The 101 Travel Guide of What You Need to Know about Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur: Independent Square, with Saint Mary’s Cathedral (1895) in the background

I always enjoy flipping through old photos as if everything just happened a few days ago; flipping through travel photos as if I was at that place all over again. I re-visited the moment of surprise, astonishment, and amazement when I first saw these places; and then I was intrigued to know more about their stories – it was the motivation that I started a blog as a recording of my travels, and how these experiences inspired me and enlightened me (in some ways).

penang
Penang

So when I saw looking at the photos in Malaysia I was wondering: what are the things in Malaysia that are different from the other Southeast Asian countries? Southeast Asia is a big region with 11 countries that are so close and geographically similar, but somehow so diverse culturally, religiously, and historically. To some, these countries have nice beaches and great resorts (and spas) that make them great tropical destinations, yet they also have their own natural wonders and heritages that make each visit a unique and special one. Hence, I was trying to find out “something about…” these Southeast Asian countries, and let me see if I could come out with a better answer to my questions.

Malaysia, an overview


infoI understand that it was hard, and also, subjective to summarize a country with just a few words. I am definitely not an expert but I will try to do it based on what I experienced anyway. I visited different parts of Malaysia a couple of times and honestly, I found Malaysia less “marvelous” as compared to its neighboring countries. I hope it doesn’t offend anyone, I said so just because it lacks super-iconic national landmarks that make Malaysia stands (far) apart – I mean, the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Ayutthaya in Thailand, the Borobudur in Java, the Halong Bay in Vietnam, the Pagodas in Myanmar, and the out-of-this-world exotic beaches and diving spots in the Philippines… Yeah, Malaysia has an architectural wonder (and also the tallest twin tower in the world) – the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. But don’t get me wrong, I am not recommending people not to go there because even so, Malaysia has its own subtle specialty for tourists to explore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kota Kinabalu

What Malaysia has its rich (really rich) colonial and immigrant history and culture; there were indigenous Malays in the area, and then several European countries have set foot in the area before the British colonization. The country had a strong influence from India, undergone “Islamization” and a large number of Chinese and Indian immigration in the 18th -19th century. The end result was, Malaysia became a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic melting pot that I could never be sure what language to use when I talk to someone at the hotel, restaurants, or shops – because they would always surprise you.

The geography of Malaysia

Geographically, the country is so close to the equator it’s hot all year with an abundance of rainfall. The country is separated into two main parts by the South China Sea. Although the two parts are generally the same size, West Malaysia was more populated and divided into 11 states and 2 federal territories (1 of them is the Capital city of Kuala Lumpur) while East Malaysia only consists of two: Sarawak and Sabah.

The main cities in the West are Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Malacca, Langkawi, Penang, and Johor (border with Singapore); the Eastside, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, and it is where the beautiful beaches and diving spots are, and where the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu, is.

Malaysia is located near the equator and it has an equatorial climate, that is hot and humid throughout the year. Therefore it doesn’t really matter much for the best time to visit Malaysia due to its consistent weather pattern – but in general, it has more rainfall during the Northeast Monsoon from October to March. To me, it doesn’t really matter much.

Malaysia is also rarely hit by typhoons, and it’s located on a seismically stable plate, meaning that earthquakes and volcano eruptions rarely happen. For tourists, Malaysia is quite safe for natural disasters except for the occasional flooding or landslides due to heavy rain; and of course, tourists should still be alert from human-related crimes like robbery, or kidnapping in remote areas.

As a prominent mountain standing on the island of Borneo in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in region standing over 4000 meters tall. So you may not see the entire silhouette of Mount Kinabalu unless you are really lucky J If you are not up for the challenging hike (It's a 2 day trip to go to the pinnacle), a 1-day tour from K.K. will bring you around the national park, and the surrounding areas of nature.
As a prominent mountain standing on the island of Borneo in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in the region standing over 4000 meters tall. So you may not see the entire silhouette of Mount Kinabalu unless you are really lucky. If you are not up for the challenging hike (It’s a 2-day trip to go to the pinnacle), a 1-day tour from K.K. will bring you around the national park, and the surrounding areas of nature. Check out: I see the Mount Kinabalu

How about the food scene

There is no way that you visit Malaysia and not get excited by the vibrant and diverse food culture. Malaysian Cuisine is an exciting mix of Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Chicken rice, laksa, Bak kut teh (yum!), fishball mee hoon, murtabak, nasi lemak, kuay teow, kaya toasts, milk tea, and durians… just to name a few! Well, obviously I need to prepare myself to write a Malaysia Food Guide in the future (and it’s really hard just because there are so many materials.)

