Malaysia is a country that we have loved exploring over the past few years – from the eclectic neighbourhoods of Penang to the rainforests of Sarawak, from the buzzing Kuala Lumpur to the stunning beaches on the East Coast of the Peninsula – Malaysia has always wooed us beautifully as a traveler!
As the country celebrates its 64th Independence Day (Merdeka Day) today, we’ve listed down 32 of our favourite experiences as a family in Malaysia!
1. Watch Orangutans at the Semmengoh Wildlife Sanctuary, Kuching
Watching Orangutans in a sanctuary on the outskirts of Kuching (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo) was perhaps one of the most memorable experiences in Malaysia! The Semmengoh Wildlife Reserve is a sanctuary for Orangutans that are injured, orphaned or that were rescued from captivity (as illegal pets). The Orangutans are freely roaming in the forest reserves, except at feeding times when they come to a central area for their meal from the caretakers (which is usually the best time to watch them – from a safe distance).
2. Dive in the stunning waters of the Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (close to Thailand), has some of the best dive sites in the region. Exploring beautiful reefs, swimming alongside turtles & and the sheer diversity of marine life – was nothing like we have ever seen before! There are many Diving Schools across the island offering Dives for various skill levels. We did the Open Water Scuba Diving Course & our daughter did the Junior Open Water at the Bubbles Dive Centre.
3. Watch Turtle Nesting at Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands has a turtle landing & nesting site (at the Bubbles Dive Resort). The Bubbles Resort manages the turtle conservatory and they let guests experience various aspects of turtle conservation (without really being intrusive to the turtles). In the wee hours of the morning, we saw a turtle land on the beach to lay eggs, another night we saw turtle eggs hatch and the volunteers then released little baby turtles back in the sea! All this in red lights – because those are the least intrusive lights for turtles. Turtle Nesting season is usually April to September (June-July is peak).
4. Relax at a stunning but less explored beach at Kapas Island
Kapas is a small but beautiful island on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. It’s perhaps one of Malaysia’s best kept secrets! Relatively unexplored and minimalist – this is where you can laze on the beach – with barely 10 other people around, read a book or walk 10 feet from the beach to check out some really beautiful corals!
5. Check out Sedimentary Rock Formations at Kapas Island
Apart from having a stunning beach, Kapas Island has some interesting sedimentary rock formations. They are along some parts of the beach, but the best rock formations were a short jungle hike from the beach over to the other side overlooking the South China Sea!
6. Make your own Batik Painting at Kuantan
There are several places across the country where one can experience Malaysia’s beautiful Batik Art. We loved making a beautiful Batik painting tote bag at the Natural Batik Village in Balok town (near Kuantan).
7. Glimpse of the Rencong script (for Bahasa) at the Arts Museum, Kuantan
One of the most interesting exhibits at the Arts Museum in Kuantan is the one that depicts various scripts that have been used in (or that have influenced) the Old Malay language. This includes the ancient Rencong script – used much before the Jawi script and certainly long before the current Rumi script. The exhibit (in the image) shows comparisons between the Devanagari & Pallava Script used in India and the Kawi & Rencong Script.
8. Telegraph Museum in Taiping
This was the first telegraph office in all of Malaysia – the beginning of wired communication! Now run by Telecom Malaysia, this little museum has both the old & the new – interactive exhibits about undersea telecom cables (quite interesting for children) and the friendly guide showed us a demo of a telephone exchange patch console of the 80s!
9. The totally underrated Taiping Zoo!
Giraffes gracefully striding across their enclosure, a sleeping Tapir, grazing zebras and even an Australian wallaby! The Taiping Zoo, which we went to with very little expectations tbh, was a delight!
10. Century-old Gigantic Rain Trees at the Taiping Lake Gardens
The Taiping Lake Gardens has these Gigantic Rain Trees (Pukul Lima trees) – which stand in the southern part of the gardens. Branches of these trees curve over across the road and almost into the water! Standing for over a 100 years old, these magnificent trees are a sight to watch and fun to scooter through!
11. Malaysia’s First Train Station at Taiping
Taiping has a lot of firsts – as a former tin mining town with a glorious past, Taiping has 33 ‘first in Malaysia’ things to see! Malaysia’s First Train station is one of them. Malaysia’s first railway route connected Taiping to Kuala Lumpur and the first ever railway station still stands in Taiping. (As such, the railway station is active even today – from a new building next to the heritage one).
