The people of Malaysia
The places to visit in Malaysia
For the city lover
There are a number of main cities to explore in Malaysia, each city offers a different kind of experience. Kuala Lumpur is the capitol where everything happens. All the major international brands for most things can be found here. Melaka (Malacca), 2 hours from KL is a UNESCO city which has high historical value. Tourist come here especially for the culture, heritage and the food which is very recommended for first timers to Malaysia. Penang (Pulau Pinang) is another UNESCO city which is also a popular destination. Famous for the old British charm, the streets are lined with pre-war shop houses while the island is famous for their local Penang hawker food. The capitol Georgetown is best explored by foot too.
Other notable cities to explore are Kota Kinabalu in Sabah where it is a coastal city with a beautiful waterfront while Kuching in Sarawak caters to the more nature and adventure type of place.
For the nature lover
Many places around the country offer amazing national and wildlife parks apart from the forest reserves, mountains and marine parks. As there are too many to name, I will note the most popular which is Kinabalu Park, Sukau Kinabatangan and Danum Valley in Sabah Borneo. There is also Niah and Mulu National Park in Northern Sarawak while there is also the Bako National Park in the south.
Over in Peninsular Malaysia, there are numerous places worth exploring like the Taman Negara National Park and the Endau-Rompin National Park. You would be surprised to know that Penang Island has the worlds smallest national park too. Something worth exploring when you visit Penang.
One thing about Malaysia is the abundance and variety of mouth-watering food which can be found just about any corner of the country. Many have said 'You will never go hungry in Malaysia' and that is a fact. Local Malaysian food comes in hawker and restaurant choices where it all depends on how you want to explore the foods here. For the first time travelers, you should always make it a point to experience the Malay,Chinese and Indian food in Malaysia. Hotels are a great place to start and if you are ambitious enough, head out to the local food centers and restaurants. Hawkers have some of the best Malaysian food too.
However, for the international traveler, there are also many other cuisines found throughout the country. From general Continental, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and even Middle Eastern food which can be found at most cities in restaurants. Some hawker centers offer stall that sell these kind of foods.
In Malaysia, Seafood is a must try and coastal cities or town are the best place to experience this. Prices are pretty cheap while the variety is simply stunning. The best part is the way they are cooked with the local taste. While there are numerous high end restaurants selling seafood, there are also local restaurants that have some of the best taste in town. Ask around when you are in coastal cities or towns in Malaysia.
One thing that you MUST TRY is the Malaysian Durians. They are found all over the country and there are even Durian Tour Packages in Penang. The King of Fruits is pretty much the talk of Malaysia when it comes to visitors exploring food tourism.
Another interestingly choice for shoppers are shoes in Malaysia. Having a demand for this, the tourism ministry launched a Malaysian International Show Festival which is held in March here in KL. With local homegrown celebrity - Jimmy Choo, there are many local shoe designers found around Kuala Lumpur, so if shoes are your fetish, then start exploring the malls here. If you are into international branded goods, they are aplenty around the major cities with most of these outlets located in major shopping malls.
Duty Free Shopping is another popular choice as some islands like Langkawi and Labuan offer great duty free shopping. From chocolates, liquor, cosmetics, electrical items and even clothes can be found at specialty shops at the islands. Even at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or KLIA, there are hundreds of shops selling duty free goods ranging from local products to international brands.
For the Eco lover
Never ending rainforest can only say one thing - Eco Tourism, and Malaysia is filled with this. From Peninsular to East Malaysia where Sabah and Sarawak are located, there are endless opportunities for Eco Tourism here. Explore rainforest, mountains, rivers and mangrove swamps where many travel and tour companies offer various packages.
Some national parks offer accommodations to suit any traveler. From basic lodging right till luxury experiences are available. Notable Eco places in Malaysia are Taman Negara, Endau-Rompin in Peninsular Malaysia while over in Sarawak, there is Bako, Mulu and Niah National Parks and in Sabah, there are Danum Valley and also Kinabalu Park.
For the island lover
Malaysia offers countless beautiful islands for you to choose from and some of them can be visited all year round too. Recommended islands in Peninsular Malaysia are Langkawi Island which is open all year where some of the best resorts and attractions are found. Further down south along the Straits of Melaka, Pangkor Island offers a more quiet escape while over in the East Coast, there are world renown Tioman Island, Perhentian Islands, Redang Island and also Lang Tengah Island. All the east coast islands have a monsoon period where it is not advised to visit from October to February.
Over in East Malaysia, Sabah Borneo has some spectacular islands to explore. Just 15 minutes out of Kota Kinabalu city, you can find crystal clear waters and white sand beaches at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park where popular islands like Manukan, Sapi, Manutik and Gaya Island are located. East of Sabah is where you will find world famous diving spots and resorts at Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai and also Mataking Island. Off Sandakan town, you will find a turtle conservation on Selingan Island or Turtle Island while there is also a specialty island in Sarawak called Talang Talang Island (right image)
For the adventure and explorer enthusiast
There are various kinds of adventures to explore in Malaysia as there is abundance of rainforest and natural surroundings found all over the country. Try White Water Rafting or tubing in Perak or Sabah while rock climbing is also a favourite in many states. Paragliding is also well known in some states while mountain biking, trekking and hiking are common in most states. Maybe a serious jungle camping experience in the rainforest of Borneo is your cup of tea or even self-driving yourself around the country in a rented vehicle.
