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Things to Do in Malaysia

Malaysia is a country of contrasts, sliced in half by the South China Sea. On one side, colonial treasure troves, tropical islands, and modern cityscapes captivate; while in Borneo, rain forests and wild animals dominate the landscape. Malaysia is crowned by its sleek capital, Kuala Lumpur, where the Petronas Twin Towers, the Batu Caves, and enticing street food reign supreme. In historical Malacca, UNESCO World Heritage sites jostle for attention; Kota Kinabalu magnetizes travelers with fiery sunsets and a vibrant art scene; in Penang, the colonial gems of Georgetown complement the country’s best food; and on the white-sand beaches of Langkawi, revelers and relaxers soak up the island atmosphere. Opportunities for outdoor adventures abound: Hike through the emerald tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, trek to the fiery summit of Mount Kinabalu volcano, or explore the fauna-rich rain forest of Taman Negara National Park. Nature lovers can visit rescued elephants at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, observe orangutans in Borneo’s dense jungle, or watch a dazzling display of fireflies at Kuala Selangor lagoon. Plus, Malaysia’s proximity to Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia not only make it an ideal launchpad for traveling Southeast Asia, but also creates an engrossing cultural tapestry guaranteed to excite and enchant.
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Petronas Twin Towers (Petronas Towers)
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The twin 88-story steel and glass buildings known as the Petronas Twin Towers (or Petronas Towers), completed in 1996, are icons of Malaysia. Designed to symbolize courage and the country’s advancement, the two towers are connected by a double-decker Skybridge between the 41st and 42nd floor—the world’s highest two-story bridge of its kind—to form the shape of an “M” for Malaysia.

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Laser Battle
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Laser Battle Johor Bahru (near Malaysia’s border with Singapore) is one of the largest laser tag venues in Asia and offers a wide range of arenas and game modes. The popular venue’s laser guns are technologically advanced, offering tournament features that make the game even more fun for large groups and special occasions.

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Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat)
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Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat)runs through the heart of Chinatown in Melaka’s city center and was once known primarily for its antique dealers. Those on the hunt for Malaysian artifacts and relics—authentic and otherwise—will still find these rare items, but the area has evolved to include clothing boutiques, craft shops, and restaurants as well.

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Dayang Bunting Island (Pulau Dayang Bunting)
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The second-largest island in Langkawi archipelago, Dayang Bunting Island (Pulau Dayang Bunting) and its surrounding lake are enshrouded in folklore. Visit the lake where legend says a celestial princess placed her baby after his death (the waters are thought to aid in conceiving). Try snorkeling, bird-watching, and cave exploring too.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (TARP)
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A scenic option for water-sports fans and wildlife lovers who don’t have time to travel to Mabul or Sipadan, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Marine Park is just a 20-minute speedboat ride from downtown Kota Kinabalu. Comprising five small islands, the park combines white-sand beaches with coral reefs, jungle, and abundant marine life.

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Langkawi Sky Bridge
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A unique structure with spectacular views of Malaysia’s Langkawi archipelago, the Langkawi Sky Bridge is a curved suspension bridge on Mt. Machinchang. The 410-foot-long (125-meter-long) span hangs from a single pylon, 328 feet (100 meters) above the ground, offering excellent views of the jungle-covered mountains below and the Andaman Sea beyond.

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Cherating River (Sungai Cherating)
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While Cherating is best known for its beaches, the ocean isn’t the only body of water worth exploring. The Cherating River (Sungai Cherating) meanders through mangrove forests of the region, and cruising the river has become one of the area’s most popular activities.

By day, Cherating River cruisers might spot monkeys, monitor lizards, snakes, otters, terrapins and a variety of tropical birds. By night the river looks completely different. On a nighttime river cruise, thousands of fireflies glow in the mangrove trees — a magical experience. It’s also possible to experience the river by kayak or canoe, or by learning to crab fish in its clear waters.

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Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
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In the heart of the mangrove forests of Semawang in Sandakan, the privately owned Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary allows travelers to observe the rare and distinctive proboscis monkeys in their natural Borneo habitat.

It's estimated that about 300 wild monkeys live within this 2.3-square-mile (6-square-km) sanctuary, which includes two observation areas for visitors. These open daily for feedings at 9:30am, 11:30am, 2:30pm, and 4:30pm. The first, a long wooden walkway and platform set over a swampy mangrove, features a feeding station where rangers leave guava and cucumber to supplement the diets of the proboscis monkeys. The second area has a tiered viewing platform where silverleaf monkeys and a pair of oriental pied hornbills sometimes show up for feedings alongside the monkeys.

