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Malaysia is one of the best vacation destinations in Asia. It boasts everything from idyllic sandy beaches and breathtaking islands to well-preserved historic treasures and a rich array of cultural attractions. But where should you go to experience the best this country has to offer? Here are some of the most spectacular places to put on your itinerary.
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One of Asia’s most popular spots for snorkeling, The Perhentian Islands is situated roughly 10 nautical miles from northeast Thailand. There are two main islands, Perhentian Besar, the larger island, which tends to cater to families and others willing to spend a bit more to avoid crowds, and Perhentian Kecil, which generally draws those looking for more budget-friendly options or take part in the backpacker party scene. For those whose main concern is the cost, camping is available on both islands.
Both islands are renowned for beautiful coral reefs and crystal clear waters that are home to sea turtles, small sharks, and reef-fish as well as outstanding snorkeling, diving and picture-postcard beaches. They’re also home to a significant turtle nesting population. On Turtle Beach, visitors can visit at night to catch a glimpse of them laying their eggs and of the baby turtles making their way to the sea.
The colonial city of George Town is the island of Penang’s multicultural capital. Its architecture is a highlight, with British colonial buildings, romantic crumbling shophouses and magnificent mosques in the oldest part of the city. It also has some absolutely stunning, unique Chinese temples that can’t be found anywhere else in Southeast Asia, including Khoo Kongsi, arguably the most spectacular of all. Built by Khoo clansmen over a century ago, its lineage can be traced by 650 years. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s also considered one of Southeast Asia’s best destinations for sampling amazing street food of all types, including local Malay, Indian and Chinese.
With the country’s mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influence, there is no shortage of culinary exploits in its capital city of Kuala Lumpur, in fact, it’s considered one of the world’s best places for foodies. In addition to Malay, Chinese and Indian, other influences are thrown into the mix like Japanese, Javanese, Sumatran and Thai. The city has an abundance of indoor and outdoor markets, with the Central Market especially popular. This colorful, bustling market is packed with all sorts of eateries and stalls, and housed in a unique art deco-style building. In addition to fantastic cuisine, vendors sell a myriad of handmade goods, from wooden carvings and jewelry to batik fabrics, souvenirs and clothing.
While you’re here, be sure to head to the Petronas Twin Towers, one of the city’s top attractions. The 88-story structure is the crown jewel of Kuala Lumpur, and it hosts the world’s highest double-decked bridge which offers an amazing view of the city as well as the dazzling spires.
The strikingly green Cameron Highlands sit nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, making it one of the few spots in Southeast Asia that can be refreshingly cool. If the heat gets to you, head here and enjoy the lush scenery, hiking scenic trails and touring picturesque tea plantations. The area hosts Malaysia’s biggest tea plantations, which is what attracts so many visitors to this stunning region. Many offer tours, including the BOH Sungei Tea Plantation, which also hosts a cafe, shop and exhibits that tell the story of its significant historical achievements. Other attractions in the Highlands include strawberry farms, butterfly gardens, and flower greenhouses.
Located off Malaysia’s northeast corner in the Andaman Sea, the Langkawi is the country’s top island destination, with Langkawi the main island in the archipelago of 104. The island is famous for its jaw-dropping scenery with idyllic powdery sand beaches, azure waters and coastal mangrove swamps, though its inland areas include a largely untouched rainforest are pretty spectacular too. Langkawi offers all of the usual beach activities as well as hiking and an abundance of popular tourist attractions, including the largest indoor aquarium in the country, the tomb of Mashuri and Oriental Village. Lake of the Pregnant Maiden is a beautiful body of water surrounded by lush green mountains that are known as one of the island’s most romantic spots, and it’s even purported to help make women more fertile.
The Langkawi Sky Bridge, located on the main island of Langkawi, deserves its own entry. The longest free span and curved bridge in the world, it’s a little over 410 feet in length and is suspended from a 269-foot-high pylon, hanging about 328 feet above the ground. It swings out over the landscape, giving visitors a unique spatial experience, high above the jungle. The views are absolutely breathtaking. To get there, you’ll take the Langkawi Cable Car which starts from Oriental Village in the upper northwest region of the island near Pantai Kok.
Melaka commands an important position on the busy sea route between Indian and China on the country’s southwestern coast. As such, it was ruled and fought over for many years, between the Dutch, Portuguese, Indian and British governments. That’s resulted in it becoming one of Malaysia’s most diverse cities, filled with a variety of cultures and traditions, architecture and cuisine that reflect its unique, rich heritage. Some of its most popular heritage sites include Christ Church, St. Paul’s Hill, and Cheng Hoong Teng Temple, which draw visitors from across the globe. You’ll also find the remains of an old fort, and in the Dutch district, streets are lined with some of the oldest Dutch architecture in the East.
Kuching is the largest city on Borneo Island and a popular base for exploring the state of Sarawak and the unspoiled rainforest with unique and fascinating wildlife including pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, orangutans, longtail macaques and rhinoceros. The city itself, which sits along the banks of the Sarawak River, offers lots to see and do. It boasts a magnificently-landscaped waterfront with views of historic landmarks like Astana palace and Fort Margherita, as well as bustling markets. At the Kuching Civic Center, which is easy to spot with its umbrella-shaped room, you’ll find a planetarium and a viewing platform to take in unforgettable aerial vistas.
Maliau Basin is one of the most unexplored places on the island of Borneo. It sits within a vast protected rainforest, and to get there, you’ll need to take a special tour that caters to the adventurous traveler as well as bird watchers and wildlife lovers. Extreme hikers will find a paradise too, with some of the trails requiring several day treks to complete – the reward the chance to visit places that few humans ever have.
Situated about 3,000 feet above sea level in the north of Sarawak on Borneo, the Bario Highlands is one of the least visited places in Malaysia. Its remote location, requiring a flight on a small propeller plane from Miri or Lawas, has resulted in a place that’s seen very little in the way of modernization. Time moves very slowly, the landscapes are stunning, and the people still go about their day-to-day business of farming, with rice paddies and natural salt processing the basis of the economy.
Kota Kinabalu is sometimes referred to as the “Bali of Southeast Asia.” It’s abundant in beautiful beaches, islands, wildlife, mountains, culture and heritage, and serves as the gateway to some of the area’s very best mountain climbing, home to Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia at 13,345 feet tall. Visitors can explore wildlife parks like Lok Kawi, take a river cruise along the Klias River to spot wildlife, zip across the world’s longest zip line from island to island, snorkel in crystal clear waters and visit cultural villages via an old-fashioned steam train to understand more about the Sabahan people.