If you’d like to visit Southeast Asia but don’t know where to start, here are my five tips for having a magnificent Malaysia holiday. There’s a host of things to see, eat and do in this fascinating and beautiful country, with its melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences.
- Get arty
George Town, the capital of Penang on Malaysia’s northwest coast, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and just wandering around it you will spot a number of large street art murals. In 2012, the city commissioned Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic to create a series of wall paintings depicting the local citizens and lifestyle. These have now become cultural landmarks in their own right.
Another treat for art and culture lovers is just a short journey on the KTM commuter train system from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. Carved into a 400 million year old limestone hill, the Batu Caves are one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. Inside the hill is a series of caves and temples containing statues and artworks. The largest, Cathedral Cave, can only be reached by climbing 272 steps, past an astonishing 42.7 metre gold statue of Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. Well worth a visit.
2. Feast on the food
My next tip is about how to feast in this Malaysian food paradise. Food lovers will discover that there is plenty to tuck into in this country. Whether your Malaysia holiday takes you to Penang, Kuala Lumpur or Borneo, you’ll see an array of temptingly cheap and scrumptious food stalls lining the streets.
At the food markets in Penang you can buy a freshly blended juice from a dazzling list of exotic fruits, a salty and satisfying nasi goreng, or a spicy parcel of tofu or fish and rice cutely wrapped in a banana leaf.
Borneo presents an equally succulent choice of street food from its hawker stands. Here it’s easy to spend your day sampling dish after dish: noodles with barbecued pork, sweet chilli chicken with greens, delicate fish ball soup and sumptuous pork satay skewers accompanied by fresh cucumber. Totally delicious and devilishly good value.
3. Feel the love
With the glamorous 452 metre high Petronas Towers standing over the city like two giant, glittering diamond earrings, you may feel the love for Kuala Lumpur. There is also the lofty Menara Kuala Lumpur or KL Tower, the world’s 8th tallest free-standing tower, which gives you a panoramic view to admire your surroundings. Sometimes there are even photo opportunities to show your love for KL, like this display outside the City Gallery.
If bustling metropoles are not your thing, you may prefer the charming love lock bridge at Penang Hill.
Here, hundreds of people hang decorated padlocks to declare their love for each other high up on the hill’s scenic observation deck.
It is heart-warming to see these personal, hand-made statements of romance and dedication. You can even spot small keys down beyond the fence where couples have sealed their padlock and thrown away the key.
After you’ve decorated and sealed your lock with your love, you can even conclude your romantic Malaysia holiday by staying in a hotel in George Town’s aptly named Love Lane.
4. Embrace nature
The island of Borneo is famous for its orang utans and Kuching in Sarawak a good base to see them in the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, as well as visiting Bako National Park. The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre cares for orang utans that have been found injured or orphaned in the nearby jungles, with a view to releasing them back into the wild. Here you can watch them being given breakfast and swinging through the trees.
Bako National Park, an hour’s bus ride and boat trip away, offers nature fans the chance to escape into the jungle to deserted beaches, clambering over rocks and stepping through huge tree roots, seeing huge leaves, exotic red flowers and armies of ants. You can even do an organised night trek, taking torches to seek out the nocturnal creatures and fascinating insects.
Towards the north of Malaysia lies Tioman island, where I had one of my most remarkable natural experiences – seeing a hundred newborn turtles scramble their way across the beach into the sea for their first ever swim.
At the Juara Turtle Project there is a wealth of information on why many of the island’s turtle nest beaches have been destroyed and the valuable conservation work they do to protect the remaining, now endangered, population. At their hatcheries you can see the volunteers place eggs for incubation, after rescuing them from beaches around the island. Here they can hatch in safety. Each nest contains around a hundred eggs and once one starts to hatch, the rest follow suit within minutes. If you’re extremely lucky like us, this could happen while you’re there!
That evening, during sunset, the volunteers released the turtles into the sea and we watched them make their way to their new life in the wild. It was fun, and humbling, to watch as over a hundred turtles scrambled along the sand using their flippers, racing each other to reach the waves.
5. Dive into scuba
Another attractive island location for your Malaysia holiday are the Perhentian islands. Here, on Coral Bay, the more adventurous people can try their hand at scuba diving.
Coral Bay is on Pulau Perhentian Kecil – meaning Small Perhentian island – which sits next to her big sister Pulau Perhentian Besar, in the South China Sea, off the North-Eastern coast of Malaysia. With a pure azure blue sea, a simple snorkelling venture into the shallow waters reveals an abundance of coral, fish and other creatures underneath the waves.
For scuba divers, to fully submerge in this underwater landscape is a dream. You share the ocean space with hawksbill and green turtles, clown fish playing in anemones, huge schools of tiny fish, colourful coral reefs and so much more. We were even lucky enough to see a black tip shark swim by at close range – though I think it was more scared than we were.
So there you have it – five ways to make your Malaysia holiday simply magnificent!