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Malaysia: The Best Places and Most Unique Experiences to Discover

Malaysia in South-East Asia is a fascinating country to visit with vibrant cities, a mixture of heritage and modern architecture, glorious sandy beaches, tea plantations, delicious food, and of course, lush jungle and diverse wildlife.

West Malaysia contains the country’s major cities (Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Georgetown Penang) and is the most popular area for tourists to visit on their first trip to Malaysia. The cities offer a look at the country’s past and present culture and history and are great starting points for extended trips in Malaysia.

In East Malaysia you will find quite a different setting, for it is here that Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, has its home. Separated from West Malaysia by the South China Sea, Borneo is less populated than its neighbour with biodiverse rainforests, indigenous wildlife, incredible diving spots, and some of the best beaches in Malaysia. It also offers wonderful Malaysian experiences to discover; mountain climbing, scuba diving and observing Borneo wildlife in their natural environments to mention a few.

Malaysia is an incredible travel destination and one that I visited during my 3-month round the world trip. Sadly, I only had enough time in Malaysia to visit Penang and Kuala Lumpur, so I have asked fellow travellers what they loved best about Malaysia. With their contributions, I have put together a guide to Malaysia’s best places and experiences to inspire you to travel to Malaysia in the future.

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Malaysia Route Map

Best Cities to Discover in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

Contributed by Jackie and Justin from Life of Doing

Kuala Lumpur (also referred to as KL) is one of the most underrated places to visit in Asia. Even though it is Malaysia’s capital, it’s not as crowded as neighbouring Singapore and has many exciting attractions to explore. We recommend staying at least four days in KL and visiting the tallest buildings, Petronas Towers at 452 meters (1483 feet) and KL Tower at 421 meters (1,381 feet), two of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur. 

There are so many fun and unusual things to do in Kuala Lumpur, and yet we prefer the natural outdoor attractions of Kuala Lumpur. Forest Eco Park, located next to KL Tower, is a little oasis to yourself with greenery and trees and a walk taking you across the canopy suspension bridges. Perdana Botanic Gardens’ manicured gardens are a tranquil place to wander around, and a visit to Batu Caves is also a fun day trip. Climb up 272 colourful steps to visit Hindu temples inside a vast limestone cave.

Discover Kuala Lumpur’s Food Scene

As food lovers, KL has some of the best foods to try. It’s a blend of Malaysian food, Indian, and Chinese cultures, and has similar foods to Singapore and Indonesia. Try nasi lemak, a rice dish with peanuts, fried fish, veggies, meat, and char kuay toaw, stir-fried rice noodles. Visit Chinatown’s Petaling Street and Little India’s Brickfields to try street food at local eateries.

KL has an international airport which is an hour away from the city centre. Travellers can take a taxi, train, or hire a Grab car.

KL has a variety of accommodation options based on the budget. There are affordable rooms for under 50 USD per night for two-person occupancy. We stayed at the Element by Westin and enjoyed our stay. It’s located near a train station nearby and is a 10-minute walk to the Petronas Towers

Life of Doing visited in October and comment:

The weather is hot and humid with occasional rainstorms throughout the day with an average temperature between 75-90°F (24-32°C).

Penang

Contributed by Where Angie Wanders

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur is 1 hour – By road is 4 hours

On the island of Penang, the Unesco heritage site of George Town is the most popular place in Malaysia for tourists to visit, primarily, for two things – delicious street food and unique street art. I ended up in Penang quite by chance as it was a last-minute booking instead of travelling to Bali. After I told people I was heading to Penang I got a mixed response – some loved the city, but a lot didn’t – what had I done!

It turns out that Penang was everything I wanted it to be and more. Gritty, friendly and real. Despite the number of tourists searching for the famous street art (me included) Penang still seemed to retain its true identity, which made me fall in love with it.

Explore the History and Culture of Penang

Of course, there are so many things to do in Penang besides viewing Penang street art. Clan temples tell the story of life for Chinese communities in the 19th century using artefacts and pictures, while six different clan jetties allow us a glimpse into local life by the water.

There are other places to go in Penang and if you want a change of scenery, head to “The Habitat” rainforest on Penang Hill. It is the perfect place to escape the blistering heat of the city. Or why not take a morning stroll through Penang’s Botanical gardens in George Town.

