10 Must-sees in Malaysia
Featured destinations: Malaysia, Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Kota Kinabalu, Mt. Kinabalu, Kinabatangan
Published 30 March 2016
Malaysia is blessed with a heady mixture of wonderfully diverse wildlife, picture-perfect beaches and history-filled towns. So where to start? Here’s our pick of the top 10 attractions.
The historic port city of Malacca (also spelled Melaka) is an intoxicating blend of heritage architecture, diverse fusion cuisine and a vibrant waterfront. Chinese traders have strongly influenced the history, culture and food of Malacca, and where better to witness this than buzzing Jonker Street, lined with countless museums, souvenir shops and restaurants serving the sweet yet spicy Nyonya cuisine?
The Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004, and are a much-recognised symbol of Kuala Lumpur. Ride the lift up these twin skyscrapers and see the city stretching into the distance, a sight that’s particularly impressive when lit up at night. For the best views, choose from the Skybridge on the 41st floor, which forms a bridge between the two towers, or the Observation Deck on the 86th floor – although you can always do both of course.
The 4,095m peak of Mount Kinabalu towers majestically above the rainforest canopy of Mount Kinabalu National Park. The forest is filled with animal and plant life, including over 800 orchid species and the insect-munching pitcher plant. You can choose to simply explore the park and admire Kinabalu’s peak from afar, or grab your hiking boots and climb to the summit, a two-day trek requiring a reasonable level of fitness, but no prior experience.
To see Malaysian Borneo’s most famous resident, the ‘old man of the forest’, known to you and me as the orangutan, is a real treat. Despite these magnificent creatures being endangered, it’s not too difficult to spot one: head to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah for your best chance, and observe the orangutans as they are taught the skills needed to be introduced back into the wild. Orangutans are also sometimes sighted along the Kinabatangan River (see below) and amid the treetops of the Danum Valley Conservation Area. It’s a magical experience to see these sociable apes interacting, so don’t forget your camera.
Image: Angela Griffin
Think of the Cameron Highlands and no doubt emerald green tea plantations, rolling hills and misty peaks will spring to mind. A visit to a tea plantation is a must-do – a personal favourite of mine is the Boh Tea Estate where you can sip on different brews and feast on home-baked scones stuffed with clotted cream and plenty of jam. For a more energetic approach, pull on your hiking boots and take a walk through the hills, admiring the gorgeous views.
The capital of the state of Penang, Georgetown (George Town) is a World Heritage site filled with crumbling mansions and atmospheric shophouses, where the sounds of the prayer calls emanate from the mosques and the waft of incense from Chinese temples hangs in the air. The main activity here is eating; tuck in to Chinese-style char kway teow (noodles with soy sauce, prawns and cockles) and spicy laksa (rice noodle soup with coconut milk) in the hawker stalls or restaurants for an authentic taste of Malaysia.
Malaysia’s second longest river, the 347-mile Kinabatangan, is all about the wildlife. Take a boat ride through the mangrove swamps or trek to the oxbow lakes to spot crocodiles, macaques, orangutans and proboscis monkeys. There are plenty of birds too, such as hornbills and kingfishers. If you are really lucky, you might even spot wild elephants.
Just outside Kuala Lumpur, and easy to visit on a day trip, the Batu Caves were discovered in 1878 and today are used as temples by Hindu priests. To go inside the vast caverns you’ll need to ascend a muscle-aching 272 steps, past an enormous gold statue of Lord Murugan who stands guard at the entrance. The impressive interior is filled with shrines, monuments and a troop of cheeky monkeys who are out to steal your lunch.
Snorkelling and diving
The seas around Malaysia are wonderfully warm and clear, perfect for snorkelling or diving, and with nearly 3,000 miles of coastline, there are plenty of pretty beaches and islands to choose from. Langkawi is perhaps the most famous of the islands, dotted with upmarket hotels and blessed with clear seas. Or, if you’ve just climbed Mount Kinabalu, perhaps try Manukan Island, within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park, where you’ll find many multi-coloured fish just 20 minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu. Alternatively, try the remote Gaya Island, accessible only by boat and surrounded by coral reefs and mangroves.
Malaysia’s population is made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians, creating a wonderfully diverse fusion cuisine unlike anything else in Southeast Asia. Start your tasting menu with a plate of murtabak (pictured), a delicious unleavened bread (known as roti canai) stuffed with spiced curry. Another favourite of mine is mee goreng, a fried noodle dish with garlic, onions and prawns or chicken. And do try a dosa – a huge very thin pancake that you dip in curry sauce or gravy.
Fancy heading to Malaysia? Check out our Malaysia Journeys.