For the almost half a dozen years that I lived in Southeast Asia, Malaysia was one of those next door neighbors that provided respite with its pristine blue waters, forest-covered expanses and inviting mountain peaks, all under the same roof, and more importantly, all under the same visa.
I came to love it as a country that has everything a traveler could want, sans vegetarian food perhaps. Here is a collection of three unique experiences spanning beaches, mountains and forests, that you probably can’t find anywhere in the region other than Malaysia:
1. MOUNT KINABALU: Climbing the world’s 20th highest mountain.
An outdoor treat for adventure lovers, Mount Kinabalu in Borneo is an amateur climb with gorgeous landscapes, that peaks in a breathtaking sunrise. The first half of the climb takes you through high-cut steps, with the surroundings gradually transforming from tall trees to small shrubs, and typically takes 5-6 hours.
The more grueling second half starts at 2 am in the morning, when you set out on bare, sometimes vertical rocks, a torch fixed on your forehead to light the way, and ropes clutched in both your hands. You only know you’re heading up, oblivious of the straight fall below, because there’s no way turn your torch around.
At sunrise, you reach the Low Peak, 4,095 meters, and feel like you own the world. You never forget the first rays of the sun that promise to keep you warm.
And if you’re a beginner at climbing, you never forget the adventure that is descending the vertical slopes, either. An overnight stay at Laban Rata to break the climb is compulsory, as is hiring a guide.
2. TAMAN NEGARA: Exploring the world’s oldest tropical rainforest.
If you’re game to get your hands (and feet) dirty, the jungles of Taman Negara National Park will charm you with their ancient canopies and unique biodiversity. You can seat yourself in a quiet corner of the jungle and fascinate yourself with hours of birdwatching. Or you can set out deep into the wilderness, where no one can promise what (who) you might find.
The limestone caves of Taman Negara aren’t for the faint-hearted. You could be a dodging a giant insect or caressing a bat on the roof of the cave, with only the dark protecting you. The Orang Asli tribes that live in the jungles of Taman Negara may not be easy to interact with directly, for more reason than the lack of a common language, but their nomadic settlements might inspire your wanderlust.
3. Pulau Perhentian: Snorkeling with sharks.
The more popularly known Malaysian beaches of Pulau Tioman & Pulau Redang might have waters almost as azure and underwater life almost as beautiful as Pulau Perhentian, but neither of the two offer you the chance to snorkel alongside black-tip sharks or smoke shisha on the beach on a night lit only by the moon and the stars, with the waters receding into low tide.
Your boatman will tell you that the sharks are not man-eaters, not until they’ve tasted human blood. You’ll believe him, cross your fingers that no human blood seeped into their territory while the boatmen were gone, put on your snorkeling mask, and begin your chase. You’ll feel your hair stand in the water when you catch your first glimpse, and be glad you survived to tell the tale.
PS: The winners of the 200th Post Special: Travel books giveaway! have been chosen! Mini drumroll please, the awesome travel books by Vikram Seth & Jon Krakeur go to Dev and Claire. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your book preference & your mailing address, so I can post the books to you!