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.
11. Relax in Kuching
The city of Kuching in Sarawak in East Malaysia was actually named after a miscommunication between James Brooke who discovered the region, and the local indigenous population, who, when asked the name of the ground that the city stood on thought he was pointing to a stray cat. The name stuck, and the area is located on the island of Borneo that shares a border with Indonesia. Kuching is set alongside the Sarawak River and is often said to have a calm and relaxed feel to it and tours along the river are a common pursuit for visitors. There are also many examples of colonial architecture such as Fort Magherita and an abundance of cat statues that celebrate the city’s namesake.
12. Dive in at the Perhentian Islands
Actually a group of islands in the state of Terengganu, the Perhentians lie close to the coast of Thailand. The islands can be visited by ferry and water taxis operate between the various islands giving visitors the chance to island hop at their leisure. Key attractions in the Perhentians are the pristine beaches and water and scuba diving is considered a favorite activity in these parts. At night dine on freshly caught fish cooked over coconut husks on the beach.
13. Climb Mount Kinabalu
The highest mountain in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu sits in the Crocker mountain range and lies within Kinabalu Park which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mount Kinabalu has a host of biodiversity including many types of flora, fauna, and fungi. The trek to the top of Mount Kinabalu is strenuous and not recommended to inexperienced hikers and due to the advanced elevation there is a risk of altitude sickness. All hikers must be accompanied by a licensed guide at all times and there are two different routes to choose from although these intersect towards the summit. The hike can be undertaken by experienced climber in one day although many choose to stay overnight as there is accommodation available en route.
14. Take to the skies at the Langkawi Cable Car
Take off from the ‘oriental village’ at Teluk Burau and rise to the majestic heights of Mount Machingchang where you will also find the Langkawi Sky Bridge. The journey by cable car takes around fifteen minutes and offers visitors panoramic views of the island and on a clear day you can every see all the way to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.
15. Ascend Maxwell Hill in Taiping
A less well known spot that has the double claim to fame of having the only Chinese name in Malaysia and being the wettest city in the country, Taiping is located outside of Penang in Perak State. This second statistic is the more important one as it means that the local fauna is lush and fertile and some of the trees found in the Taiping Lake Gardens are over a hundred years old. There is also a hill station located at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet named Maxwell Hill that provides visitors with trekking and camping opportunities, and jeep rides to the station are a much loved attraction with locals and tourists.
16. Venture to the Lost World of Tambun
The ‘Lost World of Tambun’ in Ipoh is actually not an archeological wonder but rather a theme park and resort and is said to be one of the city’s premier attractions. The park features several ‘lost world’ rides and discovery adventures and also has a range of hotels and a large spa offering a variety of treatments for tired would-be archeologists. There is also a water park, a zoo, and an aquarium on site.
17. Wander through China Town in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia, in addition to Malay and Indian nationals, has a large Chinese population and as such China Town has developed as a predominantly ethnically Chinese area of the city. Essentially located in and around Petaling Street, the area features a market, Chinese food options, and Chinese cultural attractions such as temples.
18. Shop and eat at Gurney Drive
Gurney Drive in Penang is a seafront promenade that overlooks a series of beaches including North Beach. The area is well known at night when dozens of local food sellers set up in the area and visitors can buy local delicacies and snacks. If you prefer to do some shopping then head to Gurney Plaza. This large shopping mall has a mix of high end shops, restaurants, and smaller Malaysian outlets for visitors to stock up on souvenirs.
19. Marvel at the Islamic architecture of the National Mosque
Located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s National Mosque is a sight to behold and can accommodate 15,000 worshippers at any given time. Built in 1965, the mosque follows principles of Islamic architecture and has as a roof in the shape of a sixteen point star. There is also a strong emphasis on water features such as fountains and reflective pools throughout the mosque complex and visitors can tour the mosque but must wear appropriate dress which is provided to do so.
20. Seek out cooler climes in the Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands actually refers to a hill station located in Pahang state, and was discovered in the 19th century by Sir William Cameron who lent his name to the area. Many local visitors flock to the area as the elevation of the hill station provides cool weather in which to enjoy outdoor activities such as tea and coffee plantation tours and fruit picking at one of the many different fruit farms. The highlands are also famous for their traditional English cream teas with fresh strawberries picked locally.
21. Go climbing in the Batu Caves
To explore the Batu Caves head outside of Kuala Lumpur to the region of Selangor and marvel at these limestone cliffs that are studded with caves and carved cave temples. The caves and temples are Hindu shrines and as such are a site of pilgrimage for the many Tamil residents of Malaysia. Aside from visiting the caves to worship, travelers can also experience the local flora and fauna including wild monkeys that inhabit the area as well as bats that dwell in the caves. For the more adventurous visitors, there are also rock climbing opportunities with over 160 climbing routes in the area.
22. Get back to nature at Gunung Mulu National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gunung Mulu National Park is located near the town of Miri in Sarawak, East Malaysia, and is famous primarily for its caves and karsts formations (made from dissolved rocks such as limestone). The park takes its name from Mount Mulu which is the second largest mountain in Sarawak and visitors can explore the caves, the rainforest, and enjoy hiking and trekking opportunities.
23. Visit Johor Bahru Old Chinese Temple
Located in the town of Johor Bahru, on the border between Malaysia and Singapore, Johor Bahru Old Chinese Temple is set in an area of rapid development and can be found nestled between several skyscrapers. The temple is thought to be around 130 years old although no clear records exist, and features several important historical relics such as plaques and a large bronze bell. The temple is also famous for hosting five important Chinese deities and visitors can explore the area and these important Chinese figures.
24. Head to Tioman Island
If you want to get out of the city then head to Tioman Island located in Pahang state. There are eight villages on the island and much of it is still covered with lush rainforest and visitors can go trekking from one side of the island to the other in a day. There are also pristine coral reefs for those who like diving to enjoy and several resorts and hotels on the island. Like Langkawi, Tioman also has duty-free status.
25. Go for a night out at the Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is an area of Kuala Lumpur known for its nightlife, bar, clubs, restaurants, and hotels. The area extends over several streets but the central hub is said to be Jalan P. Ramlee where visitors can choose from a wide variety of venues to drink and party into the wee small hours. The area also includes a large shaping center for those looking for some retail therapy before a night on the town.