While a bulk of Southeast Asia's visitors flock to Thailand, not many people don't know where to go in Malaysia. Maybe that's why Malaysia doesn't seem to get as much attention as Thailand. Long-term budget travelers often shun Malaysia as being 'too expensive' while short-term vacationers in Southeast Asia skip Malaysia for lack of time.
Whether you're in the country to hit the beach, jungle, city or tea plantations, here are Malaysia's top 10 destinations.
You'll most likely fly into Kuala Lumpur, so this one's a no-brainer. But unlike other big Asian cities where travelers arrive and head out of town as soon as possible, Kuala Lumpur is a worthwhile destination of its own.
The mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influence means that you'll have no shortage of culinary exploits in Malaysia's capital city. Interesting sights such as the Petronas Towers, the Perdana Lake Gardens, and Menara KL Tower provide plenty of enjoyable distractions before you head out to explore Malaysia.
- Learn about Kuala Lumpur transportation for seeing the city sights.
Malaysians are proud of their big island on the west coast -- and they should be! The colonial city of Georgetown was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has plenty to offer in the way of museums, a fort, historic homes, and most importantly, famous food.
Penang is considered one of the best places in Southeast Asia to sample incredible street food of all types. The waterfront esplanade known as Gurney Drive in Penang is lined with great places to sample local Malay, Chinese, and Indian treats.
Backpackers and budget travelers love Malaysia's Perhentian Islands, especially Perhentian Kecil -- the smaller of the two islands -- where fine sand and excellent snorkeling/diving fill the day before parties start at night. Nearby Perhentian Besar – the big island – caters more to families and smaller resort crowds who are willing to spend more to enjoy the blue water and bypass the crowds.
The Perhentian Islands are extremely seasonal. Accommodation can be difficult to find in July, the peak month, while the islands are mostly empty in the winter months.
- See some important Perhentian Islands tips before you go.
The option to exchange dirty concrete for green rainforests and abundant wildlife is only a cheap, quick flight away! Visitors to Malaysia often stick to the mainland and forget about the natural wonders on earth's third-largest island only a short hop away.
From endangered orangutans to rainforest canopy walks and some of the best diving in the world, Malaysian Borneo should definitely be a part of any trip to Malaysia.
Spelled locally as 'Melaka', Malaysia's Peranakan city is a worthwhile stop for cultural, historical, and colonial sites. UNESCO even declared Malacca a World Heritage Site in 2008.
Visitors are rarely disappointed by the old town in Malacca. If nothing else, the relaxed vibe is pleasant enough to keep people around for a few days. Many shops and museums close in Malacca on Tuesdays -- plan your visit accordingly!
- Read more about visiting Malacca.
Taman Negara literally means 'national park' in Malay, and well, that's what it is! Taman Negara is Malaysia's oldest national park and is considered to be one of the world's oldest tropical rainforests. A long canopy walkway gives visitors a chance to see life high in the trees that normally isn't visible from the ground.
Visitors can enjoy waterfalls and beautiful trekking, bird watching, rafting, fishing, and have a chance to see wild elephants. Tourists sleep across the river in Kuala Tahan and then take cheap boats to the park entrance.
- See 10 tips for trekking safety in Southeast Asia before you go.
Malaysia's green Cameron Highlands are one of the few places in Southeast Asia where you'll want a jacket -- particularly at night -- but after sweating across tropical climates, you may appreciate the change. You'll have plenty of lush scenery, beautiful tea plantations to tour, and access to decent trekking trails that weave through plantations and around volcanoes.
Strawberry farms, butterfly gardens, and flower greenhouses are all enjoyable distractions in the Cameron Highlands.
- See more about trekking in the Cameron Highlands.
Located on Malaysia's east coast and not too far from Singapore, Tioman Island is a different kind of destination. Both accommodation and excellent diving are cheap; development is minimal. The little island is carved into different beaches; some secluded and some -- such as ABC Beach -- quite busy depending on the season. A speed boat is required to move around unless you're up for a jungle hike through the interior.
Tioman Island is duty free, but don't even consider taking your tax-free liquor across the border into Singapore!
Located off the northwest corner of Malaysia, Pulau Langkawi is the top island destination in Malaysia for both foreign tourists and Malaysians. With both an airport and ferries connecting it to the mainland, as well as a large tourist infrastructure, Langkawi could be called Malaysia's version of Phuket, the busiest island in Thailand.
Langkawi has loads of tourist attractions such as Malaysia's largest indoor aquarium and natural features such as the crowded-but-beautiful Pregnant Maiden Lake, a beautiful formation that is purported to help make women more fertile.
- Read about how to get to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur.
Selangor actually describes Malaysia's most developed and populated state that leads up to Kuala Lumpur's urban sprawl. Here you'll find a Formula One racetrack, the National Zoo of Malaysia, and enormous theme parks including an indoor snow park.
Selangor is busy and booming; shopping malls sprawl as far as the eye can see. When you can't possibly shop anymore, head to the nearby Genting Highlands -- Malaysia's version of Vegas perched on top of a mountain. The First World Hotel was once the world's largest hotel with 6,118 rooms and a theme park.
But Selangor isn't just about LEDs and concrete: The famous Batu Caves are a Hindu shrine and draw large crowds, as do the abundance of fireflies along the river in Kuala Selangor.