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Children playing together in a rural village in Tapah. - File pic

I have always preferred taking the federal trunk road on road trips up north with the family.

I could sense my children disliking the idea of using the old, meandering road.

It could take us more than six hours to reach Penang but I was adamant about taking the route less travelled. The North-South Expressway, if not choked with traffic, would take us just four hours.

“Oh no, Abah! Not this road again,” my youngest daughter howled when I steered the car into Tanjung Malim.

My defence was that the children could learn a few things, history perhaps, to be observed on this road.

Driving on the highway is not an idea of a road trip. You don’t see much, except speeding vehicles, honking drivers and busy R&Rs.

Road trips have been good for the mind and soul, for me, at least. Scenic views, small towns and kampung, the people and food served in small-town restaurants and warung are difficult to resist.

Driving through these roads, I would reminisce about my former kampung life.

Here, I could not help but notice Malay houses standing strong, as if they had wonderful stories to tell about kenduri (big feasts) and family gatherings in those homes.

I enjoyed seeing daily activities in these kampung and small towns — men in baju melayu with tilted songkok walking to the mosque, or women out in the hot sun drying their washed linen on the front lawn, or chatty Indian young girls garbed in sarees walking past a Chinese sundry shop with the tauke in white singlet reading a newspaper.

Most of these roadside kampung houses have large grassy lawns with bougainvillea, roses and fruit trees.

You could tell whether the residents were of a certain socio-economic reach.

Along the monsoon drains, I could see men in shabby clothes lighting cigarettes and sun-beaten boys in shorts riding their bicycles to streams to fish.

I envied them, really, hoping that one day, I could save enough money to buy land in this part of the country and build a kampung house with a wide grassy front lawn to plant fruit trees in, listening to Siti Nurhaliza singing Cindai while sipping on a cup of Kopi O on the verandah.

As I stopped over in Bidor and Tapah, famous for seedless guavas, I pointed to the amazing architectural designs of Chinese shophouses for my children to observe.

The traditional shophouses, which combined housing and business units, had sprung up since the late 18th century. They have become a symbol of the diverse cultures in Malaysia.

I like buildings that have intricate designs mixed with local style and the European colonial presence.

They remind me of Victor Chin’s watercolour paintings that I used to see at Central Market, Kuala Lumpur.

You see, road trips such as these have immense benefits for domestic tourism.

According to the Tourism and Culture Ministry (MOTAC) and Department of Statistics (DOSM), the number of domestic tourists had shown a double-digit growth of 10.9 per cent last year; 78.2 million compared with 70.5 million in 2017.

“Total expenditure by domestic tourists also registered a double-digit growth of 11.7 per cent, recording RM60.4 billion compared with RM54.1 billion in 2017.

“Average per capita expenditure rose 0.7 per cent to RM772 compared with RM767 in 2017,” MOTAC said in a joint press conference with the DOSM.

The expenditure for shopping was the highest, accounting for 26.8 per cent.

This was followed by spending on fuel (15.4 per cent), food and beverages (13.9 per cent), expenditure for visited households (13.7 per cent), accommodation (13.0 per cent), transportation (8.4 per cent), other activities (4.9 per cent), and expenditure before the trip/packages/entrance fees/tickets (3.9 per cent).

The press statement also revealed that the state which received the highest number of domestic tourists was Pahang with 9.2 million arrivals. This was followed by Johor (7.8 million), Perak (7.6 million), Selangor (6.8 million) and Negri Sembilan (6.1 million).

Domestic tourists preferred unpaid accommodation provided by relatives and friends.

It recorded the highest percentage of 68.2 per cent, followed by hotels (20.4 per cent), apartments (4.4 per cent), homestays/vacation homes (3.0 per cent), chalets (2.3 per cent) and rest houses (1.7 per cent).

Yes, I am a diehard domestic tourist. From the moment I hit Tanjung Malim to eat Yik Mun’s kueh pau, I knew I was contributing to domestic tourism.

Along these roads, I stopped for the food, views and unique homestays.

You couldn’t imagine my satisfaction of relishing nasi ganja at Yong Suan café on Jalan Yang Kalsom in Ipoh, or nasi kampung at Warung Gulai Ikan Sembilang Galah Menggelupoq in Simpang Empat, Semanggol, or Mak Jahmee udang of Kuala Sepetang and fried pomfret at Warung Bawal Goreng in Juru, Penang, just to name a few of my favourite food haunts.

Let’s celebrate the diversity of culture along these roads.

Let’s learn how rural folks live and mingle happily.

Forget politics and of politicians who chew and spew words that threaten to tear the fabric of unity held close in the hearts of Malaysians.

See for yourselves when you take the less-travelled routes in a road trip.

C’est la vie.

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