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Where to Go in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

KL, as it is locally known, is Malaysia’s hub; a huge, bustling, cosmopolitan city that is the business heart of the nation. Its very ethnic diversity is part of the attraction with Malays, Chinese, Indian and European cultures melting together on the tropical streets. Often overlooked by many tourists, KL has a wealth of attractions, with the voluminous Petronas Twin Towers, at a height of 436m (1453ft), amongst the tallest buildings in the world.


From the viewing level of the Towers the city unfolds with its old mosques and ramshackle buildings, contrasting with the gleaming skyscrapers that have sprouted as Malaysia has become one of the regional economic powerhouses. The Menara Kuala Lumpur is the tallest telecommunication tower in South-East Asia and the fourth-tallest in the world.


Merdeka Square is at the very heart of old Malaysia, with the stunning highlight, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which bizarrely blends Victorian and Moorish architectural styles. The Tasek Perdana Lake Gardens are one of the city’s best known natural landmarks, a popular spot for picnics and walking. Within the gardens are Parliament House and the National Monument. The National Monument, an impressive brass sculpture, is one of the world’s largest free-standing sculptures. Close by is the National Museum, which houses many historical exhibits. The building incorporates various different Malaysian architectural styles and craftwork from different parts of the nation, making it an embodiment of many aspects of the nation.


Near the railway station is the National Mosque surrounded by lawns ornamented with fountains. This modern mosque, built in 1965, gleams every bit as brightly as any of Kuala Lumpur’s skyscrapers. The main dome is molded in the shape of an 18-point star to represent the 13 states of Malaysia and the five central Pillars of Islam. The huge main prayer hall can hold up to 10,000 worshippers, although this section of the mosque is closed to non-worshippers.


Nearby is the old Chinese clan house of Chan See Yuen. Shopping and eating are other key attractions with retail opportunities, including everything from huge air-conditioned malls with bargains on many items, through to local handicrafts sold by the people who make them.


KL has a smorgasbord of eating opportunities, with fine dining restaurants through to local eateries that showcase the finest culinary delicacies from all over Malaysia. Then there are the street markets, with food stalls, where some of the best and cheapest food is to be found for the adventurous. The Friday Mosque, situated astride the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers at the point where the first Europeans scrambled ashore, is the most stunning and popular sight in the city. The best time to visit is at sunset or during the muezzin’s call to prayer, which echoes around the ornate domes and palm trees, lending the mosque an air of calm amidst the skyscrapers.


The Batu Caves lie a few miles to the north of the city. These large natural caves, reached by 272 steps, house the Hindu shrine of Lord Subramaniam. Nearby is the Museum Cave, a fascinating display of brightly colored statues and murals from Hindu mythology. Templar Park, 22km (14 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, is a well-preserved tract of primary rainforest, which is rich in scenic beauty. Jungle paths, swimming lagoons and waterfalls all lie within the park boundaries. Malaysia’s latest agricultural park, located at Cherakah in Shah Alam, Selangor, has a large playing area with facilities for skateboarders and rollerskaters. The Forestry Research Institute, 15km northwest of KL, is a genuine example of ecotourism in that it is a stretch of jungle that has been protected and is now being used to study how this unique eco-system works. The center also looks at ways of sustainable development and at ways of protecting this environment. There are a number of low eco impact trails that visitors can explore.

Perak & Pangkor
Perak derives its name from the rich silver tin ore deposits once so fruitful in the region. Perak translates as ‘silver’ in the Malay language. Major towns within Perak include Ipoh, the administration center and capital, Kuala Kangsar, the royal town and Taiping.

Dubbed the ‘City of Millionaires’ (due to its tin mining wealth) Ipoh, Malaysia’s third-largest city, offers the ghosts of its grand colonial days with the mixture of colonial and modern architecture; the best example of the former is the Moorish and Victorian pastiche of the train station. The city center also boasts many colonial-era shops, which retain their original atmosphere today. The Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary in Ipoh is of great interest to all nature lovers. In addition to over 160 different species of birds, lucky visitors may get a chance to see smooth otters, long-tailed macque and ridge-back dolphins. The best time to visit is between September and December when many migratory birds arrive at the sanctuary.