There are plenty of places to stay in George Town. I chose the beautiful 18th-century heritage hotel called The Blue Mansion. The hotel’s interior is designed in an eclectic Chinese-style with the facade painted in a distinctive indigo blue colour. I also spent a few nights at Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Beach Resort in Batu Ferringhi. A great place to enjoy some sun, sea and sand after the hustle and bustle of George Town.

I visited in February and thought:

It was hot, sticky and dry in George Town (in the 30s) but cooler and more bearable in the coastal area of Batu Ferringhi.

Ipoh

Contributed by Emily from Wander-Lush

From Kuala Lumpur by road takes 2 hours

Ipoh is a laid-back city with beautiful architecture, terrific food markets, and a vibrant street art scene; it is by far my favourite place to visit in Malaysia.

Ipoh is the biggest city in Perak roughly halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Butterworth (the jumping-off point for Penang). It takes around 3 hours to reach Ipoh by fast train from KL or join an organised tour.

Roughly divided into two parts, the old town and the new town, Ipoh is compact and very walkable. The perfect Ipoh itinerary starts with the Ipoh Heritage Trail, a marked walk that takes you past the most iconic landmarks in Ipoh, including the colonial-era Railway Station.

Discover Ipoh’s Street Art

Seek out the street murals by Ernest Zacharevic (the same artist whose work is in George Town) one of the best things to do in Ipoh, before photographing Mural Arts Lane, decorated in paintings from top to toe.

Ipoh has a wonderful old-school vibe, and you can soak this up at the city’s many cafes. Ipoh White Coffee (sweet iced coffee) was born here and is a must-try, along with delicious custard tarts. Come dinnertime, visit one of the hawker markets for a bowl of beansprout chicken, another iconic Ipoh dish.

On the outskirts of Ipoh, you’ll find cave temples nestled in thick jungle, limestone rock formations and lakes – the perfect setting for an easy walk.

I recommend staying at Sarang Paloh Heritage Stay, a boutique hotel and event space set inside a British colonial building. Rooms and common areas are decorated in a traditional Malay kampung style; open, leafy courtyards, hardwood floors and large windows. It is one of many chic Ipoh Boutique Hotels.

Emily visited in May and comments:

The weather was very hot and steamy – as always!

Port Dickson

Contributed by James and Lee from Travel Scribes

From Kuala Lumpur by road takes 1 hour 30 minutes

While it might not feature at the top of the international traveller’s list, thousands of Malaysian locals can’t be wrong. Considered one of the best places to escape the hustle and bustle of the country’s concrete jungles, the seaside town of Port Dickson is a favourite haunt for local Malaysian tourists, looking to escape for a weekend or two. 

About a 90-minute drive from chaotic Kuala Lumpur, this budget-friendly beauty used to be a busy trading post before it developing into a tourist hotspot. Nowadays you’ll find several high-end resorts dotting the coastline, including the most famous resort in Malaysia, Lexis Hibiscus Port Douglas, a hotel complex shaped like the national flower of Malaysia – the hibiscus – but also boasting two Guinness World Records: the most swimming pools in a resort (a startling 643 of them), and the most overwater villas in a resort (522). 

Exploring Port Dickson

But hanging out in Port Dickson doesn’t just need to be within the confines of a luxury hotel. The area is jam-packed with things to do in Port Dickson to suit any travel style. From crazy upside-down houses and art galleries to a cowboy-themed indoor theme park and an interesting observatory, you can definitely keep the entire family entertained.

If natural pursuits are more your thing, Port Dickson delivers in droves. You can hang out at the picturesque beach of the Blue Lagoon, or spend hours hiking in the thickly forested surroundings of Tanjung Tuan. The 80-hectare nature reserve offers birdwatching, beaches and an incredible lighthouse, the crowning glory of the reserve, which helps to steer ships into the serene Strait of Malacca.

The Travel Scribes visited in early March and comment:

At the time the weather was lovely… if not quite hot.

Melaka

Contributed by Sharon from Dive Into Malaysia

From Kuala Lumpur by road takes is 2 hours

If you are looking for the best places to visit in Malaysia, you won’t want to miss out the vibrant town of Melaka (also spelt Malacca). Melaka is a port city only about an hour and a half south of Kuala Lumpur and is home to a UNESCO heritage site thanks to its cultural heritage. It’s one of the best places in Malaysia to learn more about the interesting history of this country with Melaka having periods ruled by the Malay, Dutch, English and Portuguese thanks to its strategic location for trade.

