Malaysia offers travelers two distinct experiences: its peninsula and Borneo, an island the country shares with Brunei and Indonesia. The peninsula offers a blend of Indian, Malay and Chinese flavors within the modern capital of Kuala Lumpur, while Borneo combines wild jungle, granite peaks and orangutans among its attractions.
Combined with a selection of colonial towns and beautiful islands, Malaysia offers a fascinating mix of sights. Here’s a look at some of the exciting places to see and best things to do during your vacation in Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur, metropolis of Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur is an ultramodern, metropolitan hub is the capital city of Malaysia. Travel in Kuala Lumpur will reward you with a unique mix that isn’t found in many cities of Southeast Asia.
Malay, Indian and Chinese residents in Kuala Lumpur offer the very best of their cultures within the exciting urban sprawl. An excellent starting point for travel in Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur is comprised of numerous unique areas and districts.
Situated close to the Central Market, the colonial district and the Perdana Lake Gardens, the busy Chinatown serves as a hub for travelers seeking affordable food and accommodation. The bustling Petaling Street is packed with its night market, food stalls and revelers having a beer at street side tables. And Jalan Alor is your one-stop place to go for all types of street food in the Malaysian capital.
Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur
The Kuala Lumpur City Center is dominated by the Petronas Twin Towers which until 2004 were the world’s tallest buildings. The glowing towers have a connecting sky bridge that offers great views of the city skyline.
Little India, Kuala Lumpur
Situated just south of the city center, Little India is characterized by blaring Bollywood music, the sweet smells of spicy curry and burning water pipes. Jalan Tun Sambanthan is the main road through Little India which makes for an interesting walk, during which shops, vendors and restaurants compete for your business. I am a big fan of the Indian food here!
Batu Caves, temple complex
Batu Caves is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The Batu Caves feature an imposing 154 foot high statue in gold which stands at the foot of the 272 stairs you have to climb to view the Temple Cave. The cave features a scattering of elaborate Hindu shrines and intricately painted sculptures of Hindu gods.
Below the Temple Cave is the Dark Cave which allows for spelunking tours during which you get to see wildlife that is native only to these caves. Situated at the bottom of the staircase are the Art Gallery and Museum caves which are full of paintings that depict scenes from Hindu tradition, along with Hindu deity statues.
Do not plan your visit to the Batu Caves in January or February when the Hindus celebrate the Thaipusum festival which has more than 1 million pilgrims flocking the caves to worship.
Cameron Highlands, famous tea plantation of Malaysia
The Cameron Highlands comprise a hill station that is one of the largest resort areas in the country and a popular escape from the humidity and heat of Kuala Lumpur.
The Highlands are largely agricultural, which means you can tour butterfly and bee farms, wander through flowery gardens and visit tea plantations. Like most of Malaysia, adventurous travelers come to trek within the Cameron Highlands. When you are lucky you just may spot the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. The green, fertile area of the Cameron Highlands is famous for its verdant scenery that offers a different type of stop in Malaysia.
The higher elevations provide consistently cool weather that offers a refreshing respite from the oppressive heat of Southeast Asia.
Taman Negara, oldest rainforest in the world
Taman Negara is a national park comprising a densely forested area. The largest national park on peninsular Malaysia, Taman Negara is also one of the most pristine primary rain forests left on the planet. Recognized for its richness in biodiversity, the park is home to various endangered species, insects and birds.
For many years, Taman Negara was only accessible by boat, and jungle cruises remain one of the popular means for spotting wildlife today. The more intrepid traveler can go on a guided trek into the rainforest for a couple of hours or even days.
To enjoy a different perspective of the jungle environment, go on the Canopy Walk over a suspension bridge that’s ideal for spotting colorful birds hidden among the tree branches.
Malacca, back in the days of the Dutch East India Company
Situated within the southern section of the Malaysian peninsula Malacca is the capital city of the state of the same name. One of the country’s oldest trading ports, Malacca boasts a rich and long history that dates back centuries. Some of the most popular sights to visit in Malacca include Porta de Santiago or A’Famosa Fort. The squares, mosques and churches, all of which combine to offer a testament to the diverse cultural influences of the region.
