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Where to go in Malaysia

Tropical beaches, wildlife-rich rainforests, lush highlands and a diverse heritage and culture make Malaysia an amazingly enriching destination. Read our guide to find out where to go – whether you are looking for rest and relaxation, an exotic adventure, or a mix of both.

Highlights of Malaysia

Exotic, rich and diverse, Malaysia offers something to delight everyone – from its powdery tropical beaches and misty colonial hill stations to its jungle-dwelling orangutans and glittering modern capital. The country is split between the Malay Peninsula and Malaysia Borneo, with countless tropical islands fringing the coasts of both.

The gateway to the country and the main jumping-off point for most visitors is the cosmopolitan capital Kuala Lumpur – a modern metropolis of high rises with a few pockets of British colonial architecture, Chinese shop houses and quaint Malay neighbourhoods remaining. From here many choose to travel to the ancient rainforests of Taman Negara or cool hill stations of the Cameron Highlands, or to the enchanting former colonial enclaves of Malacca and Penang. The idyllic islands of the Peninsula's east and west coasts – the best-known being Redang, Tioman and Langkawi – provide beautiful beaches to cap off any tour of the peninsula.

Across the South China Sea in Borneo, the Malay states of Sabah and Sarawak provide the backdrop for astounding wildlife experiences and jungle adventures. You can head into the rainforest to see iconic longhouse villages and learn about tribal customs; you can hike up sacred Mount Kinabalu and explore the surrounding waterfalls, caves and lush landscapes of the national park; or you can go in search of special creatures such as orang-utans and proboscis monkeys, and see them up close in a sanctuary. With marine and turtle reserves, beautiful islands and world-class diving just off the coast, all-in-all Malaysian Borneo is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers.

Charming colonial enclaves

Penang

In the far north of Peninsula Malaysia, Penang is just south of the border with Thailand. Accessed by ferry, Penang Island and its capital George Town were known as the Pearl of the Orient during the days of Empire. A favourite with travellers for its atmospheric timeworn streets that still speak of days gone by, a jumble of Chinese shop houses, temples, mosques and Victorian mansions bear testament to the island's melting pot of cultural influences. That influence extends to local cuisine too, with Penang being Malaysia's number one foodie hotspot. The grand dame of places to stay, the magnificent white-stuccoed Eastern and Oriental Hotel has been restored to its former glory. For sunseekers, the Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La is ideal, while the less traditional can opt for a stay at the island's Hard Rock Hotel.

Malacca

The Straits of Malacca – the waters between Peninsula Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra – were named for this former power base and seat of a sultanate that ruled over the region 600 years ago. The town south of Kuala Lumpur has become one of Malaysia's heritage hotspots and the rich tapestry of architectural styles clustered along Malacca's riverside point to the city's storied history. Having been established in 1403 as a Hindu Sultanate, it has ancient temples and mosques of ancient Sumatran design, but there are also vintage colonial buildings left behind by Portuguese, British and Jesuit settlers. For a luxurious stay in this fascinating town, stay at the Majestic Malacca.

Glittering gateway

Kuala Lumpur

Situated on the Malay Peninsula, the modern capital of Kuala Lumpur is relatively new compared to Malacca, being founded in the 19th century with Chinese and British influences. A forward-thinking business-orientated city of steel and glass skyscrapers and wide and clean bustling streets, it has also retained some charming colonial pockets, and neat traditional Malay villages still nestle beneath the towers. Luxury hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental, Majestic and Shangri-La abound, alongside great restaurants, landmarks and shopping districts. Just out of town, the Batu Cave temples are a must-see for anyone staying in Kuala Lumpur.

Beach escapes

Langkawi

A string of serene tropical islands – the Langkawi archipelago – skims the western coast of Peninsula Malaysia. The largest island – Langkawi – has become something of a beach haven, with luxury spa resorts overlooking its platinum sands and the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea. Premier resorts include international brands such as the Four Seasons Resort Langkawi and the Westin Langkawi Resort and Spa. The Datai Langkawi is one of south-east Asia's most beguiling resorts, set between ancient rainforest and the crescent of Datai Bay, which has been named among the world's top beaches. For time away from the sunlounger, Langkawi also offers island-hopping cruises, UNESCO-protected wildlife parks and the full range of aquatic activities.

