‘‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’’. So ran one of the tourism jingles run by Malaysia Tourism some years back. And in many respects it rings entirely true. Malaysia is a multi-cultural multi-ethnic country highly influenced by a mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese and European cultures. People who are enthusiastic about learning about different cultures may have a great time here, exploring art, architecture and food which is representative of a beautiful blend of these different cultural identities. The country is also home to myriad tourist attractions that include alluring beaches, spectacular islands, duty-free markets, hiking and adventure places and heritage sites.
The country is separated by waters into two different regions called East Malaysia and West Malaysia or Peninsular Malaysia and this allows for great geographical diversity in terms of tourism in the country. With rich biodiversity, and supporting a range of ecosystems, Malaysia is a great place for wildlife and bird enthusiasts. With its high-end shopping opportunities and plenty of exciting things to do, Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, is often where the travellers start off from.
Malaysia has an equatorial climate. The west coast comprising Langkawi, Penang and Pangkor experiences rains all year round but it is mostly hot and humid, whereas the East coast experiences heavy rains during the Northeast Monsoons, but is usually less humid and is suitable for a beach vacation. The highlands have a pleasant temperature ranging from 22°C during the day to 15°C at night. Malacca, in the southern region, on the other hand, is hot and humid with daily light showers.
While travelling across the country, I realised that tourism is a major income earner for the country, which is well reflected through the initiatives of the government, on how they have worked a good amount on promoting Malaysia tourism and culture inclusiveness. The native indigenous groups such as Malays, Chinese, Indians and Europeans contribute to the multi-ethnic population of the country, embodying the true spirit of racial diversity and harmony making it one of the most distinctive characteristics.
The country is indeed a paradise for foodies. A lot of the food here is an amalgamation of Malay, Indian, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian flavours. Malay cuisine, in particular, bears a lot of similarities to Indonesian cuisine. It is beautiful when the cultural crossover reflects in culinary style because that again promotes inclusiveness and openness to explore and develop taste for distinct flavours and become more accepting of cultures other than your own. It is simply fascinating to think about Malaysia and the things it has to offer too, to absolutely anyone and everyone.
Initially, I had planned to reach Kuala Lumpur by air from India. However, as I had some urgent work in Singapore, I decided to take the road route from Singapore to enter Malaysia. There are several ways to get to Malaysia from neighbouring countries, including rail, road, ferry and of course air. When travelling from India, one can either take a non-stop flight to Kuala-Lumpur and reach the destination within 5-6 hours or take an indirect flight and still reach in under 10 hours.
Although the entire country is beautiful and well preserved, I wish to share some of my favourite spots here. To begin with, as suggested by my Malay friends I decided to visit Taman Negara National Park. Lying in the Peninsular part of Malaysia, the park is around 130 million years old and has a range of exciting experiences to offer. It is rich in ecology and is a popular tourist destination for wildlife spotting and extraordinary trails. If you start your expedition from Kuala Tahan, you would be captivated by the calming forest views. It is also home to the biggest flower in the world, rafflesia and plenty of other unique and endemic flora and fauna.
Swimming in the Seas
Being a swimmer, I decided to explore Sipandan. The island is a paradise for swimmers and people who love exploring the ocean and underwater activities. Located on the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia, it was formed on an extinct volcanic cone thousands of years ago when corals started growing on it giving rise to one of the richest aquatic habitats in the world.
After a few solo trips, I joined hands with friends and visited Langkawi. The islands of Langkawi are known for their stunning beaches and clear waters. The beach is quite huge with a couple of tourist attractions like markets for shopping, cable car rides etc. Other than that, one can find adventure sites for recreational activities where adventure enthusiasts have the time of their lives swinging, and gliding amidst the lush green forests.
Also, my Malay friends took me to the BOH plantations. The BOH tea plantations in Cameron highlands offer a distinctive and aromatic range of teas which is distributed across the country as well as internationally. Tea gardens here offer a picturesque sight. As you take in the gorgeous vista of the lush green estates, the aroma of tea fills the air, making it ever so magical. I feel that tea is what best connects Indians and Malaysians. I have had the pleasure of meeting people from different countries there and while enjoying our tea we dwelled upon various topics, including Malaysia.
Back in the capital Kuala Lumpur, I exploited the opportunity to visit the top tourist attractions there. Starting from downtown, where one can see The Petronas Twin towers, which are the most famous of all attractions in the Malaysian capital.
The architectural design of these 88-storeyed towers has a hint of Islamic art influence, while the post-modernistic style of design is also very evidently used.
Kuala Lumpur is a paradise for shoppers, with numerous shopping malls offering all kinds of wares. The nightlife here is also quite happening as travellers visit various clubs and discotheques. For kids and even for travellers, a beautiful and highly recommended destination within the city is the Aquaria KLCC.
It is an aquatic kingdom housing over 5,000 species of underwater as well as land creatures. It has a 90-metre-long walkway enclosed with glass so that tourists can get a close look at the underwater beauties without even getting too close! There are various other activities like feeding the fish or even sleeping with the sharks for the brave ones.
Rich in heritage and tradition
Malaysia has a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites which are well maintained and preserved. Being a true traveller, before I returned to India, I decided to explore a few of the sites. I started with the Gunung Mulu National Park, which is known for its caves and karst formations. There is an extensive range of activities for hard-core adventurers. One can explore the caves, climb the boulders and walk along ancient river passages or go trekking in the forests up to the Sarawak Chamber, the highest chamber in the world. Tourists can also go on nature walks with locals and learn about the flora and fauna. The rich biodiversity of the Mulu national park has not just attracted tourists from all over the world but also scientists who come to discover something new each time.
After a short trip to the National Park, I planned to visit Mount Kinabalu. The tallest mountain in Borneo is also referred to as the Hiker’s paradise, because of the spectacular views of the trail. The trek is arduous and requires for the climbers to meet certain physical requirements. The rich biodiversity of Mount Kinabalu and the nearing areas comprise of a range of botanical species of mixed origins, orangutans, otters and deer. In addition to being home to one of the most abundant natural habitats, it is also a great place to be, when it comes to unwinding and feeling one with nature.
And, to conclude the trip, I headed to the historic cities of Melaka and George Town. It is said that the cities were developed as a result of the coming together of various cultural factors from India, China and Malaysia with Europe. It all started with trade and cultural exchange between the East and the West that went on for 500 years. And they slowly developed into urban settlements under the Malay Sultanate. The harmonious intermingling of cultures is well evident in the unique architecture, subculture and townscape. A visit here reminds tourists of how well connected the world was even when there were no aeroplanes.
Himanshu Talwar is an avid traveller himself and has explored many countries around the world. An author of several books, he also frequently writes travelogues. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not represent those of India Outbound.