The thirteen states that make up Malaysia have a knack for attracting tourists from all over the world. It’s not just the perfect beach zones that keep tourists coming for a never-ending summer vacation, nor is it the lush, ancient rainforests of Borneo and Sabah that attract visitors with their melting pots of biodiversity. Most of the excitement can be traced to the more urban areas, where cultural history and innovation run wild and free. This month, we’re highlighting the hot spots recommended for the perfect trip.
A breathtaking view overlooking Malacca Straits Mosque (Masjid Selat Melaka) on Malacca Island at sunrise.
Visitors have no better place to start exploring the monarchy’s uncanny charm for every kind of tourist than with Kuala Lumpur, the national capital. Tourists can explore a blast of Malaysian biodiversity walking through the 400-million-year-old Batu Caves, a series of caves and cave temples, which are especially popular with Hindus living outside of India. You’ll probably catch a glimpse of the diverse range of cave fauna, or maybe even some macaques! Culture lovers can also visit the Islamic Arts Museum, viewed by many as having the best exhibitions and resource centers for delving into the Muslim cosmos of the country’s dominant faith. Or they can stroll through Central Market and take a heritage tour from stall to stall, each attracting visitors from all over with treats and trinkets that showcase the Malaysian culture for extremely low prices.
The Batu Caves, Lord Murugan Statue and entrance. Located north of Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves has three main caves featuring temples and Hindu shrines.
About 100 miles southeast from Kuala Lumpur, you can also visit Malacca (sometimes called Melaka). Its capital city, Malacca City, houses an architectural wonder called the Stadthuys, a preserved Dutch building known for its red coloring and distinct elements of Dutch architecture, serving as a memory of a time when the Dutch had temporary control in the area (for more than 180 years!). It used to be an administrative center for the government, but nowadays it’s a history museum. Tourists, especially night owls, can also walk down Jonker Street, a dazzling attraction which, like the Central Market serves as an amazing night market for everything from tasty treats to cheap crafts.
If ancient caves and crowded markets aren’t your cup of tea, Penang’s capital city, George Town, has an excellent plethora of options for museum-lovers. For example, one of the best attractions is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, the private residence, recognized for its distinct blue coloring, once owned by the Chinese businessman of the same name. The mansion has been featured in TV programs and films going back to the 1990s. For a more dizzying experience, you can visit the Upside Down Museum, which is exactly what it sounds like.
As you go through town after town, be sure to try all the different street foods Malaysia, especially Penang, has to offer. You can taste such wonders as rojak, a plate of cut-up fruits and other treats covered in delicious sweet sauce, and apom balik, a fluffy rice-flour pancake stuffed with creamed corn. There are even stalls for thorny fruits called durians, which according to Malaysian lore, never fall during daylight hours because they have eyes and don’t want to hurt people. Although durians don’t really have eyes, they do have an overpowering stench that simply can’t be defined by modern science!
By Michael Goldstein