Buzzing cities, culinary sensations, beautiful beaches, idyllic islands and national parks with wildlife-packed rainforests – all of this can be found in Malaysia.
The catchy tourism slogan ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ continues to ring true as this country really is a potpourri of Asian cultures. Muslim Malays, religiously diverse Chinese and Hindu & Muslim Indians all muddle along with aboriginal groups (the Orang Asli) on Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo’s indigenous people, scores of tribes known collectively as Dayaks. Each ethnic group has its own language and cultural practices which you can best appreciate through a packed calendar of festivals and a delicious variety of cuisines.
For many visitors Malaysia is defined by its equatorial rainforest. Significant chunks of primary jungle – among the most ancient ecosystems on earth – remain intact, protected by national parks and conservation projects.
Unesco World Heritage–listed, Melaka and George Town (Penang) have uniquely distinctive architectural and cultural townscapes, developed over a half a millennium of Southeast Asian cultural and trade exchange.
The icing on Malaysia's verdant cake is the chance to encounter wildlife in its natural habitat. The most common sightings will be a host of insects or colourful birdlife, but you could get lucky and spot a foraging tapir, a slivered leaf monkey, or an orangutan swinging through the jungle canopy. The oceans are just as bountiful: snorkel or dive among shoals of tropical fish, paint-box dipped corals, turtles, sharks and dolphins. Even if you don’t venture outside the urban centres, there are excellent opportunities for wildlife watching at places such as the KL Bird Park or Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
Imagine a city, with a skyline punctuated by minarets, Mogul-style domes and skyscrapers; imagine colourful, food-stall-lined streets shaded by a leafy canopy of banyan trees.
This is Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia’s sultry capital packed with historic monuments, steel-clad skyscrapers, lush parks, megasized shopping malls, bustling street markets and lively nightspots.Essential parts of the vibrant mix are the incense-wreathed, colourfully adorned mosques and temples of the country’s Malay, Chinese and Indian communities.
To fully connect with locals, join them in two of their favourite pastimes: shopping and eating. Malaysian consumer culture achieves its zenith in KL, where you could spend all day browsing glitzy air-conditioned malls such as Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Suria KLCC and Mid Valley Megamall in search of designer fashion and bargains. Bangsar and Publika are the places to go for lesser-known labels and the work of offbeat independent designers. Alternatively, explore Central Market for locally made souvenirs and handicrafts; and hunt out the few remaining artisans and antiques dealers still keeping shop in and around Chinatown.
It won't take you long to realise that, despite the heat, this is a city best explored on foot. Walk and you can catch all the action and save yourself the frustration of becoming entangled in one of KL's all-too-frequent traffic jams. What's more, you'll be sure to come across some of the city's best dining spots: the hawker stalls and traditional neighborhood kopitiam (coffee shops) that beckon you over with the aroma of freshly cooked food. Despite the city's relentless march towards modernity, parts of KL retain the laid-back ambience and jungle lushness of the kampung (village) it once was.