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Things to Do in Malaysia

Malaysia is a country of contrasts, sliced in half by the South China Sea. On one side, colonial treasure troves, tropical islands, and modern cityscapes captivate; while in Borneo, rain forests and wild animals dominate the landscape. Malaysia is crowned by its sleek capital, Kuala Lumpur, where the Petronas Twin Towers, the Batu Caves, and enticing street food reign supreme. In historical Malacca, UNESCO World Heritage sites jostle for attention; Kota Kinabalu magnetizes travelers with fiery sunsets and a vibrant art scene; in Penang, the colonial gems of Georgetown complement the country’s best food; and on the white-sand beaches of Langkawi, revelers and relaxers soak up the island atmosphere. Opportunities for outdoor adventures abound: Hike through the emerald tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, trek to the fiery summit of Mount Kinabalu volcano, or explore the fauna-rich rain forest of Taman Negara National Park. Nature lovers can visit rescued elephants at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, observe orangutans in Borneo’s dense jungle, or watch a dazzling display of fireflies at Kuala Selangor lagoon. Plus, Malaysia’s proximity to Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia not only make it an ideal launchpad for traveling Southeast Asia, but also creates an engrossing cultural tapestry guaranteed to excite and enchant.
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Petronas Twin Towers (Petronas Towers)
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The twin 88-story steel and glass buildings known as the Petronas Twin Towers (or Petronas Towers), completed in 1996, are icons of Malaysia. Designed to symbolize courage and the country’s advancement, the two towers are connected by a double-decker Skybridge between the 41st and 42nd floor—the world’s highest two-story bridge of its kind—to form the shape of an “M” for Malaysia.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (TARP)
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A scenic option for water-sports fans and wildlife lovers who don’t have time to travel to Mabul or Sipadan, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Marine Park is just a 20-minute speedboat ride from downtown Kota Kinabalu. Comprising five small islands, the park combines white-sand beaches with coral reefs, jungle, and abundant marine life.

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George Town (Penang Georgetown)
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George Town (Penang Georgetown) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts a unique mix of cultures. The beating heart of Penang, George Town offers visitors a heady combination of world-class street food, colorful colonial architecture, and street art. This historic enclave, which can be explored entirely on foot, is also famous for its novelty museums.

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Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
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Considered among the world’s most beautiful train stations, the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station showcases the Moorish style of architecture favored by the British during Malaysia’s colonial era. Built in 1911 and designed by A.B. Hubback, the station is one of the most recognizable (and most photographed) landmarks in the city, thanks to its white arched facade and onion domes on the roof.

Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station took over as the city’s major train transport hub in 2001, but the old station still operates on a smaller scale (for commuter trains mostly) and remains a popular sightseeing stop.

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Dayang Bunting Island (Pulau Dayang Bunting)
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The second-largest island in Langkawi archipelago, Dayang Bunting Island (Pulau Dayang Bunting) and its surrounding lake are enshrouded in folklore. Visit the lake where legend says a celestial princess placed her baby after his death (the waters are thought to aid in conceiving). Try snorkeling, bird-watching, and cave exploring too.

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Cherating River (Sungai Cherating)
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While Cherating is best known for its beaches, the ocean isn’t the only body of water worth exploring. The Cherating River (Sungai Cherating) meanders through mangrove forests of the region, and cruising the river has become one of the area’s most popular activities.

By day, Cherating River cruisers might spot monkeys, monitor lizards, snakes, otters, terrapins and a variety of tropical birds. By night the river looks completely different. On a nighttime river cruise, thousands of fireflies glow in the mangrove trees — a magical experience. It’s also possible to experience the river by kayak or canoe, or by learning to crab fish in its clear waters.

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Sultan Abdul Samad Building (Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad)
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Colonial architects A.C. Norman and A.B. Hubbock completed the now iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building (Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad) in 1897 during the British administration of the region. Designed for governmental administrative offices, the building on Merdeka Square was the first public building in the country to feature a Mughal architectural style — a school that combines Indian Muslim, Gothic and Moorish influences.

Today, the building is home of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture. Its 135-foot (41-meter) tall clock tower flanked by two copper cupolas have become one of Kuala Lumpur’s most recognizable landmarks. The structure is particularly impressive at night, when the domes and clock tower are lit up.

