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Exploring Malaysia: 20 Best Places and Most Unique Experiences

Exploring Malaysia: 20 Best Places and Most Unique Experiences

Malaysia in Southeast Asia is a fascinating country with vibrant cities, a mixture of heritage and modern architecture, glorious sandy beaches, tea plantations, delicious food, lush jungles 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 terrific Malaysian experiences, including mountain climbing, scuba diving, and observing Borneo wildlife in its natural environments.

Malaysia is an incredible travel destination that I have visited twice. My first trip was brief, as it was part of my three-month round-the-world trip, and I only got to experience Penang and Kuala Lumpur. The next time, I was determined to see more of this amazing country and stayed for one month.

I’ve now seen quite a chunk of Malaysia for myself; however, I asked fellow travellers for their contributions to places I have yet to visit. Read on for a guide to Malaysia’s best places and experiences to inspire you to travel to Malaysia in the future.

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Malaysia Map

Best Cities to Discover in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia and has an international airport around an hour’s drive away.

Also fondly known as KL, the city is one of Asia’s most popular places to visit, whether for a few days or longer. Like its bordering neighbour, Singapore, it is often used as a stopover destination; however, Malaysia and Singapore offer travellers very different experiences.

I have been to Kuala Lumpur twice for two nights on both occasions. On my first visit, I wasn’t overly keen on how busy it was, but the second time around, I loved it.

I went up to the top of the Petronas Towers, which is one of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur. I took in the views from the KL Tower and walked back down to the city through the Forest Eco Park. It will surprise you with its natural forest setting and canopy walkways.

The newest attraction in Kuala Lumpur is the Merdeka Tower, which has Southeast Asia’s highest observation deck, The View at 118. It has now become the second-highest tower in the world after Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Batu Caves is a great place to see. Hewn into the limestone rocks, this Hindu shrine is one of the most important to the Hindu faith, with thousands of Tamils making a yearly pilgrimage to it. Climb the 272 colourful steps to see inside this incredible temple and meet the naughty monkeys who call it home.

Visiting Kuala Lumpur with teenagers is also great fun as there are plenty of things to do to keep them amused, from indoor skydiving at iFly Malaysia to the thrilling amusement park at Sunway Lagoon.

Discover Chinatown

One place not to miss in KL is Chinatown. If you want a bargain, visit Petaling Street (but be prepared to barter hard. The stall holders are not friendly!). For street art lovers, head to Kwai Chai Hong, a little alleyway with beautiful wall murals. Afterwards, head to one of the many nearby eateries for authentic Chinese/Malay food. Or head to Brickfield’s in Little India to try street food.

While in KL, I stayed at The Face Suites and Ascott Star. The properties are both self-contained apartments with rooftop swimming pools, perfect for life in the city.

Another great place to stay is Element by Westin, a 10-minute walk to the Petronas Towers. 

What was the weather like? It was hot and humid in April and July, with temperatures in the highs of 35°C.

rooftop pool with large sign saying Star.

Penang

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Penang is one hour or 4 hours by road

On the island of Penang, the Unesco heritage site of George Town is the most popular place in Malaysia for tourists, primarily for delicious street food and unique street art.

I ended up in Penang 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, and I ended up falling in love with it!

Gritty, friendly, and real, Penang retains its true identity and rich history despite being a busy tourist destination due to the famous street art in George Town.

Explore the History and Culture of Penang

I stayed in Penang for three nights on two different trips and found it fascinating on both occasions. There are so many attractions in Penang you will probably wish you had stayed longer; however, three nights is a decent amount of time to see all the main sights.

Clan temples, using artefacts and pictures, tell the story of life for Chinese communities in the 19th century, and Chew Jetty on the waterfront allows us to glimpse local life on the water. In contrast, heritage mansions such as Pinang Peranakan Mansion and Cheong Fatt Tzu Mansion show us how life was lived for the wealthy at the turn of the 19th century. They are a great way of learning about Penang’s historic Chinese and Peranakan culture.

If you want a change of scenery, head to “The Habitat” rainforest on Penang Hill. It is the perfect place to escape the city’s blistering heat. Or take a morning stroll through Penang’s Botanical Gardens in George Town.

Angie sitting on a tree swing looking across the rainforest in Penang.

Where to Stay in Penang

While 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 of an eclectic Chinese style, with a facade and interior areas painted in a distinctive indigo-blue colour.

