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Backpacking across Malaysia

Posted: 1st July 2015 15:25

Malaysia has much to offer travellers, from urban jungles to ancient rainforests, white sand beaches to rustic mountain villages.  It has a unique cultural diversity – a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian and British colonial influences – and some of the world’s best street food to match.  Most of all, what Malaysia offers is adventure; while countless party hardened tourists descend on Thailand and Vietnam every year, Malaysia preserves a more relaxed, cultured atmosphere.  Here, your time on the beach will be spent enjoying the beauty of nature and the mellow tones of an acoustic guitar, rather than drinking rum from a plastic bucket as dance music blares from a nearby club.

Parties can definitely be found, especially in the big cities of the west coast.  Here, Penang and Kuala Lumpur combine aging colonial heritage with a modern, open, liberal lifestyle.  Countless flash bars take over Kuala Lumpur’s rooftops with live music and a cool atmosphere, Changkat Bukit Bintang is home to tropical themed clubs and Irish pubs (Malaysia’s Guinness is the best outside of Ireland), or you can head into Chinatown to enjoy the gritty down to earth pub scene, and indulge in some of the street food at the night market too.  Come morning there is plenty of culture and history to soak up, but your adventures really begin when you leave the big cities behind and head east into central Malaysia in search of green vistas and raw, unadulterated nature.  The Cameron Highlands, the country’s most beautiful mountain highland, more than delivers on this wish.  It is a unique rural escape with rows of green tea plantations, red waves of strawberry farms, long fields of purple lavender and cascading waterfalls of clear blue that follow the contours of the hills and valleys as far as the eye can see.  Its mountain air is crisp and refreshing – the exact opposite of the hot and humid jungle, which stands in the way of you and Malaysia’s east coast beaches.

Here under the almost unbroken canopy that encloses you in a private world of your own, the air is thick and warm.  The sounds of jungle life reverberate around you and stunning birds come and go, disappearing as fast as they arrived.  The mighty Asian elephant, rare Sumatran rhinoceros and distinctive Malayan tiger all roam this part of the country, and the Taman Negara National Park is the best place to see them, with secluded hides and magical treetop walkways.  Even so, emerging from the jungle will come as a relief, as you ditch the sweaty khakis in favour of more relaxed beachwear.  Malaysia’s east coast has a completely different feel to its west, populated by small traditional villages with a conservative Muslim attitude.  Alcohol is hard to find here, and prohibitively expensive when it can be found, but wholesome beach life more than makes up for it.  Malaysia’s youngest city, Kota Bharu, is also found here, and with it, Malaysia’s best food market – under a vast yellow arch lays a maze of traditional food stalls, selling ayam percik (marinated chicken on bamboo skewers) nasi kerabu (rice with coconut, fish and spices) and murtabak (fried flat bread filled with minced meat) alongside fresh vegetables.  The city’s distinctive blue rice is a must and its squid on a stick is simple but delicious.  The hiss of sizzling oil and intense smells fill the air, attracting appetites from miles around.

From here, visitors can explore the beautiful state of Kelantan, and more importantly, the Perhentian Islands.  Unlike the shore, these islands are not burdened by huge taxes on alcohol, but the many beach parties still maintain a relaxed, chilled out vibe – their biggest attraction without doubt are the amazing dive sites that lie just off the shore.  If beach lifestyle and diving somehow don’t appeal then head south, stopping off at glitzy independent Singapore before crossing over into Malaysian Borneo to visit Malaysia’s most cosmopolitan city, Kuching, discover its tallest mountain, Mt. Kinabalu, and immerse yourself in the native culture of Sarawak’s traditional jungle villages.  Here, you can spend days trekking from village to village through the pristine jungle, and maybe even glimpse orang-utans and proboscis monkeys amidst the trees.

Find out more about Malaysia here