Many visit the sanctuary on a day trip from Sandakan or Kota Kinabalu, although overnight stays are also possible, with night tours offering the chance to see fireflies, wild boars, flying squirrels, and crocodiles in the wild. If you book in advance, it’s possible to combine the monkeys' feeding time with other activities, such as jungle treks or even a boat trip to a nearby fishing village.

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Melawati Hill (Bukit Melawati)
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Melawati Hill (Bukit Melawati) served as a stronghold for the Selangor Sultanate during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Remnants of the fort still dot the landscaped park now occupying the hill, including sections of wall, grave sites, a few cannons and a flat stone that was once used for beheadings.

Today the hill, which is sometimes written Bukit Malawati (Malawati Hill), attracts not only history buffs, but nature lovers and other visitors who come to take in the panoramic views of the Selangor coastline from the top of the hill. On a clear day the Straits of Malacca are visible in the distance. A lighthouse, built in 1910 by the British, sits at the summit, through it’s not open to visitors.

Silver-leafed monkeys and long-tailed macaques often hang around the park, hoping for a meal of peanuts or stolen snacks from unwary visitors.

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Batu Caves
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Home to a 154-foot (47-meter) statue of the resplendent gold Lord Murugan, the Batu Caves are a must-see for anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur for the first-time. The UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of four limestone caves—Temple Cave, Dark Cave, Cave Villa, and Ramayana Cave—which are famously frequented by long-tailed gray macaques.

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More Things to Do in Malaysia

Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka)

Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka)

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A large grassy expanse in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) is where Malaysia declared independence in 1957: The word “merdeka” means “independent” or “free.” The city’s best-known historic landmark, the square is home to structures including the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, museums, and a cathedral.

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National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)

National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)

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National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)

Beside the Lake Gardens of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s National Mosque (Masjid Negara) reinvents traditional Islamic architecture with its angular lines and neutral color scheme. Built in 1965, the mosque was designed as a symbol of Malaysia’s independence and is a center of Kuala Lumpur’s vibrant Muslim community.

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Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

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Considered among the world’s most beautiful train stations, the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station showcases the Moorish style of architecture favored by the British during Malaysia’s colonial era. Built in 1911 and designed by A.B. Hubback, the station is one of the most recognizable (and most photographed) landmarks in the city, thanks to its white arched facade and onion domes on the roof.

Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station took over as the city’s major train transport hub in 2001, but the old station still operates on a smaller scale (for commuter trains mostly) and remains a popular sightseeing stop.

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King's Palace (Istana Negara)

King's Palace (Istana Negara)

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The Malaysian equivalent to Buckingham Palace, the King's Palace (Istana Negara) attracts thousands of visitors with its golden domes and Islamic-style architecture. Although you can’t explore the palace, you can learn about the Malaysian monarchy at the Royal Museum, located on the palace grounds.

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Sam Poh Tong

Sam Poh Tong

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Located in Gunung Rapat, about three miles (five kilometers) south of Ipoh, Sam Poh Tong is thought to be the largest cave temple in Malaysia. Local lore tells of a Chinese monk who was passingthrough Ipoh in 1890 when he discovered the cave and decided to stop and meditate there. According to the legend, he remained in the cave for 20 years until his death.

The temple structure in its current form dates back to the 1950s, and to this day, it remains a place where Buddhist monks and nuns come to meditate. A series of 246 steps lead you up to themouth of the open cave, with its small reclining Buddha statue inside. Just outside the temple, you’ll find a Japanese koi pond where local devotees of the Buddha come to release turtles, as they’re thought to be a symbol of longevity.

The ornamental garden outside the front of the temple are worth walking through, and they offerbeautiful views of Ipoh below.

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LEGOLAND® Malaysia

LEGOLAND® Malaysia

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With more than 70 rides, tons of interactive shows, a handful of wild water slides and seven LEGO®-themed exhibits, LEGOLAND® Malaysia has become a top destination for families traveling to Kuala Lumpur.

While the massive park offers little visitors plenty to do and see, one of the favorite stops among visitors is MINILAND, where some 30 million LEGOs have been used to recreate iconic Asian landmarks on a much smaller scale. Kids can bring the models to life with the touch of a button and watch trains, planes and cars travel through the tiny land.

Even the water park, which includes 20 slides, pools and rivers, is LEGO themed, with 70 models build by LEGO experts. Kids can even construct their own rafts from soft LEGO bricks and float down one of the park’s lazy rivers.