Other famous sights include Saint Paul’s Church on the hill, the pink-colored Christ Church, Portuguese Square, Jonker Streets and Stadthuys or the red-colored Dutch square. Also visit Cheng Hoon Teng, Malaysia’s oldest temple, as well as the Kampung Kling Mosque which is one of the oldest of its kind in the country.
Penang, an island you can’t miss
With its national park, colonial history and historic clan houses, Penang offers plenty of sights and activities to entertain every traveler, be it the long-term backpacker or the shorter traveling family.
Regarded as the epicenter of the Malaysian street food scene, Penang is the best place to sample tasty Malay, Indian and Chinese dishes. Buy some affordable noodles on the street, dig into delicious Indian dishes served on banana leaves as you listen to the sounds of Bollywood fill the air in Little India.
Also visit the Penang National Park which is home to pristine beaches and nesting sea turtles. The Park is small enough to explore in a day with 2 main trails offering access to undeveloped, fine white sandy beaches and the turtle sanctuary. Hikers can take the canopy walkway for a glimpse of life above the jungle canopy.
Georgetown is a sprawling settlement in Penang that’s dotted with small, pleasant sightseeings. Spend some time visiting its historic houses, Fort Cornwallis, as well as the different clan shrines. Georgetown is also home to the first cat café on the island, as well as some eclectic street art.
You can go on a walking tour through Georgetown and visit some of its great art galleries and museums. Visitors can also tour the Khoo Kongsi Clan House and the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion.
Escape the city for some fresh, island air by heading to Balik Pulau. Situated on the other side of Penang, Balik Pulau is a great spot to sample durian fruit. You can also while away your afternoon exploring the attractive Kek Lok Si Temple or the unique Penang Snake Temple.
For some great shopping, visit the mom-and-pop shops in Chinatown and Little India that offer abundant opportunities for finding unique souvenirs.
Langkawi, island south of Thailand
Langkawi is one of the most popular islands in Southeast Asia. Langkawi is green and beautiful and attracts a lot of eco-tourists. The island lures visitors with its amazing natural beauty and is easy accessible from the mainland.
Pulau Langkawi is the largest of the 99 Langkawi islands (only 3 inhabited), situated inside the Andaman Sea and offers a number of beaches. Pantai Cenang on the southwestern side of the island is the most popular with bars, restaurants and tourist attractions lining the short beach. Pantai Cenang also has the most options for water sports and other activities.
Pantai Pasir Hitam is a mixed black-sandy beach, while Tanjung Rhu offers a picturesque stretch featuring rocky beaches and mangroves. Plan your visit to Langkawi in January or February if you want to attend the Chinese New Year festival.
Tip: from Langkawi, you can take the boat (1.5 hours) to the idyllic island of Koh Lipe in Thailand. Recommended!
Where to stay at Langkawi?
During my last trip, I stayed at the Bon Ton Resort in Langkawi. It is a very idyllic place surrounded by a green landscape, only a 5-minute drive from the famous Pantai Cenang beach, the most popular beach in Langkawi.
Special about this place is that all the rooms and wooden villas of the Bon Ton Resort are all built in the Malaysian and Chinese style. I found myself to be in a colonial era and immediately fell in love with this place.
Bon Ton Resort, Langkawi
Besides that Bon Ton is a unique place to stay in Langkawi, its management also brings efforts for the care of dogs and cats. As a volunteer, you can help with this project. Part of the revenue from the resort are donated to the Lassie Foundation that enables giving shelter to these animals.
Guests at Bon Ton, get every morning a breakfast box full of goodies that vary day by day. It almost feels like home; having your homemade breakfast on the veranda of your villa while enjoying a cup of fresh coffee. We stayed in the Black & White villa that can host up to 4 persons.
How to Get to Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur International Airport serves as a hub for all international flights to and from Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur has several bus terminals that handle long distance bus services from places such as Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia.
There are both day and overnight trains to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore and Thailand.
There are ferry connections from Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.