Malaysia is the crowning jewel that lies at the very end of Southeast Asia, jutting out with the Malaccan Straits to meet the islands of Indonesia and the Java Sea.
It’s a nation distinctly divided in two.
On the western side sits built-up Malaya; the old stronghold of British colonial power that’s now buzzing with electric Kuala Lumpur and multicultural UNESCO towns in Penang.
On the eastern side is wild and mist-topped Borneo.
Here, orangutans swing in the primeval forests, ancient volcanic domes loom overhead, beaches are trodden by turtles instead of sunbathers, and rustic fishing towns spill into the South China Sea.
Just a glance at this magical country is enough to see why so many opt to travel here, whether they come for the verdant reaches of the tea-scented Cameron Highlands, the pearly waters of Sipadan, the raucous markets of the capital, the historic relics of Malacca – the list goes on.
Kuala Lumpur comes spiked at the center by the two great spires of the Petronas Towers, packed with markets and heady hawker bazaars down Petaling Street, throbbing with the energy of Bukit Bintang – the entertainment city – and awash with the scents of everything from frying Chinese chow mien to sizzling Portuguese fish barbeques.
It’s one of the world’s great multicultural metropolises, with lantern-lit Chinatown butting up to districts of Nepalese curry houses and Indian thali kitchens.
Apart from the breathtaking views of the cityscape from the countless sky bars, you can visit the mysterious Batu Caves and some acclaimed Islamic art institutions.
The red-hued churches and colonial frontispieces that fringe the tight-knit lanes of enchanting Malacca remain unquestionably one of Malaysia’s great draws.
Created over decades of colonial rule by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and then the British, the city seen today was once a mighty trading powerhouse on the edge of the Malay Peninsula.
With control of the Malacca Strait, it saw everything from silk transports to spice convoys to military contingents pass through its ports.
Today, there are immersive maritime museums to help unravel this past, along with one pandemonius night market down Jonker Walk – one of the best in the country!
Penang is oft hailed as Southeast Asia writ small.
It’s easy to see why, In the city of George Town, clicking rickshaws weave past smoky Cantonese kitchens, blue-hued mansions from the 19th century, and the aged remnants of a vainglorious British past – it’s no wonder the whole place comes under UNESCO World Heritage designation.
You can expect one awesome medley of food to try too, including curries and Chinese pancakes.
And then there are the beaches, which glisten in deep blues and golden yellows at Batu Feringghi, and come lined with lanky coconut palms on the edge of Jerejak Island.
The weathered hoodoos and ancient ridges of Gunung Mulu National Park rarely fail to capture the imagination.
The park itself represents one of those last enclaves of untrodden land, and is one of the hardest reserves to get to in all of Borneo – you have to take a heart-thumping plane ride down to the asphalt of tiny Mulu Airport, or a 12-hour riverboat.
Mossy rainforests where helmeted hornbills issue their cries; deep and dank cave systems riddled with rare bats; trekking over swinging canopy bridges; the mighty grykes and caverns of Mount Api – the list goes on.