THE Bentong Wet Market was a hive of activity on a Sunday morning recently.
While the scene was nothing out of the ordinary for a wet market, the one thing that struck me was that there were many tourists.
I found out later that most of them were retirees, and on a one-day tour of Bentong and surrounding areas.
The itinerary was sight-seeing, meals and shopping. It seems such tours are becoming popular over the weekends.
The tourists I met at the Bentong wet market were from two groups, from Seremban. One was an exercise group and the other members from the Chi Hwa School old boys and girls association.
Seremban and Bentong is about 150km apart.
The traders in the market were visibly happy to see the tourists and one trader told me that business was brisk over the weekends — thanks to the tourists.
They mostly go for the Bentong ginger and Bentong soy sauce.
There are about 20 stalls in the market selling the ginger!
The traders might not have studied branding but I guess the quality of the product (Bentong ginger) speaks for itself.
One trader likened the Bentong ginger to a poor man’s ginseng, seeing its many health benefits. In fact, a few of my friends also gave their thumbs up for Bentong ginger.
One of my colleagues from Petaling Jaya said her mother had sourced the ginger for her to take during her confinement.
But they were surprised over the “ginger power” to draw tourists to Bentong!
Well, I think it (ginger power) is a case of a good product being introduced to more people via a concerted manner.
The promotion started in earnest about two years ago in a project called “Maju Bentong” by Bentong MP Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai to introduce his constituency to more people in the country and outside.
It came with a website and pamphlets outlining the attractions of Bentong, from places of interest, history to food like Bentong ginger, Bentong soy sauce and Bentong ice cream.
My colleague Lay Phon and I bought the ginger powder after reading the top 10 health benefit claims of Bentong ginger displayed at a stall in the market.
However, we did not have time to try the Bentong ice cream during an assignment there recently.
In fact, I was surprised that there were so many interesting things to see and food to try in Bentong.
“Maju Bentong” is sort of a catalyst for more exposure for the constituency.
My teenage nephew, who heard me talking about Bentong ginger, told me that Bentong was featured in a travel or food programme over television recently.
Some of the tourists at Bentong market also said they got to know Bentong from articles about it or watching television programmes.
I guess the horror movie “Seventh” which was filmed in Bentong and screened recently is yet another good bit of publicity for Bentong.
A tour guide I met at the market said there was an increasing demand for day-trips to Bentong and surrounding areas like Raub and Bukit Tinggi recently.
Depending on the package, she said the price for a day trip ranged from RM80 to RM130 per person, and the price was inclusive of lunch and dinner. The difference in pricing she added, would depend on the type of meals.
Apart from boosting business in smaller towns, tourism is also a catalyst for development in the long run.
The people in semi rural areas are proud that there are actually many people who admire who they are and what they have — the old town charm.
Recently, Liow announced that Bentong was ranked fourth in the Happiness Index, among all the local authorities in the country.
I spent almost two hours in the market and found the people there very friendly. For instance, two women doing their marketing took time to tell me how to cook a curry dish using some raw ingredients which looked like the inner section of a tree trunk.
They must have seen me staring at the tree trunk!
Their gesture speaks volumes of Malaysians who are generally warm and friendly.
For tourists, locals or foreigners alike, the human factor is very important and an integral part of their travelling experience.
With that, I am sure the smaller towns and villages would have an edge over others in tourism development.
There are already many smaller towns and villages which have gained prominence as a tourist destination.
Bentong is a good example, and I look foward to going there on a day trip — as a tourist — with my family and friends.