Where cultures collide with joyous results
Whether you seek flora or fauna, urban or rural, highland or island, vibes or tribes Malaysia will oblige. Nature lovers will relish the chance to encounter elephants, monkeys, tapirs and 350 species of birds at Taman Negara, Malaysia’s oldest national park, while culture fans will enjoy the urban distractions of Kuala Lumpur and the historic port towns of the west coast. Cool mountain air, hiking trails and emerald green tea plantations greet you in the colonial outposts of the Cameron Highlands, and a sprinkling of dreamy tropical islands encircle the peninsula, tempting beachcombers to linger.
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Top things to do in Malaysia
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this multi-cultural nation. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Malaysia.
Sun, sand and snorkelling
Balmy temperatures all year round invite lazy days by the shore, and where better to submit to your tropical daydreams than on a sun splashed island? For laid back beach time, the Perhentian Islands offer blissful beaches, great snorkelling and interior hills rich in wildlife. Langkawi Archipelago is another enclave of gorgeous beaches with a thrilling cable-car that skims the jungle canopy. Tioman is a snorkeller’s delight, complete with jungle clad interior and more paradise beaches.
World on a plate
One of the most compelling aspects of Malaysian life is the effortless blend of its populace which combines Malay, Indian, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese heritage to create one of the most successfully and peacefully integrated populations in the world. Where cultures collide, fantastic food usually follows. Encompassing highlights of many delicious cuisines, your main problem will be choosing what to eat.
A thrilling mixture of cultures has shaped George Town into the enticing destination it is today. A hint of the historic British presence endures, while Indian, Chinese and Malay influences are ever present. Admire the rich variety of architectural styles in the colonial heart of the town, discovering the eclectic street art as you go. Don’t miss the chance to try the various cuisines of Penang. Tuck into what is rumoured to be the best Indian, Chinese, Malay and fusion food in the whole of Malaysia.
Lesser-known things to do in Malaysia
While there are many well-known things to do in Malaysia, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Malaysian adventure.
Visit Malaysia’s food Mecca
Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur... Skip breakfast to arrive early in ‘eat street’, a former red light district that’s long since transformed into a gourmand’s delight. At the heaving stalls and crowded restaurants, hungry onlookers grapple with tough decisions – to plump for the Chinese, Singaporean, or Malaysian treats? Menus are often available in English so do ask, or hawkers and locals are only too happy to share their top foodie tips.
Explore the Langkawi archipelago
Myths and mystery abound on the islands of Langkawi, the jewel of Kedah. This archipelago’s 99 islands are sprinkled liberally across the Andaman Sea, off the north-western coast of the mainland. Langkawi’s incredible geological heritage – dating back over 5 million years – has earned it UNESCO Global Geopark status. All holiday tastes are catered for, from diving excursions to paradisiacal Pulau Payar Marine Park, to sailing, yachting or shopping in the duty-free haven of Kuah.
Enjoy a Cream Tea in the Cameron Highlands
The coolly conducive climate of Pahang’s high-altitude hill resort make this a firm favourite with those seeking a slice of nostalgia with a twist. Up at 1,500 metres plants proliferate with tea, cacti, vegetables and strawberries flourishing. Afternoon tea with scones is an excellent choice. Sup away in a Tudor-style English tea room while counting the plantations which tessellate hypnotically across the rolling hills. Study the tea-making process, pick your own succulent strawberries and stroll through the Mossy Forest.
When is the best time to visit Malaysia?
Temperatures throughout Malaysia remain dependably warm all year round, generally topping 30 degrees during the day with similarly consistent levels of humidity. Rain is also a fairly constant companion across the seasons, but showers give way to more prolonged downpours during the wet season. The east coast of peninsular Malaysia is likely to be wettest between December and February, whereas in the west of the peninsula the wettest months are September and October. If good weather is a priority, the best time to visit is between March and October for the most settled conditions across the whole country.
Interesting facts about Malaysia
Malaysia is a wonderful and diverse country, with jungles, beaches and bustling cities galore. But did you know any of our interesting facts about it?
- Malaysia is a country with two halves. Western Malaysia, also known as the Malay Peninsula, is home to capital Kuala Lumpur. Across the water, rainforest and wilderness can be found on Sabah and Sarawak, the two states that make up Malaysia’s 26% share of Borneo, an island shared with Indonesia and Brunei.
- Tanjung Piai, on the Malay Peninsula, is the Eurasian land mass’s most southerly point. Theoretically at least, you could drive there from Norway.
- Malaysia’s population is just over 30 million people, but only half are Malay. Chinese, Indian and indigenous tribal groups complete the cultural blend.
- Kuala Lumpur’s famed twin Petronas Towers were once the world’s tallest at 451.9 metres. They’ve now been superseded (with Dubai’s Burj Khalifa currently at the top spot) and sit at around sixteenth place.
Insider tips from our trusted local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Malaysia. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
History and heritage in action…
Penang’s Heritage Trail warrants a holiday of its own, with hundreds of points of interest and UNESCO World Heritage Site status to prove it. Architectural gems are ubiquitous, from preserved shop fronts and colonial classics to historic mosques and clan houses. Our local experts overflow with fascinating snippets and anecdotes from Armenian Street to the Islamic Museum. Devour the culture by day and the cuisine by night, for local George Street is the centre of all things calorific.
Peer into prehistory in the primeval rainforest of Pahang’s Taman Negara
Formerly known as King George V National park, its post-independence name simply means National Park. Covering over 4,300 square kilometres, Taman Negara is one of the oldest deciduous rainforests on the planet, estimated to be over 130 million years old. Diversions include a 45m high canopy walkway, eco adventures, the Gua Telinga limestone cave system, tropical bird watching, visiting an indigenous community or gearing up for a humid jungle hike.
The maritime charms of Melaka…
Proud of its history as one of the world’s foremost trading ports, Melaka remains a huge draw for visitors enchanted by its seafaring charm. A UNESCO World Heritage City (in a region that truly abounds with world-class cultural highlights), Melaka counts among its signature buildings examples of British, Portuguese and Dutch architecture, each a nod to the city’s colonial past. Highlights such as Porta de Santiago and the Baba Nyonya museum provide further insights, or uncover nautical treasures in the antique shops of Jonker Street.
What to read before you go to Malaysia
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Malaysia, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'The Casuarina Tree' by W. Somerset Maugham
Considered scandalous at the time of publication in 1926, this series of short stories set in the then Federated Malay States alienated Maugham from ex-pat society at the time. The author was accused of betraying the confidences of his circle and of portraying their behaviour in rather unfavourable hues. An albeit scandalous peek into the life of an Englishman aboard during the 1920s.
'The Gift of Rain' by Tan Twang Eng
Set on the Malay Peninsula during the World War Two era, this is a tender yet punishing story of love, family, war, defeat and ultimately acceptance. A spellbinding reading experience that will transport you to lush, tropical Penang, Eng’s tale untangles the life of a young man struggling with wartime loyalties and deceit. This critically acclaimed first novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007.
'Lord Jim' by Joseph Conrad
Bold young sailor Jim feels he’s disgraced himself for abandoning a distressed passenger ship, and it is this perceived act of cowardice that shapes Conrad’s renowned tale. Set in colonial times on the fictional island of Patusan, this classic tale from the tropics grips with its elaborate narrative approach, leaving the reader suspenseful of Jim’s fate.
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