Today, the possibility of Malaysian food is endless and it always has a twist and influence from different places all over the world. If you want to know the best places to eat in Malaysia, you should at least save an evening to a street food market where you can sample basically any type of local cuisine in one place at a very nice price. Seriously, it’s like a buffet!

Still, you won’t possibly taste them all in one go – but wherever you are in Malaysia, it’s always a safe shot to walk around the market, and follow your heart. There are few places that I always go for in any Malaysian city and it rarely disappoints.

The Street Food Market

The food center or food street market is an outdoor area that basically covers all kinds of Malaysian dishes that I mentioned above. Look for a table, and then look for food as a free agent – it’s like an outdoor buffet.

  • Jalan Alor / Jalan Petaling, Kuala Lumpur 
    The Jalan Alor chicken wings are juicy and a must-try; take a few steps for the Jalan Petaling chicken rice – fork-licking good.
  • Jalan Bandar Timah, Ipoh
  • Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu
    Gaya Street is the center of a number of best dining places in downtown Kota Kinabalu, and it’s impossible to not have a taste of their kaya toast at the traditional diner!
  • Padang Matsirat, Langkawi
  • Jonker Street, Malacca
    There are many places to see on the street, but somehow your trip to the street will be surrounded around food.
  • Red Garden, Penang

Seafood, seafood, seafood

Surrounded by sea, not only the country has rich resources, but also has the recipes and culinary skills to cook them justice. I remember when I went to Bali Hai in Penang, the light sign at the entrance said: “If it swims we have it”. Sometimes the seafood center is right next to the food street market but unless you are THAT confident, you can’t possibly have a seafood meal and then street food in one night.

Colonial English Afternoon Tea

penang-eastern-oriental-hotel-afternoon-tea
Afternoon tea at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang

Unlimited to Malaysia, I like going to have English Afternoon tea in a historic hotel with good taste and value. 🙂

Food for thought:

Kuala Lumpur: Carcosa Seri Negara

Malacca: The Majestic Malacca

Penang: Eastern & Oriental Hotel

One more thing – I’d like to add something about TEA!

Talking about tea, or “teh”, the various recipes may be interesting… and confusing to some. It doesn’t make it easier to explain it with an illustration, which was shared with me by a friend. For me, I always like my coffee BLACK BLACK BLACK – Kosong, please. Thank you.

teh

The diverse architecture

The “cityscape” is usually my first impression of a country – it says a lot about the way of living in the shops, people, and buildings on the side of the road.

kaula-lumpur-railway-station
Malayan Railway Administration Building

Many of the country’s famous buildings (like Railway stations, theaters, city halls, national museums) are usually constructed in Neo-Moorish or Mughal style. It is an exotic revival architectural style that was adopted by western architects in the wake of the Romanticist fascination with all things oriental. Onion domes, minarets, Islamic arches, and so much more than looks like the Aladdin.

Then we have Tudorbethan & Victorian buildings (like the hotels that I mentioned for afternoon tea) that reminded me of the British colonization of the country; the buildings always have a white exterior with refined and luxurious details.

malacca-2
Bastion House, Malacca

Another heritage of the country is the Grecian-Spanish style heritage house and shops that could be seen anywhere in the country since before World War II. The two-story-high houses are remained and restored (re-painted with eye-catching bright colors) in the country that combined both Chinese and European traditions. Many of the Hong Kong / Chinese movies that took place in the 40-60s were shot in Malaysia in these buildings to portray the “old times”.

Best architecture in Malaysia

  • Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum, Malacca

    Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpupr

  • Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower, Kuala Lumpur
  • Istana Budaya, Kuala Mlumpur
  • Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur
  • Sultan Ibrahim Building, Kuala Lumpur
  • City Hall Penang, Penang
  • New Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building, Sarawak
  • Ipoh Railway Station, Ipoh
  • Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum, Malacca

malacca-1

It has diverse religion and heritage, too

While the majority of the Americas and Europe are Christianity nations, and the Middle East and North Africa are Islamic nations. The religion map of the Southeast (or East Asian) countries is much more complex and diverse. While Thailand and Myanmar are Buddhist, Cambodia is Buddhist with rich Hindu influence, Vietnam is more “Confucius” towards the Chinese, the Philippines is Catholic, Indonesia and Laos are mixed (Hindu / Islam and Buddhist), Brunei and Malaysia are generally Islamic.

