Malaysia tourist guide – highlights

KLCC Park

Malaysia is truly and land of contrasts with a wealth of exciting places to visit. Towering skyscrapers, historic mosques, verdant jungle and deserted paradise beaches await holidaymakers here. And with an intoxicating mix of contrasting ethnic groups, delicious food and a fascinating history, there truly is something for everyone in Malaysia. Below is a brief highlights guide suitable for a fortnight in the country, but each snippet can be experienced on its own or part of any itinerary as seems most attractive.

Most visitors arrive at the country’s foremost transport hub of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). And KL seems like the perfect place to begin a tour of this amazing country. Kuala Lumpur is barely even 100-years-old and remains a remarkable success story. This centre of worldwide commerce has the majestic Petronas Twin Towers as its standout attraction. But spending some time wandering the sidestreets of Little India, browsing the markets in Chinatown and dining in chic Bangsar wine bars demonstrates the wider appeal of the metropolis.

From KL take the bus to the historic city of Melaka down the west coast. When Singapore was just a tiny fishing village and Kuala Lumpur merely a ‘muddy confluence’, Melaka was a jewel in the crown of competing European colonisers. Since the 15th century this spice-trading city  absorbed Portugese, Dutch and British culture during its tenure as Asia’s foremost port. And the narrow east-meets-west streets and unique Baba-Nyonya communities makes its oft-bloody history come alive. Museums, the ethereal St Paul’s Church and countless antiques shops means Melaka is a must on any Malaysian vacation.

From Melaka it is possible to catch a direct bus to the port of Mersing from where boats to laid-back Pulau Tioman depart. This duty-free island has a plethora of budget accommodation, countless castaway coves to explore and some of the best diving in Asia. Spend your days relaxing on golden sand and taking refreshing dips in the cool blue ocean to explore exotic reefs teeming with colourful marine life. And the island’s duty free status means it’s one of the cheapest places to by alcohol in the country.

From Pulau Tioman one can catch a direct flight to Singapore or KL, but it’s better to take the ferry back to Mersing and catch a bus to Kuala Lipis and the Taman Negara national park. After taking a small boat a couple of hours deep into some of the oldest rainforest on the planet, visitors can camp out in overnight hides where leopards and wild ox lurk or visit aboriginal communities. There are also canopy tours up next to swinging monkeys, waterfalls and fishing trips to enjoy.

From Kuala Lipis one can catch the infamous Jungle Railway which snakes slowly by sheer ravines and through picturesque scenery to the northeast coast and Kota Bharu. From here it’s just a short speedboat ride to the magical Perhentian Islands which are a true taste of picture postcard paradise. Clear emerald-green water lap gently at soft white sand beaches with late night parties on the smaller backpacker island of Perhentian Kecil, plus green turtles and reef sharks inhabiting the warm waters of Perhentian Besar.

Back on the mainland, there is a direct overnight bus from Kota Bharu to the port of Kuala Perlis where the boat to Pulau Langkawi departs. This duty free island has a sleepy feel but countless gorgeous beaches to explore, some lively nightlife and the ultimate in luxurious beach resorts. Play golf, eat fantastic seafood and visit family attractions such as the crocodile farm, cable car or Malaysia’s largest aquarium. And as shopping is all tax free it’s the best place to pick up souvenirs.

From Langkawi there’s no need to get back the mainland as there are direct ferries tracking to coast south to the historic island-state of Penang. This settlement has a colourful history as a rest stop for merchants plying the treacherous Straits of Melaka, and pirates once would stalk the streets of Asia’s original Wild East. Dozens of different cultures remain in central Georgetown, a product of British-sponsored immigration from the rest of the empire, and today top class hotels and resorts litter the beautiful beaches.

From Penang, cross over to the mainland port of Butterworth and catch a bus south to Lumut. From here there are boats to the tiny island of Pulau Pangkor. This island has a few resorts but locals still earn their living mainly from fishing than tourism, giving it a fantastically unhurried appeal. Spend time snorkelling at offshore Coral Island or explore the dilapidated Dutch Fort before enjoying a fabulous seafood feast in the evening.

Pulau Pangkor has direct flights to both KL and Singapore from its small airport, but before heading back to the big smoke take a bus from Lumut to the Cameron Highlands. This hill station was a place of rejuvenation for wilting British administrators fleeing the heat of the lowlands, and today remains a cool and pleasant landscape to explore with hikes. There are waterfalls and mountains to visit, tea plantations to relax at plus countless strawberry and bee farms for delicious dining.