Malaysia is a wonderful melting pot of cultures, food, art, beaches and nature. Split into two main regions, Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo’s East Malaysia, this diverse and enchanting country is a Southeast Asian delight. Spend a couple of weeks here and you’re bound to leave a piece of your heart behind. Here are six unmissable destinations to hit in Malaysia.
Whether you’re taking the boat over from southern Thailand, or you fly directly here from the capital, Langkawi is a serene and relaxing spot to start your Malaysian adventure. This island archipelago at the northern tip of Malaysia is serviced by beautiful beaches, great food markets and plenty of attractions to keep you busy. Pick a gloriously sunny day and head to Langkawi’s Cable Car, which takes you up to the top of mount Mat Cincang, offering incredible views of the rainforests and waterfalls below. Stopping at various platforms along the way, you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities before reaching the infamous Skybridge; a suspended walkway that soars 700 metres above sea level (not for the faint of heart).
After a morning in the clouds, how about an afternoon under waterfalls? Just a short drive from the cable car you’ll find Temurun Waterfalls, a beautiful and tranquil place for a peaceful swim in the fresh mountain water that pools below the 30-metre high waterfall. The best time to visit is later in the year during the rainy season when there’s plenty of precipitation to service the deluge.
Arguably one of every traveller’s favourite places in Malaysia, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Georgetown in Penang is an amazing area for street art and delicious food of various origins. Penang island has multiple foreign influences including its colonial past, and various others brought by intrepid settlers. The best way to spend time in George Town is simply by walking around the streets taking in all the sights, sounds and smells that await you. Adorning the walls of the town are murals created by London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, that provide popular entertainment to tourists. Some of the artwork has 3D elements, allowing you to submit yourself into the backdrop and become a live-feature of the painting. If you’re caught out on a rainy day or want a break from the intense sun, the Upsidedown Museum is a whimsical way to spend a few hours in pure silliness – take your camera and you’ll wind up with some mind-boggling pics.
For something a little more serious and cultural, make your way to Little India which is home to beautiful mosques and temples that are simply mesmerising, like the Sri Mahamariamman. The oldest temple in Georgetown built in 1728, Kuan Yin Teng (The Goddess of Mercy Temple) can be found on Pitt Street. Little India is a great spot to enjoy a delicious authentic curry at one of the many nearby restaurants.
While we’re on the topic of food, George Town is exceptionally well-served for magnificent local eateries. Dim sum is a must and you’ll find authentic Chinese-Malay dishes served daily. A particular favourite was Tai Tong, located on Lebuh Cintra. This relaxed dining experience will fulfil all your dim-sum desires. The restaurant’s senior servers have all worked there for more than thirty years, so service might be slow, but it’s worth the wait.
Onto a less famous but similarly lovely town, Ipoh is quiet and quaint with plenty of charm. You’ll spot street art by the same artist dotted around the buildings and plenty more delicious local restaurants to fulfil your new-found love of dim-sum and other Malay cuisines. A perfect day in Ipoh starts with a delicious iced coffee, and a walk around the ‘Taman Jepun’ (Japanese Gardens). An absolute must stop while you’re in Ipoh is Concubine Lane, an ancient street that is now teeming with trendy art shops, cafes, local delicacies and charming souvenir shops.
Cameron Highlands and Tea Plantations
Time to get out of the towns and up into nature. The Cameron Highlands are an area of astounding beauty. The ride up is winding and long, but the experience when you reach the area is well worth it. The air is clean and crisp and the scenery is simply stunning. Hike through the lines of tea plantations, breathing in the fresh mountain air and reward yourself with a delicious brew at one of the many tea houses on route.
Like many bustling cities, Kuala Lumpur offers a diverse hub of activity and entertainment. Depending on your personal travelling style, there are dozens of high-end luxury hotels to accommodate your time in the capital; including ones with rooftop pools and panoramic views. If you’re feeling active, hop on the train and head out to the nearby Batu caves, home to a popular Hindu shrine and guarded by a towering gold statue of Lord Murugan. For a glamorous evening meal and accompanying cocktails head to Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Stand in the KLCC Gardens for the perfect view of the Petronas Twin Towers with accompanying water and light show.
If you’re not ready for your Malaysian adventure to end just yet, why not hop on over to Borneo? Flights go regularly from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu. Borneo is home to some incredible natural sights and rare wildlife that can only be found in this small part of the world. While local buses can take you everywhere you need to go, hiring a car is likely to be far more efficient. Head out to Kota Kinabalu National Park, which is a stunning nature reserve full of serene and tranquil hiking paths. For the more intrepid among you, rise before the sun to embark on an epic climb up to the summit of Mount Kinabalu which stands over 4,000 metres above sea level.
Ready to see some wildlife? No trip to Borneo would be complete without spending a day in Sepilok at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Try not to trip over your own feet as you walk around this sanctuary with your eyes fixed up in the treetops trying to spot a flash of orange as these beautiful great apes swing among the branches. Watch from the observatory platform as the babies in the nursery learn to climb, play and interact with one another, and be sure to catch feeding time. This protected rehabilitation centre cares for orphaned orangutans before they are to be released back into the wild.
Located opposite is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre – a home for ex-captive sun bears – the smallest bear in the world. Watch these impish creatures loll about in their natural habitat, climbing trees and munching on small invertebrates and honey.
If you have any time to spare when you’re back in Kota Kinabalu before your flight home, we recommend stopping by the mesmerising floating mosque, and a trip to the ‘Mari-Mari’ cultural village, where you can learn more about the Malaysian heritage. Immerse yourself in traditional pastimes and try your hand at dart-blowing, crafts, dancing and cooking.