The following is a guest post from Claire of Travelito! Malaysia is one of my favorite destinations in SE Asia, so when Claire offered to write a post about her favorite things to do in this diverse country, I couldn’t say no! Also, I’ve been inspired to feature Malaysia a bit more because my parents are heading to Malaysia later this year! (they STILL haven’t been to China yet…)
The Ultimate Malaysia Bucketlist
Malaysia—it’s hard to get it down to just one kind of destination, with as much variety as this tropical country has to offer. From modern capitals to dense, colorful jungles and pristine beaches, booking a trip and getting in all the good sites might just be the hardest thing you do all vacation.
So chill out, relax, and knock these must-do’s off your list instead—I’ve narrowed down the good stuff and the must-see’s so you get all the great, and none of the so-so.
1. Head to Kuala Lumpur
This bustling capital metropolis is everything big cities boast; urban, modern, and with plenty (maybe too many) great things to check out. Make sure you head to the Batu Caves, a series of caves and cave temples in the Gombak district, and to the KL Bird Park inside the Lake Gardens. What else should you hit up? Definitely check out the Central Market for picking up goodies to bring back home, and listen to some jazz at the expat hangout, No Black Tie.
2. Ride a Trishaw
This cycle rickshaw replaced the previous favorite, the foot rickshaw, in the 1970’s and it makes for a smoother (and much less strenuous on the driver) ride. While definitely a tourist attraction, it’s akin to riding a Vespa in Rome, or a junk in Japan, or a gondola in Venice, so don’t miss out on it for the sake of saving some cool points—it’s not worth it to go off the beaten path in this case. Grab your camera and document all the great sights and sounds!
3. Don’t drink alcohol
Drink pulled tea instead. Since Malaysia is a Muslim country, it’s technically supposed to be a dry area, and while you can get alcohol here, it’s very, very expensive (and frankly, not worth it). Get a pulled tea instead, usually found at Indian food stalls, which is black tea mixed with condensed milk and pulled back and forth between strainers to cool. It’s a cool process to watch, and even cooler to drink. Plus, it’s legal!
Author note: Drinking alcohol is legal for non-Muslims in many parts of Malaysia (KL, Melaka and Penang especially) however it is expensive and many restaurants do not serve it.
4. Travel to the Cameron Highlands
Making it to the Highlands is a must, even if you aren’t a nature person, because the views are just spectacular. Take a trail deep into the gorgeous forests and fields to get a taste for why the British officers vacationed here in the 19th century. If you’d rather not get your feet dirty check out the extensive flower nurseries, the butterfly gardens or the honey bee farms. They’ve got open markets boasting some of the local flora and fauna, and you won’t want to miss a trip there.
5. Try the Banana-leaf Cuisine
Good news: to enjoy banana-leaf dining you don’t actually have to eat the leaves, just the incredible traditional delicacies served on top, and bonus, you can do it with your hands. Banana leaf rice is popular in many cultures that experienced an Indian diaspora—Singapore is also famous for banana leaf dishes—and it’s bold flavors are one of a kind. Go with a bean curd, or a fresh fish and white rice to add some meat to this typically vegetarian dish.
6. Check out Perhentian Islands
All you need to book a one way flight (or boat) to the Perhentian Islands is to take a look at the pictures on Google images; you can’t get whiter sands, clearer water, or more of a tropical paradise anywhere in the world, guaranteed. Head out for a hike in their untamed jungles or spread out on the beach with a blanket; you can literally take this vacation in any direction. Just remember, they light bonfires on the beach at night that are a must-see for anyone who loves a beach walk or stargazing late at night.
7. Eat Flatbread
Roti Canai from a food stall is akin to experiencing pure heaven; hand tossed and spun to create it’s unique shape, and sometimes filled with eggs or bananas or onions, this treat is a must-taste while you’re in Malaysia. A favorite for breakfast in this part of the world, grab one in the morning with your coffee before heading out; there’s nothing quite like lentil curry first thing in the morning to wake you right up!
8. Mount Kinabalu National Park
Named a UNESCO World Heritage site for it’s incredibly diverse flora and fauna, the Mount Kinabalu National Park is an outdoorsman’s dream. Hike to the top of the mountain for an incredible bird’s-eye view of Borneo, or if you’re more into staying close to sea-level, many of the flowers, plants, and trees have been cultivated in the mountain garden behind the visitor’s center.
9. Spend a Day in George Town
Whether you’re headed to Khoo Kongsi, the Pinang Peranakan Museum, or the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple, you’re going to enjoy a day in the capital city of Penang. Take the funicular for a chance to sight see it all, or meander through the streets for a visual tour of the old British architecture that has remained since the empire’s occupation. A bonus tip? Rent a bike and take yourself on a tour. It’ll be a unique way to see the city, and will allow you to cover more ground while still being the maker of your own destiny.
10. Go Whitewater rafting
Are you a fan of exhilaration and getting adrenaline pumping through your veins? Then book a whitewater trip on the Selangor river, just an hour and a half from Kuala Lumpur, and experience rafting on Malaysia’s second best river. Head down into the “Hydraulic”, the first and second “Canon,” and the “Last Rapid” to top it all off. Better hold onto your helmet, this is one wild ride!
11. Taste Cold Dessert Soup
Tong Sui literally means sugar water, but expect so much flavor from these delicious dessert soups of Malaysia. The best place to taste the sweet goodness is on Tong Sui Kai, or Desert Street, in Perak. You can go all-out healthy with loads of sweet local fruit like kiwi and mango, or pile on the ice cream on a hot day for a cool refresher.
12. Langkawi Cable Car
Boasting one of the steepest rides in the world, the Langkawi Cable Car hangs it’s victims (tourists!) above some spectacular jungle views from the Machincang mountain, which is over 550 million years old. For friends of the aforementioned ziplining, take a similarly killer view and snap some incredible shots!
13. Sipadan National Park
Sipadan National Park is fish central. From parrotfish to jack mackerel, this diver’s paradise is also home to many turtles, schools of reef sharks, and if you’re lucky, a barracuda spotting. So grab your SCUBA certification and a full tank—you’re going to want someone to drop you off the deep end and only return with more oxygen.
Whether you’re skimming from the tops of the trees or diving deep down in the depths, you’ll find all the good times up high, deep down, and everywhere in between in Malaysia. So strap on your boots (or helmet!) and get to discovering!
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