Despite sitting in the popular Southeast Asia region, Malaysia is still a bit of a hidden secret. It has many of the same attracts of Thailand and yet it receives millions less tourists each year. Too bad for them but good news for you if you are planning your own trip to Malaysia. With less crowds, a more diverse and rich culture, and all the city, beach, and jungle highlights you could want, Malaysia is a standout choice for your next vacation.
The great thing about Malaysian cities is how they interweave the country’s three very distinct ethnic groups – native Malay, Chinese, and Indian. No where else in Southeast Asia will you see a mix of cultures quite like this. Each ethnic group has preserved many of their own traditions, meaning in a day you could easily sit in the home of a traditional Malay family, get Chinese food for lunch at the market, and head to the Little India street market at night. Malaysia’s multi-centre holiday options are endless. Being a wonderfully diverse country Malaysia is the ideal place for a multi-centre holiday.
The country’s main city is Kuala Lumpur, also just known as KL. It is a modern asian city with great hotels and shopping malls but it also has some great laid back neighborhoods as well. Old Town is the center of the city and home to a few colonial buildings and the original Chinese commercial center, now just called Chinatown. The business district, called the Golden Triangle, has lots of nice hotels and the famous Petronas Twin Towers, which were once the world’s tallest buildings. Not to be forgotten, the city also has a really great Little India located near the KL Sentral Station.
In the north, the city of Georgetown on the island of Penang is another great example of a city mixing the three cultures. The original colonial center of the city has been well preserved over the years and many of the colonial homes have been restored into cute little shops and museums. The city also has great examples of Chinese temples. More importantly though, the region is known as having the best food in all of Malaysia and I can assure you, that title is well earned.
Malaysia has hundreds of both small and large islands with many located around the northern area of the country, close to the Thai border. These islands are home to some of the country’s best beaches, many of which can rival those found across the border in Thailand’s famous beach region.
The two most popular areas are the Perhentian Islands and the island of Pulau Langkawi. The Perhentian Islands, to the northeast, are very popular with budget travelers and offer great beach front accommodations ranging from hostels to luxury resorts. The two main islands of the group are Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil. Both feature beautiful long white beaches and great turquoise blue waters. Pulau Langkawi is the largest island in an archipelago of over 90 islands in the Andaman Sea. It is one of Malaysia’s top tourist destinations and has a lot to offer from great beaches to nice restaurants to fun jungle tours of the island’s interior.
Malaysia has nice cities and great beaches but its real treasure is the country’s incredible rainforest jungles. Some of the world’s most fascinating and endangered creatures call the Malaysian jungles home. Each year more and more of the rainforests are cut down, mainly to make room for palm oil. It is a real tragedy and if you get the chance to see even a bit of Malaysia’s still pristine jungles, take it!
The jungles of Malaysia are split between the mainland peninsula and the large island of Borneo to the east. The jungles of Borneo are world famous and the best option for visitors but if you don’t have the time or the extra money it takes to travel to Borneo, there are still a few options on mainland Malaysia. Taman Negara falls into that category. Literally translating from Malay to mean “national park,” Taman Negara is home to the oldest known primary rainforest in the world. Visitors to the park can see it as part of a jungle trek, or from above on the world’s longest set of canopy walkways. While the park does have small numbers of asian elephants, tigers, and leopards, sightings are unfortunately rare as the animals struggle to maintain healthy population numbers in the dwindled down rainforest.
If you do make it to Borneo, a “must do” activity would be to visit one of the region’s orangutan projects. This fascinating primate has seen its numbers drop dramatically over the years as the rainforest has been cut down. Thankfully, the problem was noticed and is being addressed before these important great apes reach extinction.