Pangkor

The island in the Straits of Malacca to the west of Peninsula Malaysia is relatively close to Kuala Lumpur, making it ideal as part of a city and beach break combo. Pangkor Island Beach Resort is one of the best places to stay, while Pangkor Laut Resort occupies its own exclusive islet. The most feted stretches of sand indenting its tropical shores include Coral Beach, and its encircling rainbow reefs provide great snorkelling.

Kuala Dungun

On the eastern side of the Peninsula, Kuala Dungun's idyllic coastline is the setting for a number of beach resorts looking out on the South China Sea. The area around Rantau Abang Beach is the most lively, but for those seeking a more secluded location, the high-end Tanjong Jara Resort sits in tropical forest beside peaceful Tanjong Jara Beach.

Redang

The largest in a chain of islands skimming the north-east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, Redang is a hidden treasure for lovers of pristine white beaches and crystal clear seas. With a protected marine park, thriving coral reefs and a turtle sanctuary, snorkelling and scuba diving are popular around the island when the waters are calm between May and October. For a luxury beach break, the Taaras Beach Spa and Resort is an excellent place to stay.

Tioman

In the crystal-clear waters of the South China Sea, east of the Malaysian Peninsula, the emerald-peaked Tioman Island is a tropical paradise known for its beaches and marine conservation efforts such as the Juara Turtle Project. Dive centres let travellers explore its lush underwater world, while a smattering of beach resorts provide for a comfortable stay. The pretty Berjaya Tioman Resort has rustic villas opening onto soft palm-fringed sands.

Eco tourism and wildlife

Sarawak

The state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo is clothed in dense jungle home to traditional longhouse villages and myriad wildlife. From the coastal city of Kuching, you can visit nearby orang-utan sanctuaries, make forays into the rainforest, and visit an open-air museum showcasing the island's spectrum of tribal customs and styles.

Kota Kinabalu

The modern city of Kota Kinabalu sits on the coast of Sabah in north-east Malaysian Borneo, in a beautiful beachside location with plenty of accommodation options. High-end beach resorts in the area include Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa and Gaya Island Resort just offshore. Travellers flock here for the astounding wild wonders in the nearby national park surrounding Malaysia's highest peak, Mount Kinabalu. While some set their sights on scaling the mountain, nature lovers are content to roam the rainforest and simmer in hot springs, and adventurers raft the rivers, seek out waterfalls and venture into hidden caves.

Cameron Highlands

The cool hilltop climes of the Cameron Highlands provide a welcome respite from the heat and humidity at sea level. British colonial settlers built hill stations here, giving the area a suprisingly quaint old English feel in places, and there are great swathes of green tea plantations stretching between tracts of cloud forest inhabited by indigenous tribe people. Travellers can stay in English country houses and hike into the Mossy Forest or spend languid afternoons touring tea plantations and strawberry farms.

Taman Negara Rainforest

The Taman Negara Kuala Tahan Rainforest in the centre of the Malaysian Peninsula is said to be one of the world's most ancient jungles and is well set up for welcoming visitors on hiking tours and outdoor adventures. Monkeys and exotic birds haunt the canopy, which can be explored via a treetop walkway, and the national park is even home to tigers. You can join day tours of the region, but it's also possible to stay overnight in the forest reserve at the Mutiara Taman Negara Resort.

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Places of interest in Malaysia

Depending on the type of location you want, the kind of facilities you'd like to find and the proximity to certain attractions, we have a good number of areas for you to choose from and stay at during your holiday.

Whether you want a pumping and energetic beachside retreat, a tranquil setting in a secluded cove, a hillside resort perched in the midst of nature, or a strategic central location close to civilisation and buzzing city life, nightclubs, theme parks and other kinds of leisure attractions, we can advise you on the best places for you.

Choose from our selection of handpicked places and be based right at the place that's most ideal for you and your travelling party

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