It’s also a great city to explore with most of the interesting historical attractions within walking distance of each other. I loved exploring this place on foot, and it’s easy to come across many fascinating religious temples, old forts and museums. I also recommend a Melaka River cruise.

Exploring the City of Melaka

Melaka has lively night markets on Jonker Street on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. This is a must-do if you are in town over the weekend. At any time, this is the place to head for dining, souvenirs, handicrafts and street food.

Outside the centre, there is also an array of attractions like Taman Mini Malaysia, which has information about the various Malay states’ culture, including replicas of traditional homes, traditional games, traditional dancing, and cooking.

It’s easy to get to Melaka by bus or on tour from Kuala Lumpur or other locations in Malaysia. There are also direct buses from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

For a good value place to lay your head, we enjoyed staying at the Imperial Heritage Hotel. It’s walking distance to the main attractions, and there is a handy shopping centre across the road.

Sharon visited in April and comments:

Melaka is hot and humid all year round with most rain in April – October. 

Sekinchan

Contributed by Sean from Living Out Lau

From Kuala Lumpur by road takes 1 hour 30 minutes

The capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, might be one of the most impressive cities in Malaysia, however, after spending a few days in its insufferable noise, pollution, and crowds, we knew we had to go somewhere more peaceful. After tons of research, we finally settled on Sekinchan, a small fishing village 1.5-hours away and one of Malaysia’s best-hidden gems.

If you don’t have your own car, you may want to consider renting a bicycle from one of the shops in town to explore the surrounding area. Although Sekinchan is only a small fishing village, its most iconic features are the lush rice paddy fields that stretch farther than the eye can see. 

Cycling through the Paddy Fields

We spent the morning cycling up and down these picturesque paddy fields and enjoying the simple things in life. When we had enough, we went to cool off in the Pantai Redang, Sekinchan’s only beach. Not only was this beach peaceful, but we caught glimpses of local lives and discovered the Sekinchan Wishing Tree one of the best places to visit in Sekinchan. We couldn’t finish a visit to a famed fishing village without trying their seafood. We ended the night at Wan Lau Seafood, sampling some delicious oyster egg omelette and clams, before returning to our hotel.

If you plan on visiting Sekinchan, we recommend you stay at Padi Box as we did. It is a unique accommodation in Sekinchan made with only recycled freight containers. Not only is this place eco-friendly, but the creative use of the freight containers makes it a very decorative place!

Sean visited in March and comments:

The weather was consistently hot and humid.

Best Cities to Discover in Borneo

Kuching

Contributed by Nicholas from Rambling Feet

Flying from Kuala Lumpur takes 1 hour 40 minutes

Flying to is the best way to arrive in Kuching, even for those already elsewhere in Borneo. From Peninsular Malaysia, it’s the only way to Sarawak’s capital, and passports are necessary even though it’s a domestic trip. Thankfully, the flights are short and inexpensive, and in my experience, the city is a very chilled place to be.

Get Up Close to the Orangutans

It’s super close to nature and even when I didn’t feel like a weekend in the jungle, I could (and did) take a detour from the airport to Semenggoh Nature Reserve to watch the feeding of the Bornean orangutan. Beaches aren’t far away either, but seeing primates scale the trees and tear fruit apart was something else altogether, even from a short distance.

The city isn’t super photogenic, though there are old Chinese shophouses, temples, mosques and colonial forts along the river. However, it is cheap and easy to get around using the Grab ride-sharing app, which means more money to spend on meals.

You can discover fantastic food in Kuching to rival KL, Malacca and Penang, making it a heaven for food lovers. Some dishes are unique to the city because of the Chinese migrants who settled there, and they incorporate local ingredients.

I stayed at the Meritin hotel in the “Golden Triangle”. I was a block away from delicious dishes like kolo mee (curly noodles with minced pork) and Sarawak laksa ( a spicy prawn noodle dish. Specialities like stir-fried midin (fiddleheads) and lui cha fan (herbal tea salad with rice), were just a short ride away. I had no regrets going home a few pounds heavier!

Nicholas visited in June and comments:

It was hot, relatively dry but short rain showers can still occur, and I experienced one during the trip. From April to October, there’s a better chance of seeing the orangutans at the feeding stations.