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Langkawi Sky Bridge
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A unique structure with spectacular views of Malaysia’s Langkawi archipelago, the Langkawi Sky Bridge is a curved suspension bridge on Mt. Machinchang. The 410-foot-long (125-meter-long) span hangs from a single pylon, 328 feet (100 meters) above the ground, offering excellent views of the jungle-covered mountains below and the Andaman Sea beyond.

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Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka)
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A large grassy expanse in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) is where Malaysia declared independence in 1957: The word “merdeka” means “independent” or “free.” The city’s best-known historic landmark, the square is home to structures including the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, museums, and a cathedral.

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Kuala Lumpur National Monument (Tugu Negara)
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The Kuala Lumpur National Monument (Tugu Negara) commemorates the 11,000 people who lost their lives fighting for Malaysian independence. The 51-foot (15.5-meter) bronze statue of seven soldiers, built to replace a colonial-era cenotaph that now stands behind it, is part of a site that also includes a central pavilion with regimental emblems.

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More Things to Do in Malaysia

National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)

National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)

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National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)

Beside the Lake Gardens of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s National Mosque (Masjid Negara) reinvents traditional Islamic architecture with its angular lines and neutral color scheme. Built in 1965, the mosque was designed as a symbol of Malaysia’s independence and is a center of Kuala Lumpur’s vibrant Muslim community.

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King's Palace (Istana Negara)

King's Palace (Istana Negara)

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The Malaysian equivalent to Buckingham Palace, the King's Palace (Istana Negara) attracts thousands of visitors with its golden domes and Islamic-style architecture. Although you can’t explore the palace, you can learn about the Malaysian monarchy at the Royal Museum, located on the palace grounds.

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Putrajaya

Putrajaya

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Kuala Lumpur may be the capital of Malaysia, but Putrajaya, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) away, is the nation’s seat of government. A planned city laid out in the mid-1990s, its grandiose buildings, manicured gardens, and space-age architecture spread out around an artificial lake.

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Sam Poh Tong

Sam Poh Tong

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Located in Gunung Rapat, about three miles (five kilometers) south of Ipoh, Sam Poh Tong is thought to be the largest cave temple in Malaysia. Local lore tells of a Chinese monk who was passingthrough Ipoh in 1890 when he discovered the cave and decided to stop and meditate there. According to the legend, he remained in the cave for 20 years until his death.

The temple structure in its current form dates back to the 1950s, and to this day, it remains a place where Buddhist monks and nuns come to meditate. A series of 246 steps lead you up to themouth of the open cave, with its small reclining Buddha statue inside. Just outside the temple, you’ll find a Japanese koi pond where local devotees of the Buddha come to release turtles, as they’re thought to be a symbol of longevity.

The ornamental garden outside the front of the temple are worth walking through, and they offerbeautiful views of Ipoh below.

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Melawati Hill (Bukit Melawati)

Melawati Hill (Bukit Melawati)

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Melawati Hill (Bukit Melawati) served as a stronghold for the Selangor Sultanate during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Remnants of the fort still dot the landscaped park now occupying the hill, including sections of wall, grave sites, a few cannons and a flat stone that was once used for beheadings.

Today the hill, which is sometimes written Bukit Malawati (Malawati Hill), attracts not only history buffs, but nature lovers and other visitors who come to take in the panoramic views of the Selangor coastline from the top of the hill. On a clear day the Straits of Malacca are visible in the distance. A lighthouse, built in 1910 by the British, sits at the summit, through it’s not open to visitors.

Silver-leafed monkeys and long-tailed macaques often hang around the park, hoping for a meal of peanuts or stolen snacks from unwary visitors.

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Central Market (Pasar Seni)

Central Market (Pasar Seni)

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Housed in a beautifully restored art deco building, Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market (Pasar Seni) forms the backbone of the city’s commercial scene. Hundreds of stalls sell household goods, souvenirs, and traditional batik artwork, and Kasturi Walk offers visitors some of Malaysia’s most popular street-food dishes.

