A First Timer’s Guide To Malaysia

13 August 2014

Malaysia is a world of dualities – contemporary urban skyscrapers and traditional longhouse villages, concrete playgrounds and wild rainforests, colourful jungle tribes and vibrant city folk, mountainous granite peaks and clear blue beaches. It is two countries in one, split in half by the South China Sea.

Malaysia is geographically divided into two parts: Peninsular Malaysia, which juts down towards the Indonesian archipelago; and Malaysian Borneo (or East Malaysia), which sits on the northern part of the large island of Borneo (the larger, southern part of the island belongs to Indonesia).

These two areas are separated by the South China Sea and both play a part in making Malaysia the rich tapestry of culture that it is today.

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Peninsular Malaysia

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 Kuala Lumpur is blessed with modern sights

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia. Endearingly called ‘KL’ by most locals and neighbouring countries, Kuala Lumpur is the epitome of a culturally abundant modern metropolis. Ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indian migrants, along with British colonials set up this city a long time ago, and their presence can still be felt by everyone who experiences Kuala Lumpur’s diversity.

Sleek high-rise buildings stand side by side with revered temples and mosques. Hip cafes are lodged between the grand shopping centres, and food stalls line streets that are also dotted by stylish restaurants. Many visitors to Kuala Lumpur understandably find themselves spending a lot of time eating, shopping and partaking in the lively nightlife.

Langkawi

Langkawi is an archipelago of about 99 small islands that sits on the Andaman Sea. Pulau Langkawi, the largest of the bunch, is in the centre of the sweep of islands. Langkawi is idyllic rural Malaysia, where the locals go about their ways just like they have for generations.

Despite the many historic touches, there's no shortage of spas, beach bars and luxe hotels. You can take time to admire the quaint villages and rice paddies on an island tour, while also learning about the interesting folktale of Mahsuri: the village beauty buried at Makam Mahsuri.

Melaka

Melaka is a historic port city filled with charm and multicultural heritage. Its city centre is also a World Heritage-listed area. The city’s architecture is typical of Dutch colonial and the local cooking is famously delicious. Many visitors make stopping in at Melaka one of their priorities, in order to get a glimpse of yet another facet of Malaysia’s kaleidoscopic past.

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Malaysian Borneo

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 Life in Kuching just keeps rolling on

Sabah

Sabah is the northernmost state of Borneo; a treasure trove of natural wonders. If you trek up Mount Kinabalu, which towers at nearly 5000 metres above sea level, you can revel in some of the best views of the area. Scuba diving around Sipadan is a popular activity with experienced and new divers. You can also brush shoulders with orangutans at Sepilok or explore the secluded Maliau Basin.

Sabah is filled with so many things to see and do it can be considered a prime destination just on its own. Alongside its natural riches, Sabah also has a fascinating ethnic heritage.

The friendly Dusun tribe is one of the largest communities in Sabah and is renowned for loving music and life. For a more urban experience, try visiting Kota Kinabalu, which is a great place to shop for essentials and to indulge in some incredible local food – don’t miss the Night Market.

Kuching

Kuching is a slice of style and sophistication in Borneo. The bustling city is a smorgasbord of cuisine, culture and crafts. Many people who wander down its streets are often left mystified by its rich history and modern elegance.

Feel free to take a leisurely stroll through the Waterfront Promenade, which can lead you to the Indian Mosque, St Thomas’s Cathedral, Sarawak Museum and through the Hong San Si Temple. Alternatively, you can explore the fresh produce and eclectic people at the Satok Weekend Market.

Annisa Dharma

Annisa Dharma was born in Surabaya, grew up in Montreal, found home in Bali, and is now living in Melbourne. She's currently plotting her next move. When she’s not busy chatting up random locals while travelling, or submerged underwater surrounded by colourful fish, you’ll probably find her upside down in downward facing dog.