It is little wonder that a country so ideally situated at the ‘gateway to the east’ has absorbed so many vibrant and ancient traditions from the countries that encircle it. From its luscious tropical jungles and pristine islands, to its bustling cities and thriving townships, the Malaysian landscape is marked by its distinct, yet intersecting, Chinese, Indian and Malay cultural contributions.
This harmonised diversity acting against the backdrop of so many natural and unnatural marvels, makes Malaysia an ideal destination for tourists of every interest and background.
Though it would be impossible to compile a definitive list of the many, many tourist attractions that can be found in Malaysia, the 11 listed here are a must for the prospective traveller.
1. Malacca City
Malacca city is often considered the most historically important location in Malaysia, which is evident in its moniker, Malaca, the Historic City. Once the site of a thriving 15th century entrepôt, Malacca has been conquered by the Portuguese, Dutch and British successively. Evidence of the presence of these European powers can be found at the impressive A-Famosa Portuguese fort built over 500 years ago, as well as Stadthuys: which comprises the pink-walled Dutch town hall and Church built in 1650.
For the visitor who prefers shopping over historical sight-seeing, Jonker Street – located in the heart of Malacca’s China-Town – cannot be missed. The street is famous for its night markets – open every Friday and Saturday – which gives tourists the chance to take in the dazzling spectacle of swirling lanterns and theatrical processions whilst searching for hidden treasures amongst the many bustling stalls.
2. The Petronas Twin Towers, KL
The silver spires that loom over the city of Kuala Lumpur have become the symbol of Malaysia’s economic prosperity and devotion to progress ever since their completion in 1997, and was at that time, the tallest building in the world. Reaching a staggering height of 452 meters, the towers are linked by a sky bridge (the highest on earth) connected to the 41st and 42nd floors, 170 meters above the ground. Visitors can access the famous sky bridge to enjoy a majestic view of the city.
For the visitor who is content to enjoy the towers at ground level, the Suria KLCC shopping mall at the base of the towers houses some of the best brand-name stores and lavish restaurants that Malaysia has to offer. The mall is also connected to a park that’s great for walks amongst verdant greenery and has a musical light and water show every night at the main fountain area.
3. Langkawi, Kedah
Langkawi, known as the Jewel of Kedah, is an archipelago consisting of 104 stunning islands located a short 30 kilometres from the mainland. Rimmed with pristine white sands and clear, turquoise waters that are perfect for snorkelling, the beauty of Langkawi’s islands are matched only by their decadent, beachside resorts such as The Andaman and Datai Bay.
Not all of the archipelago’s spectacular attractions are found on her coast, though. The Sky Bridge on Pulau Langkawi, the largest island on the archipelago, winds around some of the islands highest peaks 700 meters above sea-level, offering island views unlike anywhere else on earth.
4. Mount Kinabalu, Sabah
The highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago, Mount Kinabalu is located in the state of Sabah, North East Borneo. The mist wreathed peak of Mount Kinabalu, hemmed in by miles of lush, tropical rainforest, has long been revered as the sacred home of the spirits by the local Kadazan-Dusun people.
Though the climb to the summit of Mount Kinabalu is certainly taxing, visitors unanimously claim that the view from the top makes it all worthwhile. The surrounding jungle contains an array of colourful flora and fauna, including giant pitcher plants, orangutans and hornbills. It is essential that climbers be accompanied by experienced guides at all times, as certain sections of the mountain can be perilous.
5. Batu Caves, Selangor
Only 13 kilometers from the heart of Kuala Lumpur, the 400 million year old marvel that is Batu Caves also doubles as one of the most frequented Hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India. Its prominence as a holy site is marked by the world’s largest statue of Murugan: Hindu God of Victory, found at the cave’s entrance.
272 steps lead up to “Cathedral Cave”, the largest at the site, which contains a number of exquisitely decorated shrines. Shafts of sunlight winnow through the 100 meter tall ceiling of the cave, allowing for an angelic spectacle that juxtaposes the man-made with the natural. Equally spectacular, though less angelic, are the troops of macaques that scavenge about the steps.
6. Cameron Highlands, Pahang
It is easy to see why the rolling hills of the Cameron Highlands, carpeted with verdant fields and tranquil fens, so appealed to the British who developed the region for agriculture in the 1920’s. The Highlands have long been home to a cornucopia of superb landmarks set against the backdrop of bubbling rivers and still forests.
