You name it, Malaysia’s probably got it – beaches to lounge on, rain forests to trek and sweat through, exotic wildlife to seek out, unbeatable cuisine, deep-seated traditions, and rich cultural history.
It’s also a rapidly changing nation, capitalising on the natural resources the land has provided with little consideration for the consequences. Environmentalists often point to Malaysia as a much-denounced example of deforestation and the impacts that come with it.
Governmental steps have been taken to diversify the country’s economy, but most coach journeys of any significant distance will reveal acre upon acre of oil palm plantations which are there to meet a huge global demand for palm oil.
It’s a country that can bedazzle and ask you to confront awkward truths about globalization at the same time, and in that respect, Malaysia really is truly Asia. Enough of the negative vibes though, below here’s my choice for some of the best, the most beautiful and fascinating places to visit in Malaysia….
1. Langkawi – a stunning archipelago which is one of the best places to visit in Malaysia
Without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Malaysia is the stunning archipelago known as Langkawi. It is situated in Kedah, which is on the West Coast of Malaysia, and it is Malaysia’s northernmost archipelago.
This duty-free haven is Malaysia’s northernmost archipelago 30km off the mainland and easily accessible by ferry and air from Thailand or Malaysia. Honeymooners and backpackers alike are all catered for as swathes of magazine-perfect beaches invite lazy cocktail-sipping afternoons.
For the more adventurous, you can test your vertigo at one of Langkawi’s main attractions – the 1,700 metre cable car, or SkyCab – which ascends Machinchang Mountain.
You have the option to go to the first station and back again or continue up to the loftier second station. From there you can take a stroll across the SkyBridge, head up to elevated viewing platforms or simply watch the clouds roll in and over the slopes at amazing speed.
The SkyBridge was closed at the time of visiting (November 2013) so it’s best to check access beforehand. If you’re feeling peckish, ask the locals to find out the next location of the roaming night market.
Some of the most popular beaches here include Black Sand Beach, Pantai Tengah, Datai Bay, Pantai Cenang, and many more. The archipelago is very easily accessible, either through a ferry or from the air.
2. Pulau Tioman, Pahang – offers some of the most beautiful scenery in Malaysia
The Pulau Tioman has been one of the most beautiful islands to visit since the 1970s, and it has retained its beauty up till now. It is located just off the east coast in the South China Sea, and it is a great place to visit in Malaysia.
It has some stunning beaches, a rich and dense rainforest, and an expanse of wildlife. Some of the activities you can partake in at Pulau Tioman include scuba diving, snorkeling, taking strolls through the jungle, touring the island on motorbikes.
The islands also have some gorgeous waterfalls, and it is certainly one of the top places to visit in Malaysia.
3. George Town, Penang – one of the best places to explore in Malaysia
Penang is usually featured on the list of top places to visit in Malaysia, and it is quite obvious why.
Penang lies in the Northwest of Malaysia and it is a gem of a city. The state is named after the pinang tree, and it is home to the fascinating city of GeorgeTown.
The town is rich in culture and art, which is evident as you stroll through the streets and see the street art that lines up along the paths. It has a beautiful history as well, with temples like Kek Lok Si displaying the rich cultural history of Malaysia.
The state is also known for its beaches and resorts like Batu Ferringhi and Shangri-la.
4. Pulau Pinang – a unique and gorgeous place to explore in Malaysia
Considered the food capital of Malaysia by many, this charming and well-developed island is part of the wider state of Penang and has become a multiracial melting pot of diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities, thanks largely to its prominent position within historic trading routes.
The main neighbourhood of Georgetown is a delightful UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts numerous murals that make up a fascinating street art scene fronted by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic.
It won’t be long before you’re drifting lost amongst the narrow pastel streets, having your nostrils tugged and tempted by fried Nasi Kandar and your eyes popped at the colorful sight of Ais Kacang. The culinary theme continues at the Tropical Spice Garden on the island’s northern edge, a lush and refreshing retreat where you can dine in the treetops alongside Silver Leaf monkeys swinging amongst the branches.
A short bus ride further down the road is the highly enjoyable Butterfly Farm with a series of masterful must-see short animated educational films.
There are several spots full of beautiful murals and artworks across the island, and its position as a historic trading route makes it a very popular spot for people of different backgrounds to settle and enjoy.
The food here is one of the most beautiful parts of the trip, and it won’t be long before you’re lost in a sea of tantalizing dishes.
5. The Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur – one of the most famous landmarks in Malaysia
Amongst the hustle and bustle of Malaysia’s chaotic capital, beauty presents itself in an unexpected form.
If you hang around the base of the Petronas Towers between sunset and moonrise, the world’s tallest twin buildings undergo a magical transformation as day turns to night and the office lights, lift shafts, and aircraft warning lights illuminate the 88 stories in a halogen-fuelled twilight haze.
