Malaysia is a land of multiple cultures. Here, you will find that the traditions of olden times and the influences of modern technology and architecture have mingled to form a delightful paradise for adventurers, shoppers, and gastronomes. In Malaysia, one can go and seek one of the highest buildings in the world (the Petronas Twin Towers), then grab a bite of authentic Malaysian cuisine at the side street kiosks just minutes away from it. There’s also a never-ending list of places and things to do that will keep any traveler pumped up to see more of this unique country.
If you only have a few days to spend in Malaysia, the key to hitting all the top places to go to is to plan your getaway in this order: eating, shopping, trekking, going to the beach, and getting a taste of local culture. Once you figure out what you want to do, it’s easy enough to plot an itinerary that will make the most of your visit.
With that being said, here is a list of the top places to visit in Malaysia that are equal parts adventure and relaxation for all:
1. Kuala Lumpur
Sometimes abbreviated to KL, this is the most densely populated city in Malaysia and is also the federal capital of the country. Zipping around the city is inevitable since you’ll most like fly into KL’s international airport. Among the must-see attractions is the Petronas Twin Towers. From 1998 to 2004, it held the world’s tallest building record before being surpassed by Taipei 101. It was designed by Argentine architects Cesar Pelli and Djay Cerico under the consultancy of Julius Gold, and is an ultimate source of pride and joy for many Malaysians.
But honestly, what really draws the tourists to KL is the food and shopping. For the best eats, head towards China Town. Here, you can indulge in authentic Malaysian and Chinese cuisine, featuring delectable dishes like noodles with barbecued pork meat. For the truly adventurous eater, go to Jalan Alor or Alor Street. It was formerly known as the Red Light district of KL, and now it features a lot of stalls where one can eat the best food that beats anything you can eat in an air-conditioned restaurant at any given day. The seafood here is very fresh, and the most difficult thing that you might have to do here is to choose what to eat first.
For shopping, nothing beats Chinatown, a well-known shopper’s haven. It’s the best place to go to if you’re hunting for souvenirs. If you’re here for the shopping and nothing else, schedule your trip to the country in March, May or December. These months are when the mega sale events happen, all thanks to the Ministry of Malaysia’s initiatives to boost Kuala Lumpur’s status as a major shopping destination in Asia.
If you’re done with shopping and want to go on an adventure of a different kind, there are the Batu Caves situated just 13 kilometers north of KL. These caves are sacred to the Hindus of Malaysia. They consist of three large caves and a few smaller ones. This is where the Hindu festival of Thaipusam is celebrated, and apart from that, it’s awesome for rock climbing. If you start feeling famished after holding on for dear life on the limestone surface of the caves, make your way to the famous Pang Heong restaurant where you can indulge in fried noodles and river prawns. Good shopping, adventure and eating in KL. Two thumbs up, all the way.
2. Malaysian Borneo
Do yourself a favor and leave the concrete jungle of the city for a real, honest-to-goodness jungle. We’re talking about green forests, abundant wildlife, and a visit to a tribe that has not been taken over by modern times.
Borneo is the world’s third largest island, and it’s just a short flight away from KL. Its state of Sarawak offers an unforgettable blend of culture and adventure based travel experiences. If jungle trekking is your thing, stop by Bako National Park to see many rare plants, wild boar, silver leaf monkey and other nocturnal animals living there.
For a peek into ancient times, visit the numerous tribes living in Borneo. The Penan tribe is one of the most fascinating and secretive tribes of Borneo. See how a few of them still practice the nomadic hunter-gatherer existence. The Iban tribe is also quite fascinating, as they have gained notoriety during the old days as the fiercest headhunters in Borneo. Don’t worry, they don’t practice this anymore, though some of the skulls dating from World War II can still be found eerily dotting their surroundings here and there. If you want to know more about the different tribes, your best bet is to go to Serawak Cultural Village. It is a living museum of different tribes living at the foot of Mount Santubong. You can opt to stay overnight at one of the dwellings, called longhouses. The Iban longhouse provides accommodation for visitors. Though the facilities are basic, they give an authentic view of what tribal life is all about.
This is the top island destination in Malaysia for both locals and foreigners. It’s a hideaway that features gorgeous mountains, lush rain forests, emerald lakes, beaches, mangroves, rice fields and beautiful sunsets.
Langkawi offers ideal sailing conditions for those who are eager to do some island hopping or go on a romantic sunset cruise. It’s home to four marinas where one may charter a private yacht for a picnic on the beach, followed by a leisurely swim in the placid waters. It really is a honeymooner’s paradise.
It’s possible to encounter myths and legends in Langkawi. Go to the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, which the locals believe is the home of a celestial princess named Mambang Sari, who is rumored to possess mystical powers. The lake was named as such because the marble and granite bedrock formed a figure over time that resembles a pregnant lady lying on her back.
For a taste of idyllic Langkawi life, pedal around on a guided bicycle tour through the rural villages. Marvel at the vast rubber plantations and rice fields and see the water buffaloes roaming around the area. Then, sample a snack of fried banana fritters and milk tea sold only during the afternoons by the locals at wooden stalls by the roadside.
You can explore the Langkawi forest, which is reported to be more than 1 million years old and is one of the world’s oldest rainforests. Rare species of butterflies and birds live here, and even giant flying squirrels. For a refreshing respite from the heat, the Seven Wells Waterfall is a place that you should definitely visit. You can enjoy a cool shower after all that hot and sweaty business of trekking, and enjoy a meal on the wide rocks.
So many places, so little time
With some careful planning, you can visit all three destinations and enjoy the sights, sounds and delightful cuisine of Kuala Lumpur, Borneo and Langkawi in seven days. Plan on spending the first two days in KL, then head on out to Borneo for two days via a short plane, then to Langkawi for two days. Your last day back in KL can be devoted to shopping and souvenir hunting.
The next time you’re in Asia, make time to visit Malaysia, a place that’s pulsating with energy, filled with history, and blessed with an abundance of beautiful scenery that is a welcome change for the weary traveler. Malaysia is truly Asia at its very best.