A journey through Malaysia

Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia that has a lot to offer for every type of traveler. There is beautiful architecture, nature and pristine beaches, you can travel cheaply with a backpack or stay in style and there is a varied range of food and sights. The main tourist attractions for any trip are Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, the Cameron Highlands, Taman Negara National Park and the islands of Penang, Langkawi and Perhentian. In the Kinabalu National Park on the island of Borneo you can climb the highest mountain in the country and visit an orangutan center.

Map Malaysia

 

Location and population

Malaysia is located in Southeast Asia, it consists of two separate parts separated by the South China Sea. West Malaysia or Peninsular Malaysia borders Thailand to the north and Singapore to the south. East Malaysia is located in the north of the island of Borneo and borders Indonesia to the south and Brunei to the north. West Malaysia covers about 40% of the country’s surface, but 85% of the population lives there. The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur.
The population can be divided into four main groups, the native Malaysians (about 51% of the population), the Chinese (30%), the Indian Malaysians (8%) and the other Malaysians (11%). All these population groups have their influence on Malaysian cuisine and religion. The native Malaysians are Muslims and Islam is the national religion, there are also Buddhists, Hindus and Christians. The official languages are Bahasa Malaysia and English, and most of the population speaks Pasar Malay in everyday life.

History

Due to its location, West Malaysia became an important port and settlement for merchants along the trade routes between China, India and Arabia. Islam arrived in the fourteenth century and European traders first came to Malaysia in the sixteenth century. The Portuguese arrived first in Malacca in 1509. The Dutch followed them in 1641 and in 1786 the English settled in Penang. At the end of the nineteenth century, large tin reserves were discovered in Malaysia. Because the Chinese empire was on the verge of collapse, many Chinese fled to Malaysia to work in the tin mines. This caused great discord in the country and a bloody civil war ensued. A British Indian army intervened and united the country’s most important states into a British federation in 1895. Under British rule the economy grew rapidly and Malaysia became the largest producer of tin, rubber and palm oil. After the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, the urge for independence grew and Peninsular Malaysia became independent in 1957 under the name Federation of Malaya. A new federation called Malaysia was established in 1963 and consisted of Malaysia, Singapore, and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. Singapore became independent in 1965 and since then Malaysia as we know it has existed.

Kuala Lumpur

The capital of Malaysia is grand and versatile, there is an extensive network of public transport, there is a mix of modern and old architecture and it is a paradise for those who enjoy shopping. You can make a bargain in Chinatown, Little India or one of the many markets, the major shopping centers are close to Bukit Bintang. You can find accommodation in every price range. The main entertainment district is Changkat Bukit Bintang, there are also numerous rooftop bars on top of skyscrapers where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city. Kuala Lumpur is also a good destination for those who love food, there are countless small restaurants and food stalls, food courts and luxury restaurants. There is a mix of typical Malaysian food, grilled meat and fish, Chinese cuisine and numerous Indian specialties. Of course there is also a wide range of fast food restaurants and dishes from all over the world.
Petronas Twin Towers Sights
Petronas Twin Towers
Probably the most important and impressive building in Kuala Lumpur are the Petronas Twin Towers. At 452 meters high, they are to date (2016) the tallest twin towers in the world and are a beautiful example of modern architecture. You can visit the towers inside, on the 41st floor is the sky bridge, which connects the two towers, on the 86th floor there is an observation platform where you have a beautiful view of the city.
Menara KL
Another tower in the capital is the Menara KL, which has a height of 421 meters. It was originally a communications tower but now it only serves as a tourist attraction. At the top there is a revolving restaurant with a panoramic view of the city.
Sultan Abdul Samad building
This building is an example of British colonial architecture with a forty meter high clock tower. This used to be the court, today it is the offices of the ministers of information, communications and culture.
Merdeka square
This square is located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, it has an impressive 95 meter high flagpole where the Malaysian flag flies today. It was here that the British flag was lowered in 1957 when Malaysia became independent.
Masjid Negara
This mosque is also called the National Mosque, it covers 53,000 m² and has a capacity of 15,000 worshippers. There is a 73 meter high minaret and the roof is shaped like a star with sixteen points.
Masjid Jamek
This mosque is located on the Klang and Gombak rivers, it is one of the oldest mosques in the city, the official opening was in 1909.
Kuala Lumpur also has numerous museums, such as the National Museum and the Islamic Arts Museum. You can also visit one of the many Chinese temples, the Thean Hou temple is one of the largest Chinese temples in Southeast Asia. The capital is surprisingly green, there are numerous parks and gardens, the largest being the KL Lake Gardens. In addition to a lake and beautiful trees and plants, there is also a deer park, a butterfly garden and an orchid park.
About ten kilometers outside the city are the Batu Caves, these are Hindu caves. The cave was discovered in 1892 and is 400 meters long and 100 meters high. In front of the entrance to the caves is the world’s tallest statue of the God Murugan, it is 42.7 meters high. There are 272 steps to the entrance of the caves, where you can visit the Temple Cave.

