken here is marinated in spices then coated in salt and wrapped in parchment paper and baked. Serve this with piquant chilli sauce for a truly Malaysian taste sensation.
Treat yourself to a delicious bowl of beef noodles in Kluang. Photo credit: Ron Dollete / Flickr
Where to stay:
Muar: Popchuco Art Gallery Homestay. Loads of communal space, free private parking and superfast Wi-Fi. Rooms from RM90
Johor Bahru: Mutiara Johor Bahru: Great location, friendly service and pool. Rooms from RM202.
Read more: Top 5 road itineraries within Malaysia
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