However, as I mentioned Malaysia is very multi-cultural – therefore we could still see churches, temples, mosques, and Hindu temples popping out here and there in different corners of the city.

Some of the finest and most well-known examples that you could consider visiting in Malaysia:

Church

  • Christ Church, Melaka
  • St. George’s Anglican Church, Penang
  • St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Sabah
  • St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur
  • St. Michael’s Church, Perak

Taoist and Buddhist Temple

  • Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang
  • Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur
  • Khoo Kongsi Temple, Penang
  • Snake Temple, Penang
  • Ling Sen Tong Temple, Ipoh
  • Chin Swee Cave Temple, Genting Highlands

Mosque

  • Blue Mosque, Shah Alam
  • Masjid Jamek, Kuala Lumpur
  • Putra Mosque, Putrajaya
  • Federal Territory Mosque, Kuala Lumpur
  • Malacca Straits Mosque, Malacca
  • Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque, Terengganu
  • Ubudiah Mosque, Kuala Kangsar
  • Al-Bukhary Mosque, Kedah
  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, Kota Kinabalu

Hindu Temple

  • Chin Swee Cave Temple, Kuala Lumpur
  • Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur
  • Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple, Penang
  • Maran Murugan Temple, Maran
  • Klang Perumal Temple, Selangor
  • Sri Subramaniar Temple, Selangor
  • Sri Shakti Devasthanam Temple, Selangor
  • Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Hindu Temple, Johor
  • Kallumalai Arulmigu Sri Subramaniyar Temple, Perak

Somehow that’s why visiting each of these countries is different as I did see more churches in the Philippines, traces of both Buddhism and Hinduism in the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and Buddhist wonder (Borobudur) and Hindu temple (Prambanan) co-existed in the same city Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia.

Let’s get sporty! Best beaches and tropical islands

There is a spot near Kuala Lumpur that not many tourists know about but popular among the locals. Port Dickson is a coastal city in Negeri Sembilan State, it’s about 100 km away from the capital city and takes about an hour to get there. The city has developed as a holiday destination that’s perfect for a short getaway from Kuala Lumpur with an 18-kilometer long beach from Tanjung Gemuk to Tanjung Tuan. Many hotels, resorts, and condos opened along the coast. Like Lexis Hibiscus Port Dickson, all hotel suites are built on water with a private pool a one-third of the price for those in the Maldives.

Malaysia has some of the best beaches in Southeast Asia surrounded by pristine beaches. Not only that, it has the outstanding infrastructure, transportation, and tourist services to back up.

While you may just want to enjoy the heat, some sun, and have a dip in the seawater, it has so many more things to do like snorkeling, diving, watersports, and so on. You simply must add a day or two by the beach for your visit in Malaysia, and here are a number of best beaches in Malaysia that you can consider:

  • Perhentian Islands
  • Pulau Redang
  • Bachok
  • Pangkor Island
  • Port Dickson
  • Penang: Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi
  • Pulau Rawa, Mersing
  • Tioman Island
  • Langkawi: Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, and Payar Island
  • Kota Kinabalu, Sabbah
  • Semporna, Sabbah

Most beautiful national parks in Malaysia

Want to get in touch with nature? You simply have to go on a hike to the top of Mount Kinabalu, but if you are not up for the challenge. There are some beautiful national parks in the country where you could get in touch with the incredibly lush and wildlife. I would really love to visit an orangutan sanctuary and interact with this fascinating creature.

National park in Malaysia that you should go:

  • Gunung Ledang National Park
  • Penang National Park
  • Endau-Rompin National Park
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
  • Lambir Hills National Park
  • Similajau National Park
  • Niah National Park
  • Gunung Gading National Park
  • Bako National Park
  • Kinabalu National Park
  • Taman Negara National Park
  • Gunung Mulu National Park
There are gardens and florists (like Soulin’s Garden) in the area where visitors may enter and view giant rafflesia with a small entrance fee. Rafflesia, also called “the stinking corpse lily”, is the largest flower in the world. Native to a few countries in Southeast Asia, Rafflesia (although could also be found in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines) is the official state flower of Sabah, Malaysia. The flower has a distinctive look and it’s known for its stinky smell. There is no exact blooming season of Rafflesia, but the monsoon period in April/May and September/October are the best time to catch these flowers in their full bloom.

28 comments

Leave a Reply