Malacca

Malacca is located on the west coast of Malaysia, about a three-hour drive from the capital. This town is a beautiful example of Malaysia’s colonial past, in the historic center you can find the remains of the Portuguese and Dutch occupation. In 2008, Malacca was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Sights

  • St. Pauls Church : This church was built by the Portuguese, later it became a Dutch cemetery. The church is in a dilapidated state and today you can visit the ruins, where gravestones with Dutch inscriptions can still be seen.
  • Het Stadthuys: This Dutch building is located on the Dutch square in the heart of the historic center. It was built in 1650, making it the oldest Dutch building in Asia. It was the governor’s residence, today it is a museum.
  • Christ Church: Next to the Stadthuys you will find Christ Church, a striking red and white church built by the Dutch in 1750.
  • Chinatown: There are many Chinese buildings and temples in this part of the city. The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple was built in 1645 and is considered the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. There are also plenty of small restaurants and shops.
  • Jonker street: This street is bursting with art galleries, antique shops and souvenir shops. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday there is a pleasant night market where you can pick up a nice souvenir and eat something at the many food stalls.

 

Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands is a plateau about 150 km north of Kuala Lumpur, this region is located at an altitude of 1500 meters, making it the highest area in Peninsular Malaysia. The temperatures here are a lot lower than in the rest of the country and it is therefore a popular refuge for people looking to cool off. The plateau is named after William Cameron, who discovered this region during an expedition in 1885. Due to the cooler climate, this region is very suitable for growing tea and you can visit one of the many tea plantations, the BOH plantation is the most popular. You can also visit the butterfly garden, strawberry plantations, rose gardens and even a cactus valley. There are beautiful views everywhere in this region and you can take beautiful walks in the jungle. Tanah Rata and Brinchang are the two villages in the Cameron Highlands, where you can find many restaurants and places to stay.

Taman Negara

This national park consists of one of the oldest rainforests in the world, it is said to be more than 130 million years old. The national park covers an area of 4,343 km² and contains the highest point in West Malaysia, Gunung Tahan. Some rare animal species still live in this rainforest, such as the Malayan tiger, Indian elephants and sun bears. There are also numerous bird species such as the argus pheasant, the Malayan mirror peacock and hornbills.
Visitors to Taman Negara Park can take several short walks, including to the canopy walkway. This is a 500 meter long walkway at a height of about 45 meters in the jungle. You can also hike to the Bukit Teresek viewpoint or the Gua Telinga caves. The more adventurous travelers can trek into the jungle for several days with a guide. The chance that you will see wild animals is small, the animals are very shy of people and stay far away from tourists. You can admire the many beautiful plants and trees and you will certainly see some interesting insects and small animals. It can get very hot and extremely humid in Taman Negara, so be sure to bring sun protection. There are also a lot of mosquitoes and leeches, so protect yourself well against these insects.
Kek Lok Si temple

Islands

Penang

Penang is an island located on the northwest coast of Malaysia, it can be reached from the mainland by ferry or via the bridge that connects the island to the mainland. You should not go to Penang for a beach holiday, but for beautiful architecture, temples, mosques, museums and a wide range of food. The main attractions on the island are Georgetown (the bustling capital is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Kek Lok Si Temple (the largest Buddhist temple in the country), Penang Hill (for stunning views), Penang National Park (for beautiful walks to a lake with fresh and salt water that does not mix), Ford Cornwallis and Snake Temple.
Black Sand Beach Langkawi
Langkawi is an island about a three-hour boat ride north of Penang, you can take the ferry between these two islands or take the ferry from the mainland to Langkawi. There are also cheap flights to Langkawi. Pantai Cenang is the most popular beach on the island and here you can also find the most accommodation and restaurants. You can rent a moped to explore the island. Some interesting places are Eagle Square and Lagenda park, Black Sand Beach, Kilim Geoforest Park and the Durian, Terumun and Seven Wells waterfalls.

Perhentian Islands

This archipelago on the northeast side of the Malaysian peninsula consists of the larger Perhentian Besar, the smaller Perhentian Kecil and three smaller, uninhabited islands. From the beaches of both islands you can dive, snorkel and kayak, and there are also beautiful walks inland. These islands have no roads and all transport is by water.
Mount Kinabalu / Source: TarasK, Pixabay

Borneo

Sabah

Sabah is the smaller of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, the capital is Kota Kinabalu. Here is the Kinabalu National Park, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is here that you can climb the highest mountain in the country, the 4095 meter high Mount Kinabalu. You must plan a climb to this mountain in advance, the government limits the number of people allowed on the mountain each day to 150, during the high season this tour is often sold out months in advance. You can book at viator.com. You can also admire Mount Kinabalu by taking one of the many other walks in the national park. Sabah is also where you can see orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Sarawak

Sarawak is the other, larger Malaysian state on Borneo. There is still a lot of unspoilt nature here and little tourism. The capital is Kuching, a surprisingly stylish and hip city. Gunung Mulu National Park is Borneo’s most impressive destination and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this park there are no less than 300 kilometers of caves with millions of bats, beautiful nature, mountains and an active volcano.

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