Two Malaysians make videos on small towns to highlight their hidden gems

  • People
  • Monday, 08 May 2023

Papan, an old mining town in Perak, has over 10 historical sites, including the clinic of Sybil Kathigasu, the war heroine dubbed the ‘Florence Nightingale of the East’. Photos: Ash Raja

There are hundreds of charming, quaint towns across Malaysia, and homegrown video producers Ash Raja and Jonathan Dexter, both 33, want to thrust them into the limelight.

Two years ago, the duo – who are based in Bestari Jaya (better known as Batang Berjuntai) in Kuala Selangor, Selangor – took on a project to create videos of small towns in the country.

Themed “smalltownsmy”, the business partners’ goal is to bring awareness and appreciation for these towns and promote domestic tourism in Malaysia.

“Hopefully our videos will get people interested in exploring Malaysia, especially smaller towns. We also hope this project will make people from little cities prouder of their hometowns.

“We hope our videos will generate more patriotism and love for our country,” says Ash during a Zoom chat from Batang Berjuntai recently.

Malaysia boasts many beautiful and diverse destinations, from bustling cities to pristine beaches and dense rainforests. However, often overlooked are the charming small towns scattered throughout the country. These towns may not be huge, but they are big on character, beauty and unique experiences waiting to be discovered by locals and tourists alike.

Source of inspiration

Our videos have helped many people realise that our country has so much more to offer, says Ash. Photo: Shong Kee Wee Our videos have helped many people realise that our country has so much more to offer, says Ash. Photo: Shong Kee WeeAsh and Dexter were inspired to create videos on small towns during the pandemic. It all happened when they were stuck on Pulau Tioman after the movement control order was announced in March 2020.

“We were in the midst of filming a documentary during the initial stages of Covid-19. We thought the lockdown would last only two weeks so we decided to stay on the island. But two weeks turned into three months,” recalls Ash.

Since they couldn’t go anywhere, they spent a lot of time at the beach. They also helped with a few community projects like beach clean-ups and food aid distribution.

While there, Ash discovered a great sense of community spirit among the villagers. He learned that the island was made up of locals who love their home and community.

“During the lockdown, villagers demonstrated solidarity by banding together to help those in need. Some villagers prepared meals for families, and everyone chipped in to help those who were unwell or needed medical assistance. Over time, we fell in love with the community.

“Tourism on the island was badly affected during Covid-19 and many people lost their jobs and livelihoods. Seeing how this affected the small communities of these small towns, we decided to make short videos on popular tourist attractions and post them on Instagram Reels and TikTok,” explains Ash, who has nearly a decade of experience making videos for the travel industry.

Ash (back row, left) and Dexter (back row, second from left) also plan to create longer documentaries about small towns in Malaysia. Ash (back row, left) and Dexter (back row, second from left) also plan to create longer documentaries about small towns in Malaysia.Once the lockdown was lifted, Ash and Dexter relocated their production business from Subang Jaya, Selangor to Ash’s kampung in Batang Berjuntai to be closer to his 92-year-old grandfather.

“While living in Batang Berjuntai, Jon and I realised we were slowly falling in love with the place. So we decided to make a video of this small town to showcase it to people as a weekend spot for day trips.

“In Dec 2021, Batang Berjuntai was hit by the massive monsoon floods. This again brought out the best in the community. Everyone helped each other regardless of race or religion. We too decided to lend a helping hand in the best way we could – by producing a video of the floods to obtain donations for flood victims.”

One thing led to another, and they decided to use their video production expertise to bring more attention to small towns.

Old-fashioned charm

In the last two years, they have uploaded 50 videos on their Instagram on such towns across the country. They include lesser-known places like Bukit Keteri in Perlis, Kukup in Johor, and Papan in Perak.

Each video captures stunning aerial shots of the town’s unique architecture and history to create an immersive experience for viewers.

For added substance, they capture the townspeople as they go about their daily lives, highlighting bustling markets, famous foods and rich culture.

Ash (left) and Dexter want to create more awareness and appreciation for small towns and promote domestic tourism in Malaysia.Ash (left) and Dexter want to create more awareness and appreciation for small towns and promote domestic tourism in Malaysia.“The response to our videos has been overwhelmingly positive, with people thanking us for showcasing their towns and sharing their personal experiences of growing up or living in those towns,” Ash says.

He explains how the locations are chosen: “We have been lucky to have had the opportunity to travel through these towns while working on other paid content productions. We have also listed down places we think would be great to feature. Plus, we have received many requests from our followers. In total, we have suggestions to cover over 400 towns across the country.”

When asked about his favourite town, Ash replied that each city has its charm and uniqueness. Still, he particularly enjoys featuring Batang Berjuntai and Kampung Air Batang in Pulau Tioman.

Thankfully, the content producers have yet to encounter major challenges while filming, except for deciding what to feature in a one-minute video. Of course, another challenge is the temptation to try all the delicious food these places offer.

“The only complaint is we have gained about 5kgs since starting this project (laughs). Sometimes, villagers are overly enthusiastic about us trying their food during filming.”

On a serious note, he hopes their videos will inspire people to explore Malaysia and its smaller gems, eventually boosting domestic tourism.

“We think that this is just the first step of the process. There is still a long way to go on how we can help further promote local tourism. But these videos are getting people interested in exploring Malaysia, especially smaller towns. It has helped many people realise that our country has so much more to offer.”

Ash and Dexter have considered expanding their content to include other countries with similar small towns and unique cultures, such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

But that is in the pipeline.

For now, they aim to continue promoting small towns in Malaysia and inspiring people to explore their own country. They also plan to create longer documentaries about these towns and their cultures.

“Our next expansion is into YouTube. Besides that, we also plan on starting a website and working with small-town businesses to help travellers explore and experience our small towns,” they add.

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