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7 next-level travel experiences to have in Malaysia

written by Sarah Reid May 8, 2018
Blue house in Penang, Malaysia

From iconic mountain climbs to once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters, Malaysia offers some of the world’s most incredible travel experiences.

There are several standouts that will stay with you long after savouring your final nasi lemak. Here are seven of the best to add to your itinerary:

1. Summit Mt Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia

On top of Mt Kinabalu. Image by Tappasan Phurisamrit

Rising a whopping 4095 metres above the jungles of Sabah, Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, and offers one of the region’s most popular hikes. The dramatic climb through an array of incredibly diverse ecosystems is typically completed over two days, with hikers overnighting in a mountain hut before making the final push to the summit in time for sunrise. On the way down, you can opt to take the world’s highest via ferrata route, which was fully repaired following the 2015 earthquake.

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2. Hang out with orangutans

Three orangutans in Malaysia

Hanging out. Image by Ian Stuart.

There are few wildlife experiences more life changing than seeing a fuzzy orange orangutan swinging through the jungles of Borneo or Sumatra. The survival of these highly intelligent mammals, whose habitats are declining at an alarming rate, can largely be credited to the pioneering work of sanctuaries, including Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah and the Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Sarawak. You can observe orangutans living free at both sanctuaries, swinging through the trees, and enjoying fresh fruit on the central feeding platforms.

RELATED: TURTLES AND ORANGUTANS: WITNESSING WILDLIFE CONSERVATION IN BORNEO

3. Eat your way around Penang

Street food stall in Penang, Malaysia

All the food. Image by Elena Ermakova.

Reflecting its multi-ethnic population and strategic geographical location, Malaysia’s cuisine is one of the world’s most tantalisingly diverse. While you can eat well anywhere in Malaysia, the sheer volume of hawker stalls, food courts and restaurants in George Town, the capital of Penang, make it the ultimate destination to unleash your inner foodie. From steaming satay sticks to rich Indian-style curries and endless varieties of kuih (dessert pastries), you won’t go hungry here. Thanks to George Town’s heritage architecture, elaborate temples, and colourful street art, you won’t get bored either.

4. Sleep over at a traditional longhouse

Iban longhouse, Borneo

Sarawak longhouse. Image by Faiz Zaki.

Sarawak is famous for its longhouses, the traditional homes of the indigenous Iban people that typically accommodate several dozen (!) families at a time. Some Iban chiefs now open their traditional wooden dwellings to visitors hankering for a taste of longhouse life. If you’re lucky enough to visit – or better yet, stay the night in one – it’s considered good manners to bring a gift. Rather than opt for rice wine or sweets, check with your guide to ensure your gift is both useful and responsible.

SPEND THE NIGHT AT A TRADITIONAL LONGHOUSE ON THESE INTREPID ADVENTURES

5. Scuba dive in Sipadan

Diving in Sipadan, Malaysia

Underwater wonderland. Image by think4photop.

Divers travel from all over the world to experience the incredible array of marine life that can be spotted at the dive sites of Sipadan, which is located just off the southeast coast of Sabah in what’s known as the Coral Triangle – home to more coral species than anywhere else on Earth. Most visitors stay on the neighbouring island of Mabul to dive the technicolour reefs by day, and swing in hammocks and swap dive stories by night.

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6. Explore Gunung Mulu National Park

The Pinnacles, Gunung Mulu NP Malaysia

The Pinnacles. Image by Rafal Gaweda.

There are caves, and there’s Gunung Mulu National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Sarawak is famous for its limestone formations, from The Pinnacles that jut out of the forest canopy like giant white daggers, to the Clearwater Cave, thought to be the world’s largest interconnected cave system. There is some amazing wildlife to be spotted in these parts too, from eight species of hornbill to 27 species of bat, super-cute tarsiers, gibbons and more.

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7. Spot turtles on Pulau Selingan

Pulau Selingan, Malaysia

Turtle Beach. Image by PhilMacDPhoto.

If you’ve never seen a wild turtle – or simply love turtles – a visit to this island off the east coast of Sabah will blow your mind. Come nightfall, under the guidance of a ranger, you can spot enormous green turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs, and watch researchers release cute baby hatchlings they work to protect from the turtles’ main threat: humans. During the day, you can don a snorkel and spot turtles swimming around the reefs that fringe the island.

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Feature image by Sinseeho via Shutterstock.

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