Three old rikshaws against the blue outdoor wall of The Blue Mansion.

I also spent a few nights at Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Beach Resort in Batu Ferringhi. It is a great place to enjoy some sun, sea, and sand after the hustle and bustle of George Town.

What was the weather like? I visited in February on my first visit and in July on my second visit, and it was hot, sticky and dry in George Town (in the 30s) on both occasions. It was slightly cooler (but not by much) in the coastal area of Batu Ferringhi.

Beach in Penang.

Ipoh

Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh by road takes 2 hours.

I spent two nights in Ipoh following a stay at the Pangkor Laut Island Resort. Ipoh is the biggest city in Perak and is halfway between Lumut (the jumping-off point for Pangkor Island) and the Cameron Highlands, so it was the perfect place to explore en route between the two locations.

The drive time between Lumut and Ipoh is around 75 minutes. If you are coming from Kuala Lumpur, the fast train to Ipoh takes around 3 hours, or you can join an organised tour.

Ipoh is small, very walkable, and divided into old and new towns. Old Ipoh is the best part of town to visit because you can step inside heritage house museums, see important colonial buildings on the heritage trail and enjoy Malaysian dishes in cafes tucked away down tiny alleyways.

Discover Ipoh’s Street Art

Besides those attractions, one of the best reasons to visit Ipoh is to see fabulous street art.

Seek out the street art murals by Ernest Zacharevic (the same artist whose work is in George Town) before photographing Mural Arts Lane in the new part of town where the artwork is more minimal.

Angie next to a piece of street art in Ipoh of a man with a bike and trolley loaded with blag plastic bags.

Ipoh exudes a charming old-world ambience you can fully savour at the city’s numerous quaint cafes. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample the iconic Ipoh White Coffee, a sweet coffee originating here, and the delicious custard tarts similar to Portugal’s pastel de nata tarts.

A short drive from town is where you can visit Ipoh’s unique cave temples formed from limestone rock and still used as places of worship. They are adorned with statues, altars and ornaments, and one even has a beautiful lakeside setting that is a delight to wander around. They are a must-see when you come to Ipoh.

For cave enthusiasts, Gua Tempurung is a short drive away and is the largest cave in Peninsula Malaysia. Walk inside its vast caverns or, for the more adventurous, take part in a guided pot-holing activity!

What was the weather like? In July, it was very hot and humid.

Port Dickson

Kuala Lumpur to Port Dickson by road takes 90 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 developed 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. It also boasts two Guinness World Records for the most swimming pools in a resort (a startling 643) and the most overwater villas in a resort (522). 

White water bungalows in Port Dickson.

Exploring Port Dickson

But hanging out in Port Dickson doesn’t need to be within the confines of a luxury hotel. The area is jam-packed with things to do 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 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, sandy beaches and an incredible lighthouse, the crowning glory of the reserve, which helps to steer ships into the serene Strait of Malacca.

What was the weather like? In March the weather was lovely and quite hot.

Words and Images by Travel Scribes.

Melaka

Kuala Lumpur to Melaka by road takes 2 hours.

If you are looking for the best places to visit in Malaysia, you won’t want to miss out on 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.

It’s one of the best places in Malaysia to learn more about the interesting cultural 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.

yellow boat cruising along the river in Malacca.

Exploring the City of Melaka

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

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

It is easy to reach Melaka by bus or on a tour from Kuala Lumpur. 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 within walking distance of the main attractions and has a handy shopping centre across the road.

What was the weather like? Melaka is hot and humid all year round, with the most rain in April and October. 

Words by Dive Into Malaysia.

orange church of Melaka.

Sekinchan

Kuala Lumpur to Sekinchan 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 much 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. 

rice fields in Malaysia.

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.

We couldn’t finish a visit to Sekinchan 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. This place is eco-friendly, and the creative use of freight containers makes it very decorative!

What was the weather like? In March, the weather was consistently hot and humid.

Words and images by Living Out Lau.

Best Cities to Discover in Borneo

Kuching

Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching takes 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Flying to is the best way to arrive in Kuching, even for those already elsewhere in Borneo.

It’s the only way to Sarawak’s capital from Peninsular Malaysia, 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 very chilled.

See Orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve

It’s super close to nature, and even when I didn’t feel like spending a weekend on an orangutan trek through the jungle, I could (and did) take a detour from the airport to Semenggoh Nature Reserve to watch the feeding of the Bornean orangutan.

Large male orangutan on a feeding platform holding a bunch of bananas in Borneo Malaysia.

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.

Eating out in Kuching

You’ll discover fantastic food in Kuching that rivals Kuala Lumpur, 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 restaurants serving 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 about going home a few pounds heavier!

What was the weather like? It was hot and relatively dry in June, 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.

Words and images by Rambling Feet.

Kota Kinabalu

Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu takes 2 hours and 35 minutes.

Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo. Though it might not seem super exciting initially, I was amazed at the number of things you can do in Kota Kinabalu. I initially planned 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.

A must-see is the Mari Mari Cultural Village, which showcases the lives and history of the indigenous Mari Mari tribe of Borneo – think head hunters and warriors!

Jesselton Pier is the jumping-off point in Kota Kinabalu for the 20-minute ferry ride to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Here, you can spend the day on a beautiful beach and snorkel. The marine park has several islands to visit, including Gaya Island, home to Bunga Raya Island Resort and Spa, a paradisical resort offering a luxurious stay at a reasonable price point.

Boardwalk at the waters edge leading to a boat.

Getting to Kota Kinabalu

Flying into Kota Kinabalu is easy from Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Borneo.

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 can be a little trickier and a long day as you may be crossing the border with Brunei, so I recommend flying instead.

There are plenty of hotels in Kota Kinabalu to suit all budgets. Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu is a good choice if you want to splash the cash, whereas DreamTel is good for tighter budgets.

What was the weather like?

The weather at the end of March 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 everything looks extremely lush since it’s just ending.

Words by No Hurry To Get Home.

Best Islands to Discover in Malaysia

Pangkor Island

Kuala Lumpur to Pangkor by road takes 4 hours

I think Pangkor Island is one of the best places to visit in Malaysia, as the island is still an unknown destination for foreign tourists, meaning you have the island to yourself.

A dense jungle covers most of the island, so wildlife thrives here. One day, when we returned 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!

black and white Hornbill with a double yellow beak in Pangkor Malaysia.

Discover the Delights of Pangkor Island

If you’re looking for a Malaysian island to explore off the tourist trail, with beautiful beaches, thriving wildlife, and many great attractions, I would 100% recommend Pangkor!

There are many things to do on 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 the water, a quirky Chinese temple with a great viewpoint, and an old fisherman village.

Getting to Pangkor Island

It’s easy to get to Pangkor as it’s only a 4-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur and a 5-hour bus ride from Penang.

You must take the bus towards Lumut, where the ferry to Pangkor Island leaves every 45 minutes.

We stayed in a Pangkor Sandy Beach Resort bungalow, 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 island’s West side; there are many restaurants, and you will be close to the island’s best beach, Coral Beach.

If you are looking for a luxurious stay, Pangkor Laut Island Resort is a short boat ride away. It offers overwater bungalows and hillside villas, plus top-rated restaurants, a pool, tennis courts, and first-class service.

What was the weather like? In August, it was just lovely. Blue skies every day except for one morning when we had a crazy thunderstorm.

Words by Worldwide Walkers.

two blue kayaks on a beach in Pangkor island.

Perhentian Islands

The flight from Kuala Lumpur takes one hour and 10 minutes, and then there is 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 northeast 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’s flight from Kuala Lumpur, and 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 snorkel!

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 were some excellent basic restaurants where we could 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 various 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 recommend renting a kayak and snorkelling equipment, paddling between Long Beach and Coral Bay, and stopping to snorkel and observe reef sharks, barracudas, and beautiful corals and fish that thrive in these waters.

What is the weather like in the Perhentian Islands?

We have been to the Perhentian Islands in July more than once; the weather was hot and sunny with calm seas and little rain, and the 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.

Words and images by Stingy Nomads.

beach scene in the Perhentian islands.

Langkawi Island

Flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi is 1 hour and 10 minutes.

When I see photos of white sandy beaches, tropical rainforests, and beautiful islands, wanderlust strikes, and Langkawi triggers that emotion.

Langkawi’s proximity to mainland Malaysia and Thailand makes it an accessible location, with many beautiful Langkawi hotels just waiting to welcome visitors to this tropical paradise.