Kota Kinabalu

Contributed by Daniela from No Hurry To Get Home

Flying from Kuala Lumpur takes 2 hours 35 minutes

Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo. Though it might not seem super exciting at first, I was amazed at the number of things you can do in Kota Kinabalu. I was initially planning to stay for two days to check out the highlights, but I quickly extended my stay to over a week!

Kota Kinabalu has some lovely beaches; Tanjung Aru Beach for sunset is a must. It also has impressive mosques (the Pink Mosque and Masjid Bandaraya Mosque are two of the most beautiful I’ve seen). There is an insanely good Malaysian food scene – seriously, it’s worth dedicating an entire day to just eating! Kota Kinabalu is a 20-minute ferry ride away from Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, paradise-like islands that you can explore in just a day.

Getting to Kota Kinabalu is easy from Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Borneo as you can fly in. If you’re already exploring Sabah, you can fly in directly from Sandakan or take a bus from any major city in the area. Getting here from other parts of Borneo (think Sandakan) can be a little trickier and a long day as you’ll be crossing the border with Brunei, so I recommend flying instead.

I stayed at Lavie@Sabah Hostel, which is perfect if you’re on a budget. It’s quite a luxurious hostel with tons of amenities and an infinity pool on the rooftop.

Daniela visited at the end of March and comments:

The weather was great; it’s the end of the rainy season, so you still get some rainy afternoons, but they were scarce. It’s a great time to visit Borneo as you avoid the heat of the summer and the heavy rains of the rainy season, but since it’s just ending, everything looks extremely lush.

Best Islands to Discover in Malaysia

Pangkor

Contributed by Cecilia from Worldwide Walkers

By road from Kuala Lumpur takes 4 hours

In my opinion, Pangkor island is one of the best places to visit in Malaysia. The island is still an unknown destination for foreign tourists, which means that you basically have the island to yourself.

Dense jungle covers most of the island, so the wildlife is thriving here. One day, when we got back from the beach, a family of monkeys were sitting on our bungalow roof! We also saw the hornbill, a beautiful black bird with a massive yellow beak. I loved that we could spot wildlife so easily on this island!

Discover the Delights of Pangkor Island

There are many things to do in Pangkor Island. You can go to the beach, rent a kayak, go snorkelling, or rent a scooter and explore the island. Pangkor has a beautiful mosque on water, a quirky Chinese temple with a great viewpoint, and an old fisherman village. There are so many great things to do on Pangkor island to keep you busy.

It’s easy to get to Pangkor as it’s only a 4-hour bus ride away from Kuala Lumpur and a 5-hour bus ride away from Penang. You have to take the bus towards Lumut where the ferry to Pangkor island leaves every 45 minutes.

We stayed in a bungalow in Waterfall Beach Resort, and I cannot recommend this place enough. It’s very cheap, the bungalows are clean, and the owners are very kind. It’s best to find a place to stay on the West side of the island; you’ll find many restaurants, and you will be close to the island’s best beach – Coral Beach.

So, if you’re looking for a Malaysian island to explore that’s off the tourist trail, has beautiful beaches, thriving wildlife, and many great attractions to explore – then I would 100% recommend Pangkor!

Cecilia visited in August and comments:

the weather was just lovely. Blue skies every day except for one morning when we had a crazy thunderstorm

Perhentian

Contributed by Campbell from Stingy Nomads

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur is 1hour 10minutes followed by a boat ride to the islands.

Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar, the Perhentian islands, are two beautiful tropical islands located about 20 km off the coast of north-east Malaysia, close to Thailand. My girlfriend and I loved staying on the spectacular Perhentian Kecil, the smaller island, with perfect white beaches and crystal clear water offering excellent scuba diving, snorkelling from the beach and lovely hiking trails.

Both islands are beautiful, but Perhentian Kecil has a bit more of a lively vibe. We got to Kuala Besut by bus from Thailand, but it is only an hour flight from Kuala Lumpur and from there you take a speedboat to the islands. There are fantastic guesthouses and resorts around Petani Beach and Long Beach. We arrived early enough to enjoy the first day on the beach and do some snorkelling!

Discover the Underwater World in the Perhentian Islands

Long Beach is a beautiful sandy beach and swimming in the warm, crystal clear water was fantastic! From this point, we walked to Coral Bay beach on a jungle path, and there are some excellent, basic restaurants to have lunch. It is a quick walk back to Long Beach to watch the sunset. There are plenty of bars on the beach, and after dark, we sat on the beach with a drink enjoying the choreographed fire dancing, and poi fire show on the sand. The diving around the island is fantastic with warm, clear water, beautiful corals and a variety of fascinating marine life.