30 minutes' drive from Ipoh, near Batu Gajah, stands the impressive Kellie’s Castle. Surrounded by rubber plantations, the magnificent ruins of the unfinished castle are all that remains of Scotsman William Kellie Smith’s nostalgic ambition to recreate an authentic piece of his Scottish homeland. Work halted with the sudden demise of Smith in 1926 and, since his death, the rumours and mystique surrounding the castle have intensified. Reputed to be haunted, the castle is also believed to possess secret rooms and tunnels, undetected to this day.

Kuala Kangsar
Just north of Ipoh at Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Perak Tong, a limestone cave temple, houses over 40 statues of Buddha. 385 steps in a cave behind the main altar lead up to a magnificent viewpoint, from where one can survey the surrounding countryside. Sam Poh Tong and Kek Lok Tong, near Gunung Rapat, are impressive cave temples where statues of Buddha stand alongside magical stalactites and rock formations. Both temples have Buddhist vegetarian restaurants in the temple grounds.
Kuala Kangsar is the birthplace of the rubber industry. In 1877, nine rubber trees were first planted here and the industry was born. Three of the town’s most beautiful buildings include Istana Iskandariah, the royal palace, Istana Kenangan, the former royal palace now home to the Perek State Museum, and the Ubudiah Mosque.

Although it may be known as the ‘Town of Everlasting Peace’, Taiping grew to fame as a raffish tin mining center, though the importance of the industry has declined since a major slump in the 1980s. Some of the wealth from the tin mining was pumped into Taiping’s main attraction, the disused mining pools that were transformed in the late 19th century to become the stunning, carefully landscaped Lake Gardens. Taiping is also home to some impressive colonial architecture and the charming Ling Nam Temple, which is reputed to be the oldest Chinese temple in Perak. The more sinister history of Taiping emerges in the old prison, that was used by the Japanese in World War II, and the Allied War Cemetery, the last resting place of hundreds of victims of the Japanese invaders.

Pangkor Island
No longer is Pangkor Island, about 100km (60 miles) south of Penang Island, unspoilt and seldom-visited. Over recent years it has gained in popularity, which has brought better facilities at the expense of increasing crowds and development of the pristine environment. Since 1996, an internal air link to the island has facilitated access for tourists. Innumerable bays boast excellent sandy beaches and all kinds of watersports.

Penang & Langkawi
The island of Penang, eulogised as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, lies just off the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Recently a network of expanded tourist facilities has been created, which have ruined many of the island’s main beach charms. Some of the beaches that are popular with resort developers, in particular those around Batu Feringgi on the north coast, have become blighted by jet skis, private hotel stretches of sand and various touts and hawkers. Despite this uncontrolled development to the north, much of the rest of the island is still a beautiful tropical oasis of palm trees and sandy beaches, and it is also the main international gateway to northern Malaysia. It was the natural harbor that first attracted the British to Penang in the late 18th century, and the port is still one of the most important in the country today. There is a regular ferry service between the island and the town of Butterworth on the mainland and a spectacular road bridge.

Charming Georgetown is Penang’s main settlement, a thriving hub where Malay, Chinese, Thai, Indian and European cultures merge, as does the architecture which, in the space of a few miles, takes in a British colonial-style cricket pitch and a rumble of Chinese stilt houses. The main shopping is on Campbell Street and Canarvon Street. Worth visiting are Khoo Kongsi, an old Chinese clan house, Fort Cornwallis, a British 18th-century fortress, Penang Museum and Art Gallery and the many churches, temples and mosques found throughout the town. The first-class laksas and unique Penang dishes are reason for visiting alone, with many meals enjoyed outside at the ubiquitous food stalls.

