Deviyah Johti Ravana was determined to start her journey to discover and know more about Malaysia, inspired by her father and grandmother’s trip to learn about their family’s cultural heritage.
Deviyah’s father and grandmother had travelled to India in 2013, where they connected with long-lost relatives.
Their experience got Deviyah curious about Malaysia, as the creative technology student feels there is a lot for her to learn about her beloved cultural melting pot of a country.
That is why this year, Deviyah, 22, is making it her New Year’s resolution to discover (or rediscover) her Malaysian roots – by participating in cultural travel experiences.
“I think it is very important for people to do this kind of travelling because it helps us to rediscover our identity as Malaysians, ” she says.
Travel experts and guides have always recommended travelling abroad to learn new cultures. But the way Deviyah sees it, exploring your own backyard should come first.
“It helps us deepen our appreciation towards the heritage and culture that our own forefathers have left behind. Malaysia is rich in architectural heritage, food and traditions – all things that define us as Malaysians, ” she says. Deviyah puts Tugu Negara, Batu Caves and Penang on her must-see travel list this year.
Meanwhile, dentist Madeliene See got just the right opportunity to explore the country’s diverse culture and heritage when she was posted to Keningau, Sabah. See, 29, has been going on short excursions with friends every other weekend.
See says her sojourn in Sabah has given her invaluable exposure to the native cultures of various ethnic groups in the state.
“It is fascinating to learn that these ethnics have their very own native language, traditional attires and cuisines which differ from one another, ” she says.
Being a true millennial, See usually looks to the Internet for ideas on places to visit. Social media, in particular, has been a tremendously helpful travel repository.
“Most of the time, I will look out for interesting places to go on Instagram. There are also food guide accounts where you can look for good food recommendations in the state, ” she offers.
Instagram has a geotagging function that lets users add the locations of places where they took their pictures. Other users on the platform can then just click on the location tag and craft their list of must-see places in the area, and create their own travel itinerary.
Another tip is to utilise hashtags with location or activity-specific keywords such as #hiking, #batikpainting or something more obvious like #ThingsToDoInMalaysia.
See recommends reading reviews and feedback on the vicinity, food and community that are readily available on the internet.
She also thinks it’s a good idea to time your local holidays with happenings and events; in her case, she looks for sporting events.
“I travel to different districts in Sabah where I have signed up for runs, races or marathons. These places may include villages in the interior districts, beaches and hills away from the city, ” she explains, adding that Malaysians should also seek out homestays with local hosts.
Into the unknown
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang is all for Malaysians discovering the country by participating in cultural experiences. It is a good New Year’s resolution to have, he says.
“Awareness of our own Malaysian culture and heritage empowers us to be level-headed. Knowing our roots lead to better appreciation of modernisation and need for innovation, including tourism products, ” he offers.
Culture, according to Tan, makes us more societal, caring and wholesome. That is why he calls for Malaysians to “take a few steps back” and explore the country’s diverse culture and heritage this year.
Tan says Malaysians still have the privilege of experiencing authentic cultural experiences. Despite rapid modernisation, Malaysia has retained many of its native heritage.
He highlights Sabah, a state where the locals still preserve their native practices.
“The many traditions and the way of living, dating back to centuries ago, are still being used in Sabah, such as the tagal system – a practice which has been in place in the past years to ensure the continuation of the delicate ecosystem in the rivers, ” he explains.
Other recommended experiences include learning the art of Peranakan beaded shoe-making, wood carving, joss stick making, wayang kulit and heritage food tours.
“They can also be enchanted by different types of textiles in various states such as batik in Kelantan and Terengganu, and the Pua Kumbu of Sarawak, ” Tan enthuses.
But given the country’s multi- racial and multi-ethnic population, Tan concedes one may not be able to discover all of Malaysia’s cultures in a lifetime.
A tip would be to go off-the-beaten path. Lesser-known destinations offer greater opportunities to learn about local culture and traditions, as residents have more time and interest to engage with visitors.
“Avoid herd mentality and habits such as being engrossed with capturing selfies at well-known sites and limiting travels to crowded attractions. Go beyond superficial experience by immersing into the local community and culture, enjoy listening to personal narratives and oral history first-hand, ” Tan says.
Most importantly, you must start your journey with what interest you most.
“Be adventurous and greater rewards can come by stepping out of the comfort zone, ” he adds.
On that note, Tan thinks travel operators can help spur this resolution forward by ramping up promotions of historical and cultural tour packages available in the country.
If you’re thinking of doing more domestic holidays, you will be joining an increasing number of Malaysians who are taking the time to travel around the country, cuti-cuti Malaysia-style. Data from Tourism Malaysia revealed that the number of domestic travellers have been steadily increasing since 2012. In 2018, the number of domestic travellers increased to 221.3 million visitors with a growth of 7.7%, as compared to the previous year.
These visitors are made up of tourists (those who stay at least one night) and excursionists (those who do day trips of more than four hours and under 24 hours).
Heritage and cultural experiences, according to Tourism Malaysia, is one of the key highlights of the country’s tourism products.
“Malaysia with its unique cultural make-up and key historical role in the region is rich in story and big on authenticity.
“The country is a melting pot of cultures; past and present collide creating a unique experience that can’t be found in any other region in Asia, ” Tourism Malaysia offers in a statement.
Those looking to discover unique local cultures through experiential travel are in luck. These days, many major travel players have delved into experiential travel, offering authentic cultural experiences to travellers.
Platforms like Airbnb Experiences, LokaLocal and Klook make it easier for locals to book experiential tours and activities – all through an app.
Airbnb Experiences, which launched here in 2018, offers handcrafted activities designed and led by local experts. These include learning traditional dances, heritage walks and first-hand cooking classes, just to name a few.
“Tourists increasingly want unique, local and authentic travel experiences. When they travel, they want to learn from local hosts who are able to share unique insights and teach them skills that are unique to the neighbourhoods or cities.
“Interestingly, we are also seeing more locals use Airbnb Experiences to explore the cities in which they live, ” an Airbnb spokesperson tells us.
The travel platform adds that Malaysia has a wide variety of traditions and cultures to explore, and with the many public holidays in 2020, locals should really consider a domestic holiday to a place they’ve not visited before.
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