Best places to visit in Malaysia

Best places to visit in Malaysia

Malaysia's Must-See Gems: Uncover Paradise!

Photo by Vismen Subramaniam on Unsplash
WRITTEN BYKevin Ordonez
PUBLISHED ONNovember 20, 2023
Traditional Chinese Temple Architecture with Detailed Roof Design
Source: Photo by Banesh Narayanan on Unsplash

Southeast Asia is arguably one of the best destinations for the discerning traveler.

Breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites, intricately designed Chinese Temples, stunning beaches, and rich cultural attractions abound. But there's one gem that's often overlooked - Malaysia.

This diverse country boasts a melting pot of cultures nestled amidst dense jungles and lush forests.

Whether you're an adventurous explorer keen to delve into the heart of a tropical forest, a history buff eager to step back in time at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or a beach lover seeking the perfect spot to unwind, Malaysia is your ideal destination. And that's just the beginning, especially when you consider the freedom and flexibility that driving in Malaysia offers to experience all these wonders at your own pace.

Read on to discover the best places to visit in this fascinating country.

Overview of Malaysia

Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is divided into two distinctive regions: Peninsular Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. The Peninsular is home to the majority of the population and includes some of the country's largest cities.

It's here you'll find stunning colonial architecture, dense forests, and a wide range of major attractions. On the other hand, Sabah and Sarawak offer a more untamed experience with their abundant wildlife, undeveloped landscapes, and fascinating tribal cultures.

Malaysia comprises 13 states and three federal territories, each with its unique charm and attractions. From the vibrant streets of Kuala Lumpur to the tranquil sandy beaches of Langkawi, and the dense jungles of Borneo, there's a wide range of experiences to be had. The country's multi-ethnic, multi-religious society only adds to its appeal, promising a rich mix of traditions, festivals, and cuisines.

It's worth noting that Sabah and Sarawak operate under separate immigration policies and controls from the Peninsular. Visitors may need to go through immigration checks when entering these states, even when arriving from within Malaysia.

Despite these regulations, both areas are well worth the extra effort for their unique blend of cultures, stunning landscapes, and unparalleled opportunities for adventure.

What to Expect on Your Visit

City Tour Double Decker Bus in Kuala Lumpur
Source: Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash

If it's your first time visiting Malaysia, prepare to be amazed by the diverse experiences this gem in Southeast Asia has to offer. Start your journey in the bustling streets of its capital, Kuala Lumpur, where you'll be treated to a visual and sensory feast of modern skyscrapers, historic temples, and culinary delights that reflect the country's multi-ethnic makeup.

Malaysian food is a gastronomic adventure, with a variety of dishes influenced by Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. Don't miss out on trying Nasi Lemak, the national dish, or the array of street food available at the night markets.

For nature lovers, venture to the east coast where you can embark on jungle trekking adventures. Explore the verdant rainforests, teeming with exotic flora and fauna, and relax in the serenity of scenic waterfalls and pristine rivers.

The east coast is also home to some of the best dive sites in the world, boasting colorful coral reefs and an array of marine life. When you've had your fill of adventure, unwind on the stunning white sandy beaches along the coastline, taking in the breathtaking views of the South China Sea.

If beach resorts are more your speed, head up to the northwestern coast, where you'll find Langkawi, an archipelago of 99 islands offering a plethora of activities for travelers. Enjoy a cable car ride to the top of Mount Mat Cincang for panoramic views of the islands, visit the Underwater World Langkawi, or simply relax on the pristine beaches.

1. Kuala Lumpur

Let's start this guide with Kuala Lumpur, the pulsating heart of Malaysia. The city is a cornucopia of experiences waiting to be unearthed.

Must-See Sites in the Capital City

  • The Petronas Towers: These iconic twin structures are the tallest twin towers in the world. A visit to Malaysia is incomplete without marveling at their architectural brilliance. The Skybridge connecting the towers offers a panoramic view of the cityscape.
  • Batu Caves: A 400-million-year-old limestone hill housing a 100-year-old temple. The vibrant, 140-foot tall statue of Lord Murugan at the entrance is a sight to behold.
  • Merdeka Square: The birthplace of Malaysian independence, it's surrounded by historic buildings like the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
  • Jalan Alor: This is the food street of Kuala Lumpur, where you can sample an array of local and international cuisines.
  • Central Market: A hub for culture, art, and craft, it offers a wide range of Malaysian souvenirs.

Street Food and Nightlife

Variety of Skewered Foods Ready for Grilling at Night Market
Source: Photo by Job Savelsberg on Unsplash

Kuala Lumpur's street food scene is a gastronomic delight, perfectly reflecting the city's multicultural heritage.

