(An edited version of this post was published on www.lostworldwidemagazine.co.uk)
There are countries which strike us as perfect island paradises, ideal for sun worshippers and scuba divers. Others tempt adventurous types, looking to trek up mountains or delve deep into jungles. There are countries made up of a selection of cities, each offering elements of history and culture, crazy nightlife or huge, beautiful shopping malls. And there are some countries that have it all, offering each individual temptation for shorter breaks, or a fantastic blend of them all – the perfect solution for travellers that don’t want to miss out on anything!
Malaysia is one of those places.
So which of Peninsular Malaysia’s destinations should be on your bucket list and why? Here are just a few ideas.
Where else to start but with Malaysia’s bustling capital? Kuala Lumpur is a diverse city populated by people from a variety of cultures and countries including China and India. This diversity is evident not only in the delicious food on offer (seriously – you can find anything here), but also in the cultural attractions too. The colourful entrance of the Batu Caves, a Tamil shrine, is a popular day trip out of Kuala Lumpur and now frequents travel bloggers’ Instagram pages. More centrally, Buddhist Than Hou Temple is one of the largest and oldest temples in South East Asia.
If temples aren’t your thing, Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is full of high rise towers, many showing off incredible architecture. The Petronas Twin Towers stand out and are the tallest buildings in the city, but the highest viewpoint is actually the KL Tower thanks to the hill on which it stands. Head up to the 360° panoramic sky deck for incredible views over the city.
Alternatively, the city also plays host to hundreds of birds at the KL Bird Park. This is the world’s largest free-flight aviary, and a good place to spend an afternoon is to wander around and admire some of the beautiful birds.
And, if all of that isn’t enough, KL’s shopping is some of the best in South East Asia. The Bukit Bintang neighbourhood is swarming with shoppers hopping from mall to mall, while Central Market caters to bargain lovers and those searching for more unique handicrafts or souvenirs.
Stay at The KL Journal Hotel (in the bustling Bukit Bintang shopping area) for a great rooftop pool area, delicious breakfasts and impressive street photography in every room.
Escape the city and fly for just over an hour to Langkawi, an archipelago in the north west of Malaysia (on cloudless days you can see Thailand). The largest island, Pulau Langkawi, offers beautiful resorts for those looking for pure R&R, but this isn’t all the main island and its neighbours can provide. Listen out for shrieks of excitement coming from those heading off on a jetski tour from Pantai Cenang, or nervously watch parasailors flying high above your head whilst waiting for your turn. For those who can handle heights, Langkawi is home to the steepest cable car in the world, carrying you up to a pedestrian bridge offering views over the Andaman Sea.
And if that all sounds a little too much, Langkawi is also the perfect place to watch the sun disappear below the horizon whilst sipping on a cocktail.
The Frangipani Resort offers private bungalows on the seafront and three pools as well as being an award-winning hotel for their Green Practices (they do a lot to promote sustainability, but unfortunately still give plastic water bottles in each room everyday. I recommended they stop!)
George Town, Penang
George Town will swiftly steal your heart. The capital of Penang just oozes culture, so for those who love art and colour, this is the place for you.
The old town area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its well-preserved colonial buildings and clan houses. The brightly painted terraces, home to hipster cafes and souvenir shops, are juxtaposed with temples for various religions. Tourists flock to popular street art spots, many of which combine painted walls with 3D elements, but the creativity doesn’t stop there. Art Lane is an interesting project showcasing young artists’ work without them needing approval from UNESCO. Hidden gems like this, combined with the colour and culture that George Town is full of, means it is an inspiring place for anyone creative.
Better yet, the food and drink scene in Penang is an exciting blend of different cuisines, including Malaysia, Indian, Chinese. In fact, Penang is known as a foodie’s paradise. The smells drift from hawker stalls, almost leading you into a trance as you follow the scent. High-end establishments do exist, but it’s the local restaurants and street stalls that will lead you to have at least 5 meals per day. It’s just impossible to choose.
When the sun goes down and you’re fit to bursting with delicious food, head to one of the numerous speakeasies dotted around the town. Walk through fridges, guess key codes and find doors pretending to be walls; the speakeasy culture here will leave you tempted to push any opening to see what you might find.
Tien Hotel Residence is small but perfectly formed with great artwork on the walls. The dipping pool on the roof is great to cool down after a day searching for street art. Well-located near Love Lane.
For those who long for green, open spaces (and some cooler air!), the Cameron Highlands are just one example of Malaysia’s beautiful countryside. Rolling hills provide the land for tea plantations and winding roads cut through these, leading you to some incredible viewpoints. Multiple trail routes of varying difficulty and length lead you around the area and into the Mossy Forest, where the roots of towering trees provide trusty footholes as you trek higher up the hills.
Once the climbing is over, you can relax at the BOH Tea Factory whilst learning about the tea-growing process, or fuel up for the following day in one of many street food cafes lining the main road in Tanah Rata.
Arundina is a small guesthouse in Tanah Rata. Friendly staff will organise tours for you. They provide just what you need for your stay in the Cameron Highlands.
Malaysia plays host to such a great wealth of destinations. You want to hang out with orangutans in their natural habitat? Head to Borneo. Fancy diving in the tropics? The Perhentian Islands are the perfect place for that. Enjoy hiking? Mount Kinabalu offers a moderate climb (the summit height is 4000m), leading to an incredible view of a spectacular landscape.
With all of that, and more, Malaysia surely should be high up on your bucket list? There’s so much on offer, whatever you’re searching for, you’re bound to find it here.