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Thean Hou Temple

Thean Hou Temple

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While far from historic (it opened in 1989), Thean Hou Temple is one of Malaysia’s—and indeed southeast Asia’s—most important Chinese temples. Set atop a hill a little way outside the city center, the 6-tiered temple blends Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in a tribute to the sea goddess Mazu and hosts a wealth of festivals.

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George Town (Penang Georgetown)

George Town (Penang Georgetown)

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George Town (Penang Georgetown) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts a unique mix of cultures. The beating heart of Penang, George Town offers visitors a heady combination of world-class street food, colorful colonial architecture, and street art. This historic enclave, which can be explored entirely on foot, is also famous for its novelty museums.

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Kinabalu National Park

Kinabalu National Park

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Reigned over by the mighty Mt. Kinabalu—the tallest mountain in Malaysia—Kinabalu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its biodiversity. A paradise for nature lovers, the park is home to around 5,500 plant species (including varieties of orchids and pitcher plants), about 326 bird species, and more than 100 mammals.

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Kuching Waterfront (Esplanade)

Kuching Waterfront (Esplanade)

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What was once a worn and weathered trading area in Kuching has been transformed into one of Malaysia’s best public spaces. The Kuching Waterfront, also known as the Esplanade, officially opened in 1993 and extends for a little less than a mile (1.3 kilometers) between the Main Bazaar and the Riverside Suites.

Once lined with wharfs and warehouses, this stretch along the south bank of the Sarawak River is now lined with cafes, souvenir shops and food stalls, along with several historic buildings and points of interest, like the Sarawak Steamship Company building and the Chinese Museum. With little road traffic, the area is ideal for strolling, particularly in the evening when the riverside lights blink on. Tiled mosaics along the esplanade depict Malaysian ethnic motifs, while placards offer insight into the area’s history.

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Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum

Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum

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Peranakan men and women are known as baba and nyonya respectively, and the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum transports the traveler back to their 19th-century heyday. Immerse yourself in the costumes and rituals of this Chinese-Malay fusion culture as you explore this lovingly restored townhouse in the heart of historic Melaka.

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Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

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Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temple, first built in 1673, remains an active place of worship for the Chinese Buddhist community in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Melaka. Everything from the ornate roof to the painted murals within this temple dedicated to Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) have been restored using traditional techniques.

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Eagle Square (Dataran Lang)

Eagle Square (Dataran Lang)

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Dataran Lang, or Eagle Square in English, is a square on Langkawi near the port where ferries sail in and out. It is the first sight visitors to this Malaysian island will see when they arrive by boat. In the square is a giant statue of an eagle poised to take flight. The eagle is almost 40 feet tall. The reddish-brown eagle was built as a symbol of the island since, according to folklore, Langkawi’s name came from two Malay words, Helang which means “eagle” and Kawi which means “reddish brown.” It is one of Langkawi's most recognizable sights.

Eagle Square is about 19 acres large and has covered terraces, small ponds, fountains, footbridges, shops, and cafes. The square also has covered pavilions where events are held. Nearby you'll also find several duty-free shops. The square offers gorgeous views of Kuah Bay that leads into the sea and the surrounding mountains. From the square, you can also watch the ferries crossing the bay. After dark, the square and the eagle are illuminated with lights.

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Semenggoh Nature Reserve

Semenggoh Nature Reserve

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There are few places in the world with a healthier population of young orangutans than the jungles surrounding the Semenggoh Nature Reserve near Kuching. This thriving population of wild orangutans owes its success to the three-decade-old rehabilitation program at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, situated within the 2.6-square-mile (6.8-square-km) reserve.So many orangutans were successfully reintroduced into the surrounding forest that the habitat reached capacity, and all rehabilitation activities were moved to the Matang Wildlife Centre inside Kubah National Park. During its years of active rehabilitation, the center cared for nearly 1,000 endangered animals, with birds, mammals, and reptiles representing dozens of species.

While rehabilitation efforts have ended, visitors to the reserve can still observe some of the program’s “graduated” orangutans—now living in the surrounding forest reserve with their offspring in tow—during twice daily supplemental feedings. Since the orangutans are free to roam, there’s no guaranteed sightings, but many of them stop by the center regularly for a free meal of fruit, eggs, and sometimes hidden vitamins.

Two trails take visitors through the primary rainforest, where it’s sometimes possible to spot rescued gibbons, crocodiles, river terrapins, or porcupines from a safe distance.

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