6. Pangkor Island, Perak – a stunning beauty spot in Malaysia
This is a beautiful island that lies on the West coast of Malaysia. It consists of a small archipelago in the Strait of Malacca, and it is known for some of its beaches like Pasir Bogak, the Coral Bay, and Emerald Bay.
It is nothing short of a tropical paradise as you can go snorkeling, or even hiking, depending on what you want. There are also some great jungle trails for those who want to experience some time in nature.
Malaysia is such a lovely place to visit, and there are certainly many more beautiful places you can visit. But these are the top 15 most beautiful places you can visit in Malaysia.
7. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – one of the top 10 places to visit in Malaysia
Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of Sabah. And although it might just look like a normal city at first glance, with its lines of malls and buildings, when you venture deeper into the city, you will encounter magnificent stretches of orange-sand coastline and islands.
One of the most popular attractions to people is the floating mosque, but there are several other places to visit like Tanjung Aru Beach. It has one of the most beautiful sunsets, and you could also take a stroll along Likas Bay and enjoy the day playing in the sand or the water.
The five islands here are collectively known as Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, and it is a favored spot by foreigners and locals alike for snorkeling and relaxing. There is also a great jungle just a few miles from the city.
8. Malacca – the historical state of Malaysia, rich with heritage buildings
If you are looking for a city that is richly endowed with history and culture, then Malacca city is a great choice.
For hundreds of years Malacca was one of the most strategically significant towns on the Malay Peninsular, switching hands between the Portuguese, Dutch and British amongst others during that time as they fought for control of this key trading post. Fast forward to modern-day Malacca and you get the impression the place hasn’t changed much.
Many of the streets are one way, winding and cramped, while the rickety buildings are poky and ooze historical character. Like Penang, Malacca is one of Malaysia’s smallest states and proudly possesses UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
If you visit Malacca city, some great places to see would be the famous Jonker Street Night Market, A Famosa Fort, and St. Paul’s Church.
9. Cameron Highlands – some of the most beautiful landscapes to explore in Malaysia
This is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Malaysia. Visitors are attracted to this enchanting region of Pehang to experience the novelty, and the respite, of a cooler tropical highland climate where temperatures are often in the low 20s.
The rolling hills are populated by tea plantations and flower nurseries, making the area the leading producer of tea and flowers in Malaysia.
It’s wise to check the weather in the monsoon season (November – February) and call ahead or ask your transport operator before travelling as the heavy rainfall can lead to landslides which have an inconvenient tendency of blocking many of the roads.
10. Pulau Pangkor – this stunning island is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Malaysia
A tiny island just off the Malay Peninsular with wide, sweeping beaches that match Langkawi is only accessible by ferry from the connecting town of Lumut.
Lumut is approximately three hours north of Kuala Lumpur by road and for those wishing to stick to the tracks then Ipoh (85km away) will sate your train station needs.
11. Pulau Redang – a truly idyllic cluster of islands in beautiful Malaysia
This picturesque group of islands is a stunning sight. Located along the east coast of Malaysia, the islands rise from the South China Sea. Redang sits within protected waters, known as the Terengganu Marine Park, preserves the crystal clear waters and the reef systems, ergo creating a flourishing scuba-tourism industry.
With the crystal clear waters, the islands sit within protected waters (the Terengganu Marine Park) so their beauty is maintained at a premium. It has recently become a great spot for some scuba diving as well as tourist activities.
The waters are usually too rough for boats to move on during those times, so it’s best to call ahead and do a bit of research on the best time to visit Malaysia.
As with some central locations such as Cameron Highlands and much of the east coast, the monsoons dictate when to go, and when not to go.
Between November and February the waters are often too rough for boats to transport eager sun-seekers to the island and many resorts take a holiday for themselves, so it’s always best to phone ahead for availability or plan your travels away from the low season.
12. Sabah, Borneo – one of the most popular honeymoon spots in Malaysia
Malaysia seems to be a never-ending source of reverential snorkel and scuba sites, and Sabah doesn’t buck any trends.
If you’re interested in latitudes, Sabah ranks as Malaysia’s northernmost state and while people do flock to Sabah to enjoy the seas.
You’d do well to remember that Sabah is home to a myriad of exotic on and offshore species, including civet cats, snakes, clouded leopards and pygmy elephants which are among the 222 mammals (44 endemics), 420 birds (37 endemics), 100 amphibians and 394 fish (19 endemics) found, according to the WWF.
13. Gunung Mulu, Borneo – a beautiful protected rainforest in Malaysian Borneo
What looks like a stone’s throw away from Brunei on the map, Gunung Mulu represents yet another of Malaysia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It’s a well-documented, visited, and filmed world, as done by the BBC’s Planet Earth team, but with eye-catching, otherworldly features such as the Pinnacles at Mount Api it’s easy to see why. Gunung Mulu National Park is the largest of Sarawak’s parks and writing all this is making me want to go back to Malaysia, tomorrow!