The old MARDI Agricultural station and impressive ‘All Souls Church’ found along the Highland trails resonate with fascinating histories that are sure to delight. One can experience tranquil waterfalls along the Cameron Highland trails to and, if lucky, even catch a glimpse of the endangered Sumatran Serows that populate the area. For a little agricultural tourism, visitors can pick their own strawberries at the strawberry farm or learn about the production of tea at tea plantation.
7. Taman Negara, Pahang
Famed throughout the world as one of the great ecotourism destinations, the rainforests of Taman Negara are home to Malaysia’s rarest and most astounding flora and fauna, as well as some of the best fishing spots in Malaysia. Visitors who want savour the same views that strikingly coloured hornbills enjoy daily can take a stroll along Taman Negara National Park’s canopy walkway: the longest on earth!
Taman Negara is also one of the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world, estimated to be about 120 million years old. Taman Negara’s most remarkable species include the now all but extinct Malayan Tiger as well as Asian Elephants which the visitor can meet personally at the nearby Kuala Gandah Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary.
8. Sipadan, Sabah
Surprisingly, Sipadan is the only Oceanic Island in Malaysia. A diver’s paradise which Jacques Cousteau himself described as an “untouched piece of art”, Sipidan’s coral reefs throng with Hawksbill Turtles, parrotfish and barracuda. Majestic whale-sharks have also been known to visit Sipadan’s waters from time to time.
The prospective visitor who can’t get enough of turquoise waters and chromatic sea-life will be thrilled to know that the luxury Kapalai Dive Resort on Sipadan – built atop stilts that rest in the sandbank – have glass bottoms where you can enjoy the islands aquatic marvels from the comfort of your own room! If you want a close look, snorkelling and scuba diving facilities and tours are available as well.
9. Georgetown, Penang
There is certainly no shortage of entertainment in historic Georgetown, Penang. From the Bollywood-esque wonders of Queen Street, to the aromatic hawker’s stalls of Gurney drive, this thriving city continues to attract visitors from all over the planet.
In addition to showcasing some of the most dazzling golden temples such as Burmese and Thai temples, and charming colonial shop houses to be found in all Malaysia, Georgetown also contains some unlikely tourist attractions.
These include the not-for-the-faint-hearted Snake Temple at Bayan Lepas as well as the world’s largest toy museum in Teluk Bahang, and a Tropical Spice Garden as well.
10. Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah
The orangutan, meaning “person of the forest” in Bahasa Melayu, is arguably the animal most synonymous with the South East Asian Region. You can observe these incredible primates first hand at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sabah.
This sanctuary prides itself on helping orphaned orangutans adjust to survive in the wild again before they are released. Visitors can feed the furry residents from a raised platform, and also enjoy guided forest trail walks that weave through the amazing mangrove forests.
11. Mulu National Park, Sarawak
Named after Sarawak’s second highest mountain, the Mulu National Park is home to diverse collection of natural rock formations, flora, and fauna. A notable natural attraction here is the Gua Nasib Bagus, or Good Luck Cave. This cave has the largest known natural chamber in the world, dubbed the Sarawak Chamber.
This chamber can supposedly fit an impressive 40 Beoing 747s without wings overlapping! The neighbouring Deer Cave is also not to be missed; it is the largest single cave passage in the world at roughly two kilometres long with the main chamber being 174 meters wide and 122 meters high.
Apart from caves, Mulu National Park has another fantastical rock formation called The Pinnacles. These sharp, limestone pinnacles puncture through the forest canopy about halfway up Gunung Api, best viewed after a challenging trek up the next mountain. During a trek, visitors can spot some intriguing creatures like bearded pigs, hornbills, tarsiers and more, as well as plants like Nepenthes faizaliana, a pitcher plant endemic to Mulu National Park.
There’s something here for every tourist
Tourists are sure to find a virtually limitless supply of wonders and attractions throughout Malaysia. Whether you are looking for a tropical sea-change, some retail therapy, or a wilderness adventure, Malaysia’s picturesque beauty and convenient diversity truly has something for everyone.
Tourist Attractions in Malaysia
View 11 Attactions in Malaysia in a larger map
This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated in May 2016.
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