DestinationsFrom homegrown cheese to beautiful mosques and M-beauty therapies, Malaysia is a rich melting pot of memorable and unusual experiences.

M is for Malaysia and many more unique experiences

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The Islamic Tourism Centre is advocating for mosque tourism as a means to deliver unique travel experiences.
The Islamic Tourism Centre is advocating for mosque tourism as a means to deliver unique travel experiences. Photo Credit: GettyImages/Kapook2981

As leisure travel ramps up, one noticeable trend is that travellers are increasingly shunning pre-packaged, bucket-list tours in favour of immersive experiences. So how can Malaysia leverage on the make-your-own, do-your-own, more-than-generic sightseeing trend?

Look to the melting pot for culinary inspiration

One, capitalise on Malaysia’s enviable food diversity, courtesy of its ethnic melting pot.

“Malaysia has a lot to offer considering how rich our food history is,” says Dexter Lim, founder of Malaysian-made D’Artisan Handmade Cheese that fuses local flavours such as Kerabu, Gula Melaka and Cili Padi into premium cheeses.

D'Artisan Handmade Cheese hosts cheese-tasting workshops that allow guests to sample local cheeses created with raw unpasteurised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free milk.
D'Artisan Handmade Cheese hosts cheese-tasting workshops that allow guests to sample local cheeses created with raw unpasteurised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free milk. Photo Credit: D'Artisan Handmade Cheese

Dexter offers cheese tasting at his shop, and also partners with local establishments like independent malls (Publika) and grocer (Qra) to bring cheese tasting experiences to guests.

Similarly, Kedai Coklat’s chocolate tasting introduces guests to Malaysia cacao beans while supporting local Malaysian chocolate bean-to-bar makers.

“Not many people know that Malaysia grows some of the best cacaos, especially in Kelantan and Kota Marudu,” says owner Michael Woo. “Yet this is the kind of experience that would attract foodies on a food tour.”

There's K-beauty, so why not M-beauty?

Two, think beauty and wellness. Just as tourists make a beeline to Seoul’s Myeongdong for K-beauty, Malaysia could tap into its own local health and beauty traditions.

Travellers can tour the bedak sejuk factory in Balik Pulau to learn more about the laborious process of manufacturing this traditional Malay beauty product.
Travellers can tour the bedak sejuk factory in Balik Pulau to learn more about the laborious process of manufacturing this traditional Malay beauty product. Photo Credit: Chengwoh.sg

For instance, in Balik Pulau, Penang tourists in-the-know participate in the traditional making of rice powder or what the locals call “bedak sejuk”.

“Malaysia does not lack experiences because we have a rich cultural heritage, but frequently these are a hidden secret and not listed in the local travel booklet or guides,” says tour guide Jeremy Mak.

Make the most out of Malaysia's mosques

Three, explore spirituality. One interesting government-backed initiative is Islamic Tourism Centre’s (ITC) Mosque Tourism. ITC is an entity under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

“Mosque tourism enables guests to visit and experience the unique heritage, architecture and historical value of the mosques in the country, and also to learn about the lifestyle and culture of the local community,” said Dato' Dr Mohmed Razip Hasan, director general, Islamic Tourism Centre.

Putra Mosque in Putrajaya is increasing in popularity among tourists.
Putra Mosque in Putrajaya is increasing in popularity among tourists. Photo Credit: GettyImages/Kapook2981

ITC observed that the post-pandemic travel behaviour points to a preference for meaningful experiences and opportunities to engage with the locals.

Response to mosque tourism has been positive, with iconic mosques such as Putra Mosque, and Masjid Negara and Masjid Wilayah in Kuala Lumpur, proving to be among the popular attractions.

During a mosque visit, guests get to observe congregational prayers, experience the ablution process, participate in Muslim celebrations such as iftar (breaking of fast) and qiyam (night prayer) during Ramadan, and Eid festivities, as well as experience Muslim wedding ceremonies.

Boost awareness of unique experiences

However, there are challenges. One is expanding awareness of the product and experience.

“We do find it tough to get the word out to broaden product awareness,” acknowledged cheesemaker Dexter, but judicious use of social media and partnerships – such as with tour agencies and tourism boards – can be an effective solution. It’s also one of the reasons why, despite Malaysia being a durian haven, there remains little by way of experiencing durian tasting.

Another challenge for artisans and craftmakers is the language barrier. “The storytelling makes it engaging, but I’ve met traders who are shy or lack confidence to speak even when they have a great product. It’s great when tour guides act as intermediaries, but to scale, that’s where I believe the industry can benefit from collaborations with tourism boards – perhaps even helping these traders to digitalise and tell their stories effectively,” adds Mak.

On that note, ITC encourages efforts by tourism industry players to collaborate on initiatives to create unique and localised experiences.

“Travel has become increasingly competitive, and destinations need to make themselves stand out by focusing on localised and personalised experiences. ITC would like to see more mosques, local communities, entrepreneurs and unique product owners work together with tourism industry stakeholders to develop these local experiences that will not only support travel but preserve and enrich our wealth of heritage and culture – for future sustainability.”

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