While a bulk of Southeast Asia’s visitors flock to Thailand, not many people know know where to go in Malaysia. Maybe that’s why Malaysia doesn’t seem to get as much attention as Thailand. Long-term budget travelers often shun Malaysia as being ‘too expensive’ while short-term vacationers in Southeast Asia skip Malaysia for lack of time.
You’ll most likely fly into Kuala Lumpur, so this one’s a no-brainer. But unlike other big Asian cities where travelers arrive and head out of town as soon as possible, Kuala Lumpur is a worthwhile destination of its own.
The mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influence means that you’ll have no shortage of culinary exploits in Malaysia’s capital city. Interesting sights such as the Petronas Towers, the Perdana Lake Gardens, and Menara KL Tower provide plenty of enjoyable distractions before you head out to explore Malaysia.
George Town is the capital city of Penang, an island state with the biggest Chinese population in Malaysia. But Penang was an important trade center for the British, and the city of George Town in particular – named after Britain’s King George III – is a fascinating testament to the mix of Asian and European influences that the island experienced over the course of its history. George Town’s multicultural past is especially enshrined in the city’s rich and eclectic architecture, filled with enchanting, historical buildings, mostly situated in the oldest part of the town. Elsewhere skyscrapers rise high above the city. Another evident sign of George Town’s multi-faceted cultural heritage lies in its religious venues. Anglican churches and Muslim mosques rub shoulders with Chinese and Indian temples. As one of the top cultural attractions in Malaysia, this is an unmissable destination for culturally inclined travellers.
With an extension of over 4,000 square kilometers, the national park of Taman Negara straddles three Malaysian states, and is under close protection, being the home to many species of endangered animals, such as the Malayan tiger, the crab-eating macaque and the Asian elephant. The area is so vast, however, that it’s rare to catch the sight of any of the big animals. But this should not discourage anyone from visiting the park, as many other surprises await. Bird watching, excursions through the dense jungles of the park, and the night walks – where the lack of light brings out the sounds of buzzing insects and sweeping trees – are particularly thrilling. The rainforest can also be viewed from above the treetops while trekking down the 530-meter-long suspended Canopy Walkway.
Sitting 1500 meters above sea level, the Cameron Highlands is an extensive hill station named after William Cameron, the British surveyor who stumbled upon the soft, curvy sides of these picturesque green hills in 1885. The area hosts the largest tea plantations in Malaysia, which give it the characteristic, fuzzy appearance that attracts so many tourists to this place. Many also visit the hills and trek down the trails. But the Cameron Highlands’ beauty and popularity are also due to its climate. Wiith temperatures rarely dropping below 10°C or rising above 21°C, this is the coolest region of Malaysia, and a longed-for destination for a break from the tropical Malaysian climate.
Sea lovers planning to visit Malaysia should put the Perhentian Islands on the top of their list of places to see. This is a small archipelago with two main islands – Besar, the bigger, and Kecil, the smaller – both boasting splendid beaches, white sand, an amazingly blue, shallow sea and the shadow of tall palm trees. Apart from tourists, the islands are mostly uninhabited, making them a perfect place to disconnect and take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The Perhentian Islands are especially recommended to those who enjoy the sea not just for a swim, but also for water activities such as canoeing (both islands can be circumnavigated in a day), scuba diving and snorkeling. The islands are fringed by a coral reef, and the underwater life is rich with sea turtles and many species of tropical fish.
Maliau Basin, Sabah
One of the most un-explored places on the island of Borneo, Maliau Basin sits in a massive protected primary rainforest reserve almost in the middle of Sabah, Borneo. To get here, one needs to book a Maliau Basin Package from selected specialized tour operators as not anyone can sell these tours. The conservation here will suit anyone who loves the outdoors, adventure, trekking, wildlife and bird watching.
For the extreme trekkers or hikers, this is your place. Some of the trails here can take a few days to complete but the result is rewarding as you will reach places that many have not. Dedicated to nature lovers, this is one of the mot unique places found in Sabah and Malaysia. Trips here come in a minimum of three days and a maximum of 10-20 days depending on the traveler. They have very good accommodations and also dorms.
Located on Malaysia’s east coast and not too far from Singapore, Tioman Island is a different kind of destination. Both accommodation and excellent diving are cheap; development is minimal. The little island is carved into different beaches; some secluded and some — such as ABC Beach — quite busy depending on the season. A speed boat is required to move around unless you’re up for a jungle hike through the interior.
Bario and Ba’kelalan Highlands, Sarawak
Located 3000 feet high in the north of Sarawak Borneo along the Bario Highlands, these two villages are one of the least visited tourism places here. Bario and Ba’kelalan are far apart and the most practical way to visit these two places would be to fly in on a small 16-seater propeller plane operated by MasWings from the city of Miri or Lawas.
The beauty about these two places is that they have not been modernized and time moves very slowly here. The highlight would be the culture and heritage which is still very strong and active here. The landscapes here are stunningly beautiful minus the modern roads or buildings. The Lun Bawang people here still go about their farming with rice paddy and natural salt processing as the main source of income. Bario and Bakelalan are great for anyone wanting a different kind of Malaysian or Bornean experience with a passion for culture, heritage and nature.