21 Life-Changing Experiences You Can Only Have in Malaysia

Snorkelling and scuba diving in Malaysias tropical islands
Snorkelling and scuba diving in Malaysia's tropical islands | © Paul Lim/Flickr
Wei Li Ng

Malaysia is a gem of biodiversity, history, and culture. Sitting near the equatorial line has given the country a warm, tropical climate, fostering the perfect environment for plenty of exotic flora and fauna. And while it’s a relatively young country, it is a storied one. To ensure that you experience that uniqueness on your next trip to Malaysia, here is a list of things you can try.

Pick up several languages at the same time

The average Malaysian speaks three languages and whenever possible would combine all three in a single conversation or sentence. And they would be more than happy to teach bits of it to anyone who wants to know. Engage enough with Malaysians and you may come out knowing a mixed bag of Cantonese, Malay, Hindi and/or a dialect or two. It would not make much sense anywhere else, but it would allow you to order food like a local in Malaysia.

Play with elephants in the river

The elephant sanctuary in Kuala Gandah, Pahang invites guests to bathe and feed the elephants. More often than not, these elephants have been relocated to the sanctuary due to deforestation threats to their natural habitat. Experience these majestic and gentle creatures up close as you feed them fruit and pet them.

Base-jump off one of the tallest buildings in the world

At 1,483 feet and with 88 floors, the Petronas Twin Towers is a major feature of the Kuala Lumpur skyline and one of the world’s tallest buildings. It makes perfect sense then that it’s one of the most popular base-jumping spots in the world. Thrill-seekers will be jumping off from the area just below the antenna. So they will be taking off at the highest possible point and getting the best view of the city while they’re at it.

Dive for coral reef

Admire the marine life that lives on the corals off the shores of Malaysia. If coral reefs in shallow waters aren’t your thing, go off on your own diving adventure. Islands, like the Perhentian Islands and Tioman, offer diving courses and packages at relatively cheap prices, as well as resorts to relax in after a day in the sea.

Stand next to a giant Goddess of Mercy

In the Kek Lok Si temple complex in George Town, Penang stands a bronze statue of Guan Yin (‘Goddess of Mercy’) that measures 120-feet high. An astounding feature on its own, Kek Lok Si also boasts the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas filled with alabaster and bronze Buddhas. One the largest temple complexes in Malaysia, it was built over the course of 40 years, beginning 1830, and is a testament to what awe-inspiring structures devotion and skill can create.

Kek Lok Si interior gardens

Watch the sunrise on the tallest peak in Southeast Asia

Mt. Kinabalu is the highest peak in the Crocker mountain range running across Borneo and is a must-visit for those who love hiking. The climbing trails are closed in on either side by the dense and diverse flora that gave the Kinabalu Park the Heritage Site stamp from UNESCO. Watch out for the more exotic plants like the Rafflesia, the world’s largest (and smelliest) flower, and pace yourself for the peak (ironically named Low’s Peak). Leave the rest house before dawn if you want to catch the sunrise at the top.

Fend off friendly monkeys at a Hindu temple

Carved into the tall 400-year old limestone cliffs in Selangor is a complex of Hindu shrines and temples collectively known at the Batu Caves. A popular tourist spot, Batu Caves has both the natural beauty of the limestone hills and an air of religious awe, compounded by the giant golden statue of Lord Muruga standing at the foot of the hill. Bats naturally inhabit the limestone caves and cheeky monkeys are known to come up to tourists, more often than not to pilfer snacks and shiny things, so keep those cameras secure!

Learn how to cook Malaysian food

Even better than enjoying Malaysia’s famously scrumptious cuisine is learning how to recreate it for friends and loved ones back home. Classes, like Lazat Cooking, will even guide you in buying ingredients in the wet market. Learn how to cook everything from classic dishes like nasi lemak and char kuey teow, to family-favourite desserts like kueh koci.

Cooking class at Lazat Cooking

Pretend you’re on Pandora at Gunung Mulu National Park

James Cameron’s alien paradise in Avatar might be based on a national forest in China, but the karst formation at the Gunung Mulu National Park has a beauty that’s alien in quality themselves. Surrounded by acres of wild rainforest that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, discover your inner botanist or dive back into that fantasy of being Indiana Jones on the trail for an ancient relic.