  • Try Satay: These are delicious skewers of marinated, grilled meat served with a peanut sauce.
  • Indulge in Char Kway Teow: A popular noodle dish, stir-fried in a dark soy sauce with a variety of ingredients.
  • Savour Roti Canai: A type of Indian-influenced flatbread, it's a must-try breakfast item. a true taste of Malaysia:

As night falls, the city comes alive with vibrant nightlife. Whether you prefer quiet rooftop bars or energetic nightclubs, Kuala Lumpur has it all. The Changkat Bukit Bintang street is famous for its variety of bars and nightclubs.

2. Taman Negara

Located in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia, Taman Negara is one of the world's oldest tropical rainforests. It's a beacon for wildlife enthusiasts, home to a diverse range of species, including tigers, elephants, and myriad bird species. The park's wildlife is as captivating as its ancient trees and stunning river systems.

Taman Negara boasts an array of eco-tourism activities. The Canopy Walk is a must-do, enabling you to traverse the forest's upper echelons, offering stunning views of the verdant canopy and its inhabitants.

For the more adventurous, climbing Gunung Tahan, the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia, provides an exhilarating challenge. After a day full of activities, enjoy a meal at the Mutiara Restaurant, which offers delectable local cuisine against the backdrop of the tranquil rainforest.

  • Gunung Mulu National Park: Famous for its karst features and caves, it offers a unique spelunking experience.
  • Danum Valley: Boasts untouched rainforest, providing excellent trekking and wildlife spotting opportunities.
  • Kilim Karst Geoforest Park: Known for its mangrove forests, it's perfect for boat tours and eagle watching.
  • Kinabalu Park: Home to Mount Kinabalu, it's an ideal location for mountain climbing.
  • Semenggoh Nature Reserve: Best known as a rehabilitation site for orangutans.
  • Pangkor Island: Known for its beautiful beaches and vibrant marine life.
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park: A haven for divers and snorkelers.
  • Kuala Lumpur Bird Park: Home to over 2000 birds, it's a paradise for bird watchers.
  • Turtle Sanctuary: A conservation center for endangered turtles, offering insights into conservation efforts.

3. Mount Kinabalu

Another must-visit in Malaysia is Mount Kinabalu, revered as the third-highest peak of an island on Earth. This majestic mountain, with an elevation of 4,095 meters, is a highlight of Kinabalu Park and a beacon for mountaineering enthusiasts globally. Its diverse ecosystem, abundant with rich flora and fauna, makes the climb a surreal journey through nature's wonderland.

The best period to climb Mount Kinabalu is from March to September. During these months, the weather conditions are typically dry, making the trek safer and more enjoyable. Be prepared for a thrilling ascent that tests your endurance, but rewards you with panoramic views of the breathtaking landscape.

At the zenith, the atmospheric temperature can drop to a freezing 0 °C. While this may be a challenge, standing amidst the clouds at the pinnacle is an unparalleled experience, etching a memory that lasts a lifetime. Layered clothing and adequate preparation are essential for this adventurous endeavor.

Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a novice, Mount Kinabalu offers well-marked trails and guides to ensure you have a safe and unforgettable climbing experience. This mountain's magnificence is a testament to Malaysia's natural beauty, making it a destination worth adding to your travel itinerary.

4. Coral Reefs and Beautiful Beaches in Malaysia

Your visit to Malaysia is not complete without exploring the stunning coastlines of Peninsular Malaysia and the islands beyond. These coastlines are blessed with an exquisite blend of sun-kissed beaches and clear turquoise waters, creating a paradise for beach lovers and marine enthusiasts alike.

Tioman Island is a haven for diving enthusiasts, known for its vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life. Its crystal-clear waters offer an unrivalled underwater view, making it one of the top choices for diving and snorkelling in Malaysia. The island is also home to lush rainforests, providing an opportunity for trekking and wildlife spotting.

If you are a diving enthusiast, another must-visit is Sipadan Island. Often touted as one of the best diving spots in the world, it boasts a unique underwater ecosystem with a multitude of sea creatures, including barracuda, manta rays, and turtles. Remember to book early as the number of diving permits is limited to protect the marine environment.

For nature lovers, Bako National Park offers an unparalleled biodiversity with its wildlife, forests, and coastlines. It's home to the proboscis monkeys, endemic to Borneo, and myriad bird species. The park's well-marked trails make it an excellent location for trekking, while the secluded beaches offer serene spots to relax.

When it comes to beach and water activities, Batu Ferringhi in Penang is a go-to destination. The long stretch of sandy beach is perfect for sunbathing, beach volleyball, or horse riding. As evening falls, you can explore the night market, known for its local delicacies and trinkets.

Over at Coral Bay Resort on Pangkor Island, you can enjoy a tranquil getaway. The resort's private beach is ideal for a peaceful retreat, or you can dive into the clear waters for snorkelling or kayaking. Don't miss out on a boat tour to view the island's captivating sunset.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park includes five islands, each boasting soft sandy beaches and clear waters. It's another spot popular among snorkelers and divers, with its coral reefs teeming with marine life. You can also try water sports such as sea walking, sailing, and even flyboarding.

Special Mentions

For a not-so-typical experience, we've listed some of the places and grouped them according to your interests.

For the Thrill Seekers

  • Batu Caves: A limestone hill housing a series of caves and temples, an iconic Hindu sacred site filled with colorful statues.
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman Park: Comprising five islands, the park offers vibrant coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, alongside beautiful, sandy beaches.
  • Mossy Forest: An otherworldly landscape, dense with moss-covered trees, the misty forest offers breathtaking views and rich biodiversity.
  • Pulau Gaya: The largest island in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, known for its virgin rainforests and blue waters, perfect for snorkeling.
  • Pulau Mamutik: Boasting white sandy beaches, it's a paradise for sunbathing and picnicking, with crystal clear waters for snorkeling and swimming.
  • Pulau Sapi: Tiny yet popular, it attracts visitors with its sandy beaches, hiking trails, and picnic spots, also ideal for snorkeling.
  • Pulau Sulug: Known for its tranquility, it's the least developed among the park's islands, perfect for peaceful getaways away from crowds.
  • Tanjung Rhu: Famous for its captivating sunset and blue waters, the beach boasts soft sand and is surrounded by lush greenery.
  • Kokol Hill: Offering panoramic views of Kota Kinabalu and the South China Sea, it's a great spot for paragliding and relaxing stays.

For History Buffs

  • Jonker Street: Famous for its night market, this street in Melaka is brimming with local delicacies, trinkets, and vintage items, offering a vibrant nightlife experience.
  • Christ Church, Melaka: Built in the 18th century, it is the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia. Its red-brick exterior and Dutch architectural style make it a significant landmark.
  • Islamic Arts Museum: This museum in Kuala Lumpur houses an extensive collection of Islamic decorative arts, including a remarkable Indian gallery showcasing Mughal period art and artifacts.
  • Tanah Rata: A small town in the Cameron Highlands district, it's famed for its tea plantations, hiking trails, and strawberry farms. The cool climate and beautiful scenery make it a fantastic retreat.
  • KL Bird Park: Home to more than 3000 birds, this park in Kuala Lumpur is considered the world's largest free-flight walk-in aviary, offering an up-close experience with a myriad of bird species.
  • Redang Island: Known for its crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches, Redang is a haven for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. The island's marine park is a protected area, teeming with rich marine life.
  • Melaka Historic City: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it offers a rich tapestry of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences in its architecture, culture, and cuisine.
  • Kek Lok Si Temple: Located in Penang, it's the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, known for its impressive Pagoda of Rama VI and the colossal statue of the Goddess of Mercy.
  • Kota Bharu: The capital city of Kelantan, it is rich in Malay culture, known for its bustling markets, royal palaces, and museums.

For Nature Lovers

For nature lovers, there are several noteworthy destinations. Penang Hill offers a cool retreat from the city with its panoramic views, historical monuments, and diverse flora and fauna. The funicular ride to the top is an experience in itself, revealing the hill's lush greenery and occasional wildlife sightings.

In Sabah, Tanjung Aru Beach in Kota Kinabalu is a paradise for bird watchers. Its location near the Kota Kinabalu Bird Sanctuary enables visitors to spot various species of local and migratory birds. The beach is also famous for its breath-taking sunsets.

Kokol Hill is a must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts. Located just an hour's drive from Kota Kinabalu, it is home to a myriad of animal species. You can spot diverse wildlife, including the Bornean Gibbon, Slow Loris, and various species of birds and insects, all thriving in their natural habitat. This hill offers a tranquil escape, with its breathtaking views and rich biodiversity making it a treasured spot for nature lovers.

For Wildlife and Marine Enthusiasts

For Wildlife and Marine Enthusiasts, the following destinations are teeming with fascinating underwater life and offer spectacular diving and snorkeling experiences:

  • Turtle Sanctuary Beach, Perhentian Island: This sanctuary is a safe haven for sea turtles and offers visitors an intimate look at these incredible creatures. The clear waters surrounding the island are also home to a variety of fish species, including parrotfish, wrasse, lionfish, butterflyfish, anemonefish, angelfish, and moray eels. Don't forget to look out for sting rays that often glide elegantly through the water.
  • Langkawi Island: This island is renowned for its rich biodiversity both on land and underwater. The coral reefs teem with a myriad of marine life that makes every dive an unforgettable experience.
  • Mantanani Island: Located off the coast of Sabah, this island is a paradise for divers and snorkelers. Its azure waters host a vibrant variety of marine life, making it a must-visit for underwater adventure seekers.

