Compared to other South East Asian countries, Malaysia is not a very popular tourist destination. It’s a little more wealthy and developed than it’s neighbors to the north and south; Indonesia and Thailand, and perhaps it’s for this reason that many backpackers skip it. But Malaysia is home to absolutely stunning landscapes including some of the most lush and ancient forests in the world. If you can swing it, it’s certainly worth a few extra dollars.
Borneo Is a large island in the South China Sea made up of Indonesia, Malaysia and a small country called Brunei Darussalam. It’s known around the world for it’s rich jungle, orangutangs, and other wildlife. The Malaysian part of Borneo, which stretches across the northern coast of the island (except for Brunei Darussalam) is covered in national parks, wildlife reserves, and mountain peaks. On the northern-most peninsula of Borneo, climb the granite spire of the 4095-meter-high Mount Kinabalu for a breath taking view. If you’re the outdoorsy type, Borneo is the place for you.
If you’re bound for Thailand and on a tight budget, you’re likely to skip Borneo and explore western Malaysia instead. Never fear, mainland Malaysia is also covered in lush, ancient jungle. One great location to witness it is Taman Negara National Park. Taman Negara can be accessed either by bus or by a three hour boat ride up a murky river surrounded by hot, sticky jungle. This experience is one for the books, and you haven’t even arrived at the national park yet. Once you arrive at Kuala Tahan, a small town and the park headquarters, you’ll be able to enter the park for a small entrance fee and walk through the jungle on your own or book one of the many available guided tours. Some of the tours available include a walk through the jungle at night to observe it’s plethora of nocturnal life, a walk along the canopy walkway high above the forest floor, a two day trek and a night spent sleeping in a cave (only available in the dry season), and a journey up the river to visit a nomadic ‘Orang Asli’ tribe that is almost totally untouched by the developed world. In less than a full day’s journey you can arrive back in the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur, and have the sensation that you’ve just returned from traveling back in time.
A second destination to witness Malaysia’s natural beauty is The Cameron Highlands, but this will be a totally different experience than at Taman Negara National Park, and make sure you bring a rain jacket. As you may have guessed by the name Cameron “Highlands”, this area of the country is at a very high altitude. As a result the temperature is much cooler than in the surrounding areas. It also has consistent rainy whether all year round which makes it great for growing certain crops. The Cameron Highlands is one of Malaysia’s main agricultural hubs. Some of the crops that are grown here are strawberries, lettuce, and tea leaves. The tea plantations, although not naturally occurring, are a sight to behold. The neon green rolling hills that disappear beneath a blanket of white fog and misty rain will leave you feeling magical. But the agricultural sights are not the only beauty to be enjoyed in these parts. There’s also The Mossy Forest which will dazzle you yet again with it’s intensely lush green. If you choose to take a group tour, your guide is likely to bring you to the Boh (brand) tea factory where you’ll be able to witness the processing of tea leaves and warm up with a cup of locally grown black or green tea.
If you choose to go to Malaysia on your way to Thailand, you’ll surely be nice and refreshed by the time you hit the chaotic streets of Bangkok. Are you a nature and wildlife lover? Do you enjoy trekking and discovering new landscapes? If so, Malaysia should definitely be on your to-do list for your trip to South East Asia.