Places to Visit in Malaysia
Four very different but equally fascinating places to go in Peninsula Malaysia
Peninsula Malaysia has a wealth of things on offer as a destination: fantastic food, stunning tropical islands, a vibrant mix of ethnic groups, some of the world’s oldest rainforests, peaceful hill-town retreats, colonial history, unique wildlife and one of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic capital cities. As a relatively small region, with excellent transport options, in just a couple of weeks it’s possible to get around and get a taste for at least a few of these wonders, if not all.
The Capital – Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is the natural starting point for most. Not only is it the capital and largest city in the country but is also excellently linked to the rest of Asia and beyond. The centre is fairly compact making it easy to explore the intriguing mix of historic temples and mosques, bustling markets, art-deco buildings and towering skyscrapers: symbols of the myriad ethnic groups who have influenced the birth and rise of this great Asian metropolis. It’s also a wonderful place to sample some of the country’s various cuisines (Indian, Chinese and Malay), shop and, of course, visit to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s even a section of virgin rainforest, Bukit Nanas, right in the centre of town and many great parks and sights to travel to on the outskirts of the city.
The Rainforest – Taman Negara National Park
At somewhere around 130 million years’ old Taman Negara has a reputation for being the world’s oldest tropical rainforest and is definitely something you should consider, when visiting Peninsula Malaysia. A lack of preparation and planning, when I travelled through Southeast Asia, almost meant I passed up on this place. That would have been a big mistake! It actually ended up being one of the highlights of all the travelling I’ve done to date. Longer two or three-day treks deeper into the rainforest come highly recommended but, if sleeping in a cave and walking for days isn’t your thing, there are also plenty of shorter trails, closer to the town, as well as a canopy walk through the treetops. As one of the first rainforests I’ve visited this was very different to most of my other destinations and, while strenuous at times, it was an incredible experience and a real adventure. The rainforest itself is home to groups of indigenous Malay people, unique wildlife and, of course, magnificent flora and fauna. While there, I was even lucky enough to see a wild elephant on the fringes of the national park.
Tropical beaches – The Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian islands, made up of a smaller and larger island (Kecil and Besar, respectively), are situated off the east coast of Malaysia, quite close to the border with Thailand. These two islands offer some of the clearest waters and most breathtaking beaches in the whole of Southeast Asia, if not the world, and provide a wonderful spot to get away from it all. The smaller island has more of a backpacker feel, while the bigger island has more resorts. Both are excellent places to do some snorkeling and scuba diving, offering the opportunity to see all kinds of tropical fish, sparkling coral, reef sharks and sea turtles. This really is a tropical paradise; it’s one of those places that is very difficult to leave and very difficult to forget.
Colonial history and fabulous food – Penang
Penang is one of Malaysia’s biggest and most highly developed islands. It’s not somewhere to go in search of incredible beaches but rather to soak up some history and culture, as you eat your way through some of the nation’s best grub. The provincial capital, Georgetown, has some interesting museums, fascinating clan houses and a wide range of beautiful architecture: mosques, temples, a fort, colonial buildings and old Chinese shops. The range of culinary delights, reflecting the centuries of trade that have gone on here, is diverse and exciting. This is a great place to relax and indulge, while learning about the history and cultural roots of Malaysia.
Malaysia really is a great destination offering everything you could want from a holiday and then some. This list offers just a few highlights but there are many more. With around two weeks on your hands, you could quite easily visit all the spots on the list or you could take your time and pick just a couple, depending on your interests. The country is fairly small, packing in a jaw-dropping range of sights, and it’s also very easy to get around, either with a hired vehicle or on public transport.