George Town City view from Penang Hill at dawn, Malaysia
George Town, Malaysia
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History & Culture

Top Places to Explore on a Trip to Malaysia

14 min read
Published on Sep 06, 2019
Guest Contributor
By Guest Contributor

If you are looking for a destination that offers a wide variety of attractions including amazing nature, excellent beach resorts, diverse culture, and contrasting cuisines, look no further than a Malaysia vacation. Malaysia covers two landmasses. One is Peninsula Malaysia, which is sandwiched between Thailand and Singapore and the other is situated to the east and occupies the northern part of the island of Borneo. There is something for everyone in Malaysia. The country has absorbed the cultures of three distinct nationalities which live here. They are the Malay, the Chinese, and the Indian populations. Add the British influence from the recent past and you have a truly interesting destination when in Malaysia on an Asia trip  

Peninsula Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital. I personally enjoyed the various architectural gems to be seen in this city where you will find colonial and modern architecture existing side by side. The most notable building is the Petronas Towers which dominate the skyline. These impressive twin towers used to be the tallest building in the world, but are still the tallest twin buildings. These 88-floor towers resemble silver rockets which resemble motifs found in Islamic art. Each tower has five tiers representing the five pillars of Islam. The observation deck is on the 86th floor, and is something recommended to visit on Malaysia vacations. The towers look particularly impressive when illuminated at night.

A relic from the 20th century British Colonial era, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building combines British and Islamic influences. It is located in the huge Merdeka Square, once used by the British as a cricket pitch. Another building in the square is St. Mary’s Cathedral. One of Kuala Lumpur’s most distinctive colonial buildings is the grand 1910 railway station designed by a British architect.

If shopping is your thing, this is the place as there are some excellent shopping malls offering both local and international merchandise. When it comes to eating on Malaysia tours, you are spoiled for choice – again because of the diverse cultural influences. Locals will ask, "Have you eaten yet?" It's the equivalent to our asking, "How are you?"


Penang is an island reached by a causeway. The main city is George Town, named after Britain’s King George III. Most of George Town’s population is of Chinese origin. Due to strict controls, George Town retains many of its colonial-era shophouses to this day. It is officially recognized as having a unique architectural and cultural presence without parallel anywhere in South East Asia. Most of George Town's heritage landmarks, including the City Hall, the High Court, St. George's Church, and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel are located within a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city's main Central Business District at Beach Street is home to banks built in various Art Deco styles. One special site is Fort Cornwallis, built by the British in the 18th century to defend the city in case of an attack from the sea. You might want to head up Penang Hill by funicular for panoramic views of the city and way beyond. There are also nature trails where you can spot over 100 different bird species.

19th-century shop-houses in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
19th-century shophouses in Georgetown, Penang Island

One special site is the Kek Lok Si Temple which stands on a hilltop near Penang Hill. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, featuring a series of monasteries, prayer halls, temples, and beautifully-landscaped gardens. Built in 1890, it is known as the "Temple of Supreme Bliss."

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang Island, Malaysia
Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang Island

But that’s not all there is on the island. There is a selection of first-class beach resorts at Batu Ferringhi, just north-west of George Town and known for water sports and seafood restaurants. The Tropical Spice Garden here has spice terraces, a bamboo garden, and tropical flowers. Further south on the island is the Snake Temple which is filled with around a dozen venomous snakes. You are quite safe viewing them from an observation post.

Aerial view of Batu Ferringhi Beach in Penang, Malaysia
Aerial view of Batu Ferringhi Beach in Penang


A unique destination on Malaysia vacations is Malacca. Situated near the Strait of Malacca, the city was once an important trading port. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Malacca is considered Malaysia’s most historic city. Under the rule of various empires throughout the centuries including the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, Malacca features an interesting blend of Chinese and European influences. The most impressive relic from the Dutch period is the huge pink town hall, Stradthuys, built in the 17th century. Located in the heart of the city, and believed to be the oldest Dutch building in Asia, it now features the Museum of History and Ethnography. St. Paul’s Hill, located in the historic central area of Malacca, is home to the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, built by the Portuguese over 400 years ago. The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, located in the old part of the city, is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia, founded in 1646.


Langkawi is Malaysia’s best-known vacation destination and a very attractive one. It is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea. The largest of the islands is Pulau Langkawi, fringed with long, white beaches and featuring an interior of jungle-covered hills and craggy mountain peaks. The most popular beaches are located on the west coast and offer a wide choice of restaurants as well as some of the best resort hotels that you'll find in Langkawi on a Malaysia vacation.

Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands is one of Malaysia’s largest hill stations, first developed by the British in the 1920s and created to get away from the summer heat as it offers low humidity. Attractions in the Cameron Highlands include jungle walks, waterfalls, tea plantations, beautiful gardens, and wildflowers. Featuring a glimmer of its colonial heritage, the Cameron Highlands is an ideal spot for rest and relaxation. It is renowned for its trails which take visitors through the forest to waterfalls and other tranquil spots. It is also known for its tea plantations, and visitors can book "tea factory" tours. You can also visit a strawberry farm, a bee and insect farm, and a mushroom farm while here.

Tea plantations in the mountains of Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Tea plantations in the mountains of Cameron Highlands

Taman Negara Tropical Rainforest

Taman Negara means "national park" in Malay and is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. It features enormous trees, waterfalls, jungle treks of various durations, and the world’s longest canopy walkways. Several trails enable you to explore the forest without a guide. It is a haven for endangered species such as the Asian elephant, tigers, leopards, and rhinos, but numbers are low and sightings are very rare. You are more likely to see birds, small deer, lizards, snakes, and perhaps a tapir. On your Malaysia vacation, you can choose from several adventure activities such as canopy walk, night jungle trek, rapid shooting, and even tapir watching.

