Malaysia is a blue green gem of many facets – there's the shimmer of big city Kuala Lumpur, the glittering turquoise of the coast and islands and the lush, deep greens of the jungles of Sabah and Sarawak. Some visitors come for the diving, some for the shopping and some just to see the orang utans, but to really see the country you should try and see a bit of everything.
Most international flights to Malaysia fly into humid city of gardens, Kuala Lumpur, where you can stay in a swish hotel with a landscaped pool encased in gardens of exotic flowers, sandwiched between the action of the slums and the sliver dagger architecture of the city. You can travel the country by bus, train or car, but it's easier to fly and will save time if you're only visiting a couple of destinations. Rush through the city and spend more time in the jungle or the other way round, but this country deserves at least ten days worth of attention.
'Selamat Datang' is Malaysian for welcome, and it's a pretty warm welcome too. Leaving the sleek, silvery towers of the airport, the lush humidity is a fitting introduction to this city, where even the most modern lines are gradually curled over with exotic green growth. Kuala Lumpur is the proud location of one of the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Twin Towers, but unlike other modern cities the other local architectural wonders are the National (Masjid Negara) and Friday Mosques (Masjid Jamek).
The real living happens in Kuala Lumpur's traditional markets and gardens, where local people conduct their business and relax. This is a very multicultural city, and it's easy for visitors to be dumbfounded by the choices of flavours, history and culture, all coexisting here. Most visitors will want to do more than a little shopping, but, if you can, take time out to relax in the Lake Gardens in the centre of the city, where as well as a collection of local plants to make gardeners weak at their green fingers, there's a deer park, a butterfly park and a bird park.
If you've heard of the Kampung Kuantan Fireflies and can't consider a visit to Malaysia without seeing these millions of twinkling wonders, the little village of Kampung Kuantan is about 55kms from KL.
Kota Kinabalu is Sabah's capital. Known for beaches, hotels and nightlife, this is also a good spot to base yourself for excursions to the Mount Kinabalu National Park, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and the marine reserve around Turtle Island.
Trekkers who don't mind a bit of uphill work can conquer Mt. Kinabalu in two days – it's the 20th tallest in the world - but one day is enough to sample the pleasures of its base, including the orchid gardens, Poring Hot Springs, and hopefully one of the park's biological pleasures – a fleshy, flash smelling rafflesia plant, on which grow the world's largest flowers.
The islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park are only a ferry trip off shore. Visitors stay on the larger islands but Pulau Sapi, one of the smallest of the five, is the quietest, and ideal for a day trip to swim, snorkel, hike though the rainforest, have your toes nibbled by tiny fish and your lunch stolen by an exotic monkey or giant monitor lizard.
The marine sanctuary of Turtle Island is an overnight stay. They can only accommodate very small groups, but in the evening you're there to welcome the mother turtles on to the beach as they lay their eggs, then able to release some of the babies from a clutch laid 60 days earlier. The accommodation is pretty basic, the food isn't breathtaking, but getting a kiss a baby turtle on its shell just after it's dug its way out of its nest before it scuttles down the beach to the sea is something indescribable.
Turtle Island is most easily reached from Sandakan. While Kota Kinabalu was bombed twice during WW2, Sandakan was the location of a famous prisoner of war camp, and where the infamous Death Marches began. The amazing and ancient turtles aren't the most famous local inhabitants of this region: the Orang utans at Sepilok are. The Old Men of Borneo, as the locals call them, are living under difficult conditions – their habitat is shrinking and as man encroaches we need to give them a little help. They get that at Sepilok, a conservation centre where orang utans are brought to be rehabilitated before being released into the wild. Visitors to the park get as close to them as they're able to anywhere, when these furry jungle men come in for a feed and put on impromptu shows on the ropes and platforms around the feeding platforms. Animal lovers take note – it's possible to volunteer at Sepilok, but you need to commit quite a bit of time and organise it well in advance.
Malaysian Borneo has a wealth of other natural wonders: the Gomantong and Niah Caves, some of the world's best diving around Sipadan Island, and the cultural and traditional wonders you'll encounter on a visit to a traditional longhouse community - take your pick and fit in as much as you can.
Start planning your Malaysian adventure with the help of one of WR's Malaysian Travel Specialists.
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