Tanjung Malim travel writer spends two months visiting Malaysia’s small towns by bus, pens book

Melanie Chalil
Lam Ching Fu travelled to the northern Malaysian states of Perak, Perlis, Penang and Kedah to experience the country’s beauty and bus network. — Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa

PETALING JAYA, Sept 6 — In a fast-paced world, Lam Ching Fu is taking the slow travel movement to new heights by travelling to Malaysia’s small towns using public buses.

His journey to the northern states of Perak, Perlis, Penang and Kedah took two months to complete, unearthing many hidden gems along the way.

Born and raised in Tanjung Malim, Lam, affectionately known as FuFu, had just returned from living abroad for 10 years when he decided to take the road less travelled.

“I’ve travelled to some exotic places in my life but haven’t been to the whole of Malaysia, so I decided to see it and at the same time, check out our bus network,” he told Malay Mail.

 

 

A passionate advocate of public transportation, Lam studied Civil and Environmental Engineering at Japan’s Hiroshima University and went on to do his master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Applied Sciences Frankfurt studying the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in South America.

Upon returning to Malaysia, he worked in the data analytics department at the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp).

An exhibition showcasing Lam’s pictures and anecdotes from his book at RexKL.

This week, he launched his book My Journey By Bus which contains 35 anecdotes on his unforgettable experience, accompanied by beautiful illustrations, user-friendly maps and charming stories.

The goal is to get more people on board buses and promote Malaysia’s under-the-radar sleepy but charming towns.

There is also an ongoing exhibition held in RexKL to coincide with Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day, launched by Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook this week.

Correcting misperceptions

“When we mention travelling by bus, parents these days would say they are not good, not safe and not punctual, for example,” he said.

But the buses in rural towns were so punctual and the 38-year-old learned it the hard way.

“I missed a bus because I was late for five minutes in Tapah and in Beruas.

“In the beginning, I was always late going to the bus stop because I didn’t expect our bus service to be so efficient,” he confessed.

Due to the low frequency, waiting for the next bus would often take between an hour to two hours and unlike the buses in bigger cities, small-town buses end their service at 6pm.

 

 

The many long waits served Lam’s wanderlust well, using the opportunity to meet locals and see more of each town.

“I met an Orang Asli in Tapah which was my first time, and in Bidor, an old man who’s a P. Ramlee fan sang Getaran Jiwa to me,” he recalled.

“We often think that waiting for a bus is a waste of time but to me, if you know how to use your time, it’s not a waste at all.

“It’s always good to listen to the locals — this kind of history isn’t written anywhere,” he said.

Our small towns are dying

Whether it’s learning how to weigh Chinese medicinal herbs using traditional scales or visiting the past through Taiping’s colonial pre-war Peking Hotel, Lam said going off the beaten track promises many rewards.

But the undocumented beauty of small towns is at risk of disappearing as economic activity diminishes and many younger townsfolk head to bigger cities for job opportunities.

“Our small towns are beautiful and they are dying.  

“I hope we and more tourists can travel to these remote towns and create economic activity so the townsfolk will remain and generate their town’s economy,” he said.

 

 

“This is really important to ensure our small towns continue to thrive and smaller bus companies can survive — all this has a circular effect.”

To do his part, Lam poured his entire savings into his passion project in hopes that more Malaysians and international tourists will visit small towns by bus.

He is planning to launch a second and third book, focusing on the East Coast and the southwestern states respectively.

“If I don’t do this now, I won’t do it later in life and if not me, no one else will.

“If I don’t do this, I’ll regret it 10 years down the road,” he said.

My Journey By Bus, available in Chinese and English, can be found at Kinokuniya, Gerak Budaya, Areca Books and selected homestays.

The free exhibition runs until September 15 at RexKL, 80 Jalan Sultan.