It was 8 am one … well, I can’t remember what day it was, but I know it was towards the end of 1987. My ‘sifu’ Ramli and I picked up five Australian tourists from the Phoenix Singapore hotel in the nine-seater company vehicle.
Ramli gave a short welcome speech, followed by some important details about the immigration process; we were on our way to Malaysia via the Johor Causeway. I believe Ramli had given this speech over a hundred times before with other guests, but he remained sincere and serious nonetheless, speaking every word clearly.
He was very serious about always giving the best first impression to his guests. As the Japanese would say, every date could be the last for both parties.
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It was my first working trip as a tour guide involving foreigners, especially Caucasians. It was a trip with a company called Reliance, and the package was “Batik Route B”, to and from Singapore. As part of the company’s standard operating procedures when dealing with foreign tourists, we had to leave the pick-up point at 9:00 a.m. and check in to a hotel at 4:00 p.m.
However, my first day was an exception as we completed the day’s itinerary at Kuantan, Pahang which was quite a distance from Singapore. Keep in mind that in 1987 the North-South highway was far from complete, so we had to use national roads and other alternative routes.
But the guests were actually thrilled once we started driving in Jalan Wong Ah Fook in Johor Baru, enthusiastically asking, “When can we stop at a roadside booth?” “
I guess having been to Singapore’s urban jungle before that, they were eager to experience something more rustic.
We were okay with their requests to stop near the roadside stalls, but Ramli and I were a little concerned about the cleanliness of the toilets in cafes and gas stations, if any of them had to follow the path.
While driving on Federal Highway 1, we passed many rubber and oil plantations, Malaysian kampungs, and Chinese settlements, all of which are landscapes familiar or even common to any Malaysian. But for our foreign guests, these are the best places to take photos.
In addition, whenever we stopped at designated rest areas in Johor (either Ayer Hitam, Yong Peng or Segamat) for the sightseeing buses, these tourists would always buy sugar cane drinks, sweet corn and beans. Steamed peanuts sold there. Of course, we were happy that they had fun and helped boost the local economy, but I was worried they might have a stomach ache!
The way Westerners travel is very different from that of Chinese and other Asian travelers. First, the guide does not need to give them detailed accounts of the culture and history of the country. A brief explanation of a particular place or attraction is all that the guide should give, and this is followed by another 10-20 minute free time for tourists to take photos and walk around.
Of course, every now and then the guide would also talk about things that happened unexpectedly, or if a guest saw something interesting along the way, like a mangosteen, jackfruit or durian, or a flower in the unique aspect.
We also left the guests for most of the trip so they could rest on the bus to maybe read a book, listen to some music or just look out the window and take in the view.
But back to this particular mission. The first night was spent at Teluk Chempedak in Kuantan. On the second day, we arrive at Terengganu, where we sleep two nights at Tanjung Jara Resort. One of the tourists told us over dinner that this was the kind of travel experience they were hoping for – staying, or at least seeing, a typical Malay kampung house on stilts.
At 5 a.m. the next day, I took them to a nearby fishing village to wait for the sun to rise and see the fishing boats come ashore with their catch. This was followed by a short drive around the village to see how the local fishermen dry the fish in the sun, as well as the monkeys picking coconuts!
Later, we had dinner on the beach accompanied by a beautiful symphony of waves from the majestic South China Sea, and we gazed at the starry sky.
For me, such work is absolutely relaxing and enjoyable. As my guests say, I get paid for my vacation!
As for the experiments, the wau, a traditional batik printing process and spinning top in Kelantan were what really fascinated tourists. And seeing a line of all-female vendors in the main Kota Baru market, our guests asked, “Where are all the men? “
They also enjoyed the local snacks sold at the market as they were visually pleasing and palatable.
Who can deny that the three states on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia are culturally rich travel destinations? I am sure that when the East Coast Rail Line is operational, these places will be highly sought after vacation destinations.
We then had to drive along the east-west highway from Kelantan, towards Perak. We had to arrive before dark as a curfew was in effect at that time as it was suspected that Communists were still active along the Malaysian-Thai border.
In the morning, we submitted a list of passenger names to the Jeli District Border Police Station in Kelantan before continuing our journey along Route 4. On the way, we made a brief stop at the scenic edge of the picturesque. Banding lake (upstream of Temenggor lake). . Traffic was sparse throughout the three or four hour drive, but the scenery was breathtaking.
There were thick tropical rainforests, green hills, pristine lakes, lots of stray wildlife, and sometimes even an elephant or two. Such a spectacle was all the more rewarding for our guests.
From the rustic east coast, we traveled to the more densely populated west coast, and the view became more and more sophisticated.
I really enjoy this way of traveling, where accommodation and itineraries are planned in advance, but the touristic details were all left to the guide. Stories and anecdotes are only shared with guests as something interesting comes our way.
Western tourists usually research their vacation destination before arriving, so somehow they already know what they want to see and experience. At the same time, I too get to know my own country thanks to them! It’s interesting what kind of information they could collect back then (i.e. before the internet).
During our trip, one of my guests said he couldn’t wait to visit Penang, one of the three establishments in the Straits of Malaysia soon. Well, I will tell you about this adventure next time!
The opinions expressed are entirely those of the author.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has traveled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and ideas. He is also the author of five books.