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Putrajaya Bridge

Putrajaya Bridge

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Putrajaya Bridge, perhaps the most important bridge in Malaysia, spans Putrajaya Lake at a length of 1,427 feet (435 meters). Inspired by the Khaji Bridge in Iran, the Putrajaya Bridge combines cable backstays and steel tiebacks to create an elegant, sail-like appearance reminiscent of Santiago Calatrava’s sculptural bridges.

The lower level of the bridge accommodates motor traffic and a monorail across the lake, connecting the Government Precinct in the North to a Mixed Development Precinct in the South, while the upper level carries a pedestrian path for jogging, walking or cycling. It’s also a popular spot for watching the sun set over Putrajaya Lake in the evening. At night, changing colored lights illuminate the bridge.

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Kuala Lumpur Tower (KL Tower)

Kuala Lumpur Tower (KL Tower)

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Looming 1,381 feet (421 meters) atop the Bukit Nanas (Pineapple Hill) in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, the Kuala Lumpur Tower (KL Tower) is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Visible from all around, it also affords a spectacular 360-degree view from its observation deck.

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Kinabalu National Park

Kinabalu National Park

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Reigned over by the mighty Mt. Kinabalu—the tallest mountain in Malaysia—Kinabalu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its biodiversity. A paradise for nature lovers, the park is home to around 5,500 plant species (including varieties of orchids and pitcher plants), about 326 bird species, and more than 100 mammals.

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Perdana Botanical Garden (Lake Gardens)

Perdana Botanical Garden (Lake Gardens)

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Located in the heart of the city, the Perdana Botanical Garden (formerly known as the Lake Gardens) is Kuala Lumpur’s oldest public park. This 225-acre (91-hectare) site is home to a bird park, hibiscus and orchid garden, butterfly sanctuary and a deer park, with the main attraction being its central lake surrounded by lush greenery.

The gardens between the park’s attractions are dotted with sculptures (including a miniature model of England's Stonehenge) plus plenty of walking paths and benches for strolling around and relaxing in the shade. The gardens feature native and foreign plants, with sections dedicated to ferns, rare trees, medicinal herbs and aquatic plants.

The park offers an escape from the bustling metropolis of the city, and you’ll spot locals taking full advantage of this with running and early morning t'ai serving as popular activities here. A visit to the Perdana Botanical Garden is included in a variety of Kuala Lumpur tours, including photography tours (which include tickets to the Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower) plus half-day and full-day city sightseeing tours, which often include the Batu Caves.

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Laser Battle

Laser Battle

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Laser Battle Johor Bahru (near Malaysia’s border with Singapore) is one of the largest laser tag venues in Asia and offers a wide range of arenas and game modes. The popular venue’s laser guns are technologically advanced, offering tournament features that make the game even more fun for large groups and special occasions.

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Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat)

Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat)

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Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat)runs through the heart of Chinatown in Melaka’s city center and was once known primarily for its antique dealers. Those on the hunt for Malaysian artifacts and relics—authentic and otherwise—will still find these rare items, but the area has evolved to include clothing boutiques, craft shops, and restaurants as well.

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Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

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The extravagantly decorated Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia—and a popular stop for locals and visitors navigating the streets of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Rising 75 feet (23 meters) above the busy marketplace, the temple’s five-tiered tower is adorned with colorful tiles, precious stones and hundreds of carvings of Hindu deities, rendering the building a popular attraction as well as a place of worship.

The main prayer hall inside the temple is as ornate as its exterior, with murals and frescos lining the walls and shrines beneath the embellished dome ceiling. At the back of the complex, you’ll find the shrine of South Indian mother goddess Mariamman, also known as Parvati, as well as smaller shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Lord Muruga. During the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, held in January and February, the sculpture of Lord Muruga is transported from the temple to Batu Caves on a silver chariot, drawing crowds in the tens of thousands.

You can visit Sri Mahamariamman Temple on a walk through bustling Petaling Street or as a part of a variety of cultural heritage tours, including city walking and night tours. Expect to be in the company of devotees in prayer, especially if visiting early morning or late evening.

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Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

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Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temple, first built in 1673, remains an active place of worship for the Chinese Buddhist community in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Melaka. Everything from the ornate roof to the painted murals within this temple dedicated to Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) have been restored using traditional techniques.

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