Try local fruits with bright jewel colours

The durian might be the most notorious of the Malaysian fruit bunch, but the crop of Malaysian fruit extends much further than its sharp green spikes. There is the purple mangosteen – sometimes hailed as the Queen of Fruits, hairy red rambutans, bright green cempedak, sunny yellow starfruits and mangoes, and lime green guavas. It doesn’t stop there. There are honey apples, ciku, pomelos, duku langsat, lychees, soursops, snakefruits, etc. It’s a veritable feast.

Cherries, duku langsat, and rambutan on display

Explore the architectural styles of mosques

Due to its colourful history, buildings in Malaysian tend to run a gamut of styles influenced by different cultures. This is especially evident in the mosques. The National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, dubbed the most beautiful in the country, has a history twined with the country’s independence and features a bright blue roof that looks like an umbrella. The Tanquerah Mosque in Malacca is the only one in the country to have a pagoda instead of a minaret and features an interior with Chinese, Malay, and Javanese influences. While the royal Ubudiah mosque in Perak can be seen from a distance due to its golden dome and minarets, reflecting a neo-Mughal style.

Visit an endangered species

The Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Sarawak rehabilitates and feeds orangutans, both in their care and wild ones. Due to constant exposure to humans, the orangutans in the reserve are quite friendly and are even known to preen in front of tourists. Come watch them preen, monkey around, or teach their young how to climb.

Have a splash in the city

From water attractions to a mini zoo with exotic animals, the Sunway Lagoon theme park has something for the entire family. It features over 80 attractions, which belong to a water theme park, an amusement park, and an ‘extreme park’. Shoot down water slides, soar up in roller coasters, and go bungee jumping all in the same place. The Vuvuzela, the world’s largest water ride, is a must-try.

Fun times at the Sunway Lagoon water theme park

Dine in the sky

Whilst the Twin Towers offer you a look of the city from a bird’s eye point of view, the KL tower differentiates itself in that it offers dining as well. The revolving restaurant ensures that you do not have to leave your seat in order to experience the city. Ideal for those who enjoy night landscapes.

Go on a river safari

A unique approach to animal viewing. Look out for elephants, monkeys and everything in between from the comfort of a boat sailing down the longest river in Sarawak, the Kinabatangan River.

Ride through history in a trishaw

A trishaw is one of the best ways to take in Penang and all its romantic colonial architecture, UNESCO Heritage sites, and seaside. The canny trishaw cyclist will be able to cut through traffic quickly and recommend some good places to try out the famous Penang cuisine. Or you can check out our list here.

George Town, Penang

Explore the myth of Langkawi Island

Legend has it that in the 18th century, a young woman, Mahsuri, was wrongfully accused of adultery and killed. The blood shed during her execution was white, proof of her innocence, and in revenge she cursed the island for seven generations. While the existence of a curse is debatable, the myth of Mahsuri has brought many tourists to Langkawi to visit her tomb. Myth and mysteries aside, Langkawi is famous for being a duty-free island (cheap booze and chocolates!) with wonderful sandy beaches.

Have a gastronomic adventure

Want to try loads of different foods in one place? Head down to Jalan Alor in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, grab a table near the many hawker stalls, each serving a different dish from a different cuisine. Bring your loose jogging pants because no one leaves Jalan Alor without a food baby. For starters, try the BBQ chicken and char kuey teow.

Stay in a longhouse

Longhouses are the traditional domicile of the local tribes in Sarawak, like the Iban and Bidayuh. These structures are long and rectangular with a pitched roof and are built on stilts to withstand flood waters in the past. Now, the space underneath the house provides a working space with cool shade away from the sun. Spend time in these longhouses and observe the traditions that open a window into the way of life of hunter-gatherer tribes that still rely on the forest for food and medicine. These longhouses only have one room, meant to accommodate several families, so check personal space at the door.

Iban longhouse

Gamble in the mountains

When Malaysians have a free weekend and an itch for the poker tables, the casino in Genting Highlands is where they first go. Located in the Titiwangsa Mountains in Pahang, the Genting Highlands resort also boasts an indoor and outdoor amusement park, cable car lifts and many plush hotels to relax in.

Surf the monsoon

While banked on either side by the sea, Malaysia does not see many surfers visiting its beaches. Until monsoon season arrives, that is. The waves come large and fierce in October/November and February/March. When everyone retreats indoors, the surfers go out to play. You have to admire the rebellion inherent in such a set-up.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


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