If countries were awarded for diversity, Malaysia would top first place. Not only is Malaysia a melting pot of ethnic cultures, but it is also a blend of many different customs, cuisines and religions all coexisting peacefully together. From large island groups to mountains, fertile highlands and tropical rainforest, the country’s geography is every bit as diverse. What’s more, Malaysia is a unique country in that is divided into two main landmasses. West Malaysia occupies the southern half of a peninsula shared with Thailand, while across the South China Sea is East Malaysia, situated on the Borneo island. This overview of the best places to visit in Malaysia concentrates on its cultural, historic and natural attractions. For an insight in Malaysia’s most popular islands & beaches see this island list.
Often used as a stopover by many travelers visiting the beautiful Perhentian Islands, Kota Bharu offers its own unique charm, attractions, shopping and cuisine. Located in Peninsular Malaysia near the Thailand border, Kota Bharu is the capital of the Kelantan State. Much of Kota Bharu life revolves around the city’s bustling marketplaces of which the Central Market is the largest. Surrounded by coffee shops and busy streets dotted with old trishaws, the Central Market is teeming in local women working food stands and selling colorful fruits and vegetables.
Commanding an important position on the busy sea route between India and China on West Malaysia’s southwestern coast, Melaka was ruled and battled over for centuries between Indian, Portuguese, British and Dutch governments. As a result, this modern day Malaysian city is now one of the best places to visit in Malaysia packed with architecture, culture, traditions and cuisine all reflecting its rich heritage. The Portuguese Settlement in Melaka is characterized by charming villas and the remains of an old fort while the Dutch district features some of the oldest Dutch architecture in the East.
Providing a cool escape from the heat of the lowlands, the Cameron Highlands in the Titiwangsa Mountains are one of Malaysia’s oldest tourist destinations. Developed with an English garden charm, this beautiful tableland offers lush scenery, forests, lakes, wildlife and outdoor recreation. As Malaysia’s chief tea and flower producer, the Cameron Highlands also abounds in sprawling tea plantations and colorful flower farms. Many of these establishments are open to the public. Several pictorial golf courses are available for golfers.
The capital of the Sabah State in Malaysian Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is a fast-growing tourist destination due to its close proximity to tropical islands, rainforests, wildlife refuges, national parks and Malaysia’s tallest peak, Mount Kinabalu. Commonly called KK by locals, Kota Kinabalu has a small city center, boasting a number of landmarks, memorials and an observatory, which offers splendid views of the city. Just minutes from the city, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park features five small islands that are ideal for snorkeling, diving and swimming.
The largest city on Borneo Island, Kuching is a popular base for exploring Borneo’s rainforest and the state of Sarawak. However, Kuching offers plenty for tourists to see and do during their stay, from sightseeing historic landmarks to bustling markets and outdoor recreation. The city is situated on the banks of the Sarawak River with a beautifully landscaped waterfront offering views of historic landmarks such as Fort Margherita and Astana palace. Distinct for its umbrella-shaped roof, the Kuching Civic Center contains a planetarium and a viewing platform presenting outstanding aerial views.
Located in the Strait of Malacca off West Malaysia’s northwestern coast, Penang Island is a popular tourist destination due to its historic George Town and rich culinary diversity. Its position along one of the world’s most traveled shipping routes has infused Penang with a colorful array of cultures, architecture and cuisine. No visit to Penang would be complete without a trishaw ride or walk around the island’s capital city, George Town, to see its British colonial architecture and historic Chinese and Indian temples.
Less than 200 year ago, Kuala Lumpur was just a quiet tin-mining town in West Malaysia. Today, this same sleepy village has flourished into the country’s federal capital and largest metropolis. Commonly called KL by locals, this vibrant city is a cultural melting pot, noted for its impressive skyscrapers and buzzing scenes of shopping and dining. KL doesn’t really have a city center but rather several hubs of activity. The former colonial district features distinctive architecture and the pleasant Merdeka Square. Chinatown is a busy tourist hub while the Golden Triangle presents the city’s modern face, with the famous Petronas Towers as its most striking building.
Encompassing three states across the northern part of West Malaysia, Taman Negara is reputed to be the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. A popular ecotourism and adventure destination, this national park is teeming in in wildlife from rare plants to exotic birds and scarce animals like the Malayan Tiger, Asian elephant and Sumatran Rhinoceros. One of the most popular things to do in Taman Negara is the Canopy Walk, a long suspension bridge high above the treetops where visitors can walk and glimpse exotic birds. Guided night safaris are also available to see plants that only bloom at night, glow-in-the-dark fungi and nocturnal creatures like owls, leopard cats and water dragons.
Located off Malaysia’s northwestern coast in the Andaman Sea, Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands boasting picturesque beaches, rainforest, mangroves and forest-clad mountains. In recent years, resorts, hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities have developed in Langkawi, offering visitors the opportunity to experience the archipelago’s exceptional natural beauty.
Famous for its extraordinary limestone karst formations and phenomenal cave systems, the Gunung Mulu National Park is one of the most awe-inspiring natural attractions in all of Southeast Asia. Located in Malaysian Borneo in the Sarawak State, this national park features some of the largest and longest cave systems in the world. Included in these is the world’s largest cave chamber, the Sarawak Chamber, which is estimated large enough to hold 40 Boeing 747 aircraft.