Located in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo is a southeast Asian country featuring tropical rainforest and pristine beaches, with Kuala Lumpur, a major city in the region as the capital. Malaysia has a unique culture in food, religion, and history that is multicultural and multiethnic with minorities of Chinese, Indians, and indigenous peoples. Again, I have invited travel experts to share the following 18 best places for the unique Malaysian experience!
Enjoy an island-hopping boat trip in Langkawi
Catrina from 24 Hours Layover
An island-hopping boat trip is possibly the best thing to do when in Langkawi, whether you’re here for a week, a day, or 3 days in Langkawi! Langkawi is an archipelago in Malaysia made up of 99 islands and the island-hopping boat trip is the best way to see these beautiful islands. The island-hopping trip is a fun and extremely reasonably priced half-day excursion costing less than $10!
You’ll be able to explore a handful of the islands, swim in an idyllic freshwater lake, get to experience eagle feeding on the water, and relax on a paradise island enjoying the crystal clear warm waters. You can even go snorkeling or just sit and relax on the beach before it’s time to head back.
Departing at 9 am and lasting 4 hours, this is the perfect way to see the best of Langkawi. The Langkawi island-hopping tours depart from Teluk Baru Jetty, so Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah are the most convenient places to stay overnight as a taxi to the jetty will just take a few minutes. Pantai Cenang is Langkawi’s most popular place to stay as there is a lovely beach here (with great sunsets!) and it is a convenient base on the island.
There are plenty of restaurants in Pantai Cenang, as well as a variety of budget, mid-range, and luxury guesthouses and hotels to suit all budgets available, all of them being just a stone’s throw from the beach!
Seek for monkeys in Penang National Park
Caleb & Sarah from The Pazook Travel Journal
Penang National Park is located on the island of Penang, near the northeast corner of Malaysia. The island is known for being a cultural melting pot and one of the foodie capitals of the country. It’s a vibrant place where you can find Buddhist temples, colonial architecture, street hawkers, and pristine beaches.
One of the places that certainly deserves a spot on your Penang itinerary is a visit to the island’s only National Park. It’s easy to get to Georgetown via a scooter rental or a 30-minute taxi.
There are plenty of hiking trails throughout Penang National Park, but the two main attractions are Monkey Beach and Pantai Kerecut. These two beaches are famous for being off-the-grid and home to two pristine beaches. But the area is not accessible by car. At Tukad Bahang Jetty, you can either enter the national park on food or hire a fast boat to take you to the beaches along the coast.
Monkey Beach is a moderate hike, 4.6 miles out-and-back, and prides itself in being an adventurous beach. As the name suggests, there are many monkeys (especially on the trail), and the beach has lots of waves with jet skis and surfboards for rent. Kerecut beach is a similar distance from the entrance (4.7 miles) but leads to the east coast, where you can enjoy the calm, clear water and even watch baby turtles hatch and make their way into the ocean at certain times of the year.
Make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and a change of clothes. Also, do not feed the monkeys!
Appreciate street arts in Penang’s Georgetown
Jessie Moore from Pocket Wanderings
Georgetown in Penang is an unforgettable place to visit with its vibrant culture, spirited street life, and a unique mix of traditional Malaysian and colonial British architecture. As one of the oldest cities in Malaysia, it is steeped in multicultural heritage.
The streets are lined with colorful storefronts, ornate temples and shrines, and delicious street food markets. But one of the best things to do in Georgetown is to see its famous street art. It was initially planned by the local council to revitalize the original Chinese shophouses.
Most murals depict images from traditional Malaysian life, such as scenes involving fishing boats on the horizon or young children flying kites in the park. Other murals capture the imagination with thought-provoking images like friendship, courage, and hope from everyday life.
You can either seek out the murals yourself or join an organized street art tour to make sure you don’t miss anything. Be sure to bring your camera because they make the perfect photo opportunity, as you can slot yourself into many of the artworks.
The weather is warm all year round in Georgetown, but November to January is the dry season so it’s best for sightseeing. It is also the high season though, so if you’d prefer emptier streets then visit between February to March.
For the best place to stay in Georgetown, book into the boutique Blue Mansion hotel. To seek out the most incredible cuisine in the area, head to one of the hawker centers for tantalizing street food.
Go hiking and diving in Perhentian Islands
Sharon from Dive into Malaysia
Perhentian Islands are some of Malaysia’s best for exploring nature. Located off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the northern part of Malaysia, these islands are beautiful. They are well known for their beaches and marine environments for divers, and they also have a great jungle interior. It’s easy to be as active or inactive as you want here and is the perfect place to unwind.
