Wherever I May Roam

Mini Countryman off road
Our journey should not stop where the road seems to end. Instead, that is where life begins. Do not be despair when the road ahead gets difficult or when the road is unpaved. Move on and it could be more rewarding than you have ever imagined.

"Tourists don't know where they've been; travellers don't know where they're going". This is what American travel writer, Paul Theroux once said and I believe it is quite true. Alright, it's notional and let's not get into semantics here.

When we go on holidays with tour groups or plan our trips around brochure itineraries, we would often faithfully (or blindly) follow a pre-determined plan. Somehow, the reason to visit a city, a monument or a restaurant is simply because it is part of that plan. We rush through each day to accomplish as much as possible to return with a satisfying "highest value" from the money spent, but sometimes with little impression or understanding of the places we have been. Through all the rush and sightseeing hunger, how many places can we truly recall upon return?

On the contrary, travellers do not follow or even have a precise itinerary. They move, explore, discover, and make plans and friends along the way. Certainly, they would likely have some form of broad plan, a sense of time and geography in mind. However, it is that spirit of "wherever, whenever" that is most admirable, exciting and rewarding. It is those "in-betweens" that stitch the entire journey together that are more significant than the postcard destinations. Why not make decisions along the way? Or is there even one to be made?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against packaged tours or well-planned holidays. In fact, I've been on some and have engineered trips with minute precision before. But sometimes, I seem to appreciate and enjoy more of that sense of uncertainty when I travel - getting on each day without a plan, making choices along the way, and moments where I could simply do nothing and watch time goes by.

Wondering into Malaysia - the sky always seems higher and brighter when I cross into Malaysia. The engine sounds livelier and the car feels happier. To me, it always feels like bringing a happy dog out for a good run in the open field.

Roaming off a little with a friend (at the northern Thailand border fringing Burma).

A random stop along a highway in Thailand for a coffee break.

"It is most rewarding when one travels with a sense of ambiguity and adventure; when you realised that you're asking yourself where you're going next while having your breakfast..."

Understandably, holidays should be a time to relax, letting others do the planning and taking the lead, while we simply enjoy the places and indulge in the experiences. But to me, it is most rewarding when one travels with a sense of ambiguity and adventure; when you realised that you're asking yourself where you're going next while having your breakfast; when you take the local train out of the city with nowhere in mind but enjoying random stops and the scenery along the way. Or when you simply drive towards the horizon as far as the road leads you to wherever that would be.

With the privilege of owning a small car and living in the heart of beautiful South East Asia, there is no reason why I shouldn't be getting out of this 700 square kilometres of concrete jungle in search of some fresh air, clear blue skies, and travel in the spirit of adventure.

If you have seen my earlier posts, especially my road trip to Thailand, you would have realised by now that I'm a fan of road trips. To me, a meaningful road trip doesn't need to be of faraway exotic destinations or epic journeys. A day trip to our friendly neighbour in the north can be equally exciting and fulfilling to me, as you might have read from my Melaka post as well. Cheap thrill as some might call it. Undeniably, Malaysia and Singapore are so close and so connected, with bilateral relationship better than ever before. Wasn't PM Najib in Singapore for a day to eat durian with PM Lee?

The sky just seems higher and brighter every time I cross into Boleh land. The usual sense of emancipation heightens along with each mile as I floor the pedal, as the scenery of limestone mountains dances past in a blur, and as my favourite music plays out loud in concerto with the roar of the engine. Truly, this sense of freedom, of undisrupted voyage for hundreds of kilometres can never ever be experienced on this tiny island.

After all, if we have bought a car in a country where they are presumably the most expensive in the world, why not make full use of it to delight our hearts, enrich our minds and uplift souls, instead of just using them as a highly polished tool for transport, or just as a family "school bus" or "grocery truck"? Or worse, as a waxed ornament plying the road.

Soundtrack of the highway.

Surrounded by water (at Yeo's Seafood Restaurant, Tanjung Pelepas - a popular seafood restaurant sitting on stilts along the Straits of Johor).

Drove into a newly built industrial estate somewhere in Malaysia. Still completely vacant, except for a pack of curious stray dogs which seemed attracted to this intruder.

Mini Countryman off road
Roaming into Tasik Sembrong, off Kluang. Wondering where the road would end at the lake.

Mini Countryman off road
End of the road - a magnificent view of the lake during sunset.

Mini Countryman ALL4
There wasn't any well-paved tarmac along the way, quite obviously.

Mini Countryman off road
Both car and driver watching sunset across the peaceful lake.

Mini Countryman off road
Getting out of the deep ends before it gets too dark.

Mini Countryman ALL4
Souvenir collected at the end of the day.
Over the past one year of joblessness, it had given me the opportunity to embark on some extemporaneous getaways up north. Some trips were to familiar places like Melaka to meet friends and make new friends, or just to have a cup of coffee. Some were simply aimless and solely driven by curiosity, wondering into Endau Rompin, the east coast, or getting up Cameron Highlands.

We learn about a place through its destinations but we learn about ourselves through the journey.

And for that Thailand road trip several years ago, the only certain thing was our date of return as we didn't want to be fired from our job back then. The finer details were all worked out each evening when we sat down for dinner, with refinements made over breakfast and lunch the following day. None of our accommodation was booked in advance. Thanks to my great long-time friend and Thailand road trip guru who had led the way and taught me much since twenty years ago.

It's not the destination but the journey that matters most. We learn about a place through its destinations but we learn about ourselves through the journey. The opportunity of leaving the tarmac and turning into unpaved tracks, driving into plantations, stopping by a dilapidated roadside stall for a meal and chatting with the locals, or picking up a hitch hiker in the mountains, have all made my road trip travels far more exciting and enriching.

I guess it won't be a valid question to ask where and when I'll be driving up north next. There won't be detailed itineraries either. Sometimes, the less you plan, the more you'll learn along the way. As James Hetfield has written and sang, "the less I have the more I gain, off the beaten path I reign", hopefully, I can continue this unknowing journey of discovery, wherever I may roam.

Mini Countryman off road
Vast open space to roam and explore. Who says you'd always need the road?

Mini Countryman off road
The "road" ending at a cliff, offering a magnificent view of the Malaysian landscape. Wouldn't have seen this if I were to have followed the road.

Mini Countryman off road
I always enjoy driving in the rain, splashing water along the way. Seeing dark clouds make me happy.

By the green field, somewhere I don't even know.

By a small lake, somewhere I don't even know.

Mini Countryman off road
Just keep going...

Mini Countryman off road
Not too worried with four wheels working.

Mini Countryman off road
Some mud bath for the car.

Mini Countryman ALL4
Shower after the mud bath.

Glorious evening sun right after the rain.

Mini Countryman off road
I think it looks better this way.

Mini Countryman off road
Wondering into an oil palm plantation. Honestly, I was quite worried and was wondering if there would be cobras, bears, or a tiger leaping towards me all of a sudden.

In the oil palm plantation.

Stopping by a roadside coffee shop for a meal en-route Endau Rompin.

Mini Countryman Endau Rompin
Getting into Endau Rompin.

Driving outside Singapore feels liberating and exhilarating with the infinite landscape and broad horizon.

Say goodbye to traffic jams, road hogging drivers, and traffic light every hundred metres. A much better scenery too.

It's wonderful just to sit in the car and look out sometimes, well, I guess not so much in Singapore.

Facts and Figures:
  • Equipment (multiple trips): Various point-and-shoot, CSC and DSLR from Samsung, Nikon and Sony.
  • Keep driving.
  • Embrace uncertainties and apply common sense.
  • Be friendly, both in and out of the car. 
  • Make friends with the locals.

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