Malaysia is one of my favorite countries– a place I fell in love with the first time I visited. When people ask me why, I normally start talking and never stop. I mean, what’s not to like? There are so many things to do in Malaysia, exploring modern cities, tiny villages, a cuisine that ranks among the best in Asia, and an incredibly diverse culture.
Wandering around Kuala Lumpur or Georgetown, you’ll glimpse the onion domes of mosques, smell incense floating out of Buddhist temples and jasmine from flower garlands outside Hindu temples. In Borneo, you’ll have the chance to discover the life and culture of indigenous tribes that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
But what makes Malaysia truly special is nature. From rainforests to crystalline seas, Malaysia offers onc-in-a-lifetime ecotourism experiences. You can see wild orangutans, spend the night in a hut in the Taman Negara rainforest, and Scuba dive the incredible sites of Pulau Sipadan.
Here are our picks for the 7 top things to do in Malaysia for nature lovers. I can virtually guarantee that these experiences will make you fall in love with this stunning country, just like I did!
1. See Wild Orangutans in Sabah
Along with Sumatra, the island of Borneo is the last one where wild Orangutans can be found. Rampant deforestation to clear land for the palm oil industry has reduced Borneo’s orangutan population to a fraction of what it once was.
One of the best places to see wild Orangutans is Sabah, the northern Malaysian state in Borneo. The most accessible location is the Kinabatangan river, which is located near from the city of Sandakan.
But, for a truly unforgettable experience, we recommend heading further afield to the Danum Valley, which is immersed in the rainforest.
2. Visit an Orangutan Rescue Center
If you’re pressed for time, the easiest way to meet the “men of the forest” is heading to a rescue center at feeding time.
This when the Orangutans leave their forest hideouts and head to raised platforms. There, the rangers feed them fruit to the oooohs and aaaahs of onlookers.
3. Get Lost in Taman Negara
Taman Negara is a wonderful place to explore the rainforest. You can spend the night in a hide in the hope of spotting elusive wildlife species such as Slow Lorises and Leopards.
Make sure you hire a guide if you’re planning to sleep out. The trails are overgrown and hard to follow, and you may end up getting lost in Taman Negara like we did! If you’re not into extreme adventures, there’s a canopy walk and shorter trails near park headquarters.
4. Look for Rafflesias in Cameron Highlands
When the heat and humidity gets too much, do as Malaysians do and head to Cameron Highlands, a hilly area near Kuala Lumpur. There’s plenty to see and do in Cameron Highlands, including visiting tea and strawberry plantations, where you can enjoy delicious tea and strawberry jam!
Cameron Highlands also offers hiking opportunities, with a dozen numbered hill trails offering stunning views. If you’re lucky, you may also be able to see Rafflesias in bloom. These giant, stinky flowers can be found in the area year-round.
Ask your hotel or lodge for details, as flowering locations vary and you’ll need a local guide to help you find them.
5. Climb Penang Hill
The island of Penang is known for its excellent food and colorful festivals. But it’s not generally considered a nature destination.
Surprisingly, there are several locations not far from the capital of Georgetown where you can enjoy nature and outdoor activities. For instance, you can ride a mountain bike up to the Air Itam dam, or go parasailing on Batu Ferringhi beach.
But our favorite nature activity in Penang was climbing Penang Hill, which is easily accessible from Georgetown. The climb is quite difficult in the heat, but offers a stunning view from the summit and the opportunity for wildlife encounters along the way. We spotted a Cobra and lots of Macaques!
6. Dive Pulau Sipadan
Arguably the best is Pulau Sipadan, a tiny island off the coast of Sabah that’s easily accessible from the larger island of Semporna.
Pulau Sipadan is famous for its steep walls and rich coral life, where sightings of Sea Turtles and Reef Sharks are almost guaranteed. The number of daily diving permits is limited, so plan ahead!
7. Explore Forest Research Institute Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur is a busy, crowded, polluted city. It’s definitely worth a visit for the famed Petronas Towers, Batu Caves, and great street food scene. But the constant traffic and concrete may leave diehard nature lovers yearning to get away from all the chaos and commotion.
FRIM (short for Forest Research Institute Malaysia) is a great location for a day in the great outdoors. Located just 15 miles outside of central KL, it’s surrounded by trees, birds and silence.
There are numerous walking trails with information about the rainforest ecosystem, a canopy walk, and an interesting visitor center. It’s a tranquil haven of serenity that makes a perfect escape when the hustle and bustle of the city becomes too much to bear.
Where to Stay in Malaysia
There are many other adventurous things to do in Malaysia for nature lovers. There are also a lot of great hotels and eco-lodges in the country. It’s easy to book online with Traveloka, which offers comparisons on pricing, ratings and amenities. Click here for more info.
We started out at Sukau Rainforest Lodge, an award-winning eco-lodge in the Sabah rainforest. There we saw pygmy elephants, wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys. Sukau is committed to sustainability, with hot water supplied by solar heaters, lamps using cooking oil, and electric boats used for river cruises to minimize wildlife disturbance.
Margherita Ragg is a freelance writer from Milan, Italy. She’s passionate about wildlife, ecotourism and outdoor activities, and runs the travel blog The Crowded Planet with her husband Nick Burns, an Australian photographer. Margherita has an MA in Travel and Nature Writing from Bath Spa University, and was runner-up to the 2012 Guardian Travel Writer of the Year competition. Her other passions are rock climbing, skiing, homebrewing and her cat, Tappo. Follow Margherita on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
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