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Hidden Gems: The Most Underrated Malaysian Destinations

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A vibrant, colourful country full of hidden surprises, Malaysia is a multicultural society with mile upon mile of jungle and an array of delicious cuisines. There really is something for everyone here, and with a delightful mix of dense forests, historic towns and modern cities, there’s certainly plenty to do. Uncover our top Malaysia holiday destinations and escape to this beautiful island for a trip you’ll never forget.

Malaysia holiday destinations

Perhentian Islands

Located 21km off the NorthEastern coast of Terengganu, you’ll find the Perhentian Islands – home to white sandy beaches, turquoise seas and gently swaying palms. The shores are dotted with local cafes and food stalls, all selling fresh-from-the-boat seafood and delicious Malaysian specialities – you certainly won’t go hungry here! Often much cleaner than tourist-filled beaches, there’s no better place to sit back and relax than this sunny paradise.

The islands are made up of Pulau Perhentian Besar (The Big Island) and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (The Small Island). They both have very different personalities: Kecil attracts more travellers as it has cheaper accommodation and livelier nightlife, while Besar is a little more expensive and caters to families. If you aren’t sure which one to choose, don’t worry – boat taxis can whizz you between the sandy shores day and night.

With a lack of international hotels, you can expect to stay in small and quirky accommodation here where you’ll be able to wake up and walk straight out onto the beach. During the day, watch out for flying foxes, long-tailed macaques and resident monitor lizards in the rocky virgin jungle. Or, if you’re more of an adventurer, why not get your scuba diving PADI certification? These islands are one of the best (and cheapest) places in the world to get one. With more than 20 different dive sites around the islands, you’ll get the opportunity to swim alongside turtles, sharks, rays and tropical fish. This underwater kingdom also welcomes snorkellers – and our Malaysian travel expert describes the snorkelling here as “absolutely world class!”.

Forest reserve of Ulu Muda

The Northwestern Peninsular of Malaysia covers 160,000 hectares of land and is home to the Ulu Muda reserve. Rarely visited by tourists, getting here is no simple task – but trust us, it’s worth it! You first have to travel by road, before a two-hour sampan boat ride to the centre of the forest where you’ll get the opportunity to see Asian Elephants and help the team set up cameras to capture the amazing creatures for an experience unlike anywhere else. Look out for birds and reptiles, as well as tapir and clouded leopards – and if you’re really lucky, you may see a tiger or two, and perhaps even a sun bear.

The reserve is home to a massive 306 species of bird including all 10 Malaysian hornbills. For a chance to see the magnificent birdlife, visit in the months of May through to September. During this time, the area experiences the lowest water levels of the year, making them easier to spot. It’s not just about birdlife here, though: the forest of Ulu Muda is also a secret haven of jungle trails, rivers, limestone hills, caves, salt licks, and wildlife, so if you’re planning a trip to Malaysia, it’s a great option to put on your itinerary. Accommodation here is basic – you’re literally right in the middle of a jungle! – but the experience is unmissable, even if just for a night or two.

Malaysia holiday destinations

Rural Penang

The city centre of Penang, named the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, is one of the most visited Malaysia holiday destinations. It gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008 and has boutique hotels galore, charming Chinese temples and clan houses, as well as graffiti-lined streets and hipster cafes. We’d definitely recommend a visit to Penang if you like to soak up history-rich culture. However, to discover the lesser-known areas, you could take a bike ride through rural Penang. Cycle through a labyrinth of minor roads and country pathways, passing by mangroves, goat herds, wooden villages and farms. Along the way, you’ll see the colourful sights and smells of the local villages and witness the fascinating life of locals as you venture through the bountiful green environment. Exploring the town on a bike has all the advantages of going on foot, except you get to see so much more as you cover a wider area. Plus, the cooling breeze is a nice relief! 

Cameron Highlands Tea Plantations

After the hustle and bustle of Penang, escape the crowds and enjoy the quiet scenes of the Cameron Highlands Tea Plantations. These highlands make 60% of all the tea for Malaysia and cover 712km² of land. Resembling the rice paddy fields in SE Asia, the rolling hills are filled with a variety of tea plants, making for pretty amazing photographs. There are two main plantations: BOH and the lesser-known Cameron Valley Tea. Free to enter, here you can spend one or two hours strolling around the grounds, finishing at the waterfall at the bottom of fields. To experience the panoramic views away from other travellers, why not enjoy an exclusive picnic with a private tasting session at BOH? You’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the views while eating a traditional English picnic.

Malaysia holiday itinerary

 

Ipoh

Ipoh is slowly becoming a sought-after destination for travellers in the know. A gateway to the Cameron Highlands, this city is up-and-coming thanks to the restoration of old shophouses into hip cafes, new boutique hotels and museums full of history. Also one of south-east Asia’s hidden foodie hot spots, we recommend taking some time to explore the Old Town’s quirky cafes or heading to Ipoh Soho for a wacky robotic dining experience. Ipoh is surrounded by limestone hulks and is also home to British colonial architecture including railway stations, the town hall and old world schools, so there’s plenty to explore here. A true hidden gem, Ipoh is sure to become one of the top Malaysia holiday destinations in years to come. We recommend staying in Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat hotel – nestled in a valley outside the city, it’s cradled by 260 million-year-old towering Paleozoic limestone hills, verdant rainforest, rejuvenating geothermal hot springs, natural caves and cascading waterfalls. A real luxury! 

Malaysia holiday destinations

Malacca

The historic centre of Malacca was crowned a UNESCO site in 2008 and it’s easy to see why: with colourful colonial shophouses, historic landmarks and a variety of religious buildings, this location is an idyllic Malaysian town and well worth a visit for those who want to experience some lesser-travelled areas. Once a quaint fishing village in the 14th century, Malacca was a renowned port, attracting traders from across the East. It’s seen centuries of conflict and change – the Portuguese came to conquer it in 1509, the Dutch invaded in 1641, and finally the British assumed control in 1824. 

Now a peaceful port, Malacca has finally seen its revival and is a highlight for those who visit. It has many laid back cafes and charming art galleries, as well as relaxing cruises on the river that flows through. If you’re planning to stay for a couple of days, we’d recommend going to the Jonker Walk Night Market, where you can stroll through the trinket sellers under the night sky. During the day, keep your eyes peeled and cameras to hand for Malacca’s resident monitor lizards. Harmless to visitors, they enjoy a spot of sunbathing on the riverbanks, or at times around town. With so much personality, Malacca provides the perfect getaway from Malaysia’s busy cities.

Time to start planning

With high temperatures and humidity all year, Malaysia has a tropical climate that’s perfect for year-round travel. However, the best time to visit most of the region is from March to October – so it’s time to start planning your next adventure to these top Malaysia holiday destinations! Get in touch with one of our travel experts to get started with an itinerary – we specialise in bespoke travel to ensure you get the very best out of your time away.

Malaysia holiday destinations