Malaysia presents a problem right away because it is spread across two different land masses. Do you travel to Peninsular Malaysia, which is bordered by Singapore to the south and Thailand to the north? Or do you travel to Borneo, an island covered in the jungle that Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Kingdom of Brunei all share?
Good news: although Malaysian Borneo provides better access to marine life, both sides of the country have soft sand beaches and snorkeling-friendly coves. Although you may visit national parks and hilly hiking terrains in Peninsular Malaysia, such as Taman Negara and the Cameron Highlands, Borneo is also the greatest choice for jungle trekking. Peninsular Malaysia is a great option for families who wish to see hornbills during the day and stay in luxurious accommodations at night because it has so many parks and scenic areas that are virtually on top of the cities.
Peninsular Malaysia is where the buzz is also. The world-class cities of Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Melaka all have much to offer foodies, shoppers, and museum lovers. With a little assistance from our list of Malaysia’s top destinations, plan your own route.
Kuala Lumpur is the best place to go for a whirlwind tour
If you want to do a lot but don’t have much time, go to Kuala Lumpur. KL has upscale shopping malls (including Pavilion KL and Suria KLCC), a vibrant cocktail scene, and a futuristic skyline with the Petronas Towers rising like twin rockets and Menara KL glowing like a lighthouse. Some areas of KL have the air of a classic capital city (head to the 300m-high sky deck for an expansive view). But KL has more to offer than just frantic metropolitan activity.
With ancient temples, kopitiams (traditional coffee shops), and jungles nearly next to high-rise structures, KL’s city swagger is complemented by nature and history. Worship spaces like the majestic Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad and the multi-story, crimson Thean Hou Temple compel reflection and awe.
KL is a viable option for a day trip if you only have three days to explore Malaysia. At the Forest Research Institute, you may enjoy a picnic by a waterfall while listening to the birds, while Mah Meri Cultural Village, where you can learn about Orang Asli (indigenous) art and history, is only a short drive away.
Encounter pristine nature in Gunung Mulu National Park
Gunung Mulu is perhaps Malaysia’s best national park. It is remarkably rocky, extraordinarily old, and a stage for breathtaking natural shows. Old-growth woods, limestone pinnacles, and deep caves, which are home to millions of bats that take flight every twilight, can be found between Gunung Mulu (2376m/7795ft) and Gunung Api (1710m/5610ft). At Deer Cave, you can see the drama play out as the bats take flight.
How should one start exploring this ancient location? A hanging ladder across the treetops known as the Mulu Canopy Walk; a short hike to the Paku Waterfall; or the Botanical Heritage Loop Trail are examples of DIY activities.
Hire a guide and attempt the three-day Pinnacles journey if you have rugged hiking boots and even tougher stamina. The difficult ascents are rewarded with expansive views of a dense jungle studded with limestone fins.
Penang is the top destination for food, drink, and sensory pleasures
It is undeniable that Penang is a gastronomic haven. Travelers swarm to Gurney Drive’s seafood eateries from all over Malaysia (and beyond), slurp Penang laksa at Lorong Baru Hawker Stalls, and follow their noses to Chew Jetties’ barbecued fish. But Penang can titillate your senses even without the sizzle of char kway teow (rice noodles with prawns, eggs, and more).
At the Tropical Spice Garden, take in the aroma of 500 different herbs and spices. At Penang National Park, the smallest park in the nation, pay attention to the chatter of macaques. Admire the Khoo Kongsi clubhouse’s magnificent architecture and the elaborately carved Pinang Peranakan Mansion. Alternately, visit Hin Bus Station to see cutting-edge modern art.
The greatest time to visit Penang in Malaysia is in December when the west coast experiences pleasant weather while the east is battered by winds.
Kuching is the perfect urban-jungle mash-up
You want to be able to enjoy nature, but you don’t want to set up camp in the forest.
And you want to experience a Malaysian city’s energy without the frenetic bustle of KL.
Your ideal location is Kuching, the capital of the Bornean state of Sarawak.
An entry point to Borneo’s magnificent wilderness is Kuching.
From here, it’s simple to visit the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to interact with orangutans or take a day trip to Bako National Park to search for bearded pigs and probosci’s monkeys.
However, let Kuching work its charms first before venturing outside the city limits. Take a stroll down the waterfront promenade to take in views of Kuching’s architectural treasures, including the State Assembly, the Astana (palace), and the whirling Darul Hana pedestrian bridge. Visit the weekend market, admire Chinese temples, and discover Fort Margherita’s history as the White Rajas of Sarawak.
At dusk, visitors relax on a beach. The sea is turquoise, and the sand is white. The light has been lighted in lanterns as it begins to dim.
Pulau Perhentian is the best island for sunshine and snorkeling
When the Perhentian Islands are mentioned to Malaysians, they smile longingly. The Perhentian Islands are known for their outstanding beaches, diverse marine life, and lively nightlife that will keep beachgoers dancing into the early hours. The secret is to locate your ideal beach.
Are you looking for breathtaking sunsets? Arrive in Coral Bay. the green turtles? the Main Beach turtle project. Nighttime beach parties? Los Angeles. Numerous beaches provide sea kayaking, snorkeling amid parrotfish and huge clams, and wreck diving. Experienced divers can travel deeper to interact with clownfish, reef sharks, and stingrays. Plan your visit for the dry season, which is from March to October (but avoid July, when crowds reach their peak).
Melaka is a cultural smorgasbord
In port cities, particularly Melaka, the turmoil of previous colonial control is felt more keenly than anywhere else in Malaysia.
The trading port and maritime waystation of Melaka is located on Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast, and many colonizers (Portuguese, Dutch, and British) fought for control of it. Nowadays, Melaka is one of Malaysia’s top tourist destinations because of its diverse food cultures, eclectic mix of architecture, and appealing night markets.
Climb the Flor de la Mar replica and eat baked fish at Medan Portugis to get a glimpse of Portuguese history. Visit the Stadthuys (now a history museum) and the salmon-pink Christ Church to advance in time to the era of Dutch dominance. The “China Hill” cemetery and Peranakan (Straits Chinese) homes, including the Baba-Nyonya Heritage Museum, are further historical landmarks.
The diverse cultures of Melaka have fueled a booming tourism industry. Colorful trishaws provide rides and historical tours, while the Jonker Walk Night Market provides entertainment in the evening, including outdoor karaoke and Nyonya zongzi eating (glutinous rice dumplings).
Take refreshing upland hikes in the Cameron Highlands
In the Cameron Highlands, among the vibrant green tea plantations, are some of Malaysia’s most well-known hill stations. Rarely do temperatures rise over 30°C (86°F), luring both locals and visitors to cool down in these elevations of 1300m to 1829m (4265ft to 6000ft). There are more genuine natural encounters in the Camerons than at Raaju’s Hill or the honey farm, which are popular strawberry picking spots.
Join Eco Cameron on a guided hike to explore orchids and look for the enormous rafflesia blossom. You can also travel alone: Brinchang and Tanah Rata’s main towns have numbered hiking paths that lead directly from them (ask locally about trail safety, as robberies have been reported on some routes). You’ll unavoidably reward your outside efforts with a cup (or three) of tea at a plantation. Some of the greatest views are seen in Boh Sungei Palas, with Boh Tea Garden coming in second.
Ipoh is Malaysia’s best unsung destination
Ipoh is well-known among Malay people. Ipoh is famous for its sweet, creamy white coffee, for one thing. The city serves as the provincial capital of Perak, which was once wealthy from tin mining and gave rise to structures like Kellie’s Castle. Then there are the local specialties like chicken bean sprouts and bean curd pudding that draw visitors from KL on day trips to Ipoh restaurants.
Ipoh, meanwhile, has been completely ignored by tourists from other countries as they dash between KL and Penang. So, buck the trend and go to Ipoh if you’re looking for unusual spots to visit in Malaysia. Its steep surroundings are bejeweled with cave temples; Sam Poh Tong, which is adorned with statues, has a red pavilion tucked away among the limestone cliffs. Famous Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic has painted murals across the town, shophouses on the formerly renowned Concubine Lane still have an antique feel to them, and the train station has earned the moniker Taj Mahal (you be the judge).
Tioman Island is the best place to unwind
Imagine palm palms and hibiscus flowers swinging in the sea air while you relax at a bar and maybe even have a sea breeze cocktail in your hand. This island, which is 136 sq km (52.5 sq mi) in size, beckons for you to relax, accept a slower pace, and perhaps purchase that tie-dye T-shirt.
Your sole weight? selecting a community where you can settle down, relax your neck, and perhaps catch a few waves. The best surfing location is Kampung Juara, which has two spacious, sandy beaches, lots of places to rent boards and kayaks, and, even better, a turtle sanctuary on Mentawak Beach. Backpacker hotspot Kampung Salang offers easy access to well-liked beaches like Monkey Beach’s white sands and sporadic beach parties. To feel off the main path, visit hidden settlements like the peaceful, conventional Kampung Mukut. But everywhere you carry your pack, schedule time for encounters with marine life. Tioman features huge coral reefs (as well as a lot of manta rays), and the best diving season is from March to October.