Welcome to the nation of extreme contrasts
Malaysia’s culture is as diverse as its people - this multicultural nation is a melting pot where the influence of Malays, Indians, Chinese, and relics of colonialism create a totally unique and harmonious societal vista. The Southeast Asian country inhabits parts of the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo where it possesses two states. Capital metropolis Kuala Lumpur is home of the famous Petronas Twin Towers which soar to 451m - kissing the sky, but that's not all. As diverse if not more than its people and culture is its wildlife - recognised as one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, creatures of all shapes and sizes call Malaysia’s rainforest cloaked mountains home. Concealed in crisp highlands and murky mangroves are countless offbeat surprises and precious gems.
"As a nation of extreme contrasts, the possibilities are endless..."
Take the wondrous “corpse flower”, or rafflesia flower for example. This foul-smelling plant is the largest flower on earth weighing nearly 7kg - its bloom can reach over 3 feet in diameter. Whether you think it’s a no-go or a natural treasure, the rafflesia can be found in this extraordinarily plentiful country. Along the same vein is the “king of fruits”, or the infamous durian fruit. Top-notch durian is grown from Malaysia’s giving soil. Custardy, oniony, with a touch of caramel is how most describe this controversial delicacy - you either hate it or you love it.
As a nation of extreme contrasts, the possibilities are endless especially when it comes to food. When in Malaysia, you ought to join the locals at breakfast for a taste of national favourite Nasi lemak - a rich dish prepared in coconut milk, packaged up in a perfumed banana leaf. Come afternoon, all important tea time must be enjoyed the Malaysian way at a kopitiam (traditional coffee shop) with teh tarik. This fragrant “pulled tea” is best-loved not only in Malaysia, but in Singapore and all around the world. Originally tea was “pulled”, thrown from cup to cup over a distance of a metre to cool down the piping hot liquid, but has since turned into a national art form.
Malaysia’s multiculturalism shines through not only in its food and rich nature, but also in the many colourful festivals that take place year round. The welcoming and relaxed personalities of Malaysians make for a simply warm atmosphere. Whilst former state and neighbour Singapore shines as a metropolitan power, and Thailand appeals with its spotless beaches and tourist attractions, it would be sacrilege to overlook Malaysia and its larger than life character.
Experience different sides to diverse Malaysia
Sabah & Sarawak in Borneo
As the third largest island on the planet, Borneo is shared by Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Sarawak and Sabah are Malay states teeming with natural delights that contend for the hearts of nature and animal lovers. Perfect for the avid explorer and Culture Junkie, Borneo is a treasure trove of special moments. The beloved orang-utan also known as “man of the forest” in Malay is the only great ape found in Asia. In the wild you can only come across these human lookalikes in Sumatra and Borneo, which makes both Sarawak and Sabah precious spots to spend some priceless time with these hairy friends.
Aside from being home to an orang-utan sanctuary in the Kuching area, Sarawak is a place rooted in tribal cultures and highlands shrouded by lush green jungle. The state is not only known for its unspoilt beaches and blissful resorts, it’s also a land of many national parks that preserve valuable ecosystems. Hiking is a hands-on way to immerse yourself in the green tapestry of Sarawak - walks both in and out of protected areas are possible. Another natural gem of this green state are its enormous and mysterious caves. Wind Cave, Niah Cave, and Fairy Cave are just a few of the breathtaking wonders Sarawak has to offer. For a hassle free trip to the remote caves, tours are recommended and can be organised.
Small Sabah is by no means demure. The former British colony is hefty with sought after experiences such as serene dives in coral reefs alive with marine diversity, a hardy climb up a 4095m tall Mt Kinabalu, and treks through jungles home to bewitching pythons and agile gibbons. Known as Gunung Kinabalu in Malay, Mt Kinabalu was named Malaysia's first Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s no wonder thousands of climbers are drawn to this highest mountain in Borneo - in fact, it’s still inching towards the sky by half a centimetre each year. Aside from its famous mountain, Sabah is also home to an orang-utan sanctuary in Sepilok where visitors can behold humans’ closest relative roaming freely. The English speaking state makes venturing to Sabah all the more enticing - it is an all in one Culture Junkie and Beach Breezer’s playground.
Kuala Lumpur or KL for short has been Malaysia’s stage for game-changing moments in the nation’s history, since the country was bare handedly founded by Malay and Chinese tin prospectors who raised the now buzzing city from vast jungle. KL is a bustling yet varied place where patches of green vegetation jostle with towering skyscrapers and ornate mosques. History and a persistent vision of modernity collide and the nation’s multicultural community of Malays, Chinese, and Indians is reflected in KL’s busy skyline.
Reaching higher than any structure in the thriving metropolis is the 88-storey Petronas towers. Completed in 1998 by Argentinian architect César Pelli, the astounding structure is yet another example of the relationship between the country’s traditional roots and mission for modernity. The design of the towers echo many Islamic influences, some of which are its five tiers symbolic of the five pillars of Islam and a floor plan based on an eight-sided star evocative of ancient Islamic art.
Being the tallest duplet in the world, the towers are a beacon of Malaysia’s modernity. (Although, it has a new rival - the upcoming Merdeka PNB 118 tower will be even closer to the skies’ limits than the famed Petronas Towers.) Tickets for guided 45 minute tours encompass sweeping views from the 86th floor observation platform and Skybridge on the 41st floor. Purchase tickets online priced at RM85 for adults and RM35 for the kids to avoid queues once you’re there.
