Malaysia is located in the Malay Peninsula and stretches to parts of Borneo where it shares a border with neighboring Indonesia, and as such visitors should not be confused by the terms Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, which comprises Sarawak and Sabah (also known as Malaysian Borneo).
With a total landmass of over 300,000 square kilometers, Malaysia is known for its capital city of Kuala Lumpur, a powerhouse financial and business hub in South East Asia, as well as its beautiful beaches, secluded islands, elevated hill stations, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
There is also a strong commitment to diversity here, and as well as Malays and indigenous groups, there is also a sizeable Chinese and Indian population in Malaysia which is reflected in the architecture and cultural relics found in country. Visitors here can choose from a wide variety of activities from hiking, to diving, to shopping or sampling the local food. Here’s our list of the best things to do in Malaysia.
1. Visit the PETRONAS Towers in Kuala Lumpur
One of the most iconic sights in the world, the PETRONAS Towers, also known as the PETRONAS Twin Towers due to the fact that they come in a pair, are located in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and are the tallest twin towers in the world. The architecture is postmodern in style and also features motifs found in Islamic art to represent the Muslim majority in Malaysia. The main attraction is the sky walk over the sky bridge that joins them together and visitors can admire the views that stretch across Kuala Lumpur and KLCC Park at the base of the towers.
2. Sunbathe on Langkawi
If you fancy getting out of the city then head to Langkawi Island, actually an archipelago of over a hundred islands in the Andaman Sea, only two of which are inhabited and of which Langkawi is the largest with a population of over 60,000 inhabitants. Langkawi Island is popular with both backpackers and honeymooners alike and has something to suit all budgets. The island is also has duty-free status so visitors can stock up on souvenir items cheaply.
3. Sample some local flavor with Nasi Kandar
Nasi Kandar is a staple food in Malaysia and actually means ‘mixed rice’, as customers are given a plate with rice over which they can choose a variety of toppings and sauces. Nasi Kandar is based on Tamil dishes due to the high number of South Indian immigrants and the flavors reflect this with an emphasis on curry powder and chili. Common Nasi Kandar dishes include chicken, fish, or seafood such as prawns or squid in curry sauce as well as vegetables like okra and cabbage cooked in mustard seeds.
4. Get out of town at Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is actually a collection of five islands that are found off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, East Malaysia. The park is accessible by ferry and some of the islands such as Sulug Island are almost untouched, while others such as Gaya Island are busier and more crowded. Common pursuits on the islands include hiking and trekking, as well as swimming and scuba diving opportunities.
5. Enjoy the culture in Malacca
Malacca or Melaka is also known as ‘The Historic State’ and lies next to the Malacca Strait from which it gets its name. The state is said to have the most interesting architecture in all of Malaysia as it was formerly colonized by the Portuguese and features a number of red lacquer buildings from the period such as Christ Church. Malacca also has a high concentration of museums, galleries, and places of historic interest for visitors to explore.
6. Meander around Penang
Penang is an island off the west coast of Malaysia that has Georgetown as its capital, named after British king, King George. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Penang has a focus on conservation and preservation and visitors can experience this at one of the many famous hotels in Penang, such as the E&O established by Stamford Raffles who also founded the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Penang is also famous for its Tropical Spice Garden that showcases the best of the region’s local flora and fauna such as the Torch Ginger, a plant used in many traditional Malay dishes.
7. Go trekking in Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara National Park is located in the state of Pahang as has several claims to fame that attract a steady stream of visitors. One of these is that this is the largest national park in peninsular Malaysia, as well as the fact that the park features the longest rope walkway in the world. The park also has some serious treks, as long as 100km round trip, as well as more gentle hikes for beginners. There is a wide array of wildlife and plant life in the park for nature lovers and the area is even home to an indigenous tribe named the Orang Asli or Original People, said to be the first inhabitants of Malaysia.
8. Explore the culture in Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu is to be found on the west coast of Malaysia in the state of Kelantan and is an interesting change of pace and atmosphere to the east coast and many visitors to Malaysia fail to visit this city, perhaps due to its reputation as a more conservative region than much of the rest of the country. Standards of dress and comportment are stricter in Kota Bharu, however, there are a wide variety of mosques and other religious sites to visit such as the old royal palaces which are still the home of the current Sultan of Kelantan.
9. Get away to the Genting Highlands
The Genting Highlands, also dubbed Resorts World Genting is a resort located in the Titiwangsa Mountains and sits at an elevation of over 5,000 feet. The resort is a popular destination with local visitors and has a wide range of attractions to enjoy. These include several different theme parks, bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as a cable car attraction known as the Genting Skyway which previously held the title of the world’s fastest and South East Asia’s longest gondola lift. Due to its location, they are also several fruit and vegetable farms for visitors to explore and pick fresh produce.
10. Observe the orang utans in Sepilok
Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, East Malaysia, is found outside of the city of Sandakan and was the first orang utan rehabilitation centre of its kind in the world when it opened in the 1960s. The aim of the centre is to rescue orphaned orang utans who have been left to fend for themselves due to illegal poaching and logging, or who have been found being kept as pets (which is illegal in Malaysia), and administer healthcare and training to the mammals so that they are able to reintegrate and survive in the wild. Once they are able to do so they are released. Visitors can observe the orang utans in the centre and tours are aimed to coincide with feeding times when the animals are usually present on the feeding platforms.