Like most Bruneians, Malaysia has been a favourite hunting ground for Kamarul Dzaman Ajimain. The 46-year-old from Bandar Seri Begawan recalls shopping trips to Miri and Kota Kinabalu as a child, but unlike his countrymen and women who would only shop at these two towns, Kamarul had the opportunity to explore more of Malaysia.
“I grew up watching P. Ramlee movies and used to read entertainment magazines like URTV as well as my mother’s Wanita and Nona magazines. I also listened to music from veteran Malaysian artistes such as Sharifah Aini, D.J. Dave and the 90s rockers like Awie and M. Nasir.
“It was only back in the early 1990s that I really got to traverse Malaysia. My family and I were on the way home to Brunei from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where we had lived for three years during my dad’s posting at the Embassy of Brunei. I remember that we went to Genting Highlands and also rented a van for a day trip to Johor. Our driver was also our tour guide who took us for shopping and to eat at popular food spots.
“That five days made me realise how alike Brunei and Malaysia are. We share so many of the same cultures. We felt really comfortable – Malaysia was like a second home. Bruneians even speak the same slang because we grew up watching Malaysian television programmes. Having said this, not all Bruneians are adventurous enough to explore other states, so I was grateful for that early opportunity.
“These days, the weaker Ringgit has helped Bruneians be more courageous to venture to other parts of Malaysia outside of Borneo. Shopping is real value for money now. Moreover, hotel rates are reasonable and not as steep as in Singapore,” he said.
Over the years, Kamarul continued to visit Malaysia, and even participated in tourism-related events such as ASEAN Explore Quest 2014 when he was taken on an adventure trail to Penang, Johor and Ipoh; and this year, to attend the launch of 1Malaysia Grand Sale. He related, “The shopping hunt activity in conjunction with the launch was really tiring because we had to walk to fifteen shopping spots in Kuala Lumpur in the span of four hours! It was crazy but memorable, nonetheless, because I came out third in the competition! I’m thankful for opportunities like these to work with Tourism Malaysia.”
Kamarul’s most recent trip to Malaysia was to Malacca. “My two local friends, top social influencers who go by the handles of @lilyriani_travelholic and @thatsofarah, kindly drove me there from Kuala Lumpur. I’ve read much about the state but visiting it for the first time gave me a different experience. The two ladies made sure I went to Jonker Street and for that, I am glad because nothing beats being there in person. Although I do enjoy Malaysia in general, I find that it is the fun and friendly Malaysians that make coming to Malaysia such a joy,” he said.
A foodie at heart, Kamarul makes it a point to check the internet for meal recommendations each time prior to his flight to Malaysia. “It is very easy to find halal food in Malaysia. I like to go to popular eateries, whether they are high-end establishments or a Mamak stall. Although my usual fare are nasi lemak, cendol and the likes, I try my best to find something that is not available in Brunei, or at least something that I have not tried before. Searching for them is an adventure by itself because we share so many similar dishes,” he explained.
Having visited Malaysia uncountable times, this assistant manager in the largest Islamic bank in Brunei, Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam, still considers Malaysia a ‘hidden gem’. He said, “Each state has its own unique attractions. Whether you are an outdoor, indoor, island, city or wilderness tourist, there is plenty to see and do. I love the convenience of the KLIA Express. It takes me straight to KL Sentral upon landing and from there, I hop on the LRT or monorail. It’s easy and comfortable to use. Besides, the highway that links the north and south is well made, although I wouldn’t wish to be caught in a traffic jam. Bruneians are still not used to this volume of traffic.”
As an avid researcher and planner each time he goes on a trip, the self-proclaimed internet addict believes that it would help if the unique destinations and activities of Malaysia were better highlighted online. “Adventure travel is the current trend and articles on activities such as jungle trekking and island hopping are most searched on the internet. Combining these with gastronomy tours and shopping escapades would make tourism coverage on Malaysia complete,” he advised.
Note: An edited version of this article [Like a second home] was published on 15th October, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.