12 Best Places to Visit in Malaysia
Malaysia is a country of contrasts—an eclectic mix of colonial architecture, stunning parks and beaches, contemporary skyscrapers, and a unique landscape covered in tea plantations. A melting pot with influences from neighboring lands, as well as Western countries, Malaysia has something for everybody—from the world-famous Petrona Towers to the cultural and religious diversity that makes this a destination like no other.
Whether you're already planning a trip or just exploring possibilities, here's a list of best places to visit in Malaysia.
1. Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia's capital and largest city has much to offer travelers. Perhaps best known for the Petronas Twin Towers (the world's tallest twin towers), KL is a very popular tourist destination and routinely makes the list of top 10 most visited cities in the world.
A mix of colonial, modern, Asian, and Malay architecture flows through the city, giving it a unique look you don't usually find in other Southeast Asian capitals. The National Palace and the House of Parliament are two examples of stunning KL architecture—well worth a look even if you don't plan on exploring inside.
Other great places worth a visit while you're in town include the Merdeka Square, Chinatown's Petaling Street, and KL Bird Park.
Kuala Lumpur is considered one of the best shopping destinations in Southeast Asia—not only does the city have almost 70 shopping centers, but it's also full of indoor/outdoor markets (like the gigantic Central Market, with over 800 shops and stalls) and a great place to pick up hand-carved wood and pewter.
If you don't mind a quick trip out of town, the massive limestone Batu Caves, home to holy shrines and thousands of bats, are less than an hour away.
2. George Town
The older part of Malaysia's second-largest city has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site—but George Town is just as famous for its food as it is for its architecture. Known as "the food capital of Malaysia," George Town offers some of the best street food in Asia, best experienced in places like seafront Gurney Drive and Chulia Street, a popular backpacker's destination and one of the oldest streets in the city.
While George Town's port and waterfront area is a tourist's favorite, there's much more to see and do here. The city's tallest skyscraper is home to the U-shaped Rainbow Skywalk, an outdoor glass viewing platform set 68 floors up in the air. For a less nerve-racking view of the city, take the tram up to the top of Penang Hill—the cityscape is particularly beautiful at night.
Less adventurous travelers might want to check out the Batik Painting Museum Penang before they grab some batik souvenirs from a local market, or visit the colorful 19th-century Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple.
3. Gunung Mulu National Park
The park, named after Mount Mulu, attracts visitors from all over Asia who come here for trekking, caving, hot springs, and the natural beauty that caused this place to receive a UNESCO World Heritage Site classification.
Climbers can reach the top of Mount Mulu after a 24-kilometer trek with an elevation of 1,200 meters that starts at the park headquarters—but for those looking for a more relaxing day out, there are also easier trails within the park.
The park's main attractions are, however, its caves and the millions of bats that inhabit them. Set deep into the surrounding rainforest and karst cliffs, the caves are record-breakers in several ways—including featuring Southeast Asia's longest cave system and the world's largest cave passage. And at 115 meters high and 600 meters long, Sarawak Chamber is the largest cave chamber in the world, which is tricky to reach and can only be explored as part of a guided tour.
Kayaking, mountain biking, and taking a walk in the 500-meter-long canopy skywalk are also popular park activities.
Because of its location right against the South China Sea, it's perhaps no surprise that Kuantan's main call to fame is its beaches. Teluk Cempedak Beach is just minutes from the city center and offers a tree-lined, clean shoreline, while nearby Cherating Beach is home to a turtle sanctuary, as well as a cultural village that produces and sells traditional batik.
The Sungai Pandan Waterfall and Esplanade Park—from which you can take a boat to get a completely different view of the city—are also popular attractions and offer plenty of chances to explore the surroundings and hike or swim.
The Tin Museum, located on the site of a former massive underground tin mine, is a unique attraction worth a visit. Nearby, visitors will also find a hanging rope bridge and the Charah Cave complex (be prepared for an hour-long hike among tropical palm trees to reach the caves), which houses a large reclining Buddha.
5. Perhentian Islands
These coral-fringed, secluded islands offer plenty of opportunities for kayaking, exploring, snorkeling, and scuba diving (including the popular site of a sugar hauler wreck), as well as a chance to volunteer with local organizations in green and hawksbill turtle conservation efforts.
The islands have remained underdeveloped, which means no major hotels, restaurants, or facilities are available on the island. For those wanting to stay overnight, there are a couple of guesthouses and homestay options but little else.
Jungle trekking is another major draw, as paths here zigzag through the islands, connecting beaches with each other and cutting through dense forests where monitor lizards and monkeys live. Paved trails also connect Coral Bay with a nearby beach, as well as a picturesque fishing village.
6. Borneo Rain Forest
The island of Borneo (which is divided and belongs partly to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei) is densely covered in one of the oldest rainforests in the world and serves as a natural refuge for endangered species, such as the eastern Sumatra rhino and the Bornean orangutan.
If you want to see orangutans up close while supporting a good cause, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is the most eco-friendly way to do just that.
Visitors go to Borneo for the rich indigenous culture, the jungle wildlife, and some of the best wild trekking in the world—much of which can be explored at the Rainforest Discovery Center, an educational destination that provides a great introduction to the island.
For those looking for more active pursuits, the two-day climb up Mount Kinabalu is a popular option.
