The Mainland or just off the mainland
*Kuala Lumpur – a melting pot of Asian cultures, Malaysia’s capital is humid, often smoggy and not so great for pedestrians but lively, friendly and serves great cuisine.
Highlights are the view from Petronas Towers, Chinatown and the Batu Caves in the north suburbs.
**Melaka (Malacca) – Malacca provides colonial history and artifacts, with Portuguese influenced architecture, Chinese junks and a shop culture.
**Cameron Highlands – this lush, cool, colonial, tea growing hill station is perfect for relaxed trekking – spotting orchids, butterflies and birds around the quaint little towns, with plenty of golf and tennis action. Photo and more information
**Taman Negara Reserve – one of the oldest rainforests in the world with massive trees, waterfalls and good tracks though not overloaded with wildlife – mostly birds, deer, tapir and our least favourite critters, leeches. Taman Negara Pehang, a 2, 187m peak makes a good canopy view without huge effort, or try the canopy walkway if vertigo doesn’t get to you first.
There are plenty of places to stay inside the park. Best February-September. Photo and more information
**Georgetown, Penang Island – This is Malaysia’s most interesting town, awash with history, culture and the best street food in the country. It’s at it’s best during the Chinese New Year. There are some decent beaches, though not comparable to the east coast islands of Redang and Tioman. Photos and more information
***Tioman and Redang Islands off the peninsula east coast- classic lush islands with spectacular beaches with superb diving, snorkelling and windsurfing and some quaint villages and low-budget accommodation, though plenty of fancy resorts too. November-February. See Malaysia Beaches
Sabah province(northeast Borneo island)
Sabah gets direct international access via Kota Kinabalu. The nearby beaches are some of the best in Borneo, while the islands off the coast offer beautiful resorts and spectacular diving. This is the best wildlife safari destination in Asia with the possible exception of India, offering orangutans, proboscis monkeys, turtles, hornbills, leopard, Sumatran rhino and other exotic creatures on land and in sea. Sabah Photos and more information
***Kinabalu National Park – Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in south east Asia at 4, 100m, rises dramatically from the jungle canopy and has an easy-to-follow 8km path to the summit.
**Kinabatangan River – with good prospects for seeing turtles and proboscis monkeys etc. by riverboat.
***Kabili-Sepilok Rainforest Reserve is a first rate sanctuary for rescued orangutans and an ideal way to see them up close and responsibly in their natural habitat.
**Danum Valley – aerial walkways through an extensive protected wildlife habitat.
**North Borneo Railway – the real deal, colonial steam train style between Kota Kinabalu and Tenom in the south.
***Sipadan diving and snorkeling – sensational big fish and colourful coral off the eastern coast. Photo and more information
Sarawak province(west Borneo island)
This province also offers direct international access from Miri and has many national parks and the world’s most extreme diversity of flora and fauna.
Mountains range above extensive jungle waterways, edged with gorgeous beaches. Tattooed Iban headhunters (they’re not too keen on pasty tourist heads), birds and and other wildlife are in abundance. The traditional longhouses and planked walkways are a local speciality. Sarawak Photos and more information
***Gunung Mulu National Park – has three eroded mountains, a buzzing rainforest and stunning, world-beating limestone cave systems – the biggest cave, the biggest chamber and the longest cave in the world. Millions of bats cloud from the entrance of Deer Cave in the evening.
Groups here are much more cost-effective than individuals. Photos and more information
**Kuching – on the Sarawak River offers lots of colonial heritage, is reasonably attractive and walkable.
**Matang and Semengok Wildlife Centres – best at feeding time to see rescued orang utans.
*Gunung Gading National Park – to see the world’s largest flower (up to 1 metre) of the Rafflesia.