Malaysia offers two very distinct experiences: the peninsula and Borneo (an island shared with Indonesia and Brunei). The peninsula is a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian flavors with an efficient and modern capital, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian Borneo features some of the most interesting places in Malaysia with a wild jungle, orangutans, granite peaks and remote tribes. Combined with some beautiful islands, luxury resorts and colonials towns, Malaysia, for most visitors, presents a happy mix.
Almost 2 million foreign tourists traveled to Malaysia in 2010. Most of them were citizens from neighboring countries such as Singapore and Indonesia but a growing number of other foreign tourists are discovering this country as well.
The top Malaysia tourist attractions:
Wannabe botanists likely will enjoy a visit to Gunung Gading National Park where the world’s largest flower grows. Rafflesia blooms can grow up to three feet in diameter, and have a nasty smell. The blooms die after a few days; the good news is they can bloom anytime of the year, though the best time is November through January. But there’s more to see than just one flower. The Sarawak park has nice beaches, rugged mountains and jungles just made for hiking.
Water activities shine at Manukan Island, the second largest island in Tunku Abdul National Park, Malaysia’s first marine national park. Located in eastern Malaysia’s Sabah state, the park is known for its great beaches – the best beach is at the island’s eastern end. Travelers also will find coral reefs offshore that offer some pretty spectacular scuba diving and snorkeling. Manukan Island has the most developed tourist facilities of the five islands in the park, and is accessible by ferry from Kota Kinabalu.
As temples go, Kek Lok Si Temple at Penang is a relatively new temple, dating back only to 1891. Despite its youth, it is one of the most important Chinese Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. The Temple of Supreme Bliss, as it’s also known as, is an impressive sight, with countless images of Buddha another Buddhist icons and gods. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and draws pilgrims from throughout Southeast Asia. The main highlight of the complex is the Temple of Rama IV with its 10,000 Buddha carvings.
Travelers who make their way to Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur will be rewarded with some pretty awesome Hindu art. The three main caves that make up Batu Caves make it the most popular Hindu shrine outside of India, and attract thousands of worshippers at Thaipusam, an annual Hindu festival. The highlight of the site is a giant statue of a Hindu god, reached by climbing 272 steps to the Cathedral Cave. Monkeys also enjoy the site and can be seen playing there.
The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is famous for its orangutan orientation program in which orphaned or rescued orangutans are taught to live in the wild. Because of this, the surrounding forests have a thriving population of orangutans that are breeding in the wild. The best time to see the orangutans are the morning and afternoon feeding sessions. The Semenggoh Nature Reserve Also has a thriving bird population with colorful exotic Malaysian birds, including the Bornean black magpie, yellow rumpled flowerpecker, Malaysian honeyguide and brown hawk owl.
Travelers can take a trip into the past with a ride on a 1900s steam train, the North Borneo Railway. The only train on Borneo, this old-fashioned train chugs about 83 miles from Tanjung Aru to Papar. Riding this train is a good way to see local villages with houses built on stilts and rice paddies being worked with water buffalo. Travelers enjoy Asian and Continental cuisine meals as they journey in one of five restored carriages. The train only runs on Wednesday and Saturday.
Travelers who like to stop ‘til they drop will have a field day at Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur’s main shopping district. Bukit Bintang has several malls, including Benaya Times Square, one of the largest malls in the world. This mall houses an indoor theme park. The district is filled with upscale malls and malls that specialize in electronics. After a day of shopping, visitors can unwind at a sidewalk café or nightclub, since Bukit Bintang also is Kuala Lumpur’s trendiest entertainment district.
Redang Island is made for beach lovers, with its white sand beaches and crystal clear ocean water, making it popular with snorkelers – great snorkeling is the island’s main attraction. Scuba divers love it here, too. Though it’s one of the largest islands off the eastern Malay Peninsula, it’s small enough that visitors can get around on foot, either on roads or trekking through the jungle. Redang Island is one of nine islands in a marine nature reserve. Accommodations are mostly resort style.