We enjoyed scuba diving in the Perhentian Islands. Our favourite dive sites were Tokong Laut, a beautiful tropical reef rich in marine life, and the sunken freighter Sugar wreck, largely intact and lying in 20m of water. We had a lot of fun snorkelling and hiking on the island. I would recommend renting a kayak and snorkelling equipment and paddling between Long Beach and Coral Bay, stopping to snorkel and observe reef sharks, barracudas and beautiful corals and fish that thrive in these waters.

Campbell comments:

We have been to the Perhentian Islands in July more than once; the weather was hot and sunny with calm seas and little rain, diving was good. June to August is peak season, the island gets very busy, especially over the weekends and accommodation can be fully booked. November to March is monsoon season, and the whole island basically shuts down due to bad weather and rough seas.

Langkawi

Contributed by Angeline from Go Around Phillipines

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur is 1 hour 10 minutes

When I see photos of white sandy beaches, tropical rainforest, and beautiful islands, wanderlust strikes, and for me, Langkawi triggers that emotion. Langkawi’s proximity to mainland Malaysia and Thailand makes it such an accessible location too. Surrounded by turquoise waters, its interior is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills.

We spent a wonderful day on the beach, enjoying water sports, then lounged on the soft sand while sipping our drinks and watching some fire dancing shows. At dusk, the beach gets lit up by flaming lamps and table-top candles, adding a romantic rustic vibe.

Langkawi is also famous for its sky cable, The Langkawi Skycab that lifts you above the virgin rainforest’s dense canopy. The peak is 708m above sea level, where viewing platforms may trigger your fear of height, especially when you step on the transparent floor. On clear days you can see the coastline of southern Thailand beyond the glimmering Andaman Sea.

On our last day, we hit the supermarkets, because Langkawi is the best place to buy duty-free goods. Whether it’s the jungle, beach, or shopping spree, Langkawi is one of the best places to visit in Malaysia.

Angeline visited in August and comments:

It was warm and sunny.

Kapas

Contributed by Jub from Chur New Zealand

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu is 1 hour – timings for travel by road are mentioned below.

Kapas Island is not as well-known as some of its neighbours and a bit of a hidden island in Malaysia, a few kilometres off the east coast. From mid-October through to March it’s not practical to visit Kapas Island due to the monsoon season, so my stay in May was timed perfectly.

Getting to from Kuala Lumpur to Kapas Island is a long travel day. I took a bus to Kuala Terengganu (5hrs) before transferring to Merang (1hr) where the boats regularly leave from Merang Jetty to Kapas Island. Upon arrival at Kapas Island, you get off on the sandy beach and walk to your accommodation. But you can take another boat further down the island if required, although it’s only a 30-minute walk from one end of the island to the other. Day tours can be pre-booked from Kuala Terengganu.

Camping on the Beach

I stayed in my tent at Captain Longhouse, one of three beach campsites on the island (budget options). There are a few other accommodation options catering to both mid-range and luxury options.

The island is quiet during the week, but many domestic tourists visit the island on the weekends. However, with snorkelling available across the island, you can always find peace in the water.

I loved all the coral, and while there’s not an abundance of fish, I did see turtles and blacktip reef sharks daily. If you prefer diving, there’s plenty of scuba companies to arrange a dive. Otherwise, it’s all about sticking to the beach, playing some volleyball and other beach games and then relaxing and watching the sunset.

In regards to food, while camping, I brought snacks to the island and sampled the restaurants and bars. I would advise you to make any dinner reservations around lunchtime as the restaurants usually get supplies for that night in the afternoon.

Jub visited in May and comments:

My May visit was timed perfectly for good weather

Tioman

Contributed by Victoria from Guide Your Travel

From Kuala Lumpur to Mersing Jetty by road is 4 hours followed by a boat ride to the island.

Tioman Island is the largest of the 64 volcanic islands in Malaysia and lies just off the Western Malaysian peninsula’s East Coast. This island is an absolute paradise and has incredible opportunities for snorkelling and diving. It’s one of my favourite places in all of Malaysia, and I’ve never seen beaches quite like those on Tioman Island. Of course, you’ll find other tourists here, but so far Tioman has mainly been spared by the crowds that visit places like Langkawi or some of the nearby Thai Islands. 