There are two main islands called Besar (big in Malay) and Kecil (small). Both have many opportunities to hike through the jungle interior or around the coast finding hidden beaches. Look out for the trail signs. They also have plenty of accommodation and eating options.
There are many opportunities for snorkeling and diving around the islands. A dedicated tour is the best way to do this and your accommodation should be able to book you into one. You can also snorkel off some of the beaches like the northern end of Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil or in front of the Coral View Island Resort on Perhentian Besar.
You can get to Perhentian Islands by regular boats from Kuala Besut which is about 40 minutes south of Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu can be reached by flights, buses, or train from other parts of Malaysia.
The islands basically shut down during the Monsoon season from November to early March so time your visit for March to October.
Dive into the island life on Redang Island
Redang Island is another tropical island in Kuala Nerus District and it has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world! One way to get to the island is by boat from the jetty at Merang. The speedboat and ferry boat ride costs about RM 40 one way.
Redang Island is a tropical, beachy paradise where you can do all sorts of beach and water activities, with absolutely beautiful beaches in the background. Snorkeling, swimming, scuba diving, sunbathing, enjoying a cooling drink while looking at the sunset… the list goes on and on, to make some of the days of the trip a bit more exciting, go observe turtles in their natural habitat and see their way of life on a beach or the conservation center. Enjoy the delicious local food at the market at night and dance it away at the bars along Long Beach.
Capture the creative murals at Concubine Lane in Ipoh
Ipoh is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Perak. The city is famous for its nostalgic quality with sprawling old houses that captures the old Chinese society. In fact, many historic movies were shot here, including Lust, Caution by Ang Lee, and Anna and the King by Andy Tennant. Ipoh is also the gateway to the Cameron Highlands, which will be introduced below.
Back in the city of Ipoh, Concubine Lane is the number one and the most known attraction, this is a must-see because the area has a number of museums and delicious food, and the lane is now also a popular Instagram spot with lots of creative murals.
Concubine Lane got its name from different local legends, all of which are about “concubines”. It was told that in the late 19th century, a Chinese mining tycoon built this lane after the area was devastated by a fire. The three streets were given to each of his wives and they were the landlord of these streets. A different theory simply states that these streets used to be a popular spot for a wealthy businessman to settle their concubines.
While there’s no way to verify these claims, the lane has turned a new leaf today and it’s now an exciting hot spot for street food and photo-taking. Have a taste of some rather innovative delicacies like rainbow-colored cheese toast, toufa, honey ice ball, or a good old classic at a local café.
Afterward, locate the many murals at the corner of the lane and share them on your social media with the world!
Sip a cup of tea at the tea plantation on Cameron Highlands
Martina from PlacesofJuma
A trip to the Cameron Highlands is perhaps one of the most well-known things to do in Malaysia. This spectacular natural attraction is located in Tanah Rata, some 200 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur, at 1,500 meters above sea level, and is one of the country’s most attractive plateau places. You may visit this location on a guided day excursion from Kuala Lumpur, but you can also take a public bus or rent a vehicle and stay for a few days.
The Cameron Highlands is a renowned tourist destination in Malaysia. The beauty and mild, pleasant atmosphere, which hardly surpasses 25 degrees throughout the day, appeal to both locals and foreign visitors.
Cameron Highlands is famous for its abundant green tea farms. Tea has a long heritage there, and it is cultivated on the hills, amid breathtaking scenery, generating hypnotic picture motifs. Photographers, in particular, will have a great time here. Don’t forget to taste some local tea in one of the tea shops.
But that’s not all; there are plenty of other exciting activities and things to do there. The area’s principal features are lush mossy woods, tropical waterfalls, and gorgeous colonial mansions. Other activities include visiting butterfly farms, sampling local strawberries in the famed strawberry fields, and playing golf on the beautiful golf course.
Observe the diverse wildlife in Taman Negara National Park
Maddalena from Venice Travel Tips
Taman Negara National Park occupies part of the Pahang and Kelantan regions and is one of the most popular places to visit in Malaysia.
This park is not to be missed if you’re an adventure lover and enjoy spending time in nature. As the most important national park in the country, it counts on a rainforest that is 130 million years old that also happens to be one of the world’s oldest deciduous rainforests.