Rest of Penang
Penang has more than just beaches. One of the most unusual attractions is the Snake Temple, which swarms with poisonous snakes, but their venomous threat is countered by heavily drugging them with incense. Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple contains an enormous gold-plated reclining Buddha which, at 33 meters long, is believed to be the third largest in the world. Penang Bird Park is a must for bird lovers’ and horticultural enthusiasts alike. The landscaped park in Seberang Jaya is home to over 400 species of birds. Specially designed aviaries are placed among manmade islands with beautiful waterfalls and gardens ablaze with ornamental flowers and tropical greenery. A wide variety of orchid and hibiscus can also be seen. Over 100 species of butterflies and insects can be seen in the gardens of Penang Butterfly Farm in Teluk Bahang. The farm is open daily to visitors. In the center of the island is Penang Hill, with a 700m (2300ft) summit, where tourists who can bear the massive queues to ascend the cable car are rewarded with splendid views and jungle walks.

More than 100km (60 miles) north of Penang lie the 104 islands, many of which are just outcrops of coral, that make up Langkawi. The largest, Langkawi Island, is the only one with sophisticated tourist facilities (it has been declared a free port and duty free shopping is available). Several international hotels and resorts have opened as the government and international developers flood into what is set to become Malaysia’s premier island beach resort. The island’s many coves, lagoons and inlets make it ideal for all kinds of watersports such as swimming, sailing, fishing and scuba diving. Horse riding facilities and golf courses are also available. The Crocodile farm at Kubank Badah has more than 3000 crocodiles. Travel to Langkawi is by air from Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Alor Setar or by road and sea.

Bordering Thailand in the north is the state of Kelantan, whose capital Kota Bharu is a colorful, vibrant city, very much the archetypal South-East Asian border town. The beaches here are clean and unspoilt and the sea is ideal for swimming, diving and fishing. The state is renowned for its many cultural festivals, some of which are unique to the region. Puja Umur (the birthday of the Sultan) is celebrated with a week-long festival, beginning with a parade in Kota Bharu. A form of art unique to Kelantan is the Ma’yong, a combination of ballet, opera, romantic drama and comedy, originally a form of court entertainment.

Central Highlands Hills Resorts
Dotted about the mountain range that runs down the spine of Malaysia are several hill resorts. All are situated more than 1400m (4500ft) above sea level and offer cool, pleasant weather after the humidity of the plain and the cities.

Genting Highlands
Less than one hour by road from Kuala Lumpur is Genting Highlands, which boasts Malaysia’s only casino (passports required). Genting Highlands can also be reached by regular helicopter service from Kuala Lumpur. Facilities include four hotels, a theme park, restaurants, a theater, golf courses with a magnificent clubhouse, an artificial lake, a health and sports center, and an indoor swimming pool.

Fraser Hill
Set in lush jungle 100km (60 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, Fraser Hill is popular with both holidaymakers and golf enthusiasts. A wide range of other sports are available. There is also a self-contained township, self-catering bungalows and an international-standard hotel.

Cameron Highlands
Still further north, about four hours from Kuala Lumpur, are the Cameron Highlands. These are among the best-known mountain resorts in Asia, and consist of three separate townships: Brinchang, Tanah Rata and Ringlet. An international-standard hotel and many bungalows are set around a golf course in lush green surroundings. Tennis, squash, badminton, jungle walks and swimming are available. From here you can visit Gunung Brinchang: at 2064m (6773ft) above sea level, it is the highest inhabited point in Peninsular Malaysia and therefore a magnificent viewpoint.

Negeri Sembilan & Malacca
The state of Negeri Sembilan is located in the southwest corner of Peninsular Malaysia. It is famed throughout the region for its Minangkabau-style architecture, which reflects the influence of its first inhabitants from Sumatra.

Negeri Sembilan’s capital is 64km (39 miles) south of Kuala Lumpur. Journey time from Kuala Lumpur by car is about 30 minutes. Seremban Lake Gardens is one of the town’s most attractive features - it has two beautiful lakes, one of which has a floating stage where cultural shows are performed. The State Mosque, which has nine pillars to represent the nine districts of the state, overlooks the tranquil gardens.
The Cultural Handicraft Complex at Labu Spur houses the Negeri Sembilan State Museum. Historical artifacts representative of the state and its inhabitants are on display in this museum, built entirely from wood.

