MALAYSIA’S DREAMY DESTINATIONS
By Hiranmayii Awli Mohanan
After spending one and a half years cooped up at home, most of us are probably experiencing cabin fever and long for open spaces. Since international travelling isn’t in the cards for the foreseeable future, explore our beautiful backyard instead and fulfil your wanderlust. From the laidback town of Ipoh to the beautiful islands of Mabul and Tioman, we list some of Malaysia’s dreamy destinations.
Located in Mersing District, Johor, Rawa Island is a small yet beautiful coral island that boasts of oceanic blue water and fluffy white sand. Rawa is a local term for ‘white doves’, which can be found throughout the island. Being a relatively small island, there are no proper roads here, only a few walkways, making it a safe and perfect getaway destination for families with children. Here, you can admire various corals, which are rare these days considering one-third of all reef-building corals are at risk of extinction according to the Coral Reef Alliance. Just remember to use a coral-friendly sunscreen should you decide to enter the cooling waters. Aside from corals, you can also find an abundance of marine life as you explore the seas of Rawa Island. As you swim in the ocean, don’t be alarmed should you come across different types of fishes, squids, jellyfish and even octopuses. On land, you will see Malayan sea eagles, peacocks and some reptiles too. However, that just shows how beautifully preserved the island is, as it displays its vast variety of flora and fauna.
Known as the only oceanic island in Malaysia, Sipadan Island rises 600 metres from the seabed. It is located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah and was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop. Sipadan is also known as a divers paradise, as it’s one of the highest-ranking scuba diving spots in the world. When diving, you’ll be able to enjoy the reef life, as well as eye catching marine life such as jackfish, eagle rays, sea turtles, leopard sharks, and many more. You’ll also be able to see whale sharks from a safe distance when diving. However, if deep sea diving isn’t something that interests you, then opt for snorkelling, where you’ll still be able to enjoy colourful fishes and other small marine life. For activities on land, you can choose to birdwatch, as the island is also home to exotic and tropical birdlife. Spot a vast variety of colourful birds like sunbirds, starlings, sea eagles, kingfishers and more. To top off your visit, go for the Sipadan Liveaboard, where you get to stay on a yacht as it takes you around the island.
The glistening emerald waters of Pulau Tioman can certainly give the Maldives a run for its money. As part of the wider Mersing Marine Park, this island boasts an abundance of coral reefs and marine life, snorkelling and scuba diving are the only activities to truly appreciate its verdant beauty. It’s laidback atmosphere makes it the perfect place to laze about and read a book. Alternatively those seeking adventure can pick up their hiking boots and trek up the magnificent mountains and uncover hidden beaches and waterfall.
It’s no surprise that many newlyweds have postponed their honeymoons due to the current pandemic. Many who have planned on trips to Bora Bora, Seychelles and Maldives have had to cancel all plans due to travel restrictions worldwide. Nonetheless, there’s an island right in our backyard that is known as the Malaysian Maldives and truly does look breathtaking. Mabul Island is located in Sabah and is known for its clear blue waters and its transparent kayaking boats that will make a lovely addition to your Instagram feed. Of course, when at Mabul Island, one should relax and enjoy the sun as much as possible. Seafood is also abundant here, and are all affordably priced, which is not surprising as the island has been a well-known fishing village since the 1970s. The island is also home to many species reefs, pelagics and colourful fishes that can be admired by snorkelling, which is a great activity to do with your husband. Other activities that can be done here are kayaking, visiting the Bajau Laut village, experiencing the sun rise and sun set, as well as stargazing, where it’s been said that the milky way lights up the skies of Mabul.
Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. The island is politically divided among three countries, Malaysia and Brunei in the north, and Indonesia to the south, and is the only island in the world to be politically administered by three countries at a time. Approximately 73% of the island is Indonesian territory. However, in the north, East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak make up about 26% of the island. The Borneo rainforest is estimated to be around 140 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world. It also houses approximately 15,000 plant species, 380 bird species and several mammal species. A trip to the Borneo Rainforest in Malaysia is one that’s filled with education, perfect for families with little kids. Bring your little ones to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the first official orangutan rehabilitation project for rescued orphaned baby orangutans from logging sites, plantations, illegal hunting or those kept as pets. You can also go to the Rainforest Discovery Centre, an education centre that teaches all about the uniqueness and importance of Borneo’s rainforests.
Pulau Perhentian is synonymous with its stretch of powdery white beach. Many flock to this renowned island for its clear azure waters framed by verdant greenery. This marine paradise forms part of the National Marine Park of Malaysia and this island is also where you can get your scuba diving license. Pulau Perhentian is accessible via a boat service from the Kuala Besut jetty. There are many activities to undertake while you’re here. Jungle trek up the hills under a canopy of large trees, and you might see wild magpies, giant fruit bats or the migratory Nicobar Pigeon which flight path includes this island. You might also see the harmless monitor lizard or even the unique Lutong monkey species. For those who enjoy snorkelling or scuba diving, this is the ultimate haven for strategic locations, boasting a coral-rich bay. The marine ecosystem of this area is well documented and held in high regards by snorkelers and scuba divers. If you come between June and September, you might get lucky and see giant green turtles laying eggs along the beach.
