Malaysia makes for an excellent destination in South East Asia. It’s cultural diversity, tropical rainforests and spectacular beaches mean there’s something for everyone. The country is divided into two peninsulas with the capital Kuala Lumpur on the west side and wild Borneo on the East. Destination prices in Malaysia are considerably lower than other Asian countries, and for wildlife viewing, few countries can compete with Borneo.
If you’re planning a trip to Malaysia here’s a guide to the top places to visit in Malaysia
The Top 10 Places to Visit in Malaysia
Mulu National Park is one of the remotest parts of Borneo, a preserved rainforest which is famous for its underground caves of Mulu. Its a Unesco world heritage site and to get here, you either have to fly or trek through the jungle for two days along the Headhunter trail.
Whether you opt to take the tours around the show caves or go adventure caving the limestone features are spectacular. Deer Cave is the most popular and has the largest cave passage that you can visit in the world. It’s home to millions of bats that form a spectacular display in the sky each night as they go in search of food. Incidentally, the number of mosquitos is low in Mulu thanks to the bats, so it’s one of the best jungles to visit.
In addition to the caves, the tree canopy walk stretches for 480 metres and offers a fantastic opportunity to discover the rainforest fauna from a different perspective. There are lots of treks through the jungle, and the easiest ones are along wooden walkways. For outdoor enthusiasts, the three-day hike to the Pinnacles is well worth the effort as the spiky limestone pillars are an awe-inspiring sight.
Kuching is an excellent base to see Borneo’s fantastic wildlife, and there’s plenty of exciting things to visit around this 200-year-old city. It’s the head of Sarawak State, and an excellent place to start when exploring the town is the historic waterfront.
The contemporary golden government house and the modern architectural bridge now dwarf the once-dominant buildings of the colonial Fort Margherita and the White Rajah’s palace. You can take a boat ride down the river and catch a glimpse of the old boathouses and enjoy magnificent views of the white mosque.
Near the bridge is the old courthouse and square which often has live music playing. Running parallel to the river in a maze of backstreets is Kuching’s China Town. You’ll find all kinds of interesting shops here from tailors to mechanics.
Other places worth visiting are the Orchid Gardens, Sarawak Museum and the giant statues of cats which you can find randomly throughout the town. Kuching is the Malay for a cat, and the sculptures seem to have become somewhat a feature of the city.
Outside of Melaka, Kuching has some of Malaysia’s best street art which you’ll easily spot as you wander around town. If you are visiting in July, the Rainforest World Music Festival held in the nearby Sarawak cultural village is an event not to miss.
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Semenggoh is the star attraction near Kuching and its the reason most people visit the area. The jungle that surrounds the centre is home to 26 rescued orang-utans that roam free throughout the forest.
Twice a day, the centre’s staff provide food for these intellectual mammals, and although the Orang-utans don’t always show up, the food is offered to assist their rehabilitation.
The centre’s primary purpose is not a tourist attraction. The conservation work done here is a vital part of the protection of this endangered species. However, it’s a unique and rare opportunity to observe the animals up close. Feeding times are at 9 am and 3 pm.
Bako National Park
If you want to see some of Borneo’s rarest animals, Bako National Park will not disappoint. It’s one of the few places that you can see the Proboscis Monkeys and Flying Lemurs within Malaysia.
Most people visit on day trips from Kuching, but you can stay within the National Park itself. The park is on an island, and the only way to get there is by boat. The last trip back to the mainland is 3.30 pm so don’t forget to keep an eye on the time.
The dramatic and wildly contrasting landscapes are unlike anywhere else. There are sheer cliffs that jut out into the ocean, unusual rock formations known as sea stacks, tropical rainforests and mangroves to explore.
There are four different species of monkeys, Bearded Pigs, Snakes Monitor Lizards, Crocodiles and a plethora of birds including Hornbills. If you’ve only got one day to spare, it’s worth hiring a guide from the National Park office before catching the boat to the National Park. The trails around the island can be reasonably challenging, so wearing a good pair of hiking boots is essential.
Malaysia’s West Coast Peninsular
The countries capital is the starting point for most travellers entering Malaysia, and the focal point of its metropolitan centre is the Petronas Towers. The twin towers are the tallest in the world, and their post-modern architecture has made them such an iconic attraction. From the sky bridge that connects them, you get breathtaking views of the city, and when they are lit up at night, they look beautiful.
The city is the largest in Malaysia and has a diverse range of cultures which have influenced both the architecture and local food. The KL Railway Station Museum is one the best examples of the fusion between Asian and British colonial architecture while the Jamek Mosque is the best example of the Islamic influence. The Moorish design of the mosque makes it a beautiful building that provides a stunning backdrop across the water where the two rivers meet.
China Town has many of the best temples, and the smells here will tantalise your taste buds from every angle. For the best street food head to Alor Street after sundown when it becomes a hide of activity with street vendors selling delicious food.