In contrast to its ambition for soaring modernity, KL’s historic roots can best be experienced by roaming the Islam Arts Museum and Chinatown. When in a city, shopping is quintessential. KL’s colourful stalls, hawkers, and extravagant malls cater to of every kind of clientele. Suria KLCC and Mid Valley Megamall are best for designer labels, where as Central Market is where you’ll pick up locally crafted gifts to take home. Your feet are the best tools for discovering your KL, whether it be a day of sampling irresistible hawker food, exploring storied architecture, or chatting with the locals at a kopitiam (traditional coffee shop).
Step back into old-world Asia where trishaws frequent narrow streets lined with the brilliant yellows, pinks, and greens of Peranakan Mansions and a free-spirited art scene. Penang is a colourful paint palette of Eastern cultures, and a place where East meets West. Historically, the island served as an important tie between Malaysia, the Middle East, and Europe. The island’s kaleidoscopic culture is no better exemplified than through its soul - George Town. The charming town is the main city and beating heart of Penang. Its assemblage of old signs, extraordinary structures that borrow from different cultures, and the smoke perfumed streets that transport one to a by-gone era have earned George Town a listing as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
The well known town is home to many a vibrant festival, and is simply paradise for the Foodie Adventurer. With an endless selection of hawkers and stalls serving a multitude of foodie delights, George Town attracts countless street food enthusiasts and is recognised as one of the best places in Asia if not the world, to get your fix of sensational food on-the-go. The cuisine of Penang is grounded in the influence of the Baba-Nyonya whose unique food is a fusion of Malay, Chinese, Thai, and a concoction of Southeast Asian cultures. Asam laksa is a dish that epitomises this hybrid fare - the unique Penang take on the rice noodle soup dish packs a punch compared to its milder cousin - the Singaporean laksa. Seasoned with the flavours of fish, tamarind, and fragrant lemongrass the sour savoury broth of Asam laksa makes it a delicacy that’s irresistible.
One of the most iconic sights in George Town is Blue Mansion, a 38-room structure built in the 1880s, saved from destruction in the 1990s. The mansion is exemplar of an East meets West way of living adopted and cultivated by the wealthy Straits Chinese. Here beautiful tiles co-exist with ornate wooden arches and carvings. This enchanting place is the most photographed structure in George Town - it’s even possible to make a booking to stay!
A relaxed stroll along George Town’s streets is all you need to feel transported to a different world. A visit to a restored Peranakan Mansion where you’ll find wood furniture and ornate antiques, or a biking tour around town will open your eyes to the many tales entrenched in this miraculous place. Alternatively, Batu Ferringhi beach although not Malaysia’s most pristine, is an easy escape from any busyness. This popular tourist stretch plays host to an assortment of stylish resorts and a night market great for those who revel in souvenirs.
For an escape closer to nature, the tropical spice garden is just a bus trip away from busy George Town. With four daily guided tours, an educational children’s tour, or simply an audio guide, you can roam and take in 500 perfumy acres home to more than 500 species of tropical gems. From an old-world atmosphere to first-rate street food, Penang delights with its matchless culture.
A cluster of 99 islands, Langkawi sits precisely where the Indian Ocean meets the Straits of Melaka. Situated on Malaysia’s Northwestern shore, this Beach Breezer’s retreat was once the promised land of pirates. The detached state is a treasure worth setting sail for especially to those who seek undisturbed sun, sea, and some of the finest panoramic views Malaysia has to offer. Although, nowadays it’s just a hassle free plane ride away from capital Kuala Lampur.
Lush rice paddies meet sprawling jungles that veil a mountainous landscape and unspoilt sandy stretches lined with tall coconut trees. Langkawi’s abundant and thriving nature both above and below the ground make it an excellent spot for diving, island hopping, brisk hikes, or catching stunning views atop mountain plateaus. Mangrove and island hopping tours are perfect for exploring Langkawi’s beautiful natural sights under the guidance of experts. The Pulau Dayang Bunting and Pulau Beras Basah islets are great for a family day spent savouring soft sandy beaches, dips in warm spotless water, and soaking in the sun’s rays.
Out of the saline water, Langkawi Sky Bridge is a gravity defying walk upon which you can’t help, but surrender your senses to breathtaking views. Take a leg buckling stroll atop this curved airy pedestrian walk. Overlooking the Telaja Tujuh Waterfalls, the elevated viewing platform can be reached via a panoramic ride onboard Langkawi Cable Car. For an active excursion to Telaja Tujuh Waterfalls, also known as Seven Wells Waterfalls, embark on a steep ascent up Mount Mat Cincang. Once you reach this natural marvel, revel in the sight of its seven interlocked natural pools and seven distinct waterfalls.
Langkawi is a sun drenched rural paradise not without modern luxuries. Pantai Cenang plays host to many a groovy bar offering sweeping views of the turquoise open sea. D’Reef, The Sunset Deck, and Yellow Cafe are just a few spots for unwinding and chatting away the warm nights. Aside from its natural gems, relaxed restaurants, and array of both luxurious and simplistic holiday abodes, Langkawi is also a duty free shopping haven that caters to the serial souvenir shopper.
COST OF A PINT
The Petronas twin towers