Malaysia is one of the rising stars of South-East Asian tourism, a nation looking to the future while cherishing the ways of the past. Centuries of trade combined with a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and tribal influence have created a mix of peoples and culture that make it a colourful and intriguing place to visit.
Malaysia is really like two countries in one, separated by the South China Sea. The peninsula is a multicultural buffet of Malay, Chinese and Indian flavours while Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo hosts a wild jungle smorgasbord of orang-utans, granite peaks and remote tribes.
Tropical island resorts and endless white, sandy beaches offer a taste of paradise, while beneath warm coral seas, world-class dive sites await exploration. Orang-utans, the oldest rainforest in the world, city skyscrapers and majestic mosques and temples, plus a gorgeous coastline, are enough to tempt even the most jaded visitor. And if that were not enough, Malaysia's culinary credentials are among Asia's finest.
Its convoluted history highlights why Malaysia is so ethnically and culturally diverse. Even better, the magnificent landscape is no less fascinating – dense jungles, soaring peaks and lush tropical rainforests harbour abundant and exotic flora and fauna.
Places to Go
There are many national parks in Malaysia. There are many different types of expeditions available, ranging from those where you hardly lose sight of the hotel to those where you are fully immersed in the jungle with only the guide and yourself if you are willing to pay the money. Tours vary from about four days to two weeks or more. Shop around for deals of getting into the jungle and make your decision based on what type of person you are. If you are going to enjoy a lot of hiking without seeing any other people for days or even weeks then you can have that choice, alternatively you can have a much more 'packaged' tour in which you will probably stay in a very built up tourist town which has probably just grown out of the demand for people wanting to stay in the jungle.
To escape from the humid tropics, do as the English did and head up to the cooler highlands of West Malaysia, like Cameron Highlands, or climb Mt Kinabalu in Sabah.
Malaysia is also well-known for some pristine beaches with great diving opportunities, such as Sipadan off the coast of Sabah and the Perhentian Islands, which are off the coast of northern Terengganu. Coastlines in the less industrialised parts of the country, in general, are well worth driving through for their natural beauty and relaxing seaside kampung (villages), though beware not to swim at any beach which is not protected by capes, lest you be swept away by a powerful undertow.
Malaysia also has excellent scuba diving. The most popular spots are the islands off the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia (Perhentian, Redang, Tioman and many more), although the dive season is limited to April to September. However, the most famous dive site, often ranked among the best in the world, is Sipadan, off the easternmost tip of Sabah. There are many other less well known sites, like Layang Layang.
If zoological exhibits are more your thing or you are visiting with children, there are several well-maintained zoos all over Malaysia that are worth a visit or two, most notably Taiping Zoo, Kuala Lumpur 's Zoo Negara and Malacca's Zoo.
If you are most interested in taking the pulse of a city, Kuala Lumpur's crazy quilt ultra-modern skyline, including the famous Petronas Twin Towers, is worth visiting. Ipoh may be of more interest if you prefer a somewhat slower paced city that features elegant colonial-era buildings from about 100 years ago, and Malacca is for those who want to trace the colonial and imperial history of Malaysia several hundred years further back. Penang is known for its great food and relatively long-standing and institutionalised Chinese and Indian communities, who share the city with Malay and Thai communities. For a completely different experience, consider going to Kota Bharu to discover a unique conservative Islamic regional culture influenced by Thailand, only a few kilometres away, or visit the diverse cities of East Malaysia, like Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.