Canopy walkway in Taman Negara, Malaysia
Canopy walkway in Taman Negara, Malaysia

Batu Caves

Batu Caves are one of Malaysia’s national treasures and holiest Hindu sites. It is a giant limestone cave complex located 13 kilometres/8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. In late January or early February, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converge on the caves. The three main caves that make up Batu Caves are the most popular Hindu shrine outside of India. The highlight of the site is a giant statue of a Hindu god, reached by climbing 272 steps to the Cathedral Cave which has outstanding Hindu art. Monkeys also enjoy the site and can be seen playing there.

Lord Murugan statue at entrance of Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Lord Murugan statue at entrance of Batu Caves

Borneo Malaysia

I am not sure what anyone expects Borneo to be like, but my experience there was that it is very civilized and consists of both urban centres and jungle. A visit here on Malaysia tours will surprise you with its attractions. Borneo is made up of two states, Sarawak to the west and Sabah to the east.


Kuching, in Sarawak, is one of the two major cities in Malaysia Borneo, the other being Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. You might be surprised how sophisticated this city is. It is a pleasant city to stroll around as it is located on the banks of a river along which you can take a nice walk on the riverside esplanade. One of the best things about the small size of Kuching is that it is pedestrian-friendly. A major attraction is Fort Margherita, built in 1879 to protect Kuching against attacks by pirates. Inside is the Brooke Gallery which details the story of the white rajas of Sarawak, and includes fascinating artefacts.

Kuching has two interesting but contrasting museums. The Sarawak Museum, currently closed until early 2020, contains indigenous handicrafts and wildlife specimens plus a full-size replica of an Iban Longhouse. My favourite museum is the Cat Museum (Kuching means cat). It is the world’s first museum devoted to all things feline. You don’t need to be a cat lover to enjoy a range of whimsical exhibits, photos, feline art, and cat souvenirs. The museum contains over 4000 artefacts including paintings and memorials related to cats. Exhibits include a mummified cat from ancient Egypt, a gallery of feline-related advertising, and exhibits of the five species of wild cats found in Borneo. There are even real stuffed cats here and famous cats such as Garfield, Felix, and Hello Kitty.

Cat Museum in Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia
Cat Museum in Kuching

Stay at a Longhouse in Malaysia

A unique experience on a Malaysia tour is a visit to an Iban longhouse in Sarawak which gives a glimpse into the daily lives of indigenous people. There are several in the region but I suggest visiting one of the true, authentic longhouses. The one I stayed at took half a day to reach via road and longtail boat trip, but the journey was well worth it. The Iban people were originally head hunters but obviously not today. The concept of a longhouse is where several families live together under one roof. The Iban people can be shy but offer a very warm welcome to outsiders. You will sleep in separate quarters but nothing fancy, sleeping on a mattress with a mosquito net. On arrival, after introductions, you will have dinner followed by a short performance of local dance and music. You can expect an invitation to join in. You will be shown around the longhouse and given small demonstrations of daily life. The evening usually includes tuak, a local rice whiskey. The next morning may include a short hike into the jungle, a tour of their gardens, and a chance to learn how to shoot a blowpipe gun.

Iban longhouse in Sarawak cultural village, Malaysian Borneo
Iban Longhouse in Sarawak cultural village, Borneo

Mulu National Park

The Mulu National Park, located in Sarawak, is a combination of forests, caves, wildlife and outstanding karst stone formations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique scenery and an extensive array of native plant and animal species. Some 3500 species of plants and 109 species of palm trees flourish here. The area provides protection for the wildlife as it includes a substantial area of Borneo’s primary tropical forest. There are enormous caves and vast cave networks together with rock pinnacles, cliffs, and gorges, and is home to Mount Mulu, Sarawak’s second-highest mountain. Clearwater Cave here contains parts of one of the world's largest underground river systems and is believed to be the largest cave in the world.

Pinnacles in Mulu National Park, Malaysia
Pinnacles in Mulu National Park

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is the highest mountain in Borneo, with a summit height at 4095 metres/13,435 feet, and is known for its exceptional botanical and biological biodiversity with over 600 species of ferns, 320 species of birds, and 100 mammalian species. It is known to be one of the most accessible mountains in the world. The main peak of the mountain can be climbed easily by a person in good physical condition and does not require mountaineering equipment, although climbers must be accompanied by guides at all times.

Top of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia
Top of Mount Kinabalu

Orangutan Sanctuary, Sepilok

The Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sabah is where, on Malaysia vacations, you will find the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for orphaned and injured orangutans who are eventually returned to forest life. In 2017, there were around 200 living in the reserve. At the outdoor nursery, a short walk from the feeding platform, you can watch orphaned toddlers at play. You can sit and watch them play and practice their swinging, just one of the skills they need to survive when they return to their rainforest home. It is better to get here early in the morning before they are fed and become sleepy.

Young orangutan hanging from cable at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok, Borneo, Malaysia
Young orangutan hanging from cable at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok


Located in the Celebes Sea in Sabah, Sipadan is a diver’s paradise to be experienced on a Malaysia tour. It is Malaysia’s only oceanic island and was formed by living coral on top of an extinct volcano cone. Because of its rich marine life, it’s one of the best diving spots in the world. Sipadan has more than 3000 species of fish and hundreds of different corals waiting to be explored. There are hawksbill and green turtles, manta rays, schools of barracudas, and whale sharks. The island also has some nice sandy beaches.

Sipadan Island dive boats and view of coral, Borneo, Malaysia
Sipadan Island dive boats and view of coral

By Robert Glazier

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