Port Dickson
Port Dickson is on the coast, about one-and-a-half hour’s traveling time from Kuala Lumpur and 32km (19 miles) from Seremban. Malaysians flock here from the city at weekends, but with 18km (11 miles) of beach, there is always plenty of room. The bays are fine for all kinds of watersports and fishing and there are facilities for water-skiing, motor cruising and deep-sea fishing. The water quality is not always good though, and the sea around the beaches is often too shallow for decent swimming. The only real tourist attraction apart from the beaches is the Tanjung Tuan Lighthouse, where the coastline of Indonesia across the Straits of Malacca can be made out on a clear day.

The Fort of Raja Jumaat (a 19th-century Bugis Warrior) is 7km (4 miles) from Port Dickson, in Kota Lukut. Remains of an old royal palace and a royal burial ground can be viewed, along with the remains of the fort, built in 1847 to control the tin trade in the vicinity. Pedas Hot Springs are 30km (18 miles) south of Seremban. Visitors wanting to take to the restorative waters will find bathing enclosures, dining and recreational facilities.

The city of Malacca may only be two hours by road south of Kuala Lumpur, but it is centuries away in ambience. Old men in fishing boats still cruise up through the center of the modern city with the catch of the day, which can be enjoyed in the city’s excellent restaurants. River cruises that open up the city’s history are increasingly popular. Founded in the early 15th century, Malacca remains predominantly a Chinese community, although there are many reminders of periods under Portuguese, Dutch and British rule; some of these can be seen in the Malacca Museum. Architectural remains include the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in the center of the city, the gateway of the A Formosa Portuguese fortress, St Paul’s Church with the grave of St Xavier, the Stadthuys, the Dutch Christ Church and the Tranquerah Mosque, one of the oldest in the country. There are several international hotels in Malacca, augmented by a fully-equipped resort complex 12km (7 miles) outside the city.

In the southern state of Johor, Johor Bahru is Malaysia’s southernmost gateway, and also the road and rail gateway from Singapore via a 1.5km- (1 mile-) causeway that connects the island to Peninsular Malaysia. Places of interest in the State include Johor Lama, the seat of the Johor Sultanate after eviction from Malacca; the Kota Tinggi Waterfalls; the Ayer Hitam ceramic works; Muar, famous throughout the country for its ghazal music and trance-inducing Kuda Kepang dances; the rubber and palm-oil plantations; and Desaru, one of Johor’s newest resorts. Desaru boasts unspoilt beaches and jungle. All kinds of sports are played here, from swimming, canoeing and snorkeling to pony riding and jungle trekking.
Accommodation is in Malaysian-style chalets and hotels, and campers are also welcome.

The East Coast
This part of the country contains many of the finest beaches, including some of the least spoilt in southern Asia. In effect, the whole east coast is one huge beach, backed by jungle. The region, which covers two thirds of Peninsular Malaysia, comprises the states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor, as well as the islands of Tioman and Rawa.

Pahang - The Coast
Kuantan, the state capital of Pahang, is fast gaining popularity as a beach resort. The region around Kuantan is also well known for village festivals and for the craft of weaving pandanus leaves into mats, hats and baskets. Woodcarving and batik are also traditional crafts in this part of the country. Telek Chempadek, just 5km (3 miles) north of Kuantan is another popular beach resort with a wide range of watersports available, including windsurfing, water-skiing and sailing. It has a good selection of restaurants along the seafront. 7km (4 miles) north of Kuantan, Besarah, an attractive fishing village, is famed for its shellcraft, batik and crafts modeled from coconuts.

Asia’s first Club Mediterranée holiday village is in Cherating, about 45km (30 miles) north of Kuantan. The beaches at Cherating are some of the finest on the east coast and conditions are particularly favorable for windsurfing.

Pahang - The Interior
Malaysia’s answer to Loch Ness is Lake Chini, in whose waters mythological monsters are said to lurk, guarding the entrance to a legendary sunken city. Kenong Rimba Park, located in the valley of the Sungai Kenong, is a must for adventure seekers. Activities available include cave explorations, jungle trekking, fishing and rock climbing.
In the north of the state is Malaysia’s largest national park, Taman Negara. Surrounded by the world’s oldest tropical forest (supposedly 130 million years old), the park has remained virtually untouched and is a favorite haunt for outdoor enthusiasts, especially birdwatchers. The journey to the park headquarters involves travel by train, road and a three-hour boat ride. Accommodation is mostly modest and the more comfortable lodgings are limited.

