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Things to see and do
Feel a different pace of life in Kuching
The capital of Sarawak is a bustling metropolis by the standards of the tribal villages inland, but a sleepy backwater compared to the cities of Peninsular Malaysia. Highlights include temples and mosques, quirky museums, amazing crafts and cultural traditions, colonial relics and animated markets.
Walk in the canopy at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia
Just a short train ride from central Kuala Lumpur, this scientific research centre offers peaceful walking trails, jungle swimming holes and a 200m-long (656ft) rainforest boardwalk, suspended high in the canopy. It’s a fine retreat from the hubbub of the city, and the Zoo Negara and Batu Caves are close by.
Explore Malay culture and customs in Kota Bharu
Bordering Thailand on the east coast of Malaysia, Kota Bharu is alive with the culture and customs of the Malay Peninsula. The town is famous for its traditional kites and shadow puppets and eating at the Kota Bharu night market, one of Malaysia’s great feasts. Festivals abound, including the Kite Festival in June and Puja Umur (the Sultan’s birthday) in March/April.
Paddle up the Batang Rejang
The mighty Batang Rejang river is the gateway to Borneo’s tribal heartland. Visitors who come here in May and early June can visit the longhouse homes of the Iban tribe, which shelter generations of the same family, recalling traditions that date back thousands of years. The best places to arrange a local guide are the jungle outposts of Kapit and Belaga.
Escape to the cool Cameron Highlands
To escape the heat of the lowlands, the British colonials retreated to the hills north of Kuala Lumpur founding tea plantation and hill resorts in the cool Cameron Highlands. Today, this is Malaysia’s best-known hill station, with trekking and tea tasting as the main attractions.
Discover Penang's temples and beaches
The third great colonial city of Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, Penang is famous for its fantastic food, terrific temples and sun-kissed beaches. Historic George Town, the island’s capital, is dotted with atmospheric Chinese temples, but perhaps the grandest temple is Kek Lok Si, whose Buddhist pagoda rises above the rooftops.
Feel the sense of history in Malacca
The best place to re-live Malaysia’s colonial past is its oldest city, Malacca, the one-time capital of Malay sultans and Portuguese, Dutch and British seafarers. A couple of hours south of Kuala Lumpur on the west coast, the city is famous for its Portuguese and Dutch colonial architecture, and its fascinating hybrid cuisine, which fuses Indian, Chinese and Malay influences.
Stay in a Malaysian longhouse
A stay in a longhouse, the traditional tribal communal houses of Malaysian Borneo, is one of the definitive Malaysian experiences. These expansive wooden homes are really entire villages housed under one single roof, and visits and even overnight stays are possible in the company of a local guide. Longhouses are found along many of the rivers of Sarawak and Sabah.
Summit Mount Kinabulu
Climbing Southeast Asia’s highest peak is one of the highlights of a trip to East Malaysia. Located in Kinabalu National Park, the soaring granite dome of Mount Kinabulu reaches 4,094m (13,432ft), and the summit offers epic views over the island. Most people start the trek before dawn to catch sunrise at the summit, but you’ll need a guide and permit.
Dive Malaysia’s coral reefs
Malaysia is a world famous destination for scuba diving, with reefs and sunken islands that attract plenty of megafauna, including schooling hammerheads and rare whale sharks. There are dive sites all over the country, but the finest lie around the islands of Sipadan and Layang Layang, offshore from Sabah in East Malaysia.
Say hello to an orang-utan
Offering the rare chance to see wild orang-utans in their natural habitat, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan, Borneo, exists to rehabilitate orang-utans rescued from hunters and loggers. In fact, it has the world’s largest population of these ‘wild men of Borneo’, numbering some 80 individuals.
Chill out on the Perhentian Islands
The twin islands of Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, together known as Pulau Perhentian, are among the country’s most beautiful islands. Despite spectacular diving on teeming coral reefs, pristine white beaches, crystal clear waters, the islands are still relatively unexploited, with a laid-back, backpacker vibe.
Ease into the rainforest in Taman Negara
Malaysia is covered in pristine jungles, but Taman Negara National Park offers the chance to get deep into the rainforest without having to cut a path through the lianas. Marked trails and boardwalks snake between the trees, offering the chance to spot monkeys, snakes, deer and tapir. Expert guides can be hired from the Wildlife Department at Kuala Tahan.
Roam the rainforest
Despite expanding deforestation, large areas of Malaysia are still covered in stunning rainforests. You don’t have to go far in Malaysia to find a patch of jungle; Templar Park, just 22km (14 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, is a well-preserved tract of primary rainforest, criss-crossed by jungle paths and dotted with swimming lagoons and waterfalls.
See Malaysia’s magnificent mosques
Malaysia is studded with magnificent mosques, from the historic Jamek Masjid in Kuala Lumpur, to the grand blue expanse of the Masjid Negara. Malaysia’s mosques come in all shapes and sizes; there are mosques covered in glass (Kuala Terengganu), mosques made from pink granite (Putrajaya), mosques made from timber (Malacca) and mosques floating on water (all over the country).
Stroll the sands on Langkawi Island
Malaysia’s premier resort island, Langkawi boasts white sand beaches, fringing coral reefs, swaying palms and superior shopping, thanks to the island’s duty free status. In fact, there are 99 islands in the archipelago, ringed by spectacular beaches. Ferries and flights come here daily from the mainland and you can continue by boat to Satun in southern Thailand.
Climb the Petronas Towers
Looming over downtown Kuala Lumpur like twin rocket ships, the iconic Petronas Towers were the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004. Soaring to 436m (1,453ft), the towers are linked by a glass walkway with a viewing deck on the 41st floor. At the base of the towers is the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the swish Suria KLCC mall.
Join pilgrims in the Batu Caves
Just 13km (8 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, the remarkable Batu Caves are a series of dramatic limestone caverns, dripping with stalactites, revered as a Hindu shrine. Every year in January or February, millions of devotees parade through the chambers and perform ritual acts of self-mortification for the spectacular Thaipusam festival.
Eat the streets in Kuala Lumpur
The melting pot of Malaysia comes to life on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, where whole districts are given over to Chinese, Indian and Malay food. The street food here is simply spectacular, and a reason to travel to Malaysia all by itself. At the other end of the spectrum, the city’s restaurants are some of the best in Asia.
Uncover centuries of history in Kuala Lumpur
A fascinating colonial history and rich cultural diversity make Kuala Lumpur one of Asia’s most invigorating capitals. The old centre is dotted with grand colonial architecture and relics of the British colonial administration, and around the city are fascinating enclaves of Indian, Chinese and Malay culture, interspersed with space-age skyscrapers and shopping malls.