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

cable cars in Langkawi, Malaysia.

Ride the cable car

Langkawi is also famous for its sky cable, The Langkawi Skycab, which lifts you above the virgin rainforest’s dense canopy.

The peak is 708m above sea level, where viewing platforms may trigger your fear of heights, especially when you step on the transparent floor.

On clear days, you can see the coastline of southern Thailand beyond the glimmering Andaman Sea.

Surrounded by turquoise waters, its interior combines picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills. Whether you are after a jungle adventure, time on the beach, or a shopping spree, Langkawi is one of the best places to visit in Malaysia.

What was the weather like? In August, it was warm and sunny.

Words by Go Around Philippines.

Blue Malaysian long boat anchored on a beach in Langkawi.

Kapas Island

The flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu is one hour. The timings for travel by road are mentioned below.

Kapas Island is not as well-known as some of its neighbours and is a bit of a hidden island in Malaysia, a few kilometres off the east coast.

Due to the monsoon season, visiting Kapas Island from mid-October through to March is impractical, so my stay in May was timed perfectly.

Getting from Kuala Lumpur to Kapas Island is a long travel day. I took a bus to Kuala Terengganu (5 hours) before transferring to Merang (1 hour), where the boats regularly leave from Merang Jetty to Kapas Island. Day tours can be pre-booked from Kuala Terengganu.

Upon arrival at Kapas Island, you arrive at 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 to the other.

A beach with small traditional fishing boats in the water.

Camping on the Beach

I stayed in my tent at Captain Longhouse, one of three beach campsites on the island (budget options). A few other accommodation options cater 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 were not very many fish, I saw turtles and blacktip reef sharks daily.

If you prefer diving, there are plenty of scuba companies to arrange a dive. Otherwise, it’s all about sticking to the beach, playing volleyball and other beach games, relaxing, and watching the sunset.

Regarding 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.

What was the weather like? I had good weather in May. It was the perfect time to visit.

Words by Chur New Zealand.

A beach with a yellow staircase leading to the adjoining beach in Malaysia.

Tioman Island

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 Malaysia’s 64 volcanic islands and lies just off the east coast of the Malaysian peninsula. It is an absolute paradise with incredible snorkelling and diving opportunities.

It’s one of my favourite places in Malaysia, and I’ve never seen beaches 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 sparsely populated, so you can always find a quiet spot. 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 a diving certification, and Tioman has one of the most amazing underwater worlds. 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.

What was the weather like? June it was quite hot (around 30C constantly) with some rain but not very much. It was a good time to visit!

Words by Guide Your Travel.

five scuba divers on the waters surface in Malaysia.

Best Experiences to Discover in Malaysia

Visiting the Cameron Highlands

From Kuala Lumpur by road takes 3 hours 30 minutes (the main road into and through the Cameron Highlands gets very busy, so expect delays and possibly additional time added to your trip).

You can also book a day tour from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands.

Cameron Highlands is a great place to visit, with amazing landscapes and stunning panoramic views. It’s perfect if you want to explore the great outdoors and escape the heat for a few days!

Cameron Highlands are located along Malaysia’s main mountain range and 5000 feet above sea level. This means the temperature is noticeably cooler and wetter, setting it apart from the rest of Malaysia. It can be a welcome respite from the heat and humidity experienced in other parts of the country.

With acres and acres of green rolling hills, the region almost seems plucked from an English country scene. The difference is that tea plants grow on these hills, and Boh Tea Plantation is Malaysia’s biggest black tea producer. It’s just one of several plantations in the Cameron Highlands and a must-visit in Malaysia.

Small house in the tea plantations in Cameron Highlands Malaysia.

Boh Tea Plantation was the first set up in the Cameron Highlands. The Russell family from Scotland arrived in 1929 and set about cultivating the land and planting the tea shoots. You can visit either or both of the Boh Tea locations: the original tea plantation, where you can go on a factory tour and enjoy a cuppa in the outdoor cafe. The second is a tasting room on a hilltop with beautiful views.

Walking through the Tea Plantations

While at Boh, you can take a slow stroll or a longer hike through the tea plantation. The pathways are marked so you can’t get lost, and they will take you around the fields and through the jungle. On my visit, we were the only ones in the fields, and it was very tranquil – the only problem was the rain, which stopped our walk.