This lush tropical forest is crossed by rivers and is a habitat for many animals. On a lucky day, you could potentially spot leopards, sun bears, hornbills, Malaysian tapirs, and even majestic elephants!
On a not-so-lucky day, you’ll most certainly see their paw prints on the ground. There are many activities you can do when visiting the park, everything from walking along the canopy walkway, exploring the caves, visiting the Orang Asli indigenous communities or just simply trekking around the rainforest.
To experience this magical place to the fullest you can also go camping and spend one or two nights surrounded by the sounds of nature, preparing a fire and cooking your food as natives used to do.
By camping, you’ll also get to wake up at dawn to go for long walks. The best way to get to Taman Nagara National Park is by getting the bus from Kuala Lumpur (Bus Terminal Perkeliling) to Jerantut town. In Jerantut, you can find budget accommodation but if you wish to book a place inside the park there are fewer options and prices tend to be higher.
Cool down and have all kinds of fun on Genting Highlands
Talking about an outskirt day trip from Kuala Lumpur, Genting Highland is definitely at the top of the list. It is known to the world mainly because of the one and only casino resort in Malaysia, making it a Malaysian version of Las Vegas. Besides, Genting highlands are located 1,760 above sea level, making it an ideal vacation destination with a significantly lower temperature that feels like fall.
If you are not into visiting the casinos at the Resorts World Genting, there is still quite a lot to see and do in Genting Highlands for a day. Hop on the Awana Skyway to have an overview of the natural landscape of the highlands without any obstructions. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, and then head to the shopping arcade or premium outlet for a shopping spree or so something fun, from bowling, video games, and thrill rides to the cinema. The entertainment city also has outdoor and indoor theme parks that have everything for everyone.
If you have more time but are on a budget, stay at the First World Hotel for a night. This is a three-star hotel, yet it is the number one hotel in the world with the greatest number of guest rooms.
Genting highlands is a roughly 50-minute drive from Kuala Lumpur. There are a number of public transportation connecting visitors from Kuala Lumpur, including buses at KL Sentral, and Utama Shopping Center.
Cover the national landmarks in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia and the major transportation hub in the country, connecting with the rest of the world. There are lots of things to see and do in the largest city, as it has many upscale and premium shopping arcades, exciting and popular cafes, entertainment, and museums.
Not to mention the city has a lot of modern or historic landmarks to cover while you are there. The Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) still stands as the tallest twin building in the world at 42 meters, and there is an observation deck on the Sky bridge on the 41-42nd floor. Head to the Menara (KL Tower) to appreciate the city’s skyline even higher, the tower is the 4th tallest television broadcast tower in the world, behind CN Tower and the two others.
To learn more about the country’s colonial past and Islamic present, check out the National Mosque, Islamic Art Museum, National Museum, Jamek Mosque, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Dataran Merdeka, St. Mary’s Cathedral, The Heritage Station Hotel, Istana Negara, and more.
Conclude your trip having a walk at the Batu Caves, which is one of the major natural attractions in Kuala Lumpur.
Travel through the river and check out the diverse heritages in Melaka
Stephanie from historyfangirl
Most tourists come to Melaka because of its UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its iconic red church, the Christ Church Melaka, is one of the examples leftover from the era of Dutch control of the region. Sitting on Dutch Square, this is one of the most visited sites in the city.
Something that you shouldn’t miss while here, though, is a bit more contemporary. The Melaka River Cruise is a fun and festive way to see modern Melaka by boat.
You’ll get to see the beautiful historic architecture of the city, as well as the vibrant cafes, restaurants, and street art that make modern Melaka a fun place to visit beyond the UNESCO site.
This forty-five-minute meander down the Malacca River (Sungai Melaka) costs the equivalent of about 7 USD. Tickets can be purchased onboard or online ahead of time.
Tours run from the morning until late in the evening, making this a fun experience for those looking for an activity to enjoy Melaka at night.
Other great sites in Melaka that you should make time for include the Straits Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, the Jonker Street Night Market, and the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum.
Find the rare Proboscis monkey Bako National Park
Annelies from Travelers & Dreamers
Bako National park is one of the most amazing parks in Malaysia and a must-visit when you are traveling to Borneo. Located in Sarawak province in the northwest of Borneo, Bako National Park is the best place to see the rare Proboscis monkey.
The best place from which to travel to Bako National Park is Kuching, the capital of Sarawak province. You can get there easily by plane, with planes leaving Kuala Lumpur every hour. From Kuching, you can opt to take a day tour to Bako National Park or stay overnight in one of the many accommodation options.
