DestinationsLesser-known towns offer authentic experiences and support local communities, away from overcrowded destinations.

Small towns in Malaysia lead to big adventures

Penang's "Opposite Side of the Island" campaign highlights new attractions in small villages like Pinang Tunggal.
Penang's "Opposite Side of the Island" campaign highlights new attractions in small villages like Pinang Tunggal. Photo Credit: Wikimedia/Anasaiman

If authenticity is your goal, then skip the capital and head for the smaller cities. Whether coastal, mountainous, or a minuscule dot on the map, travellers are increasingly discovering the allure of small towns.

For the weary traveller that has visited Malaysia more than once, charm, history, local connections and old-fashioned values certainly appeal when looking for new experiences. Knowing this, many tour operators cognizant of overtourism and saturated markets are looking to provide options to overcrowded and stale destinations.

Even better, shedding light on these fresh places plays a crucial role in preserving local cultures and supporting local communities, which are integral to the identity and sustainability of the destination.

Drone photographers Ash Raja and Jon Dexter know this only too well. The duo began capturing visuals of small towns across Malaysia as a pastime, but later realised that their videos, @‌smalltownsmy on Instagram, have encouraged Malaysians to rediscover their own backyard.

Closed borders and restrictions on foreign travel also provided a fresh lease of life for small town tourism during the pandemic. The challenge will be to sustain their appeal in the post-pandemic economy now that travel has opened up, and responsible tourism could be the answer.

“Small towns are indeed wonderful and we must not just think of them as yesterday’s pandemic playground,” said tour guide Anita Chowdhury. “Indeed, with the awareness of overtourism, responsible tour operators are offering them as alternatives to overcrowded destinations.”

Penang’s tourism industry is cannily jumping on this trend. In keeping with the State Government’s efforts to diversify its tourism products beyond the island, the state last year launched ‘Opposite Side of the Island – Seberang Perai campaign’ to highlight new tourist attractions.

Pinang Tunggal features a historic 152-year-old border stone and the renowned Whispering Market.
Pinang Tunggal features a historic 152-year-old border stone and the renowned Whispering Market. Photo Credit: myPenang

Among the places being promoted is Pinang Tunggal, a small village rich in nature and history. It is home to a historical 152-year-old stone that marks the border between Penang and then-Siam, and the Kuala Muda Whispering Market, where fisherfolk preserve a 100-year-old tradition of auctioning their catch through whispers. Response has been encouraging.

Khaw Aik Heng from Top Leisure travel agency said, “We had many enquiries from local and Singapore travel agencies when we introduced the product during the MATTA Fair in March recently. We look forward to more involvement from the state government to further develop the area.”

The Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) is actively allying with tourism stakeholders to encourage visitors to explore these “undiscovered places”.

Earlier this month, PCEB launched the Mainland Penang Incentive Brochure aimed at boosting business events for Mainland Penang. The brochure curates itineraries for stays of various duration, highlighting the charms of visits to traditional rattan weavers, iron smiths and cultural heritage sites.

At the launch, Yeoh Soon Hin, Penang State Exco for Tourism and Creative Economy lauded efforts to highlight the Mainland’s potentials and emphasised the importance of the business events industry as a vital contributor to a region’s economic growth.

“With PCEB’s mainland incentive brochure effort, I believe we will be able to host international events in Mainland,” said Yeoh.

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