12. Penang’s Busking ‘Uncle’ who converts pots, pans & tins into music!
The Busking Drummer – a senior gentleman from Penang – has made a drum set using plastic tins (think Milo & Baby formula tins), pots, pans, tyres! He plays every Saturday on Armenian Street. On one of our trips, when the street was less busy, he even let our little girl try her hand at the drums!
13. The Peranakan Museum in Penang
The beautiful Peranakan Mansion in Penang is a great peak into the Baba-Nyonya culture of the region. it’s an interesting peek into the life of an affluent Peranakan family from the 19th century.
14. Exploring Street Art in Penang
Street art murals are almost the cultural landmark of Penang. The most popular ones – by artist Ernest Zacharevic – depict everyday Malaysian life using interesting props like bicycles, trishaws or swings. There’s also a series of over 50 cartoon steel-art murals across the core UNESCO zone. Finding the street art is almost like a treasure hunt (both the street art on the trail map and the ones not on the map that you stumble upon).
15. A food trail in the Kopitiams of Ipoh!
Our first visit to Ipoh a few years ago, was categorically planned to go on a Food Trail (that’s how good the food here is)! From Tauge Ayam (chicken with bean sprouts) to dim sums to char kway teow to popiah to local white coffee – Ipoh’s food and the vibe at its Kopitiams, is legendary! And we realised that there was something in it for each of us – like, we would dig into some char kway teow while our little girl would stuff her face with dim sums!
16. Sip on cream tea in the chilly weather at Fraser Hill
Fraser Hill is a small resort town in Pahang, roughly a 2 hour drive from KL! After some interesting rainforest trails, we loved stopping by at the Olde Smokehouse – sitting at their sunny terrace sipping cream tea with cakes!
17. Chin Swee Temple amidst the clouds at Genting Highlands
Genting makes for a great getaway from KL (just under an hour’s drive). The Chin Swee temple, standing tall atop the hill (4600 feet above sea level) at Genting, is our go-to place on the highlands. Walking up to the top most floor of the 9 storey pagoda – the view of the valley, with clouds floating by, is a peaceful, almost zen like experience. The cave temple underneath, fragrant with spiral incense sticks hanging from the ceiling and the magnificent image of Chin Swee, is also worth a visit.
18. Picnic by the stream at Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB)
This is what we often did when we wanted a break from the city but did not really want to do anything specific! Drive to Kuala Kubu Bharu – in Selangor, 45 mins from KL – armed with coffee, tea time snacks & a picnic mat. We’d park by the stream and have a little tea-time picnic! (Mozzie repellent & a trash bag so we don’t leave any trash behind!).
19. White water rafting in Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB)
What we liked about rafting on Selangor river in KKB (apart from the fact that it’s just a 90 minute drive from KL), is that it has some interesting rapids that are challenging enough for an adrenaline rush but not very dangerous (our 11 year old could do it safely)! It’s an easy day trip from KL, however we stayed overnight at a jungle eco-resort next door.
20. Walk aboard a giant ship at the Maritime Museum in Malacca
Flor de la Mar Maritime Museum is a giant model of the Portuguese ship Flor De La Mar that had sunk off the shores of Malacca. It was fun to walk through the various parts of this ‘ship’ that displayed the maritime history of Malaysia.
21. Visit the 80 year old Hiap Joo Bakery in Johor Bahru
The Hiap Joo Bakery in Johor Bahru is super popular in Johor Bahru (read: long queues & hot cakes getting sold out like, well, hot cakes :)). They still use the traditional charcoal oven and are most famous for their biscuits (made the traditional Hainanese way) & signature banana cake. On our visit, we got the last loaf of banana cake for the day!
22. Hike up Bukit Broga in Semenyih
Bukit Broga (Broga Hill) is one of the best places to hike within easy driving distance from Kuala Lumpur! Standing 1312 feet high (just over an hour’s climb), it has some challenging parts to make it exciting enough, but it’s still a family friendly hike. A 5 am start from KL ensures one is at the peak right in time for sunrise!
