With reefs and rainforests, mountains and minarets, skyscrapers and sampans, Malaysia certainly lives up to its slogan: “truly asia.” One of the world's great cultural melting pots, Malaysia is a nation where Chinese joss houses, Hindu temples and gold-domed mosques jostle for space with towering skyscrapers. The British once presided over this fascinating sampling platter of Asian culture, leaving behind a legacy of hill stations, polo fields and high tea.
In fact, Malaysia offers two countries for the price of one; Peninsular Malaysia, bordering Thailand at the southern end of the Malay Peninsula; and East Malaysia, the northern half of the island of Borneo, nuzzling up against Indonesia and Brunei. This opens up some spectacular opportunities for nation-hopping across Southeast asia.
Malaysia's supercharged capital, Kuala Lumpur, resembles a crystal garden that has grown miraculously in the jungle. Indeed, pockets of virgin rainforest still survive amongst the towering skyscrapers, multi-storey shopping malls and monorail tracks. If you do nothing else, devote a day to sampling KL's street food; from Chinese noodles and Indian dosas (rice pancakes) to aromatic and spicy Malay curries and seafood.
Away from the cities, untamed nature awaits, in the form of jungles dripping with rare and exotic species and coral reefs thronged by turtles, sharks and tropical fish. Malaysia's national parks and wildlife reserves are well-organised and well looked after, and you might be lucky enough to meet Malaysia's most charismatic resident, the orang-utan (literally, “forest man”).
Then there are the islands; tropical resorts such as Langkawi, Tioman and the Perhentian Islands have become almost legendary for fans of swaying palms, sparkling sand and scuba diving on pristine reefs. Malaysia's dive sites – particularly those reached on live-aboard safaris – rank amongst the best in the world.
Peninsula Malaysia is where people go for bustling cities and colonial history, but the states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo are the gateway to another world. Lush rainforests are inhabited by isolated indigenous tribes, whose traditional way of life is vanishing fast as the modern world encroaches; catch it now before they put up a parking lot.
When to Go
The temperature does not vary greatly in Malaysia and is usually about 30C during the day with high humidity throughout the year.
The rainy season affects the Peninsula east coast and western Sarawak from late November to mid-February. On the Peninsula's west coast and Sabah September and October are usually the wettest months. Rain may be more frequent in the mountainous areas such as Cameron Highlands and Kelabit Highlands.
– Remove your shoes when entering temples and homes of Malayan people.
– Remember that you are visiting a traditional country full of cultural beliefs and therefore when visiting temples, shrines and other religious sites, you will be required to cover your shoulders and knees.
– When eating with your hands, especially in public places or public gatherings, it is better to eat with the right hand, as eating with the left hand considers a low standard in Malaysia.
– Use your right hand while accepting or giving money.
– Do not point your foot at anyone; it remains as a cultural offence.
– It is better to learn the art of greeting different people with different religious beliefs so that your greeting presents equal respect.
– A valid passport and travel documents are required for every visitor to Malaysia. In addition, every visitor has to fill a disembarkation card.
– Visitors from Asian countries do not require a visa when their visit does not extend more than a month (such as Cambodia, UK and more).
– Possession of drugs in Malaysia is illegal and if caught could result in the death sentence.
– If you are exploring the country on foot, you must use pedestrian bridges and pedestrian traffic lights. Remember the vehicles do not stop at zebra crossings.
– Bargain for your taxi costs before entering the taxi as drivers do not use the meters.
– Public displays of affection are frowned upon.
– To drive here you need to possess an international driving permit. As is common at many places across the world, drinking and driving is a punishable offence in Malaysia.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
– Gunung Mulu National Park
– Kinabalu Park
– Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca
– Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley