Malaysia is home to an enchanting fusion of cultures, whose cuisines, languages and religions have made it the toast of Southeast Asia. Visitors relish the country's lush landscape and variety of festivals, which celebrate its Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage, as well as the mark of its indigenous tribes.
The destination is divided into two distinct parts. Peninsula Malaysia comprises the long fringe of land that extends down from Asia, and borders Thailand and Singapore. The South China Sea separates the mainland from the less-populated East Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak. Their dense jungles support an abundance of exotic plant and wildlife.
Tourists generally head to the peninsula, largely because of its different peoples, climates and activities. The highland regions offer cool relief from the mainland's clinging humidity, while Langkawi is popular among surfers. Culture lovers enjoy exploring traditional Malay life on the east coast, particularly in the northern Kelantan Province. The city of Kota Bharu and its surrounds may well be the most fascinating part of the peninsula. Travellers who appreciate rich culture and remote beauty should head there.
The capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is on the west coast, and is an icon of Asian prosperity. It's also a wonderful mix of tradition and technology.
Malaysia offers holidaymakers a textured adventure, in which gleaming skyscrapers stand alongside colonial buildings, and verdant rainforests stretch all the way down to pristine beaches. Visitors come to play, to unwind, to connect with nature, and to ride the energy of a titan among Southeast Asian cities: Kuala Lumpur.
On the cultural side, tourists are exposed to some of the region's most well-known peoples and some of its rarer groups. Every one of them has imprinted on the place, adding new notes to its character. Jungle walks, ancient caves, stunning mosques, isolated villages and the world's most diverse marine ecosystem are part of the experience.
All in all, the destination's attractions celebrate Asia's history, and some of its best features.
At 328 feet (100m), the flagpole rising from Merdeka Square is one of the tallest in the world. More importantly, it marks the place where Malaysia achieved independence at midnight on the 31th of August 1957. The square remains the heart of Malaysian nationalism, and one of the few places in Kuala Lumpur where colonial buildings still stand. Indeed, the city's colonial past is very much alive in the architecture and large field - which still hosts the occasional cricket match. The Tudor-style Royal Selangor Club rests on one corner of the square, and looks onto a large video screen displaying adverts and religious messages. Once a social centre for Kuala Lumpur's British residents, its doors are now open to anyone who can afford the membership fees. As die-hard custom dictates, women are not allowed to enter the bar, save by invitation. Other buildings of interest around the square include St. Mary's Church, which is supposedly the first church built in the city, and the Abdul Sambad building, which was built for one of the sultans. Travellers will also find some shops and restaurants in the area.
Chinatown is an intoxicating jumble crowds, colours and authentic food. The central section of Petaling Street is closed at night, when the area is transformed into an exciting, brightly lit shopping experience. Vendors spread their wares onto the pavement, displaying anything from toys to t-shirts and jewellery. Shoppers will need to be careful, though, as many items are fake. Also, bargaining for the best price is expected and part of the fun. Many stalls operate during the day, but Chinatown is more special at night. Shoppers should be mindful of pick-pockets, regardless of what time of day they visit. Culture lovers should note that the area is also home to some tremendous Chinese temples.
The Petronas Towers were designed to capture Malaysia's emergence as Southeast Asia's cultural and commercial centre. Celebrated as the world's tallest twin towers, they dominate the city skyline. Architects followed the traditional geometric principles of Islamic architecture when designing the buildings, using modern technology to stunning effect. Joined by a skybridge on the 41st floor, the towers are used as office complexes that form part of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre Development Park. They're particularly beautiful when lit up at night. Tours include crossing the famous bridge and going up to an observation deck on the 86nd floor, which offers phenomenal, 360-degree views of the city. Visitors can also enjoy an exhibition detailing the development of the towers, and purchase souvenirs at a gift shop.
British colonial architect Arthur Benison Hubback was inspired by Moorish, Mughal and Islamic design when he conceived this magnificent railway station. Easily mistaken for a sultan's palace, its arches, spires, towers and minarets dazzle against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Inside, visitors will find a small railway museum on the evolution of railway technology in Malaysia. It may be worth a visit for railway enthusiasts. The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station is more of a landmark than an attraction, though, and should only require a quick walk by and photo shoot.
Masjid Jamek (the Friday Mosque) lies where the Klang River meets the Gombak River. Palm trees and curved steps lead to the water's edge, deepening the mosque's air of tranquillity. The site is very much a haven within the buzz and rush of Kuala Lumpur. Visitors will find dazzling photo opportunities amid the combination of ancient Moorish, Islam and Mughal architectural styles, and leafy surroundings. Custom demands that they dress conservatively and remove their shoes on entering. Mosque staff will supply men and women with the appropriate attire if necessary. Masjid Negara (the National Mosque) offers a modern contrast to the Friday Mosque and is also worth visiting. Opened in 1965, it's one of the largest in Southeast Asia.
The beautiful gardens were established in 1888 and are Kuala Lumpur's green belt. To many people, their backdrop of skyscrapers is reminiscent of New York's Central Park. Lush vegetation surrounds a vast lake, where visitors will find a number of romantic bridges and plenty of space to read, jog or socialise. Leisurely boat cruises are also on offer. Regarding attractions, Bird Park, Butterfly House, the National Monument, the Orchid and Hibiscus gardens and Malaysia's Parliament House all call the area home. Children can enjoy some wonderful playgrounds. All things considered, the gardens are a wonderful way to escape the city's crowds and humidity.
Designed to reflect the region's Minangkabau architectural style, the National Museum houses many of Malaysia's cultural treasures and historical artefacts. Its ethnographic and archaeological exhibits include life-size dioramas of traditional Malaysian life. Puppet-shadow-play (wayang kulit) displays show the country's ancient artistry, while exhibits of traditional weapons such as daggers (kris) and machetes (parangs) reveal Malaysia's pride in functional aesthetic forms. Travellers should note that the museum covers a lot of time and subject matter, and suffers from an occasional lack of linkage between periods. For this reason, visitors should join one of the free guided tours. Photography is permitted, though only with a hand-held camera and for private use. Visitors will find a shop and cafeteria, and features for disabled guests.
Five pristine islands make up Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, with each idyllic setting comprising white beaches, offshore coral reefs and inland forests teeming with animal life. These destinations are all perfect for camping, trekking, swimming and snorkelling. Gaya Island is the largest of the five. Its status as a forest reserve since 1923 has helped preserve its dense tropical forest. Manukan Island is the second largest and the most popular with Malaysian locals. Mamutik Island is the smallest, though it still has its share of loveliness. Travellers seeking tranquillity will love this beautiful retreat. Sapi Island is very popular with foreign tourists and can get quite crowded during the day. Lastly, Sulug Island is the most pristine and untouched of the chain, and the farthest from the mainland. It is the ideal destination for those seeking peace and quiet.
This mushroom-shaped island is known among divers around the world for its unique seascape and exceptional beauty. Something like 3,000 varieties of fish, hundreds of coral species, and numerous rays, sharks and turtles populate its translucent waters. Sipadan Island certainly tops the Malaysian itinerary for serious scuba divers, given that it's located in the world's most bio-diverse marine habitat. The famous underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau once described it as 'an untouched piece of art'. Indeed, the Malaysian government has taken measures to preserve the fragile ecosystem. That is, it's ordered dive resorts off the island, limited the daily number of divers allowed in the water, and banned night dives.
Mount Kinabalu rises from the Kinabalu National Park. At an impressive 13,500-foot (4,101m), it's one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia. It's a relatively easy climb, though, with tourists of varying ages and fitness levels enjoying the two-to-three-day ascent. Most people spend a night at Laban Rata before mounting the summit. Along with being the name of a resthouse that caters for hikers, Laban Rata is the name most people use for the area. The summit is a three-to-four-hour hike away from the hostel. Hikers should leave between 2am and 3am if they want to catch one of the area's magical sunrises. Visitors will encounter some weird and wonderful vegetation as the scale the jungle route, and can expect some astounding views from the top. Hikers should note that while the climb doesn't require any special equipment or technical skills, some people may experience the dizziness and shortness of breath associated with altitude sickness. All in all, climbing Mount Kinabalu is an extremely rewarding adventure and one of the top activities in Malaysia.
The Great Cave of Niah is one of the largest limestone caves in the world. More importantly, it's where archaeologists discovered evidence of man's existence dating back 40,000 years. A display of tools, rock paintings and human skulls tell the story of ancient civilisations. Limestone and lush tropical vegetation dominate the rest of the park, which nestles beneath the magnificent Mount Subis. Visitors reach the caves via a motor-boat trip across a small crocodile-infested river and a one-hour-long trek through jungle. The walk is rewarding and may include some wildlife viewing. As for the cave, travellers should expect slippery conditions, and should pack a flashlight. The area's ancient rock paintings are a must-see.
Sabah District's vast, enchanting equatorial rainforest is home to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, where orphaned orangutans find temporary shelter and rehabilitation before their re-release into the forest. The centre was set up in 1964 and gives tourists and researchers the priceless opportunity to observe and engage with the animals in their natural habitat. Visitors are restricted to the walkways but orangutans often come over to interact. Photography is permitted, though tourists will pay an extra charge for bringing in a camera. The Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) is also within the Sepilok Forest Reserve. The remarkable place allows guests to explore the jungle canopy on a series of raised platforms and walkways. Nature lovers in general, and bird watchers in particular will enjoy the experience.
Formerly known as Maxwell Hill, the holiday retreat of Bukit Larut is Malaysia's oldest hill station. Situated in the wettest part of the country, the peaceful site's history stretches back to 1884, and the area is blessedly cool compared to the lowlands. Limited accommodation and a lack of development give the destination an old-world colonial charm, which the more popular hill stations no longer have. Eight charming bungalows nestle on the hillside, providing the area's only holiday lodging. The route to the top of the hill station is an exhilarating climb through virgin tropical jungle. Travellers will need a four-wheel drive to undertake the journey. Private vehicles are not permitted, though a government-owned Land Rover makes regular trips up between 7am and 6pm. Visitors can enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the Malaysian peninsula's west coast from the summit. The vista runs from Penang to Pangkor.
Located at the northwestern edge of Pahang state, the Cameron Highlands hill station is the largest of its kind in Malaysia. The fertile region is home to a scattering of villages, and terraced plantations. Visitors will enjoy the scenic drive along the area's main route, during which they can stop at the stunning Lata Iskandar Waterfalls and Kuala Woh Forest Recreation Park. They can also stroll through Brinchang's market square, potter around handicraft stores, or sample the peace at Buddhist Temples. Ringlet and Tanah Rata are also worth exploring for lovers of quaint towns. Trips to tea plantations and strawberry farms are popular too.
Louis James Fraser was a controversial, solitary figure, who set up camp on one of the seven hills' cool, lush summits. The area became known as Fraser's Hill. The Scottish pioneer and opium-den operator disappeared under mysterious circumstances before the area's potential as a hill station was recognised. Others followed him and investigated the site, ultimately finding it perfect for a highland retreat. The area lies in the state of Pahang and is north of the Genting Highlands. Situated around 5,000 feet (1,524m) above sea level, it is the only hill station within two hours' drive of Kuala Lumpur. Nature lovers and bird enthusiasts will enjoy the cool, serene region. Jungle trails, waterfalls and colourful nurseries nestle peacefully in the landscape, complementing golf courses and horse-riding routes. Visitors will also find extensive hiking trails. Regarding accommodation, travellers can choose from a range of chalets, hotels, and colonial bungalows.
The Genting Highlands holiday resort has none of the old-world, colonial atmosphere of Malaysia's other hill stations. Instead, its main purpose is to entertain Kuala Lumpur's more affluent citizens. To this end, it's home to the country's only legal, land-based casino, a number of hotels, and a handful of theme parks. Visitors will also find a horse ranch, a golf course and an artificial lake. The hill resort lies less than one hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur, though holidaymakers can reach via a cable car called the Genting Skyway. At 6,562 feet (2,000m) above sea level, the hill station's temperate conditions offer a welcome respite from Malaysia's humidity. That said, its vibrant nightlife can account for the temperature rising in other ways.
Langkawi is the collective name for a group of 99 tropical islands located 20 miles (30km) off the northwestern tip of the peninsula. Pulau Langkawi is the largest and most developed of them. Much of the island's prolific development has been focused in the town of Kuah, which is the embarkation point for visitors travelling by ferry. Pulau's appeal flows from its hot springs, waterfalls, pristine beaches, limestone outcrops and stunning mountainous interiors. Visitors will also find plenty of shops and modern amenities. Langkawi is easily accessible by air or boat, though ferry crossings may cease during the monsoon season.
Two islands make up the popular holiday destination, which for all intents and purposes is a backpacker's paradise. Fisherman double as tour guides, and simple beach bars spill out onto the pristine shore. Travellers have the option of securing more high-end accommodation if they want, though the islands are an iconic stop on the budget traveller's itinerary. Regarding activities, the largely undeveloped region is located within the Terengganu Marine Park, where divers and snorkelers can enjoy clean water and gorgeous coral reefs. Visitors can reach the islands via taxi boats from the town of Kuala Besut. They should also note that the east-coast monsoon often makes the islands inaccessible between November and January.
This picturesque, ecologically rich island is home to dense jungles, which flourish around mountains. Clear waters lap its pristine beaches, revealing luminous coral reefs and a stunning marine population. Visitors will find a handful of villages along the coast, and virgin forest farther inland. Divers and snorkelers can hire equipment. June to August is high-season, while the island is almost deserted over the monsoon period, which runs from November to January. The journey there takes about two hours by boat from the coastal town of Mersing. Alternatively, travellers could choose the high-speed catamaran service that operates between Singapore and Tioman. It takes more or less four and a half hours.
Pangkor Island was once a hideout for pirates, and where the Dutch choose to construct a fort to assert their trade dominance in the region. The Dutch weren't in charge for long though, as local leaders allied with the British to force them out. Today, the mountainous island welcomes a healthy stream of visitors to its beautiful beaches. Eco-tourism is another drawcard, given the destination's gorgeous scenery and impressive variety of wildlife. The tourist infrastructure is good too, meaning holidaymakers will find various accommodation options, and lots to keep them entertained. Anyone looking to dive into some island history can enjoy attractions such as the ancient Fu Ling Kong Temple, the Dutch Fort and a granite boulder called, Tiger Rock, which bears etchings of a tiger on its surface. Travellers can also visit tombs and trek up Tortoise Hill.
Malaysia's tropical climate is hot and humid all year round, though conditions are cooler in the highland areas. Temperatures in Malaysia average at 86°F (30°C) year-round. The country doesn't have four distinct seasons, but it does have two monsoon seasons.
The monsoons bring heavy downpours on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, the north-eastern part of Sabah and the western end of Sarawak from November to February. The rainy season between April and October is characterised by thunderstorms and is often less disruptive to travel. Boat trips to the islands do not run during the height of the monsoon.
Malaysia's climate varies hugely from region to region, so the best time to visit the country depends on the traveller's itinerary. That is, a visitor's interest in specific regions and activities will be deciding factors. For dry weather seekers, June and July are the best time to visit on the east coast, January and February on the west coast, April in Sabah, and June to July in Sarawak.
Some people prefer to travel in the rainy season for various reasons, but it is never advisable to travel at the height of monsoon season, as the heavy rains can disrupt travel arrangements and getting around is difficult.
This upscale Malay eatery offers guests home-style Malay dishes, all of them based on recipes that have been in owner, Sherena Razaly's, family for generations. Diners can expect traditional flavours and modern presentation. Signature dishes include sambal tumis udang (fried chilli prawns) and ayam goreng lengkuas (fried chicken with blue ginger).
Specialising in North Indian cuisine, Bombay Palace is one of Kuala Lumpur's most popular restaurants and welcomes hundreds of locals and tourists every week. With majestic décor fit for a king, Bombay Palace delivers. Diners should try the Lamb Vindaloo if they can handle the heat, and Dil Bahar or Pista Barfi for dessert. The restaurant opens daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended.
The restaurant specialises in the fine Cantonese cuisine for which Kuala Lumpur is known. All dishes come with a modern twist; popular specialities include Peking Duck, Braised Imperial Beancurd with Spinach, Cod Fish with Pomelo Sauce in Whole Orange, Charcoal Grilled Iberico Ribs, and Roast Suckling Pig.
