First Malaysian Holiday? Here’s All You Need to Know
Multicultural melting pot is a description bandied about everywhere in the travel world, but when it comes to Malaysia, the cliche really is true. With Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and Arab influences and the traditions of Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus bound up in its history, Malaysia represents a fascinating fusion of cultures – particularly for the first-time visitor. Don’t be daunted if this is your first time to rent a car in Malaysia, however. Here’s what you should know:
Malaysia’s capital combines the rural and the urban, with snakes making their way across six-lane highways and monkeys romping among the skyscrapers. You can get a tempting taste of Malay culture with a visit to the Malaysia National Museum, or witness KL’s high-tech ambition in the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers, a stainless steel structure that offers dizzying views of the city from the mid-level Skybridge. The KL Bird Park is known as “The World’s Largest Free-Flight Walk-in Aviary,” and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM)is a 1,528-hectare rainforest swarming with exotic wildlife and vegetation 16 km from the city.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, George Town and Penang Island offer many gems for the hire car adventurer. Drive across the 13.5km Penang Bridge, the longest bridge in Malaysia, for a taste of the wonders this part of the world has to offer. Take a trip to Aye Itam village to marvel at the stunning views from the Ayer Itam dam, perched high above the Kek Lok Si temple. More stunning views await at Muka Head Lighthouse on Penang Island’s north-western cape. Drive to Teluk Bahang jetty, and either take a boat to the lighthouse or scale the hill on foot.
Malaysia and beaches are virtually synonymous, so you really are spoiled for choice if you’re looking for sandy retreats. Our favourite beach destination is Redang, a little island idyll close to Malaysia’s east coast. Its sparse population means blissful solitude is not hard to find. Turtles lay their eggs on the northern beaches and often accompany snorkellers.
Langkawi is somewhat easier to get to, and it too has wonderful beaches. Pantai Cenang, a 2km stretch of ocean heaven, and Pantai Tengah, to the south of it, are its most popular beach haunts. Trendy restaurants and bars line the golden sand, but you can also relax here with a picnic. Pantai Kok, just 12 km north of Cenang, overlooks a magical bay framed by thickly wooded mountains. Tanjung Rhu and Datai Bay are at the more exclusive end of the Langkawi beach spectrum.
The tropical rainforests, seas and freshwater ecosystems of Malaysia are teeming with exotic animals and plants. In fact, Malaysia is listed among the World Wildlife Fund’s 12 mega-diversity countries. It is home to some 1,500 species of land-based vertebrates alone, but many of these species are under threat, including the tiger, Bornean Pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, orangutan, hawksbill and green turtles.
Borneo is where you’ll see the charismatic orangutan in his natural environment. Head to the jungles of Sepilok and hike up Mt Kinabalu for unforgettable views of rice paddies, jungles and isolated villages. As well as the KL Bird Park and FRIM in Kuala Lumpur, the famous Tropical Butterfly Farm in Teluk Bahang, Penang, is also well worth a visit.
What to Eat
If you’re on for a culinary adventure, Malaysia is heaven. Kuala Lumpur is home to incredibly cheap and irresistibly delicious street food, such as Chicken Satay, Roti Chanai, Nasi Lemak, and the coconut and lemongrass creation Beef Rendang.
Penang is the food capital of Malaysia. This is the best place to try Laksa Penang (a spicy and sour noodle soup) and Nasi Kandar (a rice-based curry dish). In Langkawi, you’ll pay less than RM2 for a banana-leaf parcel of nasi lemak, rice steamed in coconut water. Accompany this with teh tarik (pulled tea), a concoction of black tea, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Or go to Kedai Makan EIM Corner, in Kuala Teriang, for truly excellent roti canai, a delicious flat bread resembling a multi-layered flaky pancake that is typically served with a curry or dahl.
Malaysia has two peak seasons, one of which coincides with the major Northern Hemisphere winter holidays (Christmas, New Year, and Chinese New Year) from late December to the end of January. The second peak season lasts from June to mid-September.
The temperature in Malaysia never drops appreciably, with daily averages ranging from 22C to 32C, and January and February representing the coolest months. July and August are hottest, but cooling trade winds make conditions tolerable. Rain tends to fall mainly between September and November.
If you plan to visit any of the east-coast resort areas between November and March, the monsoon tides make conditions too turbulent for watersports and beach activities, so many island resorts close.
The Finer Details
Passport & Visa
Unless you are from Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Myanmar/Burma or Eritrea, you won’t need a visa to holiday in Malaysia. Ensure that your passport is valid for 6 months from your return date, however.
UTC + 8
Although you are not required to receive any specific vaccinations before travelling to Malaysia, it is advisable to be inoculated against malaria, typhoid, and hepatitis A.
Driving is on the left. You will need an international driving licence.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Malaysia cater for 220 to 240 volts AC, so you’ll just need an adapter if you are bringing an appliance designed for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages.