Malaysia isn’t just a stopover between Thailand and Indonesia. With rich cultural heritage, beautiful nature and food so good you may as well just move here, the country is a world-class destination with a treasure trove of fascinating places to explore. Here are Malaysia's top 10 destinations.
1. Kuala Lumpur
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.
Kuala Lumpur comes spiked at the center by the two great spires of the Petronas Towers, packed with markets and heady hawker bazaars down Petaling Street, throbbing with the energy of Bukit Bintang – the entertainment city – and awash with the scents of everything from frying Chinese chow mien to sizzling Portuguese fish barbeques. Other interesting sights such as the Perdana Lake Gardens, and Menara KL Tower provide plenty of enjoyable distractions before you head out to explore Malaysia. Apart from the breathtaking views of the cityscape from the countless sky bars, you can visit the mysterious Batu Caves and some acclaimed Islamic art institutions.
The mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influence means that you'll have no shortage of culinary exploits in Malaysia's capital city.
2. George Town, Penang
Located in the Strait of Malacca off West Malaysia’s northwestern coast, Penang
always features as one of the top places to visit in Malaysia. The state, named after the pinang tree that looks like a palm tree, divides between Butterworth on the mainland and George Town on Penang Island.
The colonial city of George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is an open museum. The colonial district boasts a wide selection of British buildings, churches and Fort Cornwallis. Stroll through the streets and see traditional shop houses, each with their own style and design. Street art and murals decorate the walls too. Combine this history with temples, including Kek Lok Si, famous food courts, a vibrant shopping scene and the country’s longest coffee shop and there’s little wonder why George Town is a top place to visit in Malaysia.
George Town is considered one of the best places in Southeast Asia to sample incredible street food of all types. The waterfront esplanade known as Gurney Drive in Penang is lined with great places to sample local Malay, Chinese, and Indian treats.
3. Cameron Highlands
Providing a cool escape from the heat of the lowlands, the Cameron Highlands
in the Titiwangsa Mountains are one of Malaysia’s oldest tourist destinations. British surveyor, William Cameron, ‘discovered’ the region in 1885 and it has since then grown as a tourist hotspot. The highlands range in altitude from approximately 1100 metres (3609 feet) to 1800 metres (5906 feet), producing a cooler and fresher climate. It’s not surprising that the Cameron Highlands became British Malaya’s largest hill station. Today, emerald green tea plantations dominate the skyline, along with strawberry and vegetable farms. Tourists enjoy the cooler climate and opportunities to go hiking.
Malaysia's green Cameron Highlands are one of the few places in Southeast Asia where you'll want a jacket -- particularly at night - but after sweating across tropical climates, you may appreciate the change. You'll have plenty of lush scenery, beautiful tea plantations to tour, and access to decent trekking trails that weave through plantations and around volcanoes. Many of these establishments are open to the public. Several pictorial golf courses are available for golfers.
Strawberry farms, butterfly gardens, and flower greenhouses are all enjoyable distractions in the Cameron Highlands.
4. Malacca (Melaka)
Spelled locally as 'Melaka
', Malaysia's Peranakan city is a worthwhile stop for cultural, historical, and colonial sites. Featuring as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, the colonial city along the Straits of Malacca attracts visitors for its architecture, food and famous Jonker Street Night Market.
The red-hued churches and colonial frontispieces that fringe the tight-knit lanes of enchanting Malacca remain unquestionably one of Malaysia’s great draws. Created over decades of colonial rule by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and then the British, the city seen today was once a mighty trading powerhouse on the edge of the Malay Peninsula.
Visitors are rarely disappointed by the old town in Malacca. If nothing else, the relaxed vibe is pleasant enough to keep people around for a few days. With control of the Malacca Strait, it saw everything from silk transports to spice convoys to military contingents pass through its ports.
Also known as the ‘Jewel of Kedah, Langkawi
is the top island destination in Malaysia for both foreign tourists and Malaysians. With both an airport and ferries connecting it to the mainland, as well as a large tourist infrastructure, Langkawi could be called Malaysia's version of Phuket, the busiest island in Thailand.
Pristine white sand meets gentle ocean waves at Cenang Beach or the secluded, boulder-dotted sands of Pantai Kok, which are long enough to mean you won’t feel crowded in with other travelers. Langkawi is established itself as the place to come for sun, sea, sand, SCUBA, and some pampering. As long as you’re prepared to pay a fee, the Langkawi Cable Car also offers a majestic and sweeping view of the island.
And for adventure, you can pull on the boots and trek to the gushing Seven Wells, or hit the panoramic SkyBridge atop the jungles.
6. The Perhentians, Terengganu
The small archipelago called the Perhentians
, located in the South China Sea off the coast of Terengganu, features as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Malaysia. The Perhentian Islands have all the good looks and sun-kissed beauties you’d expect of an archipelago set at the entrance to the Thai Gulf. The main coral-surrounded islands consist of the aptly named Besar and Kecil, or Big and Small. Encompassed by sparkling dashes of coral reef, they are usually accessed by boat from Kuala Besut. Both the ‘big’ and ‘small’ islands feature lush greenery, refreshingly clear water and fine sand on the shores.
There’s SCUBA diving aplenty, with famous sites like Pinnacle and Sugar Wreck offering great visibility. There’s jungle hiking paths, where you’ll keep the company of oversized lizards and snakes. Favourite activities, apart from relaxing in this little-visited tropical paradise, include scuba diving, snorkelling and canoeing.
The Perhentian Islands are extremely seasonal. Accommodation can be difficult to find in July, the peak month, while the islands are mostly empty in the winter months.
7. Danum Valley, SabahDanum Valley
is the ‘real’ Borneo you’ve been looking for, with luscious primary rain forests and excited local inhabitants like gibbons and flying squirrels, who may stop to look at you. Travelers also enjoy checking out the three ancient burial sites here, which are complete with ceramic spirit jars and belian coffins.
Danum Valley is by far the best place to visit in Malaysia for ecotourism and to experience untouched jungle. Located deep inside the 130 million-year-old lowland dipterocarp forest, the conservation area boasts incredible biodiversity. Inside the 438 square kilometres, are hundreds, if not thousands, of species of fauna, and an even greater variety of flora, that call this area home. Lucky tourists might spot orangutans, pygmy elephants and the clouded leopard. But the biggest appeal at Danum Valley is the lack of human settlement, providing a purer environment. Logging and deforestation have devastated habitats throughout Sabah, but not inside this protected area. Activities include jungle treks with experienced guides, night safaris and visiting ancient Kadazan-Dusun burial sites.
8. Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak
Famous for its extraordinary limestone karst formations and phenomenal cave systems, the Gunung Mulu National Park
is one of the most awe-inspiring natural attractions in all of Southeast Asia. If you want proof of Mother Nature’s blessings, this is the place to see it. Sheer limestone cliffs rise like the tower(s) of Sauron over the quiet, verdure, unsuspecting rainforest.
Located in Malaysian Borneo in the Sarawak State, this national park features some of the largest and longest cave systems in the world. The two caves - Deer Cave and Clearwater Cave - are massive with an array of natural limestone formations and sleeping bats. Small waterfalls offer a refreshing view while making your way through the forest. Included in these is the world’s largest cave chamber, the Sarawak Chamber, which is estimated large enough to hold 40 Boeing 747 aircraft.
9. Kota Kinabalu
Home to the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, nowhere can compete with Kota Kinabalu
when it comes to hiking. Hikers typically set aside two to three days to conquer all 13,435 ft (4,095 meters) of Mount Kinabalu. For the less adventurous, Kota Kinabalu also offers a variety of other attractions, including the Gaya Street Sunday Market and the Klias River Cruise.
Kota Kinabalu - Sabah’s capital, might not appear beautiful at first. But behind the malls and buildings lie stretches of gorgeous orange-sand coastline, islands reachable within 10 minutes and the iconic floating mosque. Head to Tanjung Aru Beach for one of Borneo’s most spectacular sunsets or stroll along Likas Bay and marvel at the coast and islands. The five islands, known as Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, are a favourite day trip for snorkelling, beaches and relaxation. Drive a short distance from the city and find untouched jungle.
10. Taman Negara National Park
Encompassing three states across the northern part of West Malaysia, Taman Negara National Park
is reputed to be the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. A popular ecotourism and adventure destination, this national park is teeming in in wildlife from rare plants to exotic birds and scarce animals like the Malayan Tiger, Asian elephant and Sumatran Rhinoceros. One of the most popular things to do in the Taman Negara National Park is the Canopy Walk, a long suspension bridge high above the treetops where visitors can walk and glimpse exotic birds. Guided night safaris are also available to see plants that only bloom at night, glow-in-the-dark fungi and nocturnal creatures like owls, leopard cats and water dragons.