Getting to Bako National Park is an adventure in itself. The park is not accessible overland so you will be required to take a boat at the Jetty in Bako town to the National Park Headquarters. Getting from the center of Kuching to the Jetty is quite easy and, depending on your budget, you can choose to take a cheap bus (RM 1), a taxi or a Grab.
Once you have arrived in Bako National Park you will get a map with the various trails in the park. If you want to see the Proboscis Monkey, the best thing to do is to stay overnight in the park. They tend to hang out at the hostel and the bungalows in the morning and it’s amazing to wake up to the sound of them playing and foraging their way through the trees.
Fly across a Zipline while beach-hopping in Kota Kinabalu
Located on the east side of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu is a popular vacation destination among local as well as international travelers. Whether you like to sunbathe, surf or hike, Kota Kinabalu’s natural treasures are among some of the best in Southeast Asia. Check out how to plan your beach-hopping itinerary in Kota Kinabalu and visit some of the most popular islands there.
For those who like the ocean – go island hopping. The area is filled with pristine beaches with crystal clear turquoise, vibrant aqua life, and fine sands. The Sapi and Manukan islands are close to the city center which is only fifteen minutes away from the Jesselton Ferry Terminal.
For a unique experience that is different from the typical beachside activities, sign up for the Coral Flyer between Sapi Island and Gaya Island. The Zipline is 235-meter long and it’s a thrilling ride that started from Gaya Island and flies through the sky to Sapi Island on the ocean. It is the longest island zipline in the world and one of the rare ziplines in the world that connect two islands.
Head out to the beaches during the day and venture to some delicious Malaysian cuisine at a local food market in the evening. Mantanani Island is Kota Kinabalu’s best-kept secret, the clear water is perfect for snorkeling, diving, surfing, and more.
Climbing to the top of Mount Kinabalu, and then sunrise
For those who like the mountains: Pack your bags and take a hike in Mount Kinabalu, the tallest in Southeast Asia. The hike usually requires at least 2 days to complete and hikers can experience a diverse flora and fauna. Stay overnight in a lodge at the peak and wake up early for the sunrise, the breathtaking view is simply unforgettable.
Rafflesia often nicknamed the “corpse lily” is a rather unique species of flower. Given that it is endemic to the rainforest of Sumatra and Borneo, it is a unique experience for tourists to observe these flowers while they are on the island. One way to do so is on a day trip to Mount Kinabalu from Kota Kinabalu – head to Soulin’s Garden, a privately owned small garden with a Rafflesia plantation.
The flower is called the “Corpse lily” due to its unpleasant odor of rotten flesh. The reason? The odor attracts insects like flies and they are that’s what the flower is fed on. It is one of the few animal-eating plants in the world and it’s the largest of its kind. In record, the largest rafflesia was measured at 1.2 meters in diameter. Furthermore, rafflesia is a parasitic flowering plant that has no stems, leaves, or roots. It has five petals that can be found on its host, often under a tree or in bushes.
Mount Kinabalu is Malaysia’s highest peak and the national park has a lot to offer. For hikers, take a 2-day hike to the summit of the mountain; tourists may also appreciate the view of the mountain from the nearby viewpoints in Nabalu, have a soak at the Poring Hot Spring, or have a taste of freshly squeezed milk at the Desa Cattle Farm.
Discover a headhunter tribe in the Mari Mari Cultural Village
Christine from The Backpacking Executive
Borneo was home to a number of headhunter tribes before the arrival of the British. Among them were the Iban, Murut, and Kadazan-Dusun.
They were fierce warriors who frightened their opponents and even collected their enemy’s heads as trophies. Today, the tribes are peaceful and welcoming, and tourists can experience their culture and traditional beliefs.
Visiting the Head Hunters of Borneo can be an exciting and unique experience. One of the head hunter tribes is found in the remote forest of Kionsom, 25 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu, in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is the Mari Mari Cultural Village. The village is a great way to learn more about Borneo’s ethnic culture and history.
It showcases the traditions and culture of the five main ethnic groups called Sabah home for centuries: Dusun, Rungus, Lundayeh, Murut, and the sea gypsy Bajau.
The village is made up of traditional houses built in the style of each group. It is filled with artifacts from each culture, including handmade tools and weapons, musical instruments, and traditional costumes.
