Occupying a prime spot between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, Malaysia is the hidden gem of South East Asia. There’s fantastic food in bustling cities as well as amazing rainforest wildlife and picturesque islands. Here’s our highlights of Malaysia’s most inspiring and unique attractions.
Tour Asia In A Day
Malaysia has been an important trading post throughout history with people from all over the world stopping in its ports. As a result Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures with a highly diverse population. The capital Kuala Lumpur is a great example of an emerging Asian city, where futuristic skyscrapers such as the iconic Petronas Towers sit alongside the traditional Malay houses of the Kampung Baru district.
Check out Chinatown and Little India (Brickfields) to see some of the other cultures that have influenced modern Malaysia. Head to Jalan Alor in the evening for an array of restaurants and street food stalls selling delicious meals and snacks from all over Asia. Finally, look out for Baba Nyonya; this unique culture is made up from descendants of Chinese and European settlers and blends the best of east and west like no other.
Explore Malaysia’s Ancient Rainforest
Malaysia is home to some of the oldest rainforests in the world, with parts estimated to be over 100 million years old. Taman Negara national park on the main peninsula is easily reached from Kuala Lumpur. While more adventurous travellers should head over to Borneo to explore Sarawak and Sabah. Here you can encounter some truly unique flora and fauna, such as Orang Utans, Proboscis Monkeys and the infamous Rafflesia Flower. Also known as a Corpse Lily this huge parasitic flower can grow up to 100cm in diameter and emits a scent similar to rotten flesh.
Discover Pristine Beaches
The perfect beach getaway seems a little less perfect when you have to share it with crowds of tourists. Malaysia’s east coast is dotted with beautiful islands. Boasting fine white sand, turquoise seas and fantastic diving yet it’s one of travel’s best kept secrets. Pulau Redang has picture postcard tropical beaches but is relatively quiet. There are several luxury resorts on the island as well as more budget-friendly beach shacks. In the south, Tioman Island is easily accessed and retains the romantic desert island feel that saw it serve as the location for the classic musical South Pacific.
If you want to do a bit more than sunbathing, the Perhentian Islands are ideal for novice divers as there are several good value scuba schools and calm clear seas. More experienced divers should head for Pulau Tenggol at the edge of Terengganu Marine Park. Here deep water divers can spot colourful nudibranch, turtles and reef sharks cruising picturesque wrecks.
Journey to Underground Caverns
The Sarawak Chamber was discovered in 1981 and is the largest cave in the world by area. You could fit a line of 8 jumbo jets into the chamber, bigger than the O2 arena in London. Those with caving experience can visit the chamber on a guided tour as access can be difficult due to the entry passages flooding.
There are several other impressively huge caves nearby that can be visited without specialist training. Watch millions of bats in Deer Cave, explore a pristine underground stream in Clearwater Cave or experience the Garden of Eden – a patch of rainforest hidden in a hole up to 300m deep.
Endure A Durian
Looking a little bit like an overgrown lychee, many Malaysians consider durian to be the ultimate fruity treat. Yet it’s also banned on some trains and buses and in many public places; even before the spiky skin has been peeled away durians emit a notoriously strong odour.
The pungent smell seems deliciously sweet to some but can also bring to mind rotten onions, sewage or festering gym socks. The flesh is creamy with a smooth custard texture and tastes somewhat like almonds or caramel. The novelist Anthony Burgess described eating a durian as “like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory”. As well as eating the fruit straight up, look out for durian flavoured ice cream, biscuits and even cappuccinos.
Want to explore more of South East Asia?
Formally known as Burma, this corner of South East Asia has been off-limits to most tourists for many years due to a military junta, international sanctions and impenetrable border bureaucracy. However recent elections have seen democracy restored to Myanmar and the country become more open to foreign visitors. It’s still well off the beaten track for many tourists; so expect to have the ancient temples, bustling markets and fantastic scenery almost to yourself. We’ve picked our highlights of this unique country.