It’s no exaggeration that Malaysia offers a wealth of activities for every type of traveller. Across the country, you’ll find great spots for shopping, eating your way through bustling cities, total relaxation on deserted islands, to adventuring in wild jungles and rainforests. City or beach, relax or adventure, young or old, seek your spiritual center or be a spirited party animal. It’s hard to summarise all the wonderful things to do in Malaysia into a short list, particularly when each Malaysian state offers quite a different taste than the other, not to mention the beautiful islands too. But here’s our personal picks. 10 of our favourite things to do in Malaysia that you might not have thought of. It’s a great place to shake things up for yourself and appreciate where you live. Maybe you’ll find a good excuse to plan another little getaway in Malaysia 🙂
Long boat adventures in Sarawak
If you’re a city-dweller, Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo offers the chance to immerse yourself in an entirely different world. Take a long-boat tour to discover ancient villages where the skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur will feel like a distant memory.
Sarawak offers many opportunities to stay in the jungle and witness the life of ancient civilisations. Book with a reliable operator, fly to Kuching and take it from there.
Eagle watching in Langkawi
The 99-island archipelago that is Langkawi enjoys UNESCO Global Geopark status, and there’s no shortage of wildlife diversity on these islands.
Take an organised tour or, if budget permits, take a private yacht tour. This is the place to go eagle watching – there are 19 species of them in all – and it’s an amazing experience to watch these magnificent birds sweeping and soaring in their natural habitat.
Heritage bike ride in George Town, Penang
Cycling is a great way to get around George Town and absorb some of the fascinating history of Penang’s capital. George Town was heavily influenced by British colonialism, but there are many Chinese, Malay and Indian influences at work here too, so the heritage sites are full of cultural diversity. The buildings alone are fascinating. Hop off and explore inside museums, take some pictures of Penang street art as you pass, and just appreciate the very diversity that colours Penang.
Cycling will let you work up your appetite for all the tasty fare from the range of street hawkers that George Town is famous for. Check out some of the must-eats in Penang here.
Diving in Sipadan, Sabah
If you’re an experienced diver – or if you want to try scuba diving for the first time – why not head to what is considered one of the world’s best diving sites at Sipadan, known for its impressive ‘tornadoes’ of barracuda? Sipadan Island itself is protected, but there is a wealth of fabulous resorts on neighbouring islands, such as Mabul Island.
For anyone interested in nature or adventure, diving is definitely something I’d recommend as a fun thing to do in Malaysia. It will lead you to different islands, and the marine world is really vast and fascinating. It opens your mind so much to see how small we are compared to life under the sea. If you don’t already know how to dive, learning gives you a new skill and opens your life up to so many more rich adventures and experiences. Probably a new set of friends too!
Monkey Around with Orangutans in Sabah
Not just a tourist attraction, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a genuine shelter for orphaned orangutans, and other wildlife. It’s both an educational must-do to help understand an important ecological issue that faces the country, and also a chance to get up close to these fascinating – but endangered – creatures, including the babies!
After monkeying around, explore the unique cultures of Sabah and Sarawak where tribes and forest-dwelling is still a reality. Life for someone in KL versus life for someone who grew up in Sabah can be quite different. Find out what those differences are for yourself. Skip the fancy hotels and stay in cheap homestay type accommodation, or some resorts in the wilderness.
Shopping and Eating in Kuala Lumpur
I know, I know. KL is such an obvious choice. But really, KL such a big city that there’s bound to be new things popping up all the time, keeping up with the changes of the world.
Maybe there’s a new hipster cafe, maybe a new amazing Peranakan restaurant, a new international fashion label launching their flagship store in Malaysia, a new nightclub or underground bar… Kuala Lumpur is a place where you can spend days discovering the shopping malls and eating at the diverse range of restaurants – Chinese, Malaysian and Indian cuisine are just the start. Dig a little deeper and try some cuisine you’ve never tried before.
Wander down the smaller alleys, check out boutiques, refresh your wardrobe. Keep it fresh and you’ll enjoy revisiting this city every few years.
If you haven’t done what all the tourists do, then maybe it’s time to try. Have you been up the Petronas Twin Towers? It may seem cheesy but there’s no reason Malaysians shouldn’t take in the world-class opportunity on your doorstep. The feeling of being that high up and looking down, is quite something.
Embrace the wilderness at Taman Negara
If you’re always indoors in the air conditioning, getting outside and exploring the wildlife should be on your list of fun things to do in Malaysia to shake things up. Take a boat trip into the Taman Negara wilderness, a popular ecotourism destination that is known for its wild rainforest and endangered wildlife. Stay in luxury resorts or get really close to nature at one of the more relaxed village resorts.
Activities including canopy walks, white water rafting, fishing, jungle trekking and swimming. Due to its popularity it can get busy, so seek out the best operators and try to avoid the crowds.
Discover Malaysia’s Past
Learn about Malaysia’s rich history at the historic port city of Melaka. It’s been under the control of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British and was a wealthy trade centre, so there are multiple other influences too, including Chinese, Indonesian, Thai and Indian. There aren’t too many places in the world that have so many active temples, mosques, churches and museums in one place.
The diversity of Melaka is of course also represented in its food. There’s an exciting array of dishes to explore, including Portuguese dishes and Nyonya restaurants. Don’t just eat ondeh-ondeh though, hire a bicycle and wander the city to truly learn its history. You can easily cover the top attractions in Melaka in 2 days. Add a few more days and you’ll really be able to understand more of the foreign influences via this part of the country.
Go on a pilgrimage to Batu Caves
Batu Caves, one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, and just outside Kuala Lumpur, features stunning limestone formations and the magnificent gold Lord Murugan statue. A steep climb up a multitude of steps, with crazy monkeys to entertain you along the way, is rewarded with beautiful caves at the summit.
Go any time of year, but the major Hindu festival of Thaipusam is famously celebrated at Batu Caves in January or February, when thousands of devotees and tourists gather there. Do not underestimate how fascinating the rituals of Thaipusam are. We would fly across the world to throw tomatoes in Spain or spray water in Songkran, but have we seen our own unique cultural practices in Malaysia?
Breathe out in Cameron Highlands
If you’re ready to cool off and escape the tropical heat, the Cameron Highlands is the place for you. If you’re a city dweller, then this is definitely one of the more interesting things to do in Malaysia for you to break out of the normal routines. See how life is different in the cool heights.
The green hills evoke a colonial era with hill stations, tea plantations, orchards, cafes for a spot of tea tasting and little farms to drop by and visit. It’s stunningly beautiful and a distant world away from the bustling metropolises, steamy rainforests and hot beaches.
Cameron Highlands has a fascinating crime story attached to it. The disappearance of Jim Thompson is an unsolved mystery, and you get to stay where Jim was last seen. He was an important figure in Malaysia’s trade history, and there are tons of books written about his disappearance! So this is pretty exciting. Play detective between eating jam and drinking tea perhaps?