23. Walk the Skybridge at Langkawi
The pedestrian Skybridge in Langkawi (2300 feet above sea level) stands at the end of a smooth cable car ride uphill and offers impressive views of the Mount Mat Cincang and usually, a walk amidst the clouds!
24. A Visit to the Boat-building yard at Pangkor Island
The beautiful village of Pangkor (Pangkor Island, off the coast of Perak) has a traditional boat building yard – where they build and repair boats. The host of our lovely homestay in Pangkor showed us around the Boat-building yard to various stages of how a boat is built – a cool experience for our little one!
25. The ‘Hornbill Man’ of Pangkor
One doesn’t have to make too much of an effort to spot Hornbills on Pangkor Island! The main market area usually has several hornbills perched on trees and then there’s the ‘Hornbill Man’ of Pangkor – Anas Aidil. Every evening at 6 pm, Anas ‘calls out’ to the birds and you can witness 20-30 hornbills fly in to get their feed. They didn’t seem caged, it didn’t seem like a ‘show’, you cannot touch or hold the birds (did not seem like the animal tourism stuff) – just free hornbills, flying in on their own accord to feast on bananas that Anas feeds them!
26. Spot the long nosed Proboscis Monkey at Bako National Park
Bako National Park in Sarawak has mangroves, rainforest trails and a coastline that is a habitat to diverse flora & fauna. But the star of the trails there is spotting the long-nosed Proboscis monkey perched on the trees just off the coastline.
27. Visit a Longhouse of the Bidayuh tribe in Sarawak
A Longhouse is a traditional community house of the indigenous tribes in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). They’re long wooden housing structures, built on stilts to weather floods and form a village habitat for the entire community (most of the community members still live in a shared space and follow relatively traditional rituals). We visited the Anna Rais longhouse that belongs to the indigenous Bidayuh tribe in Sarawak – that gave us a peek into traditions & living of the Bidayuh community. A guide from the community showed us various aspects of the Bidayuh community like – traditional hunting tools, the community kitchen and festive rituals.
28. Lush Green Paddy Fields of Sekinchan
The fishing village of Sekinchan in Selangor, is known as a rice growing area. During the season, paddy fields are a beautiful lush green (sowing season) or a stunning golden (harvest season)! The paddy fields are great to walk around – the lush green carpet of paddy, spotting birds flying over the fields, seeing the irrigation mechanism – overall a great break from the concrete city life!
29. The 7-tier Kanching Waterfalls in Rawang
Nestled in a rainforest patch in Rawang, Selangor (40 minute drive from Kuala Lumpur), are the Kanching Waterfalls! The waterfall is across 7 tiers, Concrete stairs make it easier to access each level and the higher you go, the quieter (less busy) it gets!
30. A taste of ‘Durian Fish Curry’ in Kuantan
Okay first of all, we like Durian (we don’t ‘love’ it, we don’t ‘hate’ it, we ‘like’ it). So when we heard of the ‘Gulai Tempoyak Patin – a traditional Pahang dish that’s basically turmeric fish curry cooked with fermented durian – we wanted a taste of it! It was interesting and the durian flavour wasn’t as intense in the curry! The best Patin Tempoyak can be found in Temerloh but we tried this at the Restoran Jaman Tory Resepi in Kuantan.
31. Walk about ‘Kwai Chai Hong’ in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
This little back alley (Lorong Panggong) tucked away in Chinatown has pre-war shophouses that have been restored with beautiful murals that depict life in the 60s, a beautiful red bridge and original wooden shophouse window from the bygone era. The alley also features a century old lamp-post – the only surviving one from the first set of lamp-posts installed in Kuala Lumpur when electricity arrived in the 1900s.
32. Savour Chilli Pan Mee at the place it was invented in Chow Kit
This spicy & flavour-packed dry noodle dish was invented in Kuala Lumpur in 1985 by Mr Tan Kok Hong of Restoran Kin Kin. The humble restaurant in Chow Kit is still very popular and it is an experience to have Chilli Pan Mee freshly served at the restaurant! Pre-alert your spice level when you order, prepare for a significant wait, let your order arrive, mix in the condiments, chilli & noodles and Dig in! (Eating at the other branches of the restaurant or ordering it in doesn’t quite make the cut)!
These were our top 32 experiences across Malaysia so far! These 32 barely cover how much there is to explore in this beautiful country as a traveler!