Malaysia: 3 Travel Adventures You Don’t Want to Miss.

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.

Mount Kinabalu, morning climb, malaysia, travel
Morning climb to the peak.

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.

Mount Kinabalu, Sunrise, Malaysia, Travel, Borneo
A lovely sunrise, perhaps more beautiful in retrospect.

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.

Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia, Descending, travel
In ropes & our guide we trust.

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.

Taman Negara, Canopy Walk, Rainforest, Malaysia, Travel
In the jungle, the mighty jungle. Photo credit: Taylorandayumi

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.

Taman Negara, Orang Asli, Blow gun, Malaysia, Travel
A man from the Orang Asli tribe shoots a blow gun. Photo credit: chee.hong

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.

Pulau Perhentian, Perhentian Island, Malaysia, Travel, Beaches, best beaches
The waters of Perhentian are so clear you can see the base of the sea from the boat. Photo credit: Chris.

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.

Black tip shark, Pulau Perhentian, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia beaches, travel
Someone got her on camera! Photo credit: Yusmar Yahaya.

Have you been to Malaysia? Tell me about your travel adventures in the comments below this post, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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 [email protected] with your book preference & your mailing address, so I can post the books to you!

Photo credits:  TaylorandayumiChee.hong, Chris, Yusmar Yahaya.

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  1. Nice post Shivya! Malaysia gets much less attention than it probably deserves compared to Singapore and Thailand. Would love to visit it one day!

    1. Very true Abhijit 🙂 Maybe that’s why parts of it are still so untouched and undiscovered.

  2. I have a friend living in Malaysia right now and he has been consistent in his reminders that I need to come visit. Would LOVE to, and your post here has only solidified this wish! Tickets are pretty expensive from the US, so it’s something I am going to need to save up for. And YEAH for being a giveaway winner! I will email you right now 😉 Thanks!!

    1. You absolutely have to. Malaysia is so understated in travel itineraries. It has some of the richest diversity of experiences in Southeast Asia, me thinks 🙂

      Your book will be on its way soon!

      1. Aniriddha W. says:

        Borneo is truly amazing.. had been scuba diving at Sipadan.. lifechanging experience…

  3. These look awesome, just the kind of places I too would love to visit, especially the second one.

    Btw nice pictures as well 🙂

    1. I always say this but it’s true, the pictures don’t do too much justice. Look for an AirAsia sale and plan a trip soon 🙂 Travel tips will be abundant if you need them!

  4. Wow I am sure it must be a surreal experience..especially when you reached the mountain top with the rays of the sun kissing your cheeks 😀 Must say I of the best travel blogs I have ever read…Nd yes missed on a lot so have to catch up … 🙂

  5. Wow I am sure it must have been a surreal experience for you..especially reaching the mountain top and swimming with the other sea creatures 😀 I must say that your blog is one of the best travel blogs I have ever read..I have missed on a lot here….so got to catch up…. 🙂

    1. Welcome back Valerine 🙂 And thanks a ton for the kind words. Hope to have you traveling with me virtually again!

  6. Great post! I have been to the perhentians, but not your other suggestions. I am going back to Malaysia next year though… so definitely next time!

    1. Awesome, I’m sure you’ll love both Kinabalu & Taman Negara. Let me know if you need other travel recommendations for Malaysia. It was a stone’s throw away for almost 6 years so I know it a little too well 🙂

  7. Simply beautifully captured shots…lovely reading!

  8. It’s sort of weird seeing the places that you grew up around being described by someone else. But you did a great job! Actually I’ve only ever been to Taman Negara but at some point I will return to conquer Mt Kinabalu (sorry but snorkeling with sharks just doesn’t appeal!).

    1. Thank you Jian, I feel the same way when non-Indians write about India! Kinabalu is awesome. You should give Perhentian a try just for the azure waters & white sands, if not the sharks 🙂

  9. Lan Sulaimann says:

    I stayed one night at a hotel near the foot of Mount Kinabalu and must admit that the view is breathtaking. My only regret is not climb and scale the mountain as you did 🙁

    1. Aww, there’s always a next time. Malaysia gives you enough reasons to keep visiting!

  10. Yes, I love Sabah and Kota KInabalu too ! Thanks for the great info, I will spread the news among my friends about this great place !

    1. Thanks Eu Jin, I’m sure you’ll love Taman Negara too 🙂

  11. Incredibly lovely posts. Love your writings. Awesome blog Shivya…Your posts have made me realize how life’s to be taken by its lapel and relished. Keep up the fantastic work. I just love it 🙂

  12. samareshbiswal says:

    nice post beautifully have captured the pic

  13. OH! SO happy I stumbled upon your blog!!! Love this one especially as I prepare to travel to Borneo climb Mt. Kinabalu, and traverse the rainforest. Thank you for your beautiful pictures and insight 🙂 Come visit South Korea!!

    1. Glad to hear that! How did you climb go? South Korea is SO high on my wishlist. Hope I make it there this year, in autumn 🙂

  14. Aww Shivya, it’s heartwarming to read your writings and the comments here. Being a Malaysian and also living in Kota Kinabalu, I am truly happy to read that you and your readers have enjoyed your experience here.

    1. Thanks Ismail! I’m glad you enjoyed reading about my experiences in Malaysia; it was like second home to me while I lived in Singapore until 2011. I hope to come back and explore more of Kota Kinabalu somday 🙂

  15. I’m a 16-year-old high school student from the U.S., and I’m spending my junior year of high school as an exchange student living with a host family here in Malaysia! I’m living in Perak state; are there any must-see attractions that you’ve experienced near this area? Thanks for your insight! I love your story!

  16. Love the photos. I’m from Malaysia, and I would say, you do my country justice re tourism here.

    Cool blog, and hope to be back 🙂

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