For the explorer, there are a number of bicycle tours available at most cities where you or your family can rent a bicycle and explore the city or town with a guide as this is one of the best ways to see a place. You can get more information from various tour and travel companies around Malaysia.
For the family traveler
Theme parks are a must for those with children and Malaysia is now set to be one of the main countries with a variety of theme parks. Popular ones are Legoland Malaysia, Legoland Water Park and Hello Kitty Town in Iskandar Johor. Over in the Klang Valley (KL and PJ), there is the Berjaya Times Square Indoor Theme Park, Sunway Lagoon and iCity Water Park while in Genting Highlands, there is the Genting Indoor and Outdoor Theme Park. For a complete list, see my Theme Parks in Malaysia article.
Some other activities for families which are child friendly include visiting the island of Langkawi where there is abundance of family related activities, Iskandar Johor where you find the latest theme parks and also the Johor Premium Outlet or JPO for some shopping bargains and also Melaka where a good balance of culture, heritage, food and parks are available.
For the Art aficionado
Lately art tourism in Malaysia was promoted where the 1Malaysia Contemporary Arts Tourism Festival (1MCAT) was launched in Kuala Lumpur. This year’s 1MCAT also introduces a new feature which is a 1MCAT Art Tour Shuttle that will ferry visitors from selected hotels to Shopping Complexes in the capital where the art is on display. The Annex at Central Market in Kuala Lumpur is also a great place to see some of the local art for sale and even artist at work.
For the cultural explorer
With so many cultures offered in Malaysia, there is practically endless choices to choose from. Each state offers a unique cultural experience in Peninsular Malaysia but if you go over to Sabah and Sarawak, you will be in for a different surprise with the massive ethnic and sub-ethnic cultures available there. A great place to start is in the state of Melaka (2 hours drive from KL) where you can experience the unique Baba-Nyonya Peranakan cultures by visiting local museums, homes and restaurants located in the core heritage zone of Jonker Street.
Must Not Miss Experiences in Malaysia
There are many not-to-miss experiences found throughout Malaysia but for this article, I will highlight the most popular ones which can be found in the major cities therefore it is easier for the first timer to Malaysia or those with limited time to explore Malaysia to try out some of these experiences here.
I am recommending that you try visiting a local Malaysian Night Market or Pasar Malam. This is where all the locals go to buy their daily or weekly groceries and even food for dinner or supper. The Pasar Malam is found usually in large housing areas and move around from day to day to different locations. Places where you can find Night Markets are Jalan TAR in Kuala Lumpur (Sat Night), Kuah Town Pasar Malam in Langkawi (Wed & Sat night), Batu Feringgi Pasar Malam (Nightly) and Connaught Pasar Malam, the longest in Malaysia on a Wed night. But you need to get a driver or taxi to send you there. The night markets usually open from 5pm till 11am.
Roti Canai and Teh Tarik
At any state or place in Malaysia, you will most likely be able to find this at any local Mamak restaurant. Mamak Restaurants are actually Indian Muslim eateries which are open 24 hours. The combination of Roti Canai (Flat Dough Bread) and Teh Tarik (Pulled Tea) are one of the most common breakfast and supper meals for most Malaysians. Even I do this on a regular basis as a local. Remember to tell the waiter to make your drink order 'Less Sweet' or Kurang Manis as the locals say it.
Banana Leaf Rice Meal
All walks of life in Malaysia enjoy this local culture which was brought over from Southern India over a hundred years ago. These days, the Banana Leaf meal is considered a semi-luxury meal, usually eaten for lunch. Hot steaming rice is served on a piece of banana leaf accompanied with three vegetable choices. Add-on's are usually chicken, meat or fish curries, piece of fried fish or chicken and a choice of dried salty chili, yogurt or Rassam (Spicy soup). Mixed together and eaten with your hands where this is one of the few dishes that locals keep coming back for more.
For the Vegetarian, there are veg-only banana leaf meals served so please do let the server know your options. Places that you can find this dish are usually around Indian communities the country over. Best places to experience this is at Brickfields area in KL City, Little India in Penang and Klang. You will never find this at any of the hotels too.
As there are numerous homestays available throughout the country, there are some which are available just outside of KL city. These homestay programs are specially created where visitors get to stay in a local village home for one or two nights to experience the common village or kampung life. Eat, bath and sleep like the locals do while exploring the farms or orchards and learn how things are done here. Excellent for those with children wanting to experience the Malaysian way of life.Check Go2Homestay for more details.
With this article, I hope that the first time traveler to Malaysia will find something that will suite your travel style. If there is something you would like to ask, please do so by using the comment form below and I will do my best to assist you. You can also visit the official Tourism Malaysia website for additional information about Why Visit Malaysia in 2014.