The island of Tioman, in the South China Sea off the coast of Pahang, will be familiar to fans of the film South Pacific, as it was here that the film-makers found their mythical Bali Hai. The sweeping palm trees and luxuriously white beaches are still there, but fame has come at a price with a rush of development, which on one side has brought the ease of direct flights and express boats from the mainland, but also a raft of accommodations, not all of them of the same quality and aesthetic standards. Tioman is the largest of a group of 64 volcanic islands, and also the largest island on Malaysia’s east coast. The three most popular resorts are ABC, Salang and Juara. Tioman is also one of the best destinations in Malaysia for scuba diving and snorkeling. The jungle-clad interior is also popular for trekking, with many swathes of jungle still unspoilt.

The state of Terengganu has 225km (140 miles) of white sandy beaches. Swimming and all forms of watersports are favorite pastimes. There are several turtle-breeding beaches; at Rantau Abang, the Visitor Center can arrange for guests to watch giant turtles laying their eggs.

Perhentian Islands
Many Malays consider the twin islands of Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil to be the two most beautiful islands in the country. They both boast pristine white beaches, crystal clear waters and are still relatively unexploited. The strict local beliefs mean that alcohol is not common and this has helped deter major companies from setting up here, leaving the islands in their natural state for those who do choose to visit. The islands are popular for scuba diving and snorkeling with easy access to reefs and good visibility.

Separated from Peninsular Malaysia by 950km (600 miles) of the South China Sea, Sabah, on the northern tip of Borneo, can be reached by direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Known as ‘The Land Below The Wind’, Sabah is an adventure playground, home of the world’s oldest jungles and one of South-East Asia’s highest peaks, Mount Kinabalu. Sabah also offers the unique opportunity to see orang-utans in their natural environment.

Kota Kinabalu
The capital and main gateway to Sabah, Kota Kinabalu does little justice to its spectacular natural surroundings. It is a new city built upon the ruins of Jesselton, which was badly damaged during the Second World War, and designed around the gold-domed State Mosque. From Signal Hill there is a good view of the city and the surrounding mountains and sea.

Just south of Kota Kinabalu is the resort of Tanjung Aru, where the recently opened beach complex has been designed with both business traveller and holidaymaker in mind. As well as conference and meeting facilities, there is also a ferry-shuttle service into the town. Tuaran is 30 minutes' drive northeast of Kota Kinabalu. The road runs through lush valleys, forested hills and rubber plantations. The town has a good ‘Tamu’ (market).

Nearly 400km (250 miles) from Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan is the old capital of Borneo. The Sandakan Orchid House displays a rare collection of wonderful orchids and is a must for green-fingered enthusiasts. Also of interest is the Crocodile Farm, located outside Sandakan along the seventh mile Labuk Road. Over 1000 crocodiles, of varying sizes inhabit the farm at any one time. 24km (15 miles) from the town is the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Center, home of the ‘wild men of Borneo’, the world’s largest orangutan population. The sanctuary is a rehabilitation center where orangutans reap the benefits of inhabiting virgin rainforest in a protected environment. Now one of Sabah’s top tourist attractions, the center is no flippant tourist site as it actively manages to take in injured or orphaned orangutans and return them to the wild once they are rehabilitated. There is no guarantee of seeing an orangutan, but they usually turn up for their twice-daily feedings.

Turtle Islands
40km (24 miles) north of Sandakan, Pulau Selingan, Pulau Bakungan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan collectively form the Turtle Islands. Visitors get the opportunity to witness the amazing sight of Hawksbill and Green turtles coming ashore in the evening to lay their eggs. The islands can be visited all year round but, from July to October, the number of turtles visiting the island increases. Accommodation is available but highly sought after.

The Tenom region can be reached from Kota Kinabalu by Sabah’s only railway line. A spectacular and thrilling experience, it follows the Padas River up through narrow jungle gorges in the Crocker Range. Tenom town is renowned for its style of longhouse building, unchanged in centuries, and for the traditional songs and dances performed there.

The island of Labuan is 10km (6 miles) off the coast of Sabah and covers an area of 98 sq km (38 sq miles). It is a duty free port and operates as Malaysia’s offshore financial center. Excellent duty free shopping and wide expanses of white sandy beaches throughout the island make Labuan a popular tourist destination. It is also a popular destination for divers and has four established wreck diving sites. The Cement Wreck is suitable for beginners, but the Blue Water Wreck requires more advanced diving experience. It is possible to penetrate the hull of the Australian and American wrecks, but these dive sights are only accessible to qualified wreck divers with relevant experience. Religious buildings of interest on the island are the An’nur Jamek Mosque, Kwong Fook Kung Temple and Lauan Gurdwara Sahib. The mosque, a place of worship for Labuan’s Muslim community, has a progressive futuristic design. The temple, constructed in 1952, is the oldest Chinese temple on the island. The Hokkien community stages a deity procession with trance-like dances and food offerings each year in March. Lauan Gurdwara Sahib, a place of worship for Labuan’s Sikh community was built in 1957. The Sikh ‘Golden Temple’ in Amritsar inspired the design. The Peace Park at Layang-Layangan, commemorating World War II, is a tranquil retreat. Japanese-inspired pavilions and ponds with stone bridges are dotted throughout beautifully landscaped gardens.

Pulau Papan
An island only five minutes by boat from Labuan, Pulau Papan is a popular retreat for weekenders from Brunei. Attractive landscaping throughout the island and a colonial lighthouse enhance Pulau Papan’s natural charm. Chalet accommodation is available; the only alternative for anyone wanting to stay overnight on the island is camping.

The state of Sarawak shares East Malaysia with Sabah but is a vastly different destination to its neighbor with a greater degree of ethnic and tribal diversity leading to a more interesting culture and more varied cuisine. Most people who live in Sarawak use the intricate network of waterways to get about. Visitors are encouraged to do so too, although taxis and hire cars are available in the larger towns for those who prefer more conventional means of transport. Separated from Peninsular Malaysia by 650km (404 miles) by the South China Sea, Sarawak can be reached by direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Situated on the banks of the River Sarawak, Kuching is a charming historic town, as well as being a gateway to a huge hinterland of dense tropical rainforest and mountain ranges. Villages on stilts still cling precariously to the river banks. Kuching has many places of interest worth visiting. A visit to the Sarawak Museum affords valuable insights into the history, wildlife and anthropology of Borneo. The Court House, built in 1847, is adorned with local art forms and is regarded as one of the finest buildings in Sarawak. The Hong San Temple, built in honor of the God Kuek Seng, dates back to 1895. The Chinese community reveres Kuek Seng, who became a god 1000 years ago. It is supposed that he grants all requests from his devotees. At the heart of Kuching, the splendor of Sarawak State Mosque, with its magnificent gilt domes is a majestic sight. Situated at the Junction of Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Main Bazaar, Tua Pek Kong Temple is Kuching’s oldest Chinese temple, which dates back to 1876.

Overnight excursions can be made up the Skrang River, with accommodation provided in longhouses. There are also downriver trips to Santubong, an ancient trading post on the coast.
The Bako National Park, covering an area of approximately 26 sq km (10 sq miles), has interesting wildlife and vegetation, including carnivorous plants, long-nosed monkeys and Sambar deer. Excursions are organized from Kuching.

Gunung Mulu National Park
Gunung Mulu National Park, a World Heritage Site, has thousands of different plant species and is home to an abundance of wildlife including exotic birds and butterflies, fish and mammals. Small Borneo gibbons swinging through the trees are a common sight. The magnificent limestone caves in the park are the main tourist attraction, the cave system being the most extensive in the world and including Deer Cave, Clearwater Cave and The Cave of the Winds. The park is home to Sarawak's last nomadic tribe.

Niah Caves
Other excursions, often via Miri, can be made to the Niah Caves, which show evidence of human existence dating back to 5000 BC. The caves are also valued for their guano and bird’s nests, the latter being used to make soup. Many of the caves – and some are more easily accessible than others – may be visited with a guide.


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