Discover Paradise in the Tioman Islands

Tioman is only sparsely populated so you can always find a quiet spot somewhere. I’d highly recommend heading to Juara, a little secluded town with one of the island’s best beaches and a turtle project. The road there is very narrow, and you should be careful if you’re exploring Tioman by scooter. If you’re not highly experienced on a scooter, you should hire a driver instead.

Tioman is all about water sports. It is the perfect spot to learn how to surf, go snorkelling or even try your hand at scuba diving. Malaysia is affordable for getting your dive certification, and Tioman has one of the most amazing underwater worlds around. I also enjoyed seeing the island’s waterfalls which are the perfect way to refresh yourself after a day of exploring.

Tioman Island mainly has budget accommodation, and prices are reasonable. I’d recommend the Beach Shack which offers basic rooms but has an enviable location by the beach with fantastic sunrise views.

Victoria visited in June and comments:

It was quite hot (around 30C constantly) with some rain but not very much. It was a good time to visit!

Best Experiences to Discover in Malaysia

Hiking the Cameron Highlands

Contributed by Luke from Wild About BC

From Kuala Lumpur by road takes 3 hours 30 minutes

Cameron Highlands is one of the more unique places in Malaysia. It is located up in the mountains north of Kuala Lumpur and inland from the coast. This region is famous for its endless tea plantations, and you’ll enjoy stunning views over rolling hills covered in tea fields. As it is hill country up here, the temperature is much cooler than the rest of the country, offering a nice respite from the usual heat and humidity.

Visit one of the many tea plantations so you can enjoy the views a delicious cup of the local brew. BOH Tea Plantation was our favourite, and their tasting room sits on a hilltop, so you get some incredible views. We also visited many other tasting rooms like the Ee Feng Gu Bee Farm, Big Red Strawberry Farm and the Kea Farmers Market.

Trekking through the Tea Plantations

Our highlight was hiking through the jungle and tea fields. There is a list of numbered hikes from 1 – 10, and we followed route 10 into route 6 which took us first through the jungle and then down into the tea fields which was spectacular. Getting to walk through the tea fields with nobody else around was terrific, and the higher elevation means it’s a pleasant temperature to hike here. Another popular walking trail is through the Mossy Forest although you will need a 4×4 to get here.

Cameron Highlands is easy to get to as there are buses from all of the major hubs. We took a 4-hour bus ride from TBS bus centre in Kuala Lumpur to get here. You can also book a private day tour from KL. As we were travelling on a budget, we stayed in the Cave Guesthouse. It offered clean and cheap private rooms just a 10-minute walk from the town centre.

Cameron Highlands is an epic adventure. It’s perfect if you want to get out and explore the outdoors, enjoy some local produce and escape the heat for a few days!

Luke visited in July and comments:

The weather was quite mild. We had dry but cloudy days and the daytime temperature was around 20 degrees celsius. 

Diving in Sipadan, Borneo

Contributed by Annika from The Very Hungry Mermaid

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu is 2 hours 35 minutes – followed by a road and boat transfer.

You know when Jacques Cousteau endorses a place, it must be good. Definitely good enough for me when I packed my dive bag and made my way to Sipadan in the northeast of Borneo.
Sipadan is an island that is not too different from many other tropical islands at first sight. But people don’t come here for the palm trees or the sand; in fact, you cannot even stay on Sipadan these days. Sipadan’s true charms lie below the surface: the area is known as one of the world’s best dive destinations.

From Semporna, I take a boat to get to Mabul island where I am staying with Scuba Junkie, one of the area’s resorts. It is not a boat trip I care to remember – it is stormy, and our little boat almost gets lost. Mind you; I dare say Sipadan diving is worth every effort.

Discover the Underwater World of Sipadan

Diving in Sipadan is highly restricted, and every day there is only a set amount of dive permits distributed to the various dive resorts. If you stay for a few nights, your chances are good to snatch one for a day. My persistence to dive in paradise promptly gets “rewarded” with an unfriendly triggerfish encounter before I finally get to see turtles galore, barracuda tornados, and of course, sharks.

Even diving around Mabul island is an absolute feast for the eyes, and I discover my love for muck-diving thanks to a bobtail squid which is barely bigger than my pinkie fingernail. On my way back I meet Eddie, a bar owner in Semporna. He tells tales of the good old days when he met Jacques Cousteau and told him to “stay away” in no uncertain terms. I admire his candour and cannot help but think that I may have done the same to protect this paradise and keep it to myself.

