Top 10 things to do in Malaysia
Home to a colorful array of festivities, diverse climates and geographical wonders, and a cornucopia of gastronomic treats, you’ll be forgiven for being completely overwhelmed by Malaysia.
I didn’t know a thing about Malaysia until I touched down in Kuala Lumpur one night last July in the midst of a spectacular thunderstorm. I had hoped Malaysia would be unlike anywhere else I had ever been before and, incredibly, it was. A heady mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultural influences, Malaysia is a jigsaw puzzle of beautiful landscapes, inhabited by a melting pot of people of different ethnicities, lifestyles and religions. Malaysia has so many treasures, both natural and man-made, you won’t want to leave until you’ve experienced the length and breadth of this somewhat scattered country. With that in mind, here is my list of the top 10 things to do in Malaysia.
10. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
The first thing I intended to do in KL was to head into the heart of the city to get a glimpse of the world famous Petronas Towers, yet so imposing, so unmistakeable a feature of the KL skyline are the towers that I spotted them from the airplane. The view from the foot of the towers is breathtaking with 452 metres of gleaming steel reaching up to the sky for what seems like forever and for a view of KL from the towers itself you can shoot up the elevator to the 41st floor and walk across the vertigo-inducing Skybridge.
9. Dining on Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian cuisine is a metaphor for Malaysia itself. The disparate tastes of Chinese, Indian, Malay and even European cooking styles infuse and combine to create a fresh and unique exciting cuisine that is best sampled on the streets. Jalan Alor in KL is the perfect place to sample some of Malaysia’s best dishes including the inimitable Malay Satay. Fat Brothers Satay is highly recommended.
8. Masjid Negara and Masjid Jamek
I’m cheating a bit here by cramming two attractions into one but the mosques Masjid Negra and Masjid Jamek are so architecturally different you must visit them both, preferably in the same day. Masjid Jamek is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia and walking around central KL is it hard to miss the grand, ornamental domes, spires and minarets of Masjid Jamek’s Moorish architectural style. The newer National Mosque of Malaysia, Masjid Negara, was designed in the sixties and features an iconic blue umbrella-shaped roof. The Islamic faith is the most practiced faith in Malaysia and no journey into Malaysian life is complete without a respectful visit to one of the cool, peaceful places of worship.
7. Batu Caves
A visit to the Batu Caves is one of the most popular day trips from Kuala Lumpur. The caves are an enchanting feat of both nature and design, excavated from a limestone hill said to be over 400 million years old. Now one of the most important Hindu sites of worship outside of India, the Batu Caves make you work for your glimpse of the gods with a punishing climb of almost 300 steps leading up to the famous Cathedral Caves entrance.
6. Langkawi cable car
When the frenetic stimulation of one of South East Asia’s most manic metropolises gets to be too much, many KL-ers make their way to the beautiful island of Langkawi. Over two kilometres in length, the Langkawi Cable Car is the island’s top attraction, offering views of the Machincang mountain range, Seven Wells Waterfall and Langkawi coastline only previously enjoyed by the area’s beautiful tropical birds.
Further reading: Langkawi beach vacations
5. North Borneo Steam Railway
From an encounter with the east’s most fascinating creature to an encounter with the west’s most incredible invention, no visit to North Borneo is complete without a ride on the North Borneo Steam Railway. The railway takes you from Tanjung Aru to the Rice Bowl of Sabah, offering unadulterated views of Borneo’s landscapes on a nostalgic, steam-powered trip back in time.
4. Shangri-La’s orangutan sanctuary
The orangutan is known to be one of the most intelligent and endangered animals on the earth. The root of the word orangutan means ‘man of the forest’ but the forests in which orangutans can be found are now limited to Sumatra and Borneo. Part of the Shangri La Rasa Ria Resort, the Shangri-La orangutan sanctuary is a must-see stop on your Malaysian tour not least because the sanctuary’s important conservation work is supported by your stay.
More information and to book: Located on Pantai Dalit beach, Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort is surrounded by 400 acres of lush tropical vegetation, including a unique nature reserve and orangutan sanctuary.
My favourite place in all of Malaysia, Georgetown on the island of Penang is a UNESCO world heritage site and one visit is enough to show you why. Every building in the historic core of Georgetown, from the houses to the markets to the colonial mansions, is an integral part of the area’s unique colonial history. The British Fort Cornwallis, the infamous Blue Mansion and the many Chinese Clan temples are enough to leave you wide-eyed with wonder at the beauty and secrets of this place that is immersed in the stories of its past.
2. Cameron Highlands
British Colonialists, withering in the year-round humidity of lowland Malaysia, founded a hill station up in the Cameron Highlands as early as the late 19th century. Since then, the Cameron Highlands have been a favourite amongst active tourists who just can’t bear to don their backpack and hiking boots in the usually suffocating Malaysian climate. Impressively developed, the Highland’s spectacular scenery is now punctuated with golf courses, museums, hotels and temples.
More information and to book: Set amidst tea plantations and rolling hills, the boutique hideaway of Cameron Highlands Resort promises all the splendor, romance and nostalgia of the region's grand colonial heritage.
1. Pangkor Laut
To take a vacation on your very own private island is a dream had by many but afforded by few. Pangkor Laut, located in the Straits of Malacca on the west coast of Malaysia, is one of the few places in the world where this dream can become a reality. The island is privately owned and home to just one resort that has been carefully developed to blend into the island’s 300 acres of untamed rainforest.
More information and to book: You will find no other resorts on Pangkor Laut, just secluded bays curled around pristine beaches and a deep sense of serenity reserved exclusively for hotel guests.