Most people often travel to Thailand, Bali or Vietnam for a first trip to Asia. If you are looking for a less touristic country in South East Asia with multiple identities blending Chinese, Indian and Malay influences, Malaysia could be a very good option. In addition to its famous capital Kuala Lumpur with its Petronas Towers, the country has a wide variety of landscapes and atmospheres which gives you the feeling of visiting several countries in one go.
Whether you are looking for nature, culture, gastronomy, history or a relaxing and peaceful beach, there will be something for you in Malaysia. Let’s dive into 4 different identities of this very diverse country.
1. Experience the jungle in Taman Negara
The National Park of Taman Negara is considered the world’s oldest rainforest. From the town of Kuala Tembeling, get ready for a 3-hour long canoe trip to get to Kuala Tahan, your access to the jungle. Whether you choose the easy 2-km night walk to discover the fauna like scorpions, insects, spiders and small snakes or a 2-hour guided day walk to a viewpoint overlooking the jungle, be prepared to sweat in this very humid environment.
An experience you should not miss is crossing the canopy walkway, a 530-metre-long suspended bridge 40 metres above the ground which is considered the world’s longest.
If you want to learn more about the indigenous people living in the jungle, you can also consider visiting an Orang Asli village. They will show you around their houses and share how they make fire, hunt and live.
An excursion to the Lata Berkoh waterfall is also worth the 45-minute boat trip if you want to go for a swim in the heart of the jungle!
For the most adventurous, there is a multiple day hike where you will reach the heart of the jungle and get the chance to sleep in a cave. If you are lucky, you may even see more wildlife!
2. Hike and drink tea in the Cameron Highlands
You may not link tea with Malaysia, but the country produces some delicious teas. If you are interested to visit tea plantations and find out more about the tea making process, you should head to the Cameron Highlands and the town of Tanah Rata. At the Boh Tea Plantation, one of the most famous tea plantations in the region, you will learn more about the tea making process and taste some tea before going for a tea plantation walk. For a beautiful vista of the tea plantations, head to Mount Brinchang, the highest point of Tanah Rata.
Tanah Rata is actually also an excellent base for hiking. The village is surrounded by hills and mountains with many trails. I highly recommend the 2-hour trek organised by the local travel agency Eco Cameron which takes you to an amazing mossy forest. Mossy forests are generally difficult to access in other places in the world but this one does not require too long and difficult an effort.
3. Enjoy the cuisine and art in multicultural George Town
Established in 1786 as the first British settlement in South East Asia, George Town is a very special town located on the island of Penang. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, it is full of beautiful and charming colonial buildings.
The most interesting and surprising characteristic of George Town is its multiculturalism and the way all culture and religions peacefully live together. Just take a walk on Harmony Street to understand and feel the essence of the town and how racial and religious harmony is achieved. It is probably one of the few places in the world where you will see a mosque, a church, a Chinese temple and a Hindu temple in one and the same street.
The cultural diversity is also reflected in the local cuisine which has become one of the town’s main attractions. George Town’s street food is often recognised as one of the best in South East Asia and the town is considered as Malaysia’s food capital. Food lovers will be delighted by the wide variety of food stalls in the daily street food markets which include Indian, Chinese and Malay cuisines.
Last but not least tourists particularly come to George Town for its street art. You can spend hours looking for the street art which often uses accessories like a real motorbike, a swing, a bench or a chair so as to make visitors interacting with the art.
And if you get tired of the humidity, you can relax in one of the town’s many trendy restaurants, coffee shops and shops or head to one of the beaches of Penang island.
4. Relax in the Perhentian islands
While I did not get the chance to explore the Perhentian islands, I cannot talk about Malaysia without mentioning them. They are known to be a little paradise with pristine beaches, very few tourists and a perfect spot for diving.