A group of 99 islands off the northwestern coast of Malaysia, Langkawi is home to three protected Geoforest parks and many coconut tree-lined beaches. Some beaches, like Pantai Cenang beach, are very popular with tourists, while beaches on the smaller northeastern islands have a backdrop of limestone cliffs and are more secluded.
For the best views of the islands and ocean, you can take the island's cable car to the top of one of the tallest mountains on the island. Once here, you can get on the 125-meter-long Langkawi Sky Bridge, a pedestrian walkway 660 meters above sea level. Just a few minutes from the cable car there's also the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls, which offer beautiful clear pools for swimming, as well as a jungle trail that runs up two different mountains.
The small museum and rice fields at the Laman Padi Rice Garden make for an interesting quick stop, while the 50-acre Legenda Langkawi Park offers a great space to explore the heritage and history of the area through manicured gardens, traditional buildings, and sculptures of ogres, mythical creatures, and other Langkawi folkloric figures.
8. Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands is a hilly region with a long tradition of tea growing on the sloping mountainside. The tea plantations are still a major attraction today and one of the most photographed spots, but the Cameron Highlands are also home to lavender and strawberry farms; orchards; herbal gardens and nurseries; and the Mossy Forest boardwalk, an always-foggy tropical evergreen environment with designated footpaths to see the local flora and fauna up close.
If you only have time to visit one plantation, BOH Tea Plantation is a good choice—not only is this the largest producer of tea in Malaysia, but visitors can also join tours to see the tea-making process up close, visit the gift shop, and explore the walkways that cut through the land.
For an inside look into the agricultural and farming practices in Malaysia, the Mardi's Agro Technology Park is an unexpectedly fun destination where you can tour the fruit orchards (including a large area dedicated to the unusual jackfruit) and even camp overnight.
Or visit the only memorabilia museum in Malaysia, The Time Tunnel, where you can see recreated rooms and shops from the early 20th century, play vintage board games, and see photographs from pre-War days.
9. Taman Negara
A protected area inhabited by a 130-million-year-old deciduous rainforest, Taman Negara offers activities and attractions to last for days. In addition to jungle trekking and bird-watching, visitors come here to climb Mount Tahan (considered one of the hardest hikes/climbs in Malaysia), try the canopy walkway, or jump on the Lata Berkoh river rapids.
Exploring the entire Gua Telinga limestone cave system would take weeks, but it's possible to join individual guided tours to see the main caves here, where you'll have to crawl, squeeze, through tight underground tunnels, and likely get wet to reach the main chambers.
The park is home to a number of endangered species, including the Malayan tiger and the Malayan peacock-pheasants—a rare sight of either one is an experience in itself.
10. Kota Kinabalu
Located against the South China Sea, the capital city of Kota Kinabalu or KK occupies the northern section of Borneo and is surrounded by virgin forest and large mountain ranges.
Nearby Mount Kinabalu (from where the city gets its name), is Malaysia's highest mountain and a highly regarded climbing destination. Because the mountain has protected status and is home to many endangered species (including orangutans and the giant vine known as Rafflesia—with five-petaled flowers that can reach up to one meter in diameter), climbing is only possible in the company of park rangers.
The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is another important tourist attraction—a park that covers almost five hectares and spreads over five islands. It offers visitors chances to sunbathe on the sloping, white, sandy beach; explore the coral reefs; or take to the many hiking trails that cut through the dense tropical forest.
For those interested in exploring the cultural side of KK, must-sees include the Sabah State Museum, Merdeka Square (where the declaration of Independence took place), and Monsopiad Cultural Village, where visitors can learn more about ethnic local groups.
11. Batu Ferringhi
Technically a suburb of George Town, Batu Ferringhi is a famous beach destination for both locals and foreign visitors with plenty to offer to both sunbathers and those looking for an active holiday under the sun.
Rocky outcrops and high-end resorts line the turquoise coastline here, and visitors have a chance to try parasailing and windsurfing or rent a jet ski right on the beach.
Once the sun comes down, Batu Ferringhi's most popular attraction is its night market, where travelers can get as much batik, handmade souvenirs, and local handicrafts as their heart desires.
Food stalls at the market offer the best chance in town to try traditional Malay food in a lively, colorful atmosphere of vendors and live entertainment. There's also a batik factory in town if you want to see how this unique painting technique works.
For a peek into Malaysia's jungle paradise, head to the Tropical Spice Garden, an eight-acre park with lush hiking trails, waterfalls, and an herbal garden.
The third-largest city in Malaysia is famous for its colonial-era architecture, traditional cuisine (which combines influences of Chinese, Indian, and Malay food), and beautiful unspoiled nature. Ipoh's Old Town is near the Kinta River, and it's a great place to see Chinese shophouses and the narrow "Concubine Lane," a chic area full of restaurants, pop-up stalls, and gift shops.
Ipoh's most unique feature, however, is its street art in the form of large murals drawn on buildings and bringing Ipoh's heritage to life.
While in town, make some time to stop by the Birch Memorial Clock Tower for some great pictures; visit D. R. Seenivasagam Park to see the Japanese Gardens; or experience thrill rides at the Sunway Lost World of Tambun; a theme park that also features hot springs, a water park, and an adventure area offering ziplines and climbing walls.