Malaysia is an adventure travel destination often underrated by the international community, with most of its tourism coming from nearby Asian countries into Kuala Lumpur to enjoy it's big city appeal or to Johor Bahru for its cheap alternatives to Singapore. For Western travelers, it's about time you left your Caribbean cruise ships and stopped lusting after Europe long enough to see the unique adventures this country has to offer.
For those who cannot live without their warm water diving or who prefer to stick to the sandy terra firma, there are plenty of islands, particularly off of the eastern coast of the mainland, that could stand in at a moment's notice for our romantic idea of paradise. Then again, the oldest rainforests on Earth lie at the heart of the mainland, providing a home to monkeys, elephants, and the largest flower to be found anywhere, the Rafflesia. If that weren't enough to entice you, Malaysian Borneo, located a few hundred miles from the mainland, has some of the most extensive cave systems on Earth and is home to incredible diving and hiking opportunities in a handful of national parks and islands. Didn't know this? Mind equals blown? Read on for more.
The heart of mainland Malaysia beats in a rainforest torso, while the country's two largest lakes and a number of mountains provide plenty of adventure opportunities. This is one of the least populated areas of the country, while also proving to be one of the best places to contact the orang osli, which have tribal encampments throughout the mainland. Taman Negara is noted to be some of the oldest rainforest in existence and encompasses the Titsiwanga Mountains, home to a medley of creatures and adventure activities (caving, rafting, hiking, etc.). The largest lake in Malaysia, Kenyir, can be accessed from its outskirts, where plenty of eco-resorts ply visitors to stay for a while. There are about twenty peaks over 2,000 meters high in central Malaysia, so hikers and climbers rejoice. The second largest lake, Temenggor, is a similar area of ecological and adventure interest, although it is nearer to the western coast and large cities like Ipoh.
South of Temenggor, near Ipoh but still at the center of the country, are the Cameron Highlands, where terraced tea plantations and mountains like Gunung Brinchang call out to be vanquished. Other areas of interest include the Batu Caves, a massive cavern and Hindu landmark just north of Kuala Lumpur; Gua Tempurung, a 3 km show cave just south of Ipoh; and finally, Endau Rompin, the biggest national park in the southern half of mainland Malaysia and home to stellar waterfalls, volcanic rock whirlpools, and a number of river-based activities.The islands of Malaysia are a menagerie of blue skies, smooth sand, and marine life that makes us weak in the knees at the mere thought; although take note that most resorts on the eastern side will be closed during monsoon season (November to March). The only island worth your time to the west of Malaysia is Langkawi, an archipelago whose centerpiece is the main island of the same name. This place is a microcosm of all that is great in Malaysia; the rushing rivers and waterfalls, canopy walks, rainforest treks, and beaches that ring of Nirvana (without the 19 virgins). There are a plethora of resorts off of the east coast, most of which are served by dive operations and resorts that have staked claim to perfect leisure conditions. The Perhentian Islands and Pulau Redang are mainstays to the north and tend to have a bit more of a backpacker vibe, while the collections of islands that are accessible further south from the mainland city of Mersing (the gorgeous Pulau Tioman and the relatively unknown Pulau Rawa in particular) are also of interest. Then again, further south lies the scuba diving bucket list destination of Pulau Sibu if you're so inclined.
Rounding out our discussion is Malaysian Borneo. There are a few world-class diving destinations, some of the best spelunking to be had on Earth, and the largest group of mountains in Malaysia; and no, this is not just a bunch of unnecessary hyperbole. Both the dives to be had in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and on Pulau Sipadan are excellent, although Sipadan has a deserved reputation as the place to go for true diving aficionados. Gunung Mulu National Park is home to some the largest and longest caves anywhere and the adventure in getting there is worth it alone, while Bako National Park in the Serawak region is a perfect encapsulation of true off-the-beaten-path beauty and isolation. Finally, the climbing and trekking to be had in Kinabalu National Park will provide the awe-inspiring landscapes and challenges that only a mountain over 4,000 meters tall can provide.
For further information on a country often wrongly overlooked by both experienced adventurers and novice travelers with dreams of criss-crossing this great, big world, take a look through our activity pages, view our included videos, or converse with our embark community.