A Heritage Road Trip: Malaysia Through An Expat’s Eyes

For someone who was raised outside their native country, it comes with many missed-out opportunities. We moved overseas to Saudi Arabia when I was five in 2004, and that was the last time I remember Malaysia being a home to me. My siblings and I had just finished picking up Bahasa Melayu and never stayed long enough to make friends. We didn’t attend public school in Malaysia and didn’t know what the locals do to have fun. That is why this heritage road trip is so important to me. Returning to Malaysia permanently to attend university in 2018 allowed me to rediscover my lost identity. Rekindling it with new meaningful activities to fill the gap, such as day trips to places like amusement parks, hawker stalls, and shopping.

Three kids relaxing at the ocean looking out into the horizon.
Relaxing on the beach in Kuantan, Pahang with my younger siblings, Maisarah (left), Firdaus (middle), and me (right). After a full day of exploring Kuantan, we reward ourselves by playing in the water.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

Please Join Me On A Little Road Trip

I was blessed to experience the expatriate life in amazing countries like Sudan and Saudi Arabia. I could barely recollect my childhood memories during the few short years growing up in Malaysia. My meaningful childhood memories were first made overseas. Such as when I first started attending classes in Sudan, wearing my first school uniform, and making new friends with children just as out of place as me. Malaysia to me, was home because it was my parents’ home. Yet, if I exclude my parents, it felt foreign to me. I had always wanted to explore Malaysia since my younger days, to regain my sense of belonging. And to do that, a road trip might just be what I need to get started.

The Pahang and Malaysian flag standing in the background, and local citizens walking pass by.
I aspire to be comfortable in my own skin as a Malaysian one day. Captured near a beach in Pahang, as we passed by last year, the state’s black-and-white flags stood between Malaysia’s Jalur Gemilang (Stripes of Glory).
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

My family makes it a point to ‘visit’ Malaysia every year since I was five. We always re-visit the same places yearly, almost like a tradition. It’s kind of paying homage to our motherland as well as to accustom ourselves to the Malaysian lifestyle. We go out every single day without fail, not wasting any time, to fully enjoy our road trips.

Our Traditional Heritage Road Trip

Calling this story my heritage road trip is due to its personal significance to me as I travelled throughout Malaysia. To regain an appreciation for my heritage and origin. Even though some of these landmarks are probably too familiar for Malaysians, this road trip meant that I am getting closer to becoming a true Malaysian.

A red hibiscus flower dangling from its branch.
Malaysia’s national flower, the hibiscus or bunga raya: the red of the petals symbolises courage, life, and rapid growth of the Malaysian.
Image by Ian Lindsay from Pixabay

1) An Obsession Over Adventure Parks

One of the first places my family visits on our road trip every year is amusement and water parks. Returning home as a little girl, my parents brought us to play more adrenaline-rush activities. It still carries on to this day and has become our family tradition.

The places we go to would seem too cliché in the eyes of regular Malaysians. But we love it because it seems new every time. Some of the adventures we often go to include Sunway Lagoon Theme Park in Selangor and Legoland Malaysia Resort in Johor. To the Escape Theme Park in Penang and The Lost World Of Tambun Theme Park in Perak.

A carousel in Genting Highland, one of the destinations on my heritage road trip.
A carousel ride in Genting Highlands Theme Park, Pahang, another one of the destinations we often visit when we return to Malaysia.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

I consider adventure parks as one of the destinations on our heritage road trip because they epitomise the missed childhood in Malaysia. They top our list because they centre around the many things we come back to Malaysia for. To reunite with family and friends, and to have fun. We would invite our grandparents to join us, and our cousins would be driving right behind us on our journey.

2) My Heritage Road Trip Reflecting My Parents’ Culture

As my parents also miss Malaysian food, they also often have their own customary spots to visit. Places they often visited during their younger days based on their memories of the past. Naturally, this was passed down to their children, creating another perspective of Malaysian culture. We would stop by these amazing food destinations. The popularity of such food destinations is evident by the line of customers queuing for their food, and the difficulty in locating the place. Especially finding the way to the location based on my parents’ recollection, rather than relying upon a satellite navigator.