Scenic Beaut

Of course, a must-visit destination in Malaysia is the iconic Kuala Lumpur Tower, also known as the KL Tower. This tower holds an observation deck that offers panoramic views of the city, providing a unique perspective of Kuala Lumpur's skyline, which is especially impressive at night. It stands as one of the tallest freestanding towers in the world and is pivotal for communication purposes.

Just a short distance away, the Petronas Twin Towers dominate Kuala Lumpur's skyline. As the tallest twin towers in the world, they are a symbol of Malaysia's modern development.

Visitors can take an elevator up to the Skybridge and Observation Deck for an awe-inspiring view of the city, both landmarks offering a unique experience that shouldn't be missed during your visit to Malaysia.

Family-Friendly Attractions

If you are with your family, there are several places in Malaysia that cater specifically to fun activities and experiences suitable for all ages. Here are some family-friendly attractions that you should consider:

  • Legoland Malaysia: This is the first international theme park in Malaysia and the first Legoland in Asia. It offers more than 40 hands-on rides, slides, shows, and attractions for families and children of all ages.
  • Sunway Lagoon: This multi-award-winning theme park is located in Petaling Jaya and features a variety of fun-filled activities spread across 88 acres, including water park, amusement park, wildlife park, extreme park, scream park and Asia's first Nickelodeon-themed land, Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon.
  • Lost World of Tambun: Located in Ipoh, this action-packed, wholesome family adventure destination is surrounded by 40-foot-high limestone structures, natural lakes, and hills amidst seven amazing parks.
  • KidZania: An interactive city made for children aged 2-14 that combines education and fun. In KidZania, kids can independently explore a scaled indoor city, experiencing over 100 exciting careers.
  • National Museum of Malaysia: Located in Kuala Lumpur, it offers cultural exhibits including a myriad of ancient artifacts, artworks, and a replica of the Borobudur Temple.
  • The Shore Oceanarium: Located in Melaka, it offers an exciting and educational journey through exhibits of marine and terrestrial animals, providing a unique learning experience with fun activities.
  • Petrosains, The Discovery Centre: This interactive science discovery centre located in Kuala Lumpur offers a rich and stimulating environment to enhance science literacy and instill a passion for acquiring scientific knowledge.
  • District 21: This is an indoor adventure park located in Putrajaya. Activities here are designed for all ages and comprise a variety of fun challenges in the form of rides and games.
  • Art galleries: There are numerous art galleries all over Malaysia that exhibit local and international artworks. Some notable galleries include the National Visual Arts Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Penang State Art Gallery in Penang, and Galeri Petronas in Kuala Lumpur.

Travel Tips for First-time Visitors

Preparing for your next travel is the key to a hassle-free and enjoyable journey. Whether it's a family adventure or a solo trip, adequate preparation is crucial to make the most out of your time in Malaysia. Here are some useful tips for first-time visitors to this beautiful Southeast Asian country.

Local Language

Malaysia is a country rich in cultural diversity, and while English is widely spoken, making an effort to learn a few phrases in their local language is a good idea. This can help you navigate places more easily and interact with locals.

For instance, learning to say "Apa khabar?" which means "How are you?" in Bahasa Malaysia can go a long way in breaking the ice. When buying something, learning to say "Berapa harganya?" which means "How much is it?" can come in handy.

Getting Around

There are various modes of transportation in Malaysia that you can use to get around, including taxis, buses, trains, and ride-sharing services like Grab. It's advisable to familiarize yourself with the different options before your trip.

Renting a Car and International Driving Permit

If you wish to explore the many tourist attractions at your own pace, renting a car in Malaysia can be an advantageous choice. In Malaysia, driving is on the left side of the road, and the driving guide dictates that seat belts are compulsory. For foreigners, obtaining an International Driving Permit for Malaysia is essential to legally drive in the country.

Food and Street Food

Malaysian cuisine is a melting pot of flavors influenced by various cultures. Venturing into the world of street food is a must, offering a gastronomic journey that ranges from the sweet and savory Nasi Lemak to the spicy and tangy Char Kway Teow.

Money Change

While credit cards are accepted in most places, it's advisable to have some local currency for street food, local markets, and transportation. Currency can be exchanged at banks, hotels, and authorized money changers.


Aside from renting a car, Malaysia has an efficient public transportation system that includes trains, buses, and taxis. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is an economical and convenient way to get around the city.

What to Wear

Malaysia has a tropical climate, so lightweight and breathable clothing is ideal. However, if you plan to visit religious sites, modest attire is required. Also, snorkeling and other water activities are a few of the best things to do in Malaysia, so make sure to pack swimwear and comfortable footwear.

Adventure, family, culture, and cuisine; Malaysia offers an experience that's rich in diversity and excitement. Whether you're exploring bustling city streets, enjoying the tranquility of its natural beauty, or sampling the local delicacies, this country has something to offer every tourist. So pack your bags, prepare your itinerary, and get ready to dive into the unique blend of experiences that only Malaysia can offer.

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