Kuala Lumpur also has plenty of attractions for families. The enormous bird park has a 20-acre aviary which houses over 3000 birds, and if you visit the cafe in the early morning or evening, birds such as hornbills often perch on the balcony. There’s also a zoo, an aquarium and the Batu Caves where you can see monkeys and bats.
The Cameron Highlands is the highest point in Malaysia and they provide a welcome escape from the countries tropical temperatures. The area is renowned for its tea plantations, and a visit here would not be complete without visiting one.
The scenery is entirely different from much of Malaysia, and there’s plenty of hiking trails that take you through the plantations and surrounding farms. The area is also Malaysia’s chief flower producer, and strawberries are the regions primary fruit.
It will come as no surprise that afternoon tea is a popular activity. The BOH tea plantation is the most popular restaurant, but for a more refined British experience, I’d recommend the Jim Thompson tea room.
The easiest way to explore the region is by car or as part of a guided tour. However, there are regular buses from Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
Melaka is a Unesco Heritage City that’s rich and diverse in culture. There’s a mix of Chinese, Dutch, British and Portuguese influences. This confluence of cultural exchanges over 500 years has earned Melaka world heritage status.
The city is easy to get to from Kuala Lumpur by bus, or you can take a day tour. A fun way to get around the city is on one of the many colourful rickshaws, but a boat ride down the river is the best way to start your visit. The architecture that lines the riverbank is stunning, and there’s some fantastic street art to admire. To get a closer look, choose to walk back along the riverfront rather than return by boat.
Melaka has a wealth of museums and tours around Baba-Nonya townhouse, Stadhuys and the Sultanate Palace should not be missed. The Dutch Square is notable for its heritage buildings which are easily identified by their crimson colour and the view over the city from St Pauls church is magnificent.
The other major attraction is Jonker Street, which comes alive at the weekend with a lively night market selling delicious street food. The Chinese architecture around Jonker street is both charming and rustic. The hand-painted facades are beautiful, and there’s plenty of small and exciting shops if you need some souvenirs.
Johor Bahru is the gateway city to Singapore and another popular entry point to Malaysia. The town may not have the beauty of other areas in Malaysia, but its new attractions make it an excellent choice for families.
Legoland is undoubtedly the star of the show, and with over 40 rides, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark has a unique mix of slides and activities including a water roller coaster and a massive tidal wave pool. You can dine at the Cinnamoroll Cafe and meet Hello Kitty and her friends at the Sanrio Hello Kitty and Thomas Town park. Lastly, there is the Angry Birds Activity Park, which has an enormous indoor playground. There’s also scooters, trampolines, an obstacle course and a mini cinema that will keep the kids entertained all day.
Tioman Island is one of Malaysia’s gems. It’s stunningly beautiful, and it still has an intimate feel unlike some of the countries other islands. Tioman is off the east coast of Malaysia in the China Sea, and boats go daily from Mersing harbour.
The middle of the island is a lush rainforest with waterfalls and treks to enjoy. Along the coast, you’ll find secluded beaches and golden sand. One of the most popular activities is snorkelling and diving as the island has several reef systems which are rich in coral and teeming with wildlife. The coral around the island is in better condition than further up the coast, so Tioman is now a better option than the Perhentian Islands.
If you want to avoid the crowds stay in one of the resorts in the south of the island. Staying in the south also means you’ll be able to walk to the largest waterfall on the Island, Asah and visit Kampong Mukut, a small traditional fishing village.
The south of the island also has two towering granite peaks, known as The Dragon Horns (Bukit Nenek Simukut). If you’re seeking adrenaline adventures, you can climb the Dragon Horns. However, unless you are an experienced rock climber, it’s not advisable as there’s no professional rescue group on the island. The horns make a dramatic backdrop to the idyllic beaches and jungle surrounds of any hotel in this part of the island.
Pulau Redang lies within the protected waters of the Terengganu Marine Park. It’s further up the east coast to Tioman and ferries depart from Merang or Shahbandar jetty in Kuala Terengganu city centre.
Crystal clear blue waters surround the island, and there are several excellent dive sights. The coral is still reasonably healthy, although popular sites such as Shark Reef are sadly dying. The marine park is working hard to conserve the coral systems, and the visitor’s centre is an excellent place to visit if you want to learn more.
The biggest resort on the island is the Taaras which has its own coral reef and sea turtle project. The lab is a partnership with SEATRU and has a laboratory onsite where guests can visit. There’s also the unique opportunity to adopt a baby sea turtle and release it from the nursery into the wild.
The beaches around the island are stunning, and the sunsets are magical. If you want to unwind and truly relax, Redang is the perfect place.
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Guest Post Biography
Fiona is an international music examiner whose work takes her to schools all over the world. Her travel blog Passport and Piano is growing fast. It provides inspiration, travel tips and resources to help people to visit unique destinations which are away from the ordinary. You can follow her adventures on Facebook and Pinterest @Passportandpiano.
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