Highway in the sky
Veteran driver Lai Yew Kong shows the way to get maximum mileage out of your wheels with a leisurely drive to Cameron Highlands

Fancy a Malaysian motoring holiday that takes you on an exhilarating drive along a “highway in the sky”, combined with overnight stays in a highland hotel, a lakeside spa resort and a seaside golf resort in succession? Then, hit the road for the Simpang Pulai- Gua Musang-Lake Kenyir-Kijal adventure.

Start early if you want to reach your first overnight stop in Cameron Highlands by midafternoon. Take the North-South Highway and head for Ipoh, stopping for lunch at Sungei Buloh or Rawang.

Then it is on to Tapah and Gopeng before exiting at Simpang Pulai, which is just before Ipoh.

A fter the Simpang Pulai toll booth, turn right at the T-junction and make another right turn at the first set of traffic lights (signs point to Cameron Highlands). You are now on the 130-km Simpang Pulai-Gua Musang highway with its long sweeping bends and majestic mountain scenery.

Wind down the windows and turn off the air-conditioner to feel the surge in engine power from the cool mountain air as this “highway in the sky” takes you to more than 1,600m above sea level.

A fter 62km, the highway is joined on the right by the Kampong Raja road. Turn into this road and travel downhill through Kampong Raja and the Blue Valley, passing small towns, vegetable farms and flower nurseries before coming to the Equatorial Hotel, my favourite for a night’s stay because of its proximity to the attractions on Cameron Highlands. A visit to the highlands is incomplete without a dinner at the Old Smoke House.

This is located between Brinchang and Tanah Rata. The Smoke House harks back to the colonial era and reminds you of an English pub.

The tranquil Lake Kenyir seen from the highway above the forest canopy

Others may prefer to take a short drive to Brinchang (turn left down the road from Equatorial Hotel’s driveway) where restaurants and coffeeshops line both sides of the road, offering everything from steamboat to roti chanai (known as roti prata in Singapore).

Visit the pasar malam in Brinchang if you are not too tired from the day’s drive.

A fter breakfast the next morning, spend a couple of hours at any of the strawberry farms, local vegetable and flower stalls, the Rose Valley or the Boh tea plantation.

It’s time to leave Cameron Highlands and you back-track through Kampong Raja to the highway, turning right at the T-junction at the end of the Kampong Raja road to go on to Gua Musang.

This stretch is more challenging than the one you passed the day before, as there are fast and long sweeping bends, including some downhill. I caution against over-exuberant driving. There is hardly any traffic along this stretch, which offers scenic views of Pahang’s central mountain range.

This highway ends in a T-junction and you turn right for a 17-km drive along a B road to the logging town of Gua Musang (literally called Cave of the Fox) in Kelantan. Try the durians and take a lunch break. Then follow directional signs to Kota Baru/Kuala Krai. This is the A8 trunk road to the north (look out for a Caltex petrol station in Gua Musang and turn left at the traffic junction next to it).

A fter driving some 40km on the A8 — and passing a Shell petrol kiosk on your left — turn right when you see the sign for Sungei Aring. You are now on a 15-km-long C road, fringed by oil palm plantations, which takes you past the Taman Negara entrance.

Turn right at the end of the road and you find yourself on a brand-new highway, which is yet to be officially opened. This leads to Kuala Berang. Enjoy the freedom of driving sometimes without encountering another vehicle on this little travelled highway.

The Lake Kenyir Spa Resort in Terengganu beckons after about 88km. It is built on the fringe of Malaysia’s biggest lake, which has more than 300 islands. The resort has 135 wooden chalets among natural greenery.

Have no fear, though, as all the creature comforts of modern living are there.

C ars are left in the parking area and are not allowed in the resort but there is no need to walk (although it is a good idea) as you are ferried between your chalet and the lobby, restaurant and other areas by motorised buggies.

Go for a boat ride or sample the spa facilities before embarking on the next leg of the journey.

Turn right after leaving the resort and head for Kuala Berang. From there, follow the signs to Kuala Terengganu, about an hour’s drive away. Then follow the East Coast trunk road to go south towards Kuantan, with views of the South China Sea along the way.

Before long, you are in Kijal, a small town in Terengganu state where the Awana Kijal Golf, Beach and Spa Resort is located. Many of my friends had remarked that this place warranted more than a night’s stay. So if you have the time, you may want to stay longer. Golfers need no encouragement to try the course, which runs along the seafront.

Kijal is popular for its durians and lemang — glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk in hollow bamboo over an open fire.

A shop selling local produce and drinks serves as a convenient rest stop along the highway to Cameron Highlands. The road to Kampong Raja is a short distance away.

For dinner, a must-try is the baked stuffed crab in Chukai, an 18-km drive from the resort.

This culinary delight (crab meat stuffed in their shells) can be found in restaurants along Jalan Sulaimani in Chukai. One of the better-known makan shops is Restoran Tong Juan, which also serves freshwater shrimps and other seafood.

Take a leisurely drive to head home the next day, following the road south through Cherating, Kuantan (where you can pick up dried seafood like salted fish and octopus, or prawn and fish crackers), Pekan, Mersing, Ulu Tiram and Johor Baru.

The writer is a retired senior sub-editor of The Straits Times who has been on more than 20 motoring rallies in Asia.

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