Annika visited in in July and comments:

July is usually considered the hottest month with the least amount of rain. Not sure how we ended up in such a storm! 

Climbing Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Contributed by Josie from Josie Wanders

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu is 2 hours 35 minutes

Climbing Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu is a big challenge. It is not for the faint-hearted and needs at least two full days to complete.

Mount Kinabalu rises for 4096m out of the jungle of Sabah and is Malaysia’s tallest mountain. Climbing to Mount Kinabalu’s summit is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding.

All climbs are undertaken with a local guide who is assigned to each group on arrival at the park headquarters.

The climb up the mountain starts at the Timpohon Gate at 1866m and continues for 6 km to the Pana Laban rest house at 2373m. It doesn’t sound too far, but this part took me around five hours.

Once at Pana Laban, it was time to rest my sore feet for the remainder of the afternoon, before falling gratefully into bed as the sun went down. I was awake again at 2 am to prepare for the final climb to the summit.

Sunrise on Mount Kinabalu’s Summit

This part of the climb was cold and dark, which, combined with the thin air, makes the last section of the climb even more difficult. Standing on top of the mountain on my birthday watching the sunrise above the clouds made every bit of that hard work worth it.

Mount Kinabalu is around 2 hours from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. The company who organised my climb also provided transfers before and after my climb, so we stayed at the Mercure Kota Kinabalu City Centre.

Josie visited in February and comments:

I had perfect weather – but only the day before it was raining and the poor people did the whole climb in the rain, so I am guessing it’s quite changeable at that time of the year

Jungle Camping in the Kiulu Valley, Borneo

Contributed by Sundeep and Bedabrata from DelhiFunDos

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu is 2 hours 35 minutes

Malaysia’s tourism department has tagged their country “Truly Asia”, but from one Asian to another, we do not know the true mark of the Asian. However, Malaysia is a front-runner if it is judged on natural beauty. A perfect example of this is Kiulu Valley in the state of Sabah in Borneo, a 60km taxi drive from Kota Kinabalu and the place we were visiting to experience our jungle trekking and camping trip.

The Kiulu River flows through this valley, and the riverbank was the perfect site to stay for a jungle camp. We stayed in one of the neat bamboo huts, all with basic amenities, that lined the river bank.

Discovering Life in the Jungle

We trekked in the forest during the day, and a naturalist introduced us to the local plant-life and shared traditional knowledge still widely used in Malaysia. Our jungle camp provided us with an angling kit, and we tried our hand at fishing in the river. Call it beginner’s luck, we managed to catch a fish but found out it was more fun letting it go. We spent the evening participating in local music and dance while enjoying Malay food for dinner.

The high point of our Kiulu experience had to be river rafting in the Kiulu River; one of the world’s cleanest water bodies. There were many rapids here, but we rafted under trained instructors’ guidance, so we all stayed safe. The clear green water splashing on us, the sinking feeling and the subsequent rise, and the resultant adrenaline rush are memories for life.

Delhi Fun Dos visited in July and comment:

The weather was a little hot and humid during the day but early morning and nights were very pleasant.

Best Wildlife Encounters in Malaysia

Deramakot Forest Reserve, Borneo

Contributed by Margarita from The Wildlife Diaries

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu is 2 hours 35 minutes

How would you like a chance to spot the elusive Clouded leopard in the wild? Or to see Borneo pygmy elephants or a Bornean Orangutan? Deramakot Forest Reserve in Borneo’s Malaysian state of Sabah is the best place on the island to spot some of the rarest Borneo animals.

Discover the Wildlife in Borneo

I visited Deramakot twice in my quest of seeing a Clouded leopard. Before I finally spotted the elusive feline, I saw more wildlife in Deramakot than I could have imagined. Almost each night Pygmy elephants caused the very welcome roadblocks (and photo opportunities) as they blissfully ignored our truck and refused to move off the road. Other times it would be Malayan Porcupines or Sunda skunks (yes, there are skunks in Asia!).  

We saw binturongs and Marbled cats on our night drives, not to mention slow lorises and flying squirrels. You’ll be amazed how many flying animals there are in Borneo: Flying lemurs (Colugos), flying squirrels, flying frogs, flying lizards, and even flying snakes! Of course, these animals don’t actually fly, but all of them are excellent gliders.