Another popular walking trail is through the Mossy Forest, although you will need a 4×4 and a guide to reach it. Other things to do in the Cameron Highlands include visiting one of the many strawberry farms, the butterfly and bee farm, or the Kea Farmers Market.

We stayed at the Cameron Highlands Resort, which was incredible. Golfers can also play a round on the resort’s golf course.

What was the weather like? July was cool with scattered showers. The daytime temperature was around 18 degrees Celsius. 

Tea Plantation in Cameron Highlands Malaysia.

Diving in Sipadan, Borneo

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

When Jacques Cousteau endorses a place, it must be good. It was good enough for me when I packed my dive bag and went to Sipadan in the northeast of Borneo.

Sipadan is an island that looks similar to many other tropical islands. But people don’t come here for the palm trees or the sand. Sipadan’s true charms lie below the surface in an area known as one of the world’s best dive destinations.

From Semporna, I take a boat 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.

speed boat heading to a small tropical island n Malaysia.

Discover the Underwater World of Sipadan

Diving in Sipadan is highly restricted, and only a set number of dive permits are distributed daily to the various dive resorts.

If you stay for a few nights, you can snatch one for a day. My persistence to dive in paradise promptly gets “rewarded” with an unfriendly triggerfish encounter before I finally see turtles galore, barracuda tornados, and, of course, sharks.

Even diving around Mabul island is an absolute feast for the eyes, and I discovered my love for muck-diving thanks to a bobtail squid 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 I may have done the same to protect this paradise and keep it to myself.

What was the weather like? July is usually considered the hottest month with the least amount of rain; however, we encountered a really bad storm! 

Words by The Very Hungry Mermaid.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

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 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.

Mount Kinabalu peak above the clouds in Malaysia.

On arrival at the park headquarters, all climbs are undertaken with a local guide assigned to each group.

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, made the last section even more difficult.

Standing at the top of the mountain on my birthday and 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 organising my climb also provided transfers before and after my climb, so we stayed at the Mercure Kota Kinabalu City Centre.

What was the weather like? In February, my weather was perfect – 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.

Words by Josie Wanders.

Mount Kinabalu in Borneo Malaysia.

Jungle Camping in the Kiulu Valley, Borneo

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

Malaysia is a front-runner for natural beauty, and a perfect example is Kiulu Valley in the state of Sabah in Borneo, a 60km taxi drive from Kota Kinabalu and the place we visited 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 basic bamboo huts along the river bank.

A river in Malaysia running between dense jungle foliage.

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 that is 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 dancing while enjoying Malay food for dinner.

The high point of our Kiulu experience had to be rafting in the Kiulu River, one of the world’s cleanest water bodies. Although there were many rapids, we rafted under trained instructors’ guidance, so we all stayed safe.

The clear green water splashing on us, the sinking feeling, the subsequent rise, and the resultant adrenaline rush are memories for life.

What was the weather like? In July, it was a little hot and humid during the day, but early mornings and nights were very pleasant.

Words by DelhiFunDos.

white water rafters paddling along a river in Malaysia.

Best Wildlife Encounters in Malaysia

Deramakot Forest Reserve, Borneo

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

Would you like a chance to spot the elusive Clouded leopard in the wild, see Borneo pygmy elephants, or see 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 to see a Clouded leopard. Before I finally spotted the elusive feline, I saw more wildlife in Deramakot than I could have imagined.

Almost every night, Pygmy elephants caused 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!).  

Pigmy elephants in a mud bath in Borneo.

On our night drives, we saw binturongs, marbled cats, slow lorises, and flying squirrels.

You’ll be amazed at 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 they are all 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, your guide, and a wildlife spotter. Trust me, a visit to Deramakot is one of the most adventurous places you can visit in Malaysia. 

What was the weather like? It can rain absolutely any time in October, 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 the low 30s Celsius.

Words by The Wildlife Diaries.

slow loris hanging upside down in a tree in Borneo.

Kinabatangan River, Borneo

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. Here, you can see orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the wild.

Close up shot of a proboscis monkey with a big red nose.

Discover the Wild Pygmy Elephants

While here, we found proboscis monkeys, orangutans, monitor lizards, macaques and many 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 these distinctly different elephants 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 fully grown.

pigmy elephants in the jungle in Borneo.

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 is no National Park Fee to pay here, so you’ll have more money to take boat trips and explore the area.