The official currency is the Malaysian Ringit (MYR), also referred to as the Malaysian Dollar, which is divided into 100 sen. Money changers are generally quicker to deal with than banks and do not charge commission; their rates however are variable. British Pounds or US Dollars are the easiest to exchange. All major credit cards are accepted at upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants. ATMs are widely available.
Bahasa Melayu is the national language, but English is widely spoken and is the language of business. Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka are spoken by the Malaysian Chinese population and Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi among the Indian population.
Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style three-pin plugs are used.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for holders of British passports, irrespective of the endorsement regarding their national status contained therein, for stays of up to 90 days.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC business travel card, provided that the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Malaysia.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC business travel card, provided that the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Malaysia.
Foreign passengers to Malaysia are required to hold sufficient funds (at least USD 100 per day) to cover their expenses while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. If passengers are not in possession of a return/onward ticket, they will be requested to purchase one. Passports must have at least one unused page upon arrival. Note that admission will be refused to foreign ladies in an advanced stage of pregnancy (six months or more), except if they are in transit, for a maximum period of 72 hours (no extensions allowed). A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Malaysia, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that a visitor's passport has at least six months' validity remaining after their intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Some tropical illnesses are prevalent in Malaysia and travellers should seek medical advice regarding any recommended vaccinations before travelling. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are common, as is dengue fever, which has no vaccination or immunisation. There has been an increase in cases of dengue fever in recent years. Malaria risks are isolated to the inland regions; the exception is Sabah, where there is a year-round risk. Travellers older than one year coming from infected areas require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Visitors may also be advised to get vaccinations for rabies, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis, depending on their travel itineraries in Malaysia. Visitors should stick to bottled water and avoid uncooked meat, fish and vegetables, unpeeled fruit, ice and salads. A further health hazard in Malaysia is smoke haze and air pollution, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, which has some of the poorest air quality in Asia. The very high Benzene pollution levels could aggravate cardiac or respiratory problems.
Hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and other major Malaysian cities are of a high standard but medical facilities may be lacking in rural areas. Comprehensive medical insurance is recommended.
Although tipping is not customary in Malaysia, the more expensive hotels and restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to their bills and further gratuity is unnecessary. All hotel rooms are subject to a six percent government tax, though many cheaper hotels quote a price inclusive of this tax.
Malaysia is a generally safe travel destination, where visitors should nevertheless practice normal precautions against crime. That is, they should stay alert and avoid displaying conspicuous wealth. They should also be wary of petty crimes such as bag-snatching and pick-pocketing. Tourists should use hotel safes and duplicate travel documents. Remote parts of eastern and northern Sabah carry some threat of kidnappings by militant Filipino groups.
Malaysia is largely Muslim and therefore Islamic customs should be respected, especially during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking in public should be avoided, as it is forbidden by Islamic law. Dress, particularly for women, should be conservative, and arms and legs should be covered when visiting places of worship. It is customary to remove shoes before entering homes and places of worship. When eating or exchanging money, the right hand is used. Homosexuality is illegal.
Those looking to do business in Malaysia are strongly urged to research some of the cultural complexities of the country, which is home to different ethnic groups. Although the Malaysian business world has largely succeeded in establishing a unified ethos for itself, it is important to understand that visitors might deal with people from different ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian being the most common), and that their expectations and conduct might need to adjust accordingly. The defining characteristic of business culture in Malaysia is respect for, and deference to authority. Authority figures are identified more by skills, wisdom and temperament, than by powerful positions and strict hierarchy.
The Malaysian style of management, it follows, is less goal-driven, and more holistic, than in some Western cultures, with managers taking a personal interest in the well-being of their employees. Business etiquette in Malaysia is marked by sensitivity and diplomacy. The golden rule is never to cause another to 'lose face' in professional company; the wilful, or even careless, humiliation of even a subordinate, is considered anathema in the Malaysian business world. Business meetings in Malaysia usually convene punctually, but can be subject to a lot of 'small talk' and personal digressions. Attendees shouldn't get impatient, as this is seen as an important function of meetings in Malaysia, where the agenda is not always as important as the relationships between people that meetings serve to develop.
Business cards are usually exchanged upon meeting new associates. People give and receive cards with their right hand, supported by the left, and never fold or put away a card without looking at it first. Details are printed in Chinese on the reverse side of cards. The dress code for business is typically Western, with smart, formal clothes being worn. Men generally wear white shirts and ties (jackets to be worn to meetings); while women - since Malaysia is home to a large Muslim population - should dress more conservatively than they might be used to doing at home. English is widely spoken in Malaysia, and commonly used in most businesses. Business hours are generally Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.
The international access code for Malaysia is +60. International Direct Dial is available throughout the country, but the service can be erratic. Hotels can add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills; it is best to check before making international calls. Cafes, hotels and restaurants offer free wifi in most tourist areas. Buying a local SIM card is a cheaper alternative to using international roaming.
Travellers to Malaysia do not have to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 225g tobacco; 1 litre wine, spirits or malt liquor; cosmetic products to the value of RM 200; up to three new items of clothing and one pair of footwear; one portable electrical or battery-operated appliance for personal hygiene; food preparations to the value of RM 75; other goods to the value of RM 400 (with the exception of goods from Langkawi and Labuan, to the value of RM 500). Prohibited items include goods from Haiti, counterfeit money and illegal drugs.
Malaysian Tourist Website: www.tourism.gov.my
Malaysian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 572 9700.
Malaysian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7235 8033.
Malaysian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 241 5182.
Malaysian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 342 5990.
Malaysian High commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 61 200 300.
Malaysian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 667 7280.
Malaysian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 385 2439.
United States Embassy, Kuala Lumpur: +60 3 2168 5000.
British High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 3 2170 2200.
Canadian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 3 2718 3333.
South African High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 3 2170 2400.
Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 3 2146 5555.
Irish Embassy, Kuala Lumpur: +60 3 2167 8200.
New Zealand High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 3 2078 2533.
Stalagmites and stalactites festoon the interior of these impressive limestone caves, together with shrines to Hindu deities. American naturalist, William Hornaday, is credited with discovering them in 1878, though they were already known Chinese settlers and local indigenous peoples. The caves have since become a Hindu holy site. They're especially relevant to the celebration of a three-day religious festival called Thaipusam. Thousands of devotees visit during the festival, paying penance and performing rites of self-flagellation. Visitors can reach the largest cave, Temple Cave, by climbing 272 steps. The path will lead them to Museum Cave, which houses a dazzling display of ornamental religious art. Travellers will enjoy the clear view from the top to the Sri Subramaniam Temple. Onsite companies offer rock climbing opportunities as well. Travellers who're interested should pack water, as the routes are challenging. Visitors should also watch out for monkeys, as they tend to steal things.
Spanning a vast area in Pahang State, Taman Negara National Park contains some of the world's oldest rainforest. Its richly diverse plant and wildlife have evolved over a staggering 130 million years, and its jungle trails lead past a small, seldom-seen population of the nomadic Orang Asli people. Their makeshift shelters appear in clearings, and several operators offer guided tours to their villages. Hiking the main path across the park takes about three days, and visitors can stay in wooden lodges between treks. Night-time jungle sounds are incredible, if a little unnerving for the uninitiated. Park visitors can also enjoy fishing, birdwatching, river-rafting and climbing the Peninsula's highest mountain, Gunung Tahan.
Melaka (Malacca) preserves the historic meeting of Chinese and European cultures. Initially, its strategic position on the Straits of Melaka encouraged a tide of trade with China, India, Siam and Indonesia. Later, colonial powers wrestled for control of the fascinating seaside city, and much of the 16th century Portuguese influence is cemented in its architecture. Visitors can expect an authentic cultural experience in this predominantly Chinese region, where open-air markets and traditional merchants are commonplace. Melaka is also home to a unique ethnic group called the Baba-Nyonya. Born of Chinese and Malay ancestors, their remarkable lifestyle is recorded in the Baba-Nyonya Heritage Museum. Travellers should stop on Jonker Street too. The attractive thoroughfare is almost always strung with traditional Chinese lanterns, and hosts night bazaars and festivities on weekends. Otherwise, trips on the Malacca River are popular and feature many historic buildings, such as the Stadthuys. Once the Dutch administration's seat, it now houses a history museum. Travellers will also find some interesting ruins on St. Paul's Hill.