Beyond Langkawi’s spectacular landscapes, breathtaking beaches, captivating mangrove forests and jungle vistas awaits a more fascinating journey still — a journey back in time, geological time. Not hundreds, thousands, or millions, but hundreds of millions of years. Southeast Asia’s first UNESCO Global Geopark invites you to experience one of the world’s rarest natural wonders and journey back to when the earth was young. In 2007, Langkawi was awarded UNESCO Global Geopark status, the first Global Geopark in Southeast Asia, and is one of only 147 worldwide to date. Langkawi UNESCO Global Geopark comprises Machinchang Cambrian Geoforest Park, Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park, and Kubang Badak BioGeo Trail. Each of these geoforest parks showcases significant geological, biological and cultural heritage. With an abundance of natural wonders, from ancient rock formations and dramatic mountain peaks to a wealth of flora and fauna, the Geopark experience is one not to be missed. So keep your eyes open and your camera ready!
If there’s one thing every Malaysian should do once in their lives, it is to climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Borneo, with an elevation of 13,435 feet. One of the most recent events that happened to Mount Kinabalu was an earthquake that struck Ranau, Sabah, in 2015. The 6.0 magnitude earthquake damaged the usual hiking route to the peak and heavily damaged the famous Donkey Ear’s Peak. Since then, a new route has been established but the experience remains the same. Climbers would start early in the morning and hike up to laban rata resthouse, which sits at the middle of the mountain. There, climbers would rest and go to sleep at approximately 5pm onwards, before waking up at 2am in the morning. At 3am, the climb resumes up to the peak. The usual goal is to reach before the sun rises, however, the view remains incredible after the sun rises. At the peak, climbers will experience a weather of below 0 degrees celsius to -3 degrees celsius, but no snow is seen. Climbers will then descend all the way to the ground on the same day. Another interesting thing to note when climbing Mount Kinabalu is that if you reach the peak, you’ll be awarded with a coloured certificate. If you happen to not make it to the peak, you’ll be given a certificate in black and white.
Founded by British colonialist named Sir William Cameron, the classic English architecture of the cottages converted into hotels, the cold weather and the laidback lifestyle is reminiscent of an English countryside. There are plenty of attractions here, from the sweeping tea plantations that travel as far as the eyes can see, delightful tea shops to enjoy homemade strawberry jams and scones to basking in the lavender and rose gardens. For nature lovers and adventure seekers, a trek through the Mossy Forest transports you to a fantastical land where distinct plants and trees exclusive to the region will amaze you.
Sabah is not only laden with beautiful beaches, but tropical rainforests and mountains too. For a taste of winter or cooler temperature, head to higher ground or Ranau to be specific. The mountainous town sits at 1,176 metres (3,858 feet) — a stone’s throw away from Mount Kinabalu. Regarded as the Cameron Highlands of West Malaysia, this township offers fresh, crisp air and stunning views of Mount Kinabalu. Encapsulated by tea plantations, we recommend a pitstop at one of the cafes for a hot drink or high tea with an incredible view. History buffs will appreciate the memorial marking the final destination of WW2’s infamous Sandakan to Ranau Death March. More than 2,500 Australian and British prisoners of war as well as locals lost their lives during three punishing marches.
Set amid lush tropical rainforest at 2,500 feet above sea level in Pahang and merely 45 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, the Bukit Tinggi highlands provide a pleasant and refreshing break from the hot and humid weather all year round. Its allure lies in its picturesque offering, from Colmar Tropicale — a French-themed resort that reflects the beauty of the Alsace region of France, a serene Japanese Village that could trick you into thinking you’re in Japan and an Animal Park for your little munchkins. Whip out your phones to digitalise the picturesque surrounds and be ready to explore a smorgasbord of experiences.
PENANG AND MALACCA
Those looking to walk around and appreciate buildings and culture can travel to Penang or Malacca. Penang is roughly three hours from Kuala Lumpur while Malacca is one hour away. Both states are known for the straits, which connect to each other. With that, both states are filled with buildings from at least a century ago, since its development by British administration and Asian settlement. In Penang and Malacca, you will find colonial buildings alongside Chinese and Indian ornate houses and shop lots that are preserved and fully functioning throughout the states. Both places also offer a plethora of cuisines, and are most commonly known for the Nyonya food. Must-have eats in Penang include nutmeg juice, nasi kandar, hokkien mee (which is known as prawn noodles for us city folks), nyonya cuisine, oyster omelette and so much more. While in Malacca, one must try the nyonya food which includes laksa, taukwa rojak and curry chicken rice, alongside street food like cendol with gula melaka, Nyonya Chang (dumpling), satay celup, klebang coconut shake and more.