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Batang Ai National Park
Sarawak's touristic profile could easily have been designed based on this tranquil and lush national park. Jungle cruising in canoes on bending rivers, spotting orangutans (or maybe just their nests) while trekking, swimming under cool waterfalls, and longhouse stay with the friendly Iban people are the attractions here. Bookings need to be made from Kuching and longer expeditions deep into the jungle are possible, which will only increase the chances to see orangutans, gibbons, hornbills, and other wildlife.
Located in a limestone hill and consisting of several caves with a series of Hindu temples within, this is one of the most visited sites of Malaysia. What is more striking than nature perhaps, is man made – the world’s tallest statue of Lord Muruga stands just outside the entrance at an impressive 42.7 metres. To reach the actual temple complex, visitors have to climb 272 steps amongst local worshippers who do it barefoot. The best time to visit is during the Thaipusam festival, when as many as 800,000 devotees arrive, most carrying kavadis. These elaborately decorated frameworks are supported by metal hooks or pins that pierce the skin, cheeks, and tongue to support their weight and are meant as offerings of sacrifice. The caves themselves are decorated with natural limestone formations and ornately painted sculptures of Hindu Gods. Beware though, of the numerous macaques that will follow your every footstep all the way up those steep steps if you carry any semblance of food.
Around Brinchang town and Tanah Rata town, avg. 1200 m
The cool highlands of the peninsula Malaysia are adored for sprawling tea plantations, strawberry farms and misty forest. You can go picking your own strawberries or sipping tea from a terrace overlooking the rolling hills checked by vibrant green tea bushes. The jungle-covered slopes are traversed by walking trails, which pass waterfalls and bring you to the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Keep in mind though, that Cameron Highlands have been on the local tourist map for a long time and are now even in Starbucks territory, so things can get crowded in high season and on weekends. The many concrete hotels built in imitated colonial-chalet style only add to the tacky factor that locals seem so fond of. If you come at the right time (normally between October and January), there is even a chance to see a flowering Rafflesia (Rafflesia kerrii), the world's biggest flower.
Danum Valley Research Center, Sabah
The iconic image of Borneo is a zoo like forest with big trees and an ecosystem teeming with life. Danum Valley gives you exactly that. Danum Valley is made up of 438 square kilometres of protected forest. It has the highest concentration of orangutans in the world, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards, and many more animals. Staying at the research centre is amazing because at the restaurant, you can converse with scientists that are studying the ecology of the forest. Very helpful if you have questions about the Bornean rainforest. There are many activities to keep you busy there from trekking to waterfalls to doing night safaris through the jungle. Bring some leech socks because it is a very healthy rainforest, and so that means lots of leeches! Go to the ridge observation tower for sunrise and watch the clouds burn off from the forest as the day starts. We guarantee it will be something you will never forget.
Elephant Sanctuary & Orphanage
The only one of its kind in Malaysia, the sanctuary is aimed specifically at reducing the plight of the endangered and fully protected Malaysian elephants. Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary & Orphanage is the permanent base for relocation teams while also being the home of young orphaned and abandoned elephants. In its aim to promote public awareness and increase support for conservation, the sanctuary welcomes visitors for free to interact with these majestic mammals in a number of ways. Videos are regularly shown to help understand the handling and management of protecting these gentle giants and you’ll also get the chance to participate in feeding, riding and getting dumped off the back of an elephant into the river. Help wash the elephants in the local river and don’t forget to use sand – the elephants apparently love a good body scrub. Popular amongst local and foreign tourists alike, weekends can get a bit hectic so try visiting during a weekday and be warned, activities are limited to a small number of visitors so try to get there early!
Gomantong Caves appear to be the mother of all caves. With a ceiling 90 metres above head, and the millions of swiftlets and bats living in them, it is quite a spectacle. The main chamber is huge, and for further adventure, you can head to the upper chamber which involves some serious caving to see. There is an elevated walkway around the main chamber - a relief because it keeps you off the mountain of bat guano beneath. Bring a flashlight and a set of nerves if you don't like insects. The guano attracts cockroaches by tens of millions, along with long-legged centipedes, and many more creepy crawlies.
Bario, Sarawak, Borneo
Deep in the jungle close to the Indonesian border lays the friendly Kelabit Highlands. Located on a plateau 1000 m above sea level surrounded by rugged terrain, it is only reachable by plane or a seven-day trek through dense forest. The main settlement, Bario, is still famous for its longhouses that can house up to thirty families under the same roof. Some of the elders still carry the heavy brass or hornbill-ivory ear rings and have their arms and legs covered in tribal tattoos. Homestays and multi-day treks are what the few travellers come here for in this nature rich corner of Sarawak.
Capital of Malaysia
Neither as flashy as Singapore nor as crazy as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur (or just KL as locals call it) is often considered a bit tame, but that just makes it easier to approach for first timers. Dull or not, it does have its own distinct flavour worth exploring. The major attractions are a few major sights along with the ethnic colourful "hoods", Kampung Baru, Little India and Chinatown. If shopping is your thing, KL can match in both price and range what you find in the neighbouring capitals. So if you need to replace some of your travel stuff or just get some western gear, this is a good place to stock up. Or just splurge in the exorbitant selection of street food and restaurants.
The old port town of Melaka (Malacca) has a long and rich history as a sultanate, colonial trading town, and regional powerhouse. Waves of immigrants have arrived through time, adding a piece to Melaka's unique heritage. Today, Melaka still receives hordes of foreigners, this time not from the sea, but in bus coaches armed with cameras and hand fans. The cute well-restored trading houses, the colourful colonial architecture, the temples and the mosques go all too well with the tourists, and the fact that Melaka was granted a UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008 only adds to that. A wonderful spinoff from Melaka's popularity is its famous fleet of bicycle rickshaws, which have been pimped out to the limit that drivers need to push them over any tiny climb due to excessive load of loudspeakers, plastic flowers, parasols... well, anything kitsch - they are super touristic and tacky, but how can you not love them?
If you like monkeys, this might not be for you... but one of the main meat sources for indigenous groups throughout Sarawak is monkey. There are many different species (nine, to be more precise) to choose from for a traditional jungle meal, but it really depends on what the hunters catch. They can prepare it in many ways, and each way tastes unique - yes, even delicious. If in a small village, keep in mind that dinner is whatever the hunters catch, and in Borneo there are a lot of options of things to hunt!