Visitors to the village are given demonstrations of traditional crafts and activities, such as blowpipe hunting, rice wine tasting, and bamboo cooking.
They can also participate in traditional dancing, fire-starting using bamboo, and playing traditional music. Mari Mari Cultural Village is a perfect way to learn more about Borneo’s ethnic culture and history. The village also offers tours of the surrounding area, including a visit to a nearby waterfall, a visit to a rice farm, and an opportunity to explore the nearby jungle.
Seeing Orangutans in Sabah
Lana from Wallflower in Wanderland
Borneo is among the most biodiverse regions of the world, with roughly 15,000 different plant species living there. As well as being home to the Rafflesia Arnoldii flower, Borneo is also home to the Bornean pygmy elephant and the Bornean sun bear, both the smallest species of their kind in the world. Borneo is also home to over 12,000 orangutans, making it one of the best places to see them in the wild.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located in the state of Sabah, in northern Borneo. It is accessible via public buses directly from Sandakan, as well as many nearby hotels offering a shuttle service. If you’re limited on time, it’s also possible to visit on a day trip from Kota Kinabalu.
The centre is currently home to around 80 to 105 orangutans, with 25 living in nurseries. The centre cares for orangutans for up to seven years until they are ready to go back to the forest.
The best time to see an adult orangutan at the centre is during feeding time at the platform, which is at 10 am and 3 pm. The feeding platform is open to those who have completed the rehabilitation and are living in the reserve, so keep in mind that adult orangutan sightings are not guaranteed. However, you can see adolescent orangutans at the outdoor nursery through a protected window.
You can find information such as opening times, ticket prices, and FAQs on the official website.
Walk through the rainforest in Danum Valley
James from Travel Collecting
Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 438-square-kilometer area of pristine primal rainforest in the Sabah region of Borneo. It is home to incredible bio diversity and is one of the best places in Malaysian Borneo to see orangutans.
There is only one place to stay inside the conservation area – the all-inclusive Borneo Rainforest Lodge. The lodge is located 38 miles from the nearest town, Lahad Datu, where there is a small airport. The 2.5-hour trip is in a comfortable SUV on a well-maintained dirt road.
The eco-lodge is nestled inside the jungle on a bend in a river, below an escarpment covered in dense jungle.
Once you are at the lodge, guided walks in the jungle are included. These occur during the day time and at night, so you can see a variety of animals and birds. There are views over the jungle, a lovely waterfall, and even a chance to stand in ankle-deep water and have tiny fish nibble the dead skin off your feet!
They have also built a boardwalk in the trees nearby, which is a great place to see the birds and animals that occupy the canopy level of the forest, including orangutans, red-leaf monkeys, and hornbills.
Also included is a night drive in the back of a large truck with a powerful spotting light. This is a wonderful opportunity to see nocturnal animals such as lemurs and giant flying squirrels.
The best time to visit Danum Valley is from late March to October, as this is the dry season. One thing to be aware of is that leeches are common in the jungle, so it’s essential to cover up and wear leech socks. If you’re covered up properly, they won’t be a problem, however. This really is one of the most incredible natural areas on the planet!
Stand on the southernmost point of mainland Asia at Tanjung Piai
Iris from Mind of a Hitchhiker
If you ever wanted to visit an extreme point of a landmass without hiking for days in the wilderness, Malaysia has got you covered. Tanjung Piai is the southernmost point of mainland Asia and it’s easy to visit. Since this cape is a national park, you can use this opportunity to learn about nature while standing at the tip of the Malay Peninsula.
The southernmost point is marked by a globe-shaped monument. From here you can see the skyline of west Singapore and a handful of Indonesian islands in the Riau Archipelago. You’ll see many ships in the straits of Melaka, Johor, and Singapore anchored or sailing slowly to run the world economy.
Inside the park, you’ll experience a pleasant boardwalk stroll under a mangrove canopy. In the trees, you’ll find birds, monkeys, and megabats. On the tidal mangrove floor, you’ll see a variety of interesting sea critters, such as telescoping snails and mudskippers. If you’re lucky, you can see wild boars dashing through the dryer parts of the forest.
The park is open to visitors year-round, but the best time to visit is between December and April. Make sure to bring mosquito repellent. The easiest way to visit is by (rental) car, but it’s also doable as a day trip from Pontian with a Grab taxi, or by bus to Kukup and then a taxi to Tanjung Piai. Kukup is worth a visit if you like to indulge in fresh seafood.