I’ve just returned from my first ever trip to Malaysia and loved it! I visited the capital Kuala Lumpur, or KL for short, the UNESCO world heritage listed George Town in Penang with its street art and excellent food, and then spent a few days on the beach on the island of Langkawi. I can’t wait to return sometime soon, next time to visit Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo and the historic town of Malacca. Malaysia is often overlooked by tourists, with far higher numbers of tourists visiting neighbouring Thailand or Bali in Indonesia, as they’re better known as tourist destinations. Here’s 10 reasons why I think you should consider visiting Malaysia on your next overseas trip!
1. Its Cultural Diversity
Malaysia is an multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society with freedom of religion. Only 50% of the population consist of Malays, the remainder consisting of Chinese, Orang Asal, Indian and other ethnic groups. In the centre of Kuala Lumpur (KL for short) there’s a Chinatown and Little India, while in historic George Town there’s Chinese Clan houses and jetties. It’s possible to visit a mosque, Hindu temple and Chinese temple all within a short walk of each other, while older buildings are also influenced by colonisation by the Portuguese, Dutch and English.
2. Its Food
The cultural diversity of Malaysia has led to a delicious diversity its food, and eating is a national past time, particularly in Penang which is famous for its food. The main common element is spiciness, and alongside traditional Malayan dishes such as satay and nasi lemak, you’ll also find Malaysian Chinese dishes (including the nyonya style) and Indian dishes such as curries and roti canai. At roadside stalls most dishes are only $1-2 USD, meaning it’s easy to try multiple things.
3. Its Natural Wonders
The forests of Malaysia, in particular on Borneo, are home to many endemic species. Sabah and Sarawak are some of the only places where you can still see orang-utans in the wild, including on a short trip from Kuching. There are also great opportunities for viewing turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs in Sabah, plus coral reefs perfect for diving and snorkelling off many islands in both the west and east of the country.
4. Its Manmade Wonders
Head to KL to experience the modern, global side to Malaysia. With its tall skyscrapers, including Petronas Twin Towers (the tallest twin towers in the world), air-conditioned shopping malls and sky bridges, it’s a completely different but side-by-side the more historic parts of the country.
5. Its Beaches
The beaches in Langkawi are beautifully white and clean, and thankfully devoid of hawkers constantly bugging you while you are relaxing on the sand. There’s also many other beautiful beaches in Malaysia, including on Sabah, the island of Penang and the eastern side of peninsular Malaysia.
6. Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is the tallest mountain in between Papua New Guinea and the Himalayas, at just over 4000m. It’s quite an accessible high peak to climb, open to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and no special requirements. A trek to the top takes just 2 days and 1 night, with the arrival at the summit usually timed to coincide with sunrise. The summit route will be re-opening on the 1st December 2015 after the recent earthquake.
7. English is Widely Spoken
While I learnt a few Malaysian phrases (and mainly forgot to use them), it was easy to speak to nearly everyone in English. Malaysian is the official language, but English is commonly used, a relic of the days of English rule. Most signage and menus are bi-lingual, although a knowledge of the key dishes on the menu helps when ordering
8. They Drive on the Left
This is one for those of us from the few other countries that drive on the left, like the UK, Australia and New Zealand! In Malaysia, they also drive on the left, meaning that it’s easy to hire a car and drive around yourself, if you’re okay with the sometime chaotic traffic in cities.
9. Good Transport
It’s cheap and easy to get around Malaysia. One of the quickest options is to fly with Air Asia, the local budget carrier that flies to 15 airports in the country. Flying from KL to Langkawi takes about an hour and tickets can be bought for under $22 USD. Buses are even cheaper than flying, but slower, while there are also trains and ferries connecting some locations. This makes it easy to visit multiple, diverse destinations all over the country in a single short trip.
10. The Shopping
Malaysians love their shopping and one of the best reasons to visit KL is purely to go shopping in the large, air-conditioned malls (while also escaping from the heat and humidity). Even just outside of the discount airline airport in KL is a shopping mall. In Langkawi there’s plenty of cheap roadside stalls also selling the usual t-shirts, dresses and thongs, plus artier souvenirs on sale in George Town.
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