Rojak on a plastic plate covered in its sauce, a favourite on my heritage road trip.
A quick snack that we call ‘rojak mamak’, an Indian version of rojak. A more sweet and savoury version than the regular fruit rojak coated in a black sauce.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

One of the spots they still go to is this stall that sells a Malaysian appetiser called rojak, a mixed salad of vegetables, fruit, and fritters coated in sweet sauce. There are many individual stalls around the country. But the stall they frequent is named Rojak Bangsar Petronas. As we are a family of seven, my dad would buy two servings for us to share. We would end up eating them in the car together because there weren’t many dine-in tables available there. So, we ate in the car to hide from the scorching sun.

This destination is one of my dad’s favourite. He reminisces the times he went there during his teens with his friends. It’s amazing how it still remains in operation until to-date. They have no plans to expand into a brick and mortar shop but rather continue selling in their food truck. With all the memories and history linked to this rojak stall, I choose it as one of the destinations on my heritage road trip.

3) Overlap Between My Heritage Road Trip And Normal Road Trips

A Malaysian heritage road trip to me is a set of sentimental destinations that evokes past memories and allows everyone in my family to relive them again. We do what we know. But of course, on a road trip around Malaysia or even another country, shopping is a must and considered a fun activity. And my heritage road trip is no exception.

Shopping and malls? I bet you’re thinking why such a materialistic activity. At first, it didn’t sound convincing to me also. But when we travel to a foreign country, don’t we buy souvenirs to remind us of the places we have visited? Be it a fridge magnet, keychain, or even bags emblazoned with the country’s name.

The skyline of Kuala Lumpur with the twin towers in sight.
A night view of Malaysia’s city skyline with its one-and-only Petronas Twin Towers.
Image by Walkerssk from Pixabay

I cannot even count how many malls we have visited during our many trips to Malaysia. From megamalls to niche outlets, we’ve been to them all at least once. But even then, we still have our favourites. It has to be the Suria KLCC Mall. This is the ultimate shopping destination every visitor or local mustn’t miss. A hub where people from all nationalities and from all walks of life with common interests meet, eat, and shop!

What Malaysia Means To Me…

Since settling back in Malaysia in 2018, everything seems like a dream. It doesn’t feel quite like ‘home’ yet but there are signs all around me that show otherwise. Before 2018, I had always dreamt of the day when we would comfortably come back home without the scent of insect repellent in the air greeting us. From when we last left in 2017 to keep the bugs from entering our empty house. Not to mention also the long-awaited cleaning of accumulated dust. And a kitchen scented with the smell of wholesome home-cooked meals rather than the occasional instant ramen and fried eggs.

A living room with cozy pillows and cushions. The destination I hope for my heritage road trip.
A cosy home that glows with the warmth of people living in it. A representation of my hopes for my family’s future in Malaysia.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

This dream is realised with the help of my two siblings whom I live with. We can finally add our home as a part of our heritage road trip. If you want to hear more stories about my experiences in Malaysia or abroad, stay tuned for more intriguing stories. From now on, think about what traditions are uniquely yours.

Find Support To Help With A Smooth Trip

When I went on a short trip to Malacca from Kuala Lumpur, my friend recommended me to use SOCAR service. This is especially convenient for friends travelling together as the price is affordable. What makes it different from other car services is their location and availability. Their cars are located in more than 1,000 zones in Malaysia with over 2,000 cars available for rent. This is possible because they utilise digital car keys that unlock with a phone. This minimises the hassle of manually registering for a car rental, and ensures you spend more time enjoying your experiences on the road. Go out and explore your own personal heritage road trip with SOCAR. You’ll be surprised at how convenient they are to you during your trips.

Dina GHAZALI

About Dina GHAZALI

Raised abroad almost her entire life, Dina is well exposed to the multi-cultural world around her. Penned her innermost thoughts on paper as a child, and eventually fell in love with writing. Aims to be a successful writer one day.

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