Another great thing about Deramakot is that it is off the tourist radar and never gets crowded. You can’t just ‘drop-in’ to Deramakot. The only way to visit this remote reserve is with a licenced tour operator. Whenever I go to Borneo, I always travel with Adventure Alternative Borneo. These guys were the first commercial outfit to bring wildlife watchers to Deramakot.

Deramakot Forest Accommodation

The accommodation in Deramakot Forest Reserve is limited to three surprisingly comfortable cottages. But there are no shops near Deramakot to pick up food or petrol, so your expedition will include all the supplies, a 4WD truck, a driver, a cook and of course your guide and wildlife spotter. Trust me, a visit to Deramakot is one of the most adventurous places you can visit in Malaysia. 

Margarita visited in October and comments:

In Borneo, it can rain absolutely any time. And when it rains, it pours. It’s one of the wettest places on earth. We had quite a few proper downpours during that week. Temperature-wise it’s usually in low 30s Centigrade.

Kinabatangan River, Borneo

Contributed by Sarah from A Free Drink

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan is 2 hours 45 minutes

We flew into Sandakan and then headed to Borneo’s area known as the Kinabatangan River for a wildlife adventure. It’s here that you can see orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the wild. Kinabatangan is the second-longest river in Malaysia, and the banks of the river and the surrounding rainforest are home to a plethora of Borneo wildlife.

Witness Borneo Pygmy Elephants in the Wild

It was here that we found proboscis monkeys, orangutans, monitor lizards, macaques and a vast number of different birds. But what made this place truly unique were the Borneo pygmy elephants – the smallest elephants in Asia. There are only 1,500 of this distinctly different elephant left in the wild. They evolved differently from the mainland elephants when the island of Borneo separated more than 300,000 years ago. They look like babies even when they’re full grown.

You can take a day trip from Sandakan, or stay in one of the river bank lodges – there are basic and luxury lodges available to spot the Borneo wildlife right from the lodge! There are also homestay options available to book through Airbnb too.

As there is no National Park Fee to pay here, you’ll have more money to take boat trips and explore the area. Early morning and early evening boat trips are the best time to spot wildlife in Borneo, and a night-time walk will also get you into the rainforest to see sights you might not usually notice! It fabulously peaceful here at night, and well worth spending at least one night to experience the river at dawn.

Sarah visited in July and comments:

It was hot and sticky (but we walked everywhere with backpacks so not that hot) and no rain.

Danum Valley, Borneo

Contributed by James from Travel Collecting

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu is 2 hours 35 minutes

One of my absolute favourite places in Malaysia is Danum Valley in the Sabah region of Borneo, one of the last remaining areas of primaeval rainforest on the island.  

There is only one place to stay inside the designated conservation area – the all-inclusive Borneo Rainforest Lodge. We arrived in Lahad Datu, where there is a small airport, and checked in at their air-conditioned offices before being whisked away in a comfortable car for the two-hour trip, mostly on dirt roads, to our accommodation.

Rainforest Accommodation

The lodge itself was fantastic, with a vast open-air lounge and restaurant overlooking a river and facing a sheer, heavily jungled escarpment. The self-contained rooms are reached by a series of wooden walkways branching out from the main lodge. Bookings can be made here.

After relaxing for a while, we were taken on a guided walk along a nearby boardwalk. All of the hikes are accompanied by a guide so that you don’t get lost (and all are included in the price). We saw a Bornean orangutan on this first walk! That night, we went on another leisurely walk to see nocturnal animals, including flying frogs.  

Jungle Trekking in Malaysia

The next day consisted of two long hikes starting on a canopy walkway, high in the trees. We saw orangutans, red leaf monkeys, and tons of birds. Then a long hike through the jungle for a view from the top of the escarpment. This was followed by a trip to a waterfall and a pool of water where fish nibble the dead skin off your feet (freaky, but fun!).  

That night, we went on a drive in the back of a truck that had a huge spotlight to see more nocturnal animals. We saw an enormous giant flying squirrel ‘fly’ and even a glimpse of a Clouded leopard.

The food was excellent, the Bornean wildlife incredible, and the overall experience was one of the absolute highlights of my trip to Malaysia!

James visited in May and comments:

The weather was great.  Not too hot or wet.  

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About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

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