Early morning and 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 is fabulously peaceful here in the evening, and it is well worth spending at least one night here to wake up and experience the river at dawn.

What was the weather like? In July, the weather in Borneo was hot and sticky, with a bit of rain.

monitor lizard laying on a tree trunk in Borneo.

Danum Valley, Borneo

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

One of my absolute favourite places in Malaysia is the Danum Valley in the Sabah region of Borneo, one of the last remaining areas of primaeval rainforest on the island and a fabulous place to see orangutans in the wild.  

There is only one place to stay inside the designated conservation area – the all-inclusive Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

We arrived at the small airport in Lahad Datu 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 was fantastic, with a vast open-air lounge and restaurant overlooking a river and facing a heavily jungled escarpment.

The self-contained rooms are reached by a series of wooden walkways branching out from the main lodge. 

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 (all are included in the price).

orangutan female holding her baby.

That night, we took another leisurely walk to see nocturnal animals, including flying frogs.  

Jungle Trekking in Malaysia

We went on two long hikes the next day, starting on a canopy walkway high in the trees. We saw orangutans, red-leaf monkeys, and many birds.

Then, we took a long hike through the jungle to see the top of the escarpment. This was followed by a trip to a waterfall and a pool where fish nibbled the dead skin off our feet (freaky, but fun!).  

That night, we drove in the back of a truck with 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 was incredible, and the overall experience was one of the absolute highlights of my trip to Malaysia!

What was the weather like? In May the weather was great. Not too hot or wet.

Words by Travel Collecting.

orange coloured monkey in the trees.

Please Pin for Future Travel to Malaysia

Planning a trip to Malaysia? Please check out the following Malaysia travel posts:

Kuala Lumpur

Kwai Chai Hong: Beautiful Art Murals in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur

Penang

Discover Penang in 3-nights

Is Penang Street Art Still Worth Seeing In 2024?

Chew Jetty: What To See in Penang’s Historic Waterfront Village

Pinang Peranakan Mansion: A Tour of Penang’s Heritage Museum

Blue Mansion Penang Review: Cheong Fatt Tze

Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort Review: Beachfront Luxury in Penang

Ipoh

Best Ipoh Itinerary For 2 Days + Cave Temples

Is Ipoh Worth Visiting? Here’s 13 Reasons Why You Should Visit Ipoh in Malaysia

Gua Tempurung: Explore the Limestone Cave in Perak, Malaysia

Borneo

Sepilok Orangutans: Ultimate Bucketlist Orangutan Experience in Borneo

7 Best Places to See Orangutans in the Wild

Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire, or accommodation? Check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.

Raksha

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

Wow Malaysia has so many things to offer. I was supposed to travel to Borneo but I accidentally booked Brunei. I really have the trekking in the forests to see Orangutans up in my list. I will definitely plan for it as soon as the pandemic is over.

Amrita

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

I have been to the Borneo Islands and absolutely fell in love with the place. As I was reading this article, it reminded me of my visit there and also the need to plan a visit to explore the rest of the places. You have curated a great list of the places and the experiences.

Ambica Gulati

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

This is such an indepth guide. I would love to see the mosque in the water. I would love to cycle around the paddy fields. Most of all, I would like to try the cuisine. And the unmissable looks like a visit to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve.

Chloe Beaver

Tuesday 16th of March 2021

Malaysia was my first experience with Asia and it is where I absolutely fell in love with the culture & the continent. Although I only had the opportunity to visit Kuala Lumpur, I hope to go back one day to visit Penang! This is a great list, and I might give the scuba diving a go as well!

WhereAngieWanders

Tuesday 16th of March 2021

you will love Penang, it's just so unique. I hope to return one day and also head to the Perhentian islands and Borneo

Ummi Nadrah

Tuesday 16th of March 2021

It's always lovely to read about my country from a visitor's perspective. Because the grass is always greener on the other side, it's easy to take for granted the things that we see every day. Anyway, from this list, my favorites are Kuala Lumpur (where I live) and Penang, which I visit at least twice a year. There are some that I haven't been to yet but wish to check out soon once travel restrictions are lifted. Currently we are not allowed to travel interstate.

WhereAngieWanders

Tuesday 16th of March 2021

What a fabulous country to live in! I can't wait to return in the future and experience it some more.