Peninsular Malaysia travel guide
© Sarah Hishan
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.
The cool highlands of the Peninsular 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.
© Sarah Hishan
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!
If you were teleported straight into Kampung Baru, you could think you were in a ordinary Malaysian village with the quiet residential alleys, wooden houses on stilts, and kids in uniforms on their way to school. But rising high above the rooftops and power lines is Kuala Lumpur's towering skyline, for Kampung Baru lies smack in the middle of downtown Kuala Lumpur. It has been here since the early days, and not much has changed. The value of the land alone was estimated to be about US$1.4 billion, but the proud Malay community still refuses to sell out. Kampung Baru offers an easy and interesting insight to traditional Malay life, and the Sunday Market (which starts Saturday evening) is a foodie's wet dream with lots of street food vendors selling all variations of authentic Malay food.
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?
Two gorgeous tropical islands with white sand, jungle cover centre and crystal clear water (and we mean crystal clear) with outstanding snorkelling. The small one, Perhentian Kecil, is Malaysia's answer to a backpacker beach scene with Long Beach being the popular hang out. Here you will find a long beautiful stretch of sand and palms dotted with restaurants, diving shops and cheap huts in less-than-adorable style. Keep in mind that things are changing very fast on the islands and there is a bit of gold-rush feeling to the place, which will probably leave the islands in a constant state of random constructions for many years to come. But compared to the islands of Thailand, the Perhantian islands are still very innocent and unexploited.