Credited nowhere near enough for its infectiously languid pace of life, Malaysia time arguably runs at least as slow as famously sleepy Laos a few hundred miles to the north. In fact, mediocre press is a bit of a theme for Malaysia, causing many folks on the regional travel circuit to pencil in just a few days to pass through – or even pass over – en-route to Singapore in the south or Thailand to the north.
Those that slow to take a peek, though, can’t help but be reeled in. Malaysia, see, is positively dripping in culture, biodiversity and out-and-out natural beauty. Take time to hit the highlights and you’ll soon be hastily re-jigging your itinerary (itineraries are for geeks, by the way) to accommodate the fortnight-or-so that you’re going to need in order to see just the very tip of the iceberg.
If you’re in need of a poke in the right direction, here are a few pointers:
The truly stunning Perhentian Islands, with their coral reefs and refreshing lack of roads and other infrastructure (imagine how the more popular of the Thai islands might’ve looked 30 years ago, and you’ll not be far off); Taman Negara National Park, one of the most absorbing places in all of South East Asia; the Cameron Highlands, with its tea plantations and breezy respite from the swelteringly moist lowlands; the old town charm of Penang island (try to ignore the Tesco); the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, featuring mountains, rainforest and apes (big orange ones called Orangutans); and the ethnic melting pot that is Kuala Lumpur, where 3 main cultures – Malay, Chinese and Indian – all get on just fine, albethey largely concentrated in their own micro-cultural districts.
Despite its colonial past and still strong ties to Britain, modern Malaysia’s official religion is Islam, although freedom of worship is encouraged in the country’s constitution and national holidays are observed for the main religious festival periods of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. Talk about reasonable.
If you’re in South East Asia, make time for Malaysia – don’t just write it off as the ‘baby pool’ that some travel guides will have you believe it to be.
• Lazing on silky beaches on the Perhentian Islands
• Sipping tea in the cool Cameron Highlands
• World class diving at Sipadan
• South-East Asia’s highest Mountain – Mount Kinabalu
• Hanging with the orange apes in Borneo
• Munching street food and generally mixing it up in KL
• Getting up close and personal with nature in Taman Negara
• Blowing your budget on Langkawi
• Soaking up the old skool charm of Malacca
• Admiring the stunning twin peaks on Tioman Island
Tips and Hints
If it’s tropical islands and pristine beaches you’re after, go east between March and October, or west between November and February. Two distinct monsoon seasons hit each coast at pretty much opposite times of year, so you can always find sunny paradise on one coast when the other’s getting a soaking.
It’s worth knowing that the Perhentians are completely closed during the entire duration of the east coast wet season. Don’t even bother trying. It’s a shame to miss them, so if you can, try and rig it so that you can get to Malaysia outside of the east coast wet season. The Perhentians are definitely more backpacker friendly than their west coast counterparts, both in terms of price and fun factor.