14. Ipoh, Perak – the beautiful capital city of the Malaysian state of Perak
Ipoh, the capital city of Perak is nothing short of magnificent. Nicknamed rightly as ‘The City of Bougainvillea’, the city has a vintage style of beauty.
It is surrounded by rocky limestone hills that add to the complete visual aesthetic of the city, which is centered around its colonial history. It is made up of several Hindu and Buddhist cave temples, and it is quickly becoming one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
It is quite unimaginable that just a few years ago, Ipoh was a sleepy Malay village. Now, it is drawing attention and popularity all over the world with people wanting to enjoy just some of its many beautiful spots.
Like the Ipoh Heritage Walk, a stroll of nothing less than 6.5 kilometers, it is lined with grandiose architecture that still harbors a beauty and magnificence that almost sums up the entire Ipoh experience.
Some other great places to visit in Ipoh are Kellie’s castle, which is not for the faint of heart, as there have been several supernatural reports and sightings within this cave, the Tambun cave, of which you would certainly enjoy seeing some of the Neolithic paintings, and the Geological Museum, which is full of all sorts of beautiful and interesting stories and exhibits.
You could also try some of the great food here, but you might be overwhelmed at how stunning the city is.
15. The Perhentians, Terengganu – an ideal beach resort for a family vacation in Malaysia
Located in the South China Sea is one of the most beautiful parts in the whole of Malaysia.
This is a small archipelago right off the coast of Terengganu, and it is known as the “The Perhentians”. The main islands that make up the Perhentians are Besar and Kecil (Big and Small), which are two beautiful coral-covered islands made up of white sand and crystal clear shallow water.
There are several activities you can take up at the Perhentians like snorkeling, scuba diving, and canoeing. If you just want to spend the whole day relaxing and gazing at the beautiful water as it laps against the shore, then you would have a very enjoyable day.
16. Danum Valley, Sabah – considered to be one of the world’s most complex ecosystems
For an amazing jungle experience, the best place to visit would be Danum Valley in Sabah. The conservation area is located deep inside the 130million year-old lowland forest.
It has a good diversity of plants and animals, scattered over about 438 square kilometers of land. When you visit the Danum Valley, you might see some orangutans, leopards, or even some pygmy elephants.
The area is purely wildlife and plant life as there is a lack of any human settlement so this makes the experience and environment even purer. The forest is very lush, and you can partake in jungle treks with an experienced guide or even go for a night safari.
17. Alor Setar, Kedah – an interesting place to visit in Malaysia
Visiting Langkawi is usually the most popular activity to those that visit Kedah. But they are missing out on a beautiful and unexplored city called Alor Setar.
The city stands just a couple of kilometers to the southeast of Langkawi, and it features some great buildings like the Royal Hall, the Big Clock Building, the Zahir Mosque, and the Sultan Museum.
You can also visit the imposing 250million-year-old Gunung Keriang limestone hill. There are also some historic 17th-century ruins you can visit at Kuala Kedah.
18. Pulau Sipadan – the only oceanic island in Malaysia
The island of Pulau Sipadan is located in the state of Sabah, and it is one of the top diving destinations in the world.
The island stands at about 600metres above the ocean floor, and it is home to a large variety of marine life like devil rays, hammerhead sharks, dogtooth tuna, and barracudas.
It is a great place to visit for marine enthusiasts and divers because there is so much beauty in and around the water. Restrictions have been put in place to sustain the balance in the ecosystem, so you will only be allowed day visits.
But if you want to stay overnight, you can arrange a place at one of the nearby islands like Mabul, Mataking, or Kapalai.
19. The Jungle Railway – one of the great train journeys of Southeast Asia
The Jungle Railway runs for more than 500km between Gemas on the Butterworth – Singapore line and Tumpat in the northeastern part of Peninsular Malaysia which provides a gateway through to Thailand.
The line passes through the three states of Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and Kelantan and majestic mountainous rainforest in the process.
It’s worth scheduling your journey during the day so you get to take in the captivating scenery and give yourself a chance of spotting a monkey or two.
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Michael Cowley – writer and photographer
Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always had an affinity for adventure. Growing up he was lucky enough to live in a handful of exotic far flung locations including Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania and since then he’s continued seeking out new places and cultures. In his spare time he explores everywhere from the sizzling street markets in Bangkok to random back alleys in Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for Cohibas, trying all kinds of street food, playing carrom with random strangers, and fine wine – he knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Amsterdam, Indonesia, Goa, Cambodia and Italy as his favourite destinations. Find Michael on Instagram or Twitter.