What to do in Malaysia
What to do in Malaysia
Our guide on the best things to do in Malaysia
One of the world’s most enchanting vacation destinations, Malaysia offers everything from postcard-perfect beaches framed by pristine waters for diving to wildlife-filled jungle, well-preserved historic treasures and mouth-watering cuisine, and some of the friendliest locals you’ll ever meet.
Peninsula Malaysia enjoys a strategic location on global trading routes: dating back to the historic spice trading days its tropical coastline has seen much coming and going, resulting in the cultural melting point one finds today. Nowhere is this more evident than in Malaysian cuisine: it’s not unusual to enjoy an Indian breakfast, a Straits Chinese lunch, a Malay-dinner, and a kaleidoscope of mouth-watering snacks in between. Food tourism is a huge highlight of travel to Malaysia, with street food walks, cooking classes, fishing trips, dining tours all enticing ways to get stuck in.
Malaysia’s rich cultural heritage is further evidenced in its historic towns and cities, where it’s common to find colonial shophouses, traditional wet markets, and atmospheric temples and mosques sitting adjacent to gleaming 21st-century skyscrapers and air-conditioned mega malls. Guided city tours and heritage walks will help you uncover the history and architecture of capital KL and the lively port cities (and UNESCO World Heritage-protected) George Town and Malacca.
In between the east and west coasts, central Malaysia offers ancient rainforests with pockets of jungle unspoiled and protected in national parks. Reserves such as Belum and Taman Negara showcase remarkable biodiversity that includes everything from rhododendrons in high altitude forests to orchids in the lowlands; common wildlife sightings including colourful birds – notably hornbills – silvered leaf monkeys, and tapirs.
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Best activities in Malaysia
UTC can arrange an enticing variety of tours and activities across Malaysia. We’ve picked our just a few of our favourites below. There’s plenty more to recommend though; let us know what excites you most about Malaysia, and we’ll map out the perfect itinerary.
Petronas Towers Viewing Deck
At a huge 1482ft tall, Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Towers are the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers. The towers take their inspiration from typical Islamic motifs, with a shimmering steel and glass facade. The 558ft high sky bridge which links the two is again, the highest in the world, and here you’ll find a viewing deck offering the very best views of the city. A visit to the viewing deck can be included on your sightseeing tour of the city.
Marvel at the Batu Caves
The Batu Caves are situated in the suburb of Gombak, around 45 minutes from KL city centre, and are a staggering sight. The 400million year-old cave complex is cut into an imposing limestone cliff, reached by a 272-step staircase. At the top of the stairs, within the caves, you’ll find a colourful Hindu temple which is of huge significance to Malaysia’s large Tamil Indian population. The base of the climb is guarded by an enormous statue of Lord Morugan, the Hindu God of War.
Food & Drink
Penang – the world’s greatest food destination
Penang is Malaysia’s food capital. The port city is the multicultural Malaysia at its best, with a vibrant mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese, Arab, and western gastronomic influences. The island’s historic capital George Town is renowned for its diverse street food: with high-end restaurants sitting amongst street upon street of food stalls and hawker markets. Guided street food walks and expert-led cooking classes are an absolute must during any stay here.
Enjoy the Cameron Highlands
Sitting at 6600ft above sea level the Cameron Highlands offer a cool high-elevation retreat. The villages of the area were developed by British colonial rulers as an escape from the sweltering lowlands, and the British imprint is firmly visible to this day with rolling hill of tea plantations, strawberry farms, lavender gardens, and twee mock Tudor cottages. It’s a fun area to explore for a day or two while enjoying the cool mountain air, with hikes and treks on offer should you be looking for a bit more adventure.
Activities in Langkawi
Langkawi is an island paradise and an idyllic setting to relax and unwind at the end of tour. If you have itchy feet though it also huge list of activities: visitors can enjoy all sorts of thrilling watersports from all island resorts, including sea kayaking, parasailing, windsurfing, snorkelling and diving; you’ll also find mangrove boat tours on Kilim River, hikes to waterfalls and look-out points in the interior, various museums, galleries, and an aquarium, and a dramatic cable car ride over Cinang Mountain which offers views as far as Sumatra.
Jungle hikes in Taman Negara & Belum
Belum and Taman Negara are the two best reserves in interior Malaysia. Both made up of sprawling ancient tropical rainforest, home to around 150 mammal species, including Asian elephants, monkeys and tapirs, along with an estimated 3,000 flora species. In Belum much of the activity is on the waters of the huge manmade reservoir, while visitors to Taman Negara can take in hikes including the world’s longest canopy walk. A key sighting in either reserve is of Malaysia’s 10 hornbill species.
Travel on the ‘jungle railway’
Train travel is a popular way to link up Malaysia’s key west coast destinations, also running down to Singapore in the south and up into Thailand (eventually to Bangkok) in the north. The infamous ‘jungle line’ takes an alternate route, going right up through the centre of the country passing through dense forest and palm oil plantations and across numerous deep muddy rivers. Although less convenient than the west coast line the scenery is dramatic and offers a useful (if lengthy!) link to the Perhentians and Redang off the northeast coast.
Food & Drink
Sample Peranakan cuisine in Malacca
Peranakan cuisine, also known as Nyonya or Baba Nyonya, is the food of early Chinese migrants to west coast Malaysia, Singapore, and Sumatra. A fusion of Chinese ingredients with the spices and techniques of Malay and Indonesian people, famous dishes include Babi Pongteh (braised pork belly), Rendang (a rich hearty curry, often served at weddings and festivals), and the legendary Laksa – a tangy, coconutty, noodle soup. Malacca is especially well-known for its Peranakan cuisine, and a cooking class here is a great way to learn more and develop skills to take back home.
East coast beaches
The east coast islands are much quieter than Langkawi and Penang and all the more alluring for it. The Perhentians are still principally a backpacker destination with fairly simple accommodation and a very laidback atmosphere. Redang, Tioman, and Terengganu are quieter still, with refined upmarket accommodation options in secluded locations. Diving and snorkelling off these islands is notoriously fantastic – the Perhentians in particular are among Southeast Asia’s premier underwater adventure locations.
Food & Drink
Sample the breakfast of champions
Of all Malaysia’s epic signature dishes there is one that truly stands out as united the whole nation regardless of Malay, Chinese, Indian, or any other descent. Nasi Lemak is a mound of gently simmered coconut rice, served with a lip-smacking array of accompaniments including fiery sambal, crispy anchovies, toasted peanuts, cucumber, and a rendang curry of beef or chicken. Served with a hot sweet teh tarik (pulled tea), as a breakfast dish quite simply nothing else comes close!
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