It was only after living in Malaysia for two years that I discovered the true depth of diversity of its people, cultures and terrain. From the humidity of bustling Kuala Lumpur, you can ascend to the cool heights of the Cameron Highlands tea plantations before heading south to explore the underwater world of Tioman Island. From the antique markets of Malacca and culinary delights of Penang to the outdoor adventures of Langkawi; there is a plethora of exploration to embark on. So here’s what not to miss when visiting.
The World Heritage site of Malacca is the perfect combination of old world and fresh flavour. You can find restaurants serving up age old cuisine of the Baba Nyonya ( a mixed people of Malay and Chinese heritage) beside funky coffee bars. 100 year old refurbished shop fronts converted into Bed and breakfasts just across the road from antique treasure troves. Spend a few nights here exploring the Malacca river by boat, dining al fresco just off from the Jonker street market and browsing the old city’s many boutiques and tradesman’s shops. Don’t leave without joining a walking tour of the city to re-visit the Dutch, Portuguese and British Colonial building of St. Paul’s Ruins, the Stadthys and remainder of A’Formosa fort.
2. Tioman Island.
I’ve visited many islands across the globe but when it comes fairly untouched, wealth of marine life and magical underwater experiences, Tioman island really is tops. Unlike neighbouring Thailand’s islands, there are still relatively few tourists visiting and small boats taking divers out- allowing the reef to flourish and less destruction to take place. From Salang beach, you can wade right into the water from the shore armed with a snorkel and goggles and see more vibrant colour, fish species and coral hues than you’ve ever laid eyes on. Black tipped sharks, turtles, stingray, parrot fish, clownfish and more find this little section of the ocean home. Go diving, snorkelling or just enjoy the warm water plus you have the option of choosing from very basic beach huts to luxury accommodation on the island.
3. Cameron Highlands.
There is quite literally only one place in Malaysia where you will find cool air and no need for aircon and that is up in the Cameron Highlands. Pick free strawberries and stroll amongst acres of breathtaking tea plantations. Watch as they turn from a deep emerald green to a bright lime colour upon harvesting and discover the journey of the top shoots from plant to brewing. If you are looking for a guide, join Satya from Eco Cameron Tours and get swept away by his deep love of the mossy forest, tales of his tea maker grandfather brought there from Darjeeling and insight into the Scottish family who first began planting tea here. And when the clock strikes 4pm, indulge in a true British tradition of high tea set with scones, jam and cucumber sandwiches.
4. Kuala Lumpur
For the shopaholics and well-heeled, there are plenty of malls to indulge in your desires for purchasing- From Bukit Bintang and the Pavilion to the more open-air Publika and Central Market. Beyond the malls, learn the art of Batik painting at the Jedi Batik Gallery or explore the architectural wonderland of Merdeka Square by horse and carriage. Dip your toes into the more
adventurous side of the city by rock climbing behind the Batu Caves, run in the KLCC park or try your hand at SUPPing ( stand-up paddle boarding) at Tasik Biru, Kudung, Selangor.
5. Sukau, Borneo ( East Malaysia)
There is something so incredible about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat- animals found in only this region of the world no less. Whilst Borneo is largely quite explored and visited by tourists, there are still moments and boat trips along the Kinabatangan where you’ll find yourself wading through the mist on a boat listening to the sounds and calls of the rainforest. If you’re lucky you may spot pygmy elephants, Orangutan, crocodiles, rhinoceros hornbill and a large number of unique bird species. Sadly many of these animals are fast disappearing due to the vigorous growth of the palm oil plantations so visit while you still can and volunteer at rehabilitations centres who rescue these animals and give them a new home.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast then Langkawi provides many opportunities to explore the ocean and rainforests. Take a glass-bottomed cable car up the mountain, parasail at Tanjung Rhu Beach or jetski at Cenang Beach. Take a day trip to Coral Island Marine Park, Malaysia’s oldest sea sanctuary, from Kuah jetty and choose and snorkel amongst black-tipped sharks, raccoon fish, needle fish and turtles. Plus you’ll get lunch and get to spend the entire day swimming, floating or sunning yourself. Join guided coral reef walks in Datai Bay or sign up for mangrove eco-safari and enjoy sightings of mangrove wildlife of tree crabs, crocodiles, monitor lizards, macaques and bats.