Off the beaten path: Niche lodgings beckon domestic travellers in post-lockdown Malaysia

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The route leading to Amoss Farmstay is not for the faint-hearted.

After navigating the winding dual carriageway off the main street of Brinchang town, Ruban Segaran turned the steering wheel of his pickup to the right and charged forward on a path that is only wide enough for one car.



What would he do if there is an oncoming vehicle? “I usually reverse,” he said casually as he pulled his truck to a stop in front of three geodesic domes.

Pretty flowers accentuated the domes white exterior, while tidy rows of spring onions trembled in the afternoon rain. Started in September last year, Amoss Farmstay is a short-term lodging in a 1.6ha family-owned farm in Cameron Highlands, which is part of the mountainous spine of Peninsular Malaysia.

The place overlooks lush greenery and cultivated hills, a welcome respite for urbanites who are drawn to the highlands cool crisp mountain air, terraced tea plantations and locally grown strawberries.

Ruban realised from the very beginning that he had to work on something different to attract eyeballs in the crowded hospitality market. “To be famous, we need something unique,” the 27-year-old said.



Ruban Segaran's A'moss Farmstay overlooks lush greenery and cultivated hills. (Photo: Tho Xin Yi)

In this day and age, travellers are wooed not just by international hotel chains and local establishments, but also an overwhelming number of individually run vacation rentals listed on lodging sites like Airbnb and

The coronavirus pandemic has made competition even stiffer when the countrys doors are closed to inbound travellers. To attract Malaysians to take a vacation within the country after a near three-month ban on interstate travel, the government has rolled out an income tax relief of RM1,000 (US$235) for domestic tourism expenses.
This, on top of the service tax exemption for lodging and accommodation, has restarted the tourism engine in parts of Malaysia, even as COVID-19 still lurks.

Crowded tourist spots in recent weekends and reservation data provided by Airbnb spelled good news for the initial reboot. It said in a statement that bookings made by Malaysians surged by 190 per cent month-on-month in June, and 93 per cent of which were for domestic destinations.

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Ruban said the and email apps in his mobile phone crashed shortly after Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin gave the green light for domestic travel in the new recovery movement control order (MCO) phase in his Jun 7 televised speech.

“Only the next day, I found out that 300 bookings were made within an hour. The notifications made the apps hang,” he recounted. His three domes – operated as a glamping setup of sorts – have been booked until October.

Edde Firdaus Abdul Aziz, a lodging operator in Kampung Tering, Pahang, also saw an encouraging take-up rate. “People have been confined to their homes, so as soon as after MCO (restrictions were eased) everyone wanted to go to local attractions.”


Malaysias luxuriant forests and scenic seascapes provide the backdrop for the tourism industry, which thrives in hill stations, islands and coastal towns.

The natural backdrops have served as a blank canvas for tourism operators like Ruban and Edde Firdaus to build niche lodgings.

Edde Firdaus's Kekunang Tering Chalet treehouse stands on the beach on the east coast of the peninsula, facing the vast South China Sea.

The wooden hut constructed among the branches of an acacia tree was a project to fulfil a childhood dream of his. There are also four tube cabins fashioned out of giant concrete pipes in the compound where he started the business five years ago.

The treehouse of Kekunang Tering Chalet in Pahang stands facing the South China Sea. (Photo: Facebook/Kekunang Tering Chalet)

“I originally intended it as a place for me to relax while keeping an eye on my guests swimming in the sea, but by the time it was done, everyone kept asking me if I wanted to rent it out as well,” the 40-year-old said.

The treehouse was built with pine wood pallets purchased from a nearby automotive assembly plant in Pekan. The chalet has welcomed mostly local travellers, cyclists and bikers, as well as lovers of a rustic, adventurous lifestyle.

“When you are inside the treehouse, you feel really close to the waters. Listening to the waves is the best thing ever.

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“Another attraction is the unparalleled sunrise view. If weather permits, you will see the sunrise when you draw the curtains open between 6am and 6.30am,” Edde Firdaus said.

At night, a starry sky appears, and fortunate guests will be able to see the elusive Milky Way.

In an era when travellers refer to Facebook, Instagram and online reviews before making any decision, a viral post is often a dream come true for those in the industry.

Amoss Forest, for instance, has been featured in social media posts that drew thousands of likes and shares. Every time the dreamy photos went viral, enquiries flooded in and the domes were fully booked, Ruban shared.

In early July, photos depicting the transformation of a decommissioned University Malaya (UM) bus into an Airbnb in Kuala Lumpur caught the attention of many Facebook users.

A decommissioned bus of Universiti Malaya has been converted into an Airbnb. (Photo: Tho Xin Yi)

A joint effort by UM sustainability advocacy groups Water Warriors and Rimba Project, the newly ready bus is now placed in a bungalow that is part of the campus grounds. Rental is around RM100 a night, and guests will be sharing the garden with chickens Crispy and Tender and rabbits Apam and Arang.

The bus, which was retired in 2013 and disposed of in 2016, was offered to them by then UM deputy vice-chancellor Faisal Rafiq Mahamad Adikan. Working together with lecturers and UMs Development and Estate Maintenance Department, the team bounced ideas off each other and eventually settled on converting the old vehicle into a vacation rental.

The exterior bearing the universitys coat of arms was kept as it is, while the seats were removed to make way for a pantry, window counter and bedroom in contemporary style.

The interior of the bus has been given a makeover, with seats removed to make way for a pantry, window counter and bedroom. (Photo: Tho Xin Yi)

The novelty of the project helped the Facebook post gain more than 2,000 shares, which came unexpected for the team. It also evoked nostalgia among UM alumni, withRead More – Source