Where to travel in Malaysia: three trips to suit your travel style
However you like to travel, Malaysia’s intoxicating concoction of modernity and heritage always has something to impress. Choose an itinerary to learn about the destination’s culture, its natural beauty, or its spectacular beaches.
Futuristic skylines. Centuries-old temples. A backbone of primeval forests that run down to azure-fringed beaches. Welcome to multi-ethnic and multi-faith Malaysia. Learn about the country's colonial turbulent past, explore its expansive rainforests, or gorge on mouth-watering street food. Lounge on its white sand beaches, watch multicoloured sunsets from the bow of a traditional boat in the islands, or roam its rolling, plantation-dotted hills. Explore Malaysia in a style that suits you, and take in the wonders of this Southeast Asian highlight.
1. For travellers craving culture
Don't miss out on the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia’s international hub is rapidly developing, its skyline defined by the shimmering Petronas Towers. While you’re here, you can take in the panoramic views from the city’s rooftop sky bars or immerse yourself in the local nightlife in the TREC and Bukit Bintang enclaves.
A short journey from the capital, you'll reach the Batu Caves. An ombre cascade of rainbow steps precedes the Hindu shrine hewn into the limestone hills here. Lift your sights at the bottom stair to take in the colossal figure of Lord Murugan. The statue, looming 140ft tall, is a golden tribute to the Hindu god of war.
An hour south of the capital, you'll find the former trade hub of Melaka. Its streets run along a network of rivers, streaming out into the nearby sea. This sea, the Strait of Melaka, was crucial to the colonial spice routes of the Dutch and the Portuguese. Today, it’s a city where ancient temples and mansions sit alongside cafes, restaurants and boutique accommodation.
Malaysian history is also dotted all through the Cameron Highlands, a tableland of rolling hills. The area is strewn with tea estates, orchards and decadent British-era cottages that have been transformed into atmospheric boutique hotels. Choose a modest local guesthouse and explore the rolling hills or take a tour of one of the colonial era tea plantations. Many of these nineteenth century estate houses host visitors, providing an opportunity to learn about the era of one of Malaysia’s colonial conquerors.
2. For beach-lovers
The unmissable island of Langkawi is situated off Peninsular Malaysia’s northwest coast. Head to its east coast to find a mangrove-draped shore, bright blue waters and stark white coves. One of the finest scuba spots in the country, it offers the chance to swim amid coral, surrounded by the likes of giant barracuda, pufferfish and moray eels.
Another Malaysian gem is Redang, the jewel in a string of northeastern islands near the city of Kota Bharu. The perfect spot for some quiet contemplation, sit on its shores and watch as the white sand is speckled by the shadows of undulating coconut trees. If you later travel north, you can stop in the popular diving towns of Besar and Kecil, before reaching the lesser-known haven of Kapas Island. Here, sea-facing bungalows rise on along sandy beaches kissed by shallow waters that are home to gentle sea turtles.
Further down Malaysia’s east coast is Tioman Island. With a dozen dive sites and a forested interior that boasts many great half-day hikes and an array of wildlife, it’s a veritable paradise.
3. For nature enthusiasts
Malaysia’s rainforests are abundant. Your trip will be enveloped from the outset by diverse flora and fauna in the Taman Negara. The jungle blooms through this rainforest, which is one of the world’s oldest, in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia. Furthermore, it’s almost completely untouched. You can take a day trip above the trees here, along the world’s longest canopy walkway, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the forest.
If you’re feeling adventurous, stay overnight. Take to the Keniam Trail, beginning with a boat trip along the cappuccino-coloured Tahan River. Overnight, you’ll sleep in caves, serenaded by the cacophonic song of the jungle at night. It will take you five more days to get back to the boat, back to Kuala Lumpur. In that time, you’ll hike up the forested slopes of Mount Tahan, dodging swarming bats. Remember to keep your eyes peeled, you’ll be in the territory of stalking tigers and elephants hidden in the jungle’s shadowed interior. It’s a strenuous undertaking, but it’s worth it.
Away from its mainland, Malaysia is home to some of the wildest territory in Southeast Asia. Borneo, home to the states of Sarawak and Sabah, is an adventurer’s dream. A short domestic flight from Kuala Lumpur will take you to the jungle’s edge, landing in Kuching in Sarawak or Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. Many tour operators offer single or multi-day jungle tours from the city, including opportunities to spot Orangutans dangling from the treetops.
If you want to experience the lesser-visited realms of the Bornean jungle, you can then explore the ancient cave systems of Gunung Mulu National Park. Hiking through the forest thickets, you might spot the giant porcupines, or the cackling monkeys that swing overhead. Only accessible by flight, small planes run daily to the park from Miri, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
Plan your trip
Malaysia Airlines fly direct between London and Kuala Lumpur, with an average flight time of 13h15m. Avoid monsoon rains by travelling from October to April on the west coast, and March to September on the east coast. Visit malaysia.travel for more information.
Follow National Geographic Traveller (UK) on social media