Found between Thailand and Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia (often known as West Malaysia) is home to the majority of the country’s multicultural population. Home to the capital and largest city, Kuala Lumpur, it is more developed than Malaysian Borneo at just 1/3rd of the size. Peninsular Malaysia is cut in half by the Titiswanga, a mountain range running right down the middle.
Often overlooked in favour of its most famous celebrity neighbour, Thailand, upon closer inspection Peninsular Malaysia has a lot going for it in terms of diversity, friendly locals and a fantastic transport network to get around. There’s ancient rainforest, charming colonial towns, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stunning islands and beaches, even tea plantations!
Almost on the border with Thailand, the tax-free Langkawi Islands are a haven for divers, snorkelers, sunbathers and those in search of cheap booze! With recent heavy marketing, the islands have become very touristy of late and many backpackers prefer the more chilled out, Perhentian Islands which you can reach from the strictly Muslim city of Kota Bharu. Raved over as beautiful island gems, in particular Pulau Perhentian Kecil with its white sandy beaches, jungle backdrop and chilled out beach bars, the Perhentians are a must stop for beach-lovin’ backpackers.
Further south, the colonial island of Penang is a border-run stop for many expats and long-term travellers in Thailand. Great food, cheap guesthouses aplenty and good transport links to nearby Indonesia and Thailand. Not far away on the mainland, you’ll find Taman Negara, an ancient tropical rainforest filled with thousands of different species of flora and fauna. Take a trek into the depths of the jungle across bamboo bridges hanging above the canopy. From there, you may like to stop off and refuel in the city of Ipoh or head over to the east coast to make a stop off at the little visited, authentically Malaysian town of Kuala Terengganu.
No visit to Peninsular Malaysia is complete without a stop in Malaysia’s bustling capital city, Kuala Lumpur – a melting pot of cultures with fantastic shopping, dining, street food and partying. Only a few hours from the heat of the capital, you can visit the cool Cameron Highlands with its silky green tea plantations. Once a hill-top retreat for the English colonial gentry, the highlands offer fantastic trekking opportunities. Or if you’re looking for an island retreat close to the city, small and natural Pulau Pangkor might just fit the bill.
Heading west from KL, you will come across the UNESCO World Heritage coastal town of Melaka – once upon a time an ancient strategic port town, with a fascinating colonial history involving the Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese and English. And if it’s true island paradise you’re looking for – further east you will find Pulau Tioman, once voted one of the ‘Top 10 Tropical Islands in the World’ by Time Magazine, Tioman takes some beating for its glorious white sands, turquoise seas and laid-back island life.
Destination Guides in Peninsular Malaysia: