A beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage that blends Asian and European influence, Malaysia offers countless attractions to the discerning traveler. We explore some of the best cultural – and natural – sights, venues and locations in Malaysia, from Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market to Malacca’s A Famosa fortress.
Central Market in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market is a bustling, colourful market packed with stalls and eateries. The market is housed in a unique, art deco-styled building that first opened in 1888. The fresh food market that was originally
hosted in the building became progressively bigger over time, so in the 1980s
it was moved to a different location. The original venue nevertheless remained
a center for Malaysian culture, heritage and craft. The stalls are grouped in lorongs(lanes) based on the main ethnic races in Malaysia (most notably, Malay, Chinese and Indian), and sell a myriad of handmade crafts, from clothes to wooden carvings, from jewelry to batik fabrics, and from any kind of souvenirs to street food. Also comprised in the market is the so-called Annexe, a space reserved for art galleries showcasing the work of local artists, and the Katsuri Walk, an outdoor covered walkway filled with kiosks ready to satisfy the visitor’s appetite.
George Town is the capital city of Penang, an island state with the biggest Chinese population in Malaysia. But Penang was an important trade center for the British, and the city of George Town in particular – named after Britain’s King George III – is a fascinating testament to the mix of Asian and European influences that the island experienced over the course of its history. George Town’s multicultural past is especially enshrined in the city’s rich and eclectic architecture, filled with enchanting, historical buildings, mostly situated in the oldest part of the town. Elsewhere skyscrapers rise high above the city. Another evident sign of George Town’s multi-faceted cultural heritage lies in its religious venues. Anglican churches and Muslim mosques rub shoulders with Chinese and Indian temples. As one of the top cultural attractions in Malaysia, this is an unmissable destination for culturally inclined travellers.
Langkawi is the main island from a group of 99, which form the archipelago with the same name. Often overlooked – especially by Western tourists – in favour of the better-known Thai islands and Singapore, Langkawi offers breathtaking scenery with its beautiful beaches, incredibly fine sand, crystal-clear water and coastal mangrove swamps. The inland areas are no less striking: the tropical jungles are thick with luxuriant vegetation and extremely rich in fauna (the island’s name itself indicates an eagle with characteristic reddish feathers), and will impress nature lovers looking for a pristine, largely untouched rainforest. One of the most intriguing of Langkawi’s attractions is the tomb of Mashuri. A legend that deeply resonates with locals has it that Mashuri, a girl unjustly accused of adultery and consequently executed, cursed the island for seven generations.
A Famosa (Portuguese for ‘The Famous’) is a historical fortress found in Malacca, the capital city of the Malaysian Malacca state. Built in the early 1500s and continually expanded over the course of that century, today all that is left of the originally four-towered fortress is the entrance gatehouse. Still, A Famosa will sparkle the interest of the most curious and history-savvy, as it stands as an emblematic symbol of the city’s past. The fortress, built by the Portuguese, later fell into the hands of the Dutch and the British, thus becoming a possession of all the Europeans who colonized the city. Malacca City also offers other interesting sights, such as the Stadthuys – the 17th-century residence of the Dutch governor – and Jonker Street, popular among locals and tourists alike for its many shops and eateries.
Sitting 1500 meters above sea level, the Cameron Highlands is an extensive hill station named after William Cameron, the British surveyor who stumbled upon the soft, curvy sides of these picturesque green hills in 1885. The area hosts the largest tea plantations in Malaysia, which give it the characteristic, fuzzy appearance that attracts so many tourists to this place. Many also visit the hills and trek down the trails. But the Cameron Highlands’ beauty and popularity are also due to its climate. Wiith temperatures rarely dropping below 10°C or rising above 21°C, this is the coolest region of Malaysia, and a longed-for destination for a break from the tropical Malaysian climate.
Petronas Twin Towers
In a country with an amazingly rich and beautiful natural landscape, Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers stand out as an unusual example of Malaysia’s urban design excellence. While some may raise their eyebrow at this evident sign of westernization, the Petronas towers certainly deserve to be seen by those visiting Kuala Lumpur. Designed by American architecture star César Pelli and officially inaugurated in 1999, the towers were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004, and are still the world’s tallest twin buildings. Each rising to a little over 450 meters from ground level, and with 88 floors of offices, the towers’ most impressive feature is the double-decker bridge which connects them on the 41st and 42nd floors. From the bridge, at 170 meters above ground, visitors can enjoy a spectacular view of the city below their feet.
Sea lovers planning to visit Malaysia should put the Perhentian Islands on the top of their list of places to see. This is a small archipelago with two main islands – Besar, the bigger, and Kecil, the smaller – both boasting splendid beaches, white sand, an amazingly blue, shallow sea and the shadow of tall palm trees. Apart from tourists, the islands are mostly uninhabited, making them a perfect place to disconnect and take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The Perhentian Islands are especially recommended to those who enjoy the sea not just for a swim, but also for water activities such as canoeing (both islands can be circumnavigated in a day), scuba diving and snorkeling. The islands are fringed by a coral reef, and the underwater life is rich with sea turtles and many species of tropical fish.
With an extension of over 4,000 square kilometers, the national park of Taman Negarastraddles three Malaysian states, and is under close protection, being the home to many species of endangered animals, such as the Malayan tiger, the crab-eating macaque and the Asian elephant. The area is so vast, however, that it’s rare to catch the sight of any of the big animals. But this should not discourage anyone from visiting the park, as many other surprises await. Bird watching, excursions through the dense jungles of the park, and the night walks – where the lack of light brings out the sounds of buzzing insects and sweeping trees – are particularly thrilling. The rainforest can also be viewed from above the treetops while trekking down the 530-meter-long suspended Canopy Walkway.