To visit Malaysia was always in the back of my head every time I traversed through the airport en route to another destination in Southeast Asia.
But I never stopped.
I never wanted to visit Malaysia for just a quick jaunt; I knew that this piece of Asia held things within its borders more special than just the postcard-perfect picture of the Petronas Towers in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
So one day I stopped.
I stopped and explored Peninsular Malaysia for nearly three weeks and typical of my tendency of going somewhere slowly a part of me yearned to explore more of the peninsula and East Malaysia (Borneo) landed itself a promised spot on my “when I return”-list.
I clicked with Malaysia right from the start.
Diversity piqued my senses as I witnessed races, cultures, architecture, languages, religions and unique traditions; it reminded me a bit of home, South Africa, a colourful tapestry of its own, also woven as one from an array of differences.
The country’s tourism slogan rings, “Malaysia, truly Asia” and it sums up the distinctiveness and allure of Malaysia; a combination of flavours, colours, sights and sounds hailing from the aboriginals, Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups.
It is no coincidence that Asia is cleverly hidden in MalAySIA.
Asia Odyssey – a leader in the sphere of tailor-made holidays – asked me to write about my favourite experiences in Malaysia. Choosing favourites (and photos) is never my strong point because there are just so many (and something as simple as a beautiful old building – especially colonial – can please me for days), but I’ve tried to narrow it down.
Don’t treat Malaysia as just a stopover en route to your destination but stay a while and visit Malaysia. You can also have a look at Asia Odyssey’s itineraries for Malaysia (as well as Borneo) to get an idea of what to expect when you travel to the “epitome of Asian fusion”.
Visit Malaysia and Indulge in these Experiences
There is more to Kuala Lumpur than just the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers.
You’ll most probably meet the capital city upon arrival and departure when you visit Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur’s impressive skyline with its towering skyscrapers (like the Petronas), well-connected public transportation, mega shopping centres and the let’s-get-down-to-business attitude represents the modern heartbeat of the country.
While the heartbeat is modern the old traditions are still proudly running through the city’s veins. See it at religious sites like the Batu Caves, feel it in China Town and get a taste of it from kitchens and recipes that have been passed on from generation to generation.
Don’t miss: Petronas Twin Towers, Batu Caves, Chinatown and the Islamic Arts Museum.
I wish: I wish I visited the Thean Hou Temple.
Malaysia is a hot destination all year round and air-conditioning is quite handy in the humid climate; unless you visit Cameron Highlands.
Cameron Highlands is in the hills of Malaysia and its jungles, cool climate, plenty of tea and fancy English scones with strawberry jam and cream are some of the reasons why this destination is not only popular with tourists, but also with locals (because everyone needs a break from humidity every now and then).
Nothing can hurt your eyes in such a beautiful way like a tea plantation that shimmers in green. The BOH plantation is no different; don’t miss out on the chance to watch how the tea is being harvested and processed and indulge in strawberry cheesecake with a cup of tea by your side. The highlands are also a popular spot for hiking and the Brinchang Night Market is your best bet to get away from the English influence of scones and cream with its delicious street food.
Don’t miss: BOH Tea Estate, Brinchang Night Market, Jungle Treks.
I wish: I wish I did a birdwatching tour and trekked to see Rafflesias (the biggest flower).
Melaka (or Melacca) is known as the historic state and before it became such a big favourite among tourists, and a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008, it served as one of Southeast Asia’s greatest trading posts in the 15th century along the spice-route.
In the 14th century it was merely a fishing village, but then came the colonial control from the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. The influence is still visible in the city’s street names and the iconic red architecture of the Stadthuys and Christ Church of Melaka in the red square as well as the ruins of St Paul Church.
Today the city sparkles with a modern atmosphere against the colonial backdrop; there are shops selling art and unique trinkets, especially if you go during the Jonker Street Night Market. You can also get a bird’s eye view from the Menara Taming Sari viewing tower, go on river cruises and enjoy modern street art.
Don’t miss: Jonker Street Night Market, a cruise on the river, the monitor lizards, street art, Orangutan House, the Maritime Museum.
I wish: I wish I visited Masjid Selat Melaka and Villa Sentosa.
Malaysia has its fair share of beautiful islands but due to monsoon season not all of the islands are accessible throughout the year (especially when you want to visit the eastern islands – Redang, Pulua Tioman, Perhentian Islands – from November to February).
While in Cameron Highlands I zoomed in and out of Google maps to decide where to go next. Then I saw it, a small island on Malaysia’s west coast called Pulau Pangkor.
Pulau Pangkor means “beautiful island” and is known for its calm, tranquil beaches and quiet atmosphere (I spotted 2 other foreign tourists while visiting Pulau Pangkor). The island can be accessed by ferry, offers a lot of water sport activities and if you want to do a bit of sightseeing you can go to the Chinese Fu Lin Kong Temple, the Kali Amman Temple and the ruins of the Dutch fort (that shelters a historic rock called Tiger Rock). My highlights were the sunsets, the sea food and spotting the Giant Hornbill with its gigantic yellow beak.
Don’t miss: Sunsets and the taxis (they’re all pink).
I wish: I wish I could stay for another sunset.
Penang (and especially Georgetown) is without a doubt probably the most charming city in Malaysia that attracts visitors from near and far day after day. But what is it that makes this city so popular?
There are two things in particular, food and street art.
Penang is known to have some of the best street food, not only in Malaysia, but also in Asia; the city is known for its exotic flavours and combinations. While in Penang a local, a Couchsurfer friend, showed me around from one market to the next street food stall to taste some of the most renowned dishes.
Then there is also the street art.
I did a blog post about this and wrote:
“The Street Art in Penang adds a whole lot of charm to an already charming colonial city in northern Malaysia. Against the backdrop of old architecture with shutter windows, intricate swirls and twirls on ceramic tiles and classical lines, stands something so modern, so new and so expressive. Walls from another lifetime are covered in bright colours, lifelike portraits, iron figures with anecdotal stories and powerful messages. Here, famous artists like Ernest Zacharevic and Louis Gan made their mark. Here, a Tom, a Dick or a Harry made their “illegal” mark as well. Here, the mark made by others can leave a mark on you.” (Click here to read Street Art in Penang, Malaysia).
Did I say that there are two things in particular that make Penang so popular?
I might have lied. There are more.
Penang is also known for all of its quirky cafés; from a themed coffee shop like Wheelers to more artsy spots (Click here to read Wheelers Coffee in Penang).
And then of course the colonial architecture; mansions, beautifully tiled floors, bright doors and intricate window details.
Don’t miss: Street art, food, Penang Hill, architecture, coffee shops, Kek Lo Si Temple, clan jetties and Fort Cornwallis.
I wish: I wish I also visited Penang National Park.
This blog post can go on and on.
It is safe to say that my visit to Malaysia ranks under the Top 5 of countries I’ve visited so far; it was affordable and accessible, there is a good chance that you’ll never experience a language barrier, the cities and towns offer a great variety of things to do from museums to fancy malls to nature- or water-based activities and bonus, Malaysia’s international airport is the hub for the low cost courier, Air Asia.
Go visit Malaysia and come back and tell me what I still need to explore.
Disclaimer: This post – Visit Malaysia: Indulge and Discover – was sponsored by Asia Odyssey, but as always, all opinions express are my own.