16 Fantastic Things to Do in Malaysia for a Great Trip

Steve Cummings

Penang Malaysia

Malaysia is famous for many different attractions – its rich and diverse heritage, its mouthwatering cuisine, the numerous festivals held throughout the year, and not to mention its rural crafts and traditional architecture. We haven't even said how beautiful the country is, from the bustling cityscapes of Kuala Lumpur to some of the oldest rainforests in the world and many pristine beaches.

You are spoilt for choice when visiting this eastern delight. So spoilt, you may need to figure out what to see and what to do. That's where we come into the picture with this handy guide to things to do in Malaysia that will make any trip there memorable.   

1. Visit the Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Islands
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If you are interested in the quintessential tropical island experience, visiting the stunning Perhentian Islands is one of the best things to do in Malaysia. A pair of unique islands found off the country's eastern coast, the Perhentian Islands consist of Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Keci. Both will give you all you want from a faraway island with clear waters.

They are not completely quiet, but their charm has been maintained as tourist development put into them for tourist purposes keeps their charm. You can snorkel and dive here or sit and relax on the sandy beaches. If you fancy hiking, both islands have jungle-laden hills where you can see monitor lizards, monkeys, and flying foxes.

2. Take in the Sights of and from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Every trip to Malaysia is complete with visiting Kuala Lumpur, the country's incredible capital city. Of all the many things to see in Malaysia, the Petronas Towers are high on the list of the best of the best. One of the most impressive elements of the KL skyline is that it is best to take in the view of the buildings from the ground. Standing 452 meters off the ground, they are imposing. However, if you are a fan of heights, you may also want to take the trip to the 41st floor and use the Skybridge for outstanding city views.

While it is perfectly safe to walk along, people with vertigo and fear of heights may want to give it a miss. However, those brave enough and able to cope with it are richly rewarded.

3. Eat Malaysian Food in Kuala Lumpur

Eat Malaysian Food
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In Kuala Lumpur, you will find some of Malaysia's best things to eat. Jalan is a perfect eatery that offers some of the best and most authentic Malaysian dishes. The cuisine takes inspiration from Indian, Chinese, and even some European, along with Malay traditional cooking, to create something unique. It is recommended you try the Malay Satay or the Fat Brothers Satay.

If in doubt, ask one of the friendly locals to suggest a dish you should try.

4. Climb Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu
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Are you interested in more adventurous things to do in Malaysia? One of the most challenging things you can do in the country is take on the mighty Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Although it is technically challenging, anyone with reasonable fitness and good health and who takes the proper precautions should be able to manage it.

You need to know the conditions can be very windy and cold, and altitude sickness and cramping are possibilities. Ideally, it would be best to stay the night in the area before setting off in the morning rather than arriving on the day of your climb. From the summit, you can see a breathtaking dawn over Borneo.

5. Visit the Sipadan Island Marine Park

Sipadan Island Marine Park
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If you are a relatively competent and experienced diver, one of the best things in Malaysia is undoubtedly the waters within the marine park known as Sipadan Island. Jacques Cousteau once said it was “an untouched piece of art.” Within the waters of Sipadan Island, you can expect to see many schools of tropical fish, barracuda, sharks, moray eels, and turtles. You may even see a pilot whale or dolphin if you are fortunate. Though it will depend on the time of year you visit the Island. 

This is one of the places where you will want to have a waterproof camera in your bag to take all those once-in-a-lifetime shots of the beautiful creatures you will encounter.

Another critical element of this marine park is the diverse array of coral that lives there. Many compare it to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

6. Visit Batu Caves

Batu Caves
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Another fun thing to do in Malaysia is to take a trip to the Batu Caves from Kuala Lumpur. It's easy to see why this is so popular with tourists, as the caves are a remarkable example of nature and design. The caves were excavated from an ancient limestone hill that was thought to be more than 400 million years old.

Now, it's one of the most significant Hindu sites of worship located outside of India. However, don't expect a laidback journey to the Cathedral Caves entrance, as there are around 300 steps to climb.

7. The Rainforest Music Festival

While there are many great family things to do in Malaysia, if you are a music and live entertainment fan and want to learn more about Malaysian heritage, you should book your trip to coincide with the Rainforest Music Festival.

Established in 1998, the Rainforest Music Festival occurs each summer in Sarawak Cultural Village. With Mount Santubong as a fitting backdrop and the Village's stunning tribal homes close by, this world music event is like no other. Aside from the many big-named performances by artists from around the world, the most noteworthy elements of this event are the performances by the local Bornean musicians.

8. Bako National Park

Bako National Park
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If you want other things to do in Malaysia with kids, consider visiting Bako National Park. Found to the East of Santubong Peninsula, the national park takes its name from the Bako River, as it's based at the mouth of that stunning waterway. When arriving by boat, the craggy outcrops and coastal forest you will see up ahead do not do justice to the natural beauty of this site.

One of the top attractions here is, without a doubt, the proboscis monkeys. You are likely to see them close to the park headquarters. One of the other intriguing inhabitants, the silver leaf monkey, is more challenging to find.

9. Melaka

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To learn more about what it means to be Malay and where the country takes a lot of its inspiration from, one of the best things to see and do in Malaysia is to visit Melaka. You will see evidence of the British, Dutch, and Portuguese influences on the country. It was first founded in the early half of the 15th century under the Melaka Sultanate.

At one point in history, Melaka was an essential area for international trade in the East. At the heart of the colonial past of this city is the Dutch Square, where you will find Bukit St Paul or St Paul's Hill, the Stadthuys, and several excellent museums.

10. Visit Cameron Highlands

One of the most advertised areas of the country and considered one of the top things to do in Malaysia by all travel brochures is Cameron Highlands. The area, known for jungle trails and tea plantations, derived its name from a colonial surveyor, William Cameron. Wealthy landowners flooded the location in search of weekend retreats along with Chinese vegetable farmers and Indian planters, which helped transform it into what it is now.

Having realistic expectations when visiting is crucial, as it is less idyllic than those brochures make out. It is hectic and is a working agro-industrial area that is home not only to tea plantations but also to fruit and vegetable growers.

11. George Town

George Town, Malaysia
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A protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, George Town, in the northeast of the country, is another of the fine things to do in Malaysia. A maze of lanes seamlessly flowing together features many old shophouses in varying conditions, and you will also find the Kongsi, clan associations, and religious buildings around the area. While Singapore is often considered a suitable comparison to George Town, this mellower place has fewer crowds and the slickness associated with other famous Straits Settlements Island.

George Town is best enjoyed leisurely, but if you only have a short time, visit the impressive Khoo Kongsi and Cheong Fatt Tze house.

12. Retail Therapy – Kuala Lumpur Style

Malacca, Malaysia
credit: depositphotos

If you fancy some retail therapy, one of the best things to do in Malaysia is walk along the Bukit Bintang, a broad and spacious corridor that runs along either side of the famous Jalan Bukit Bintang. There is something for everyone, including Lot 10, which has many modern cafes and shops, the southern end of the Bintang, which has inexpensive clothes shops and royal palms, and the superb Pavilion KL, where you will find designer outlets and notable international chain stores.

13. Sungai Kinabatangan

One of the best things to see in Malaysia if you want to relax and enjoy the natural beauty is the Kinabatangan River's jungles. You can spot many proboscis monkeys and some orangutans while cruising along the 560km waterway.

Logging has affected the ecological system of the river upstream. Thanks to the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, though, this is still one of the best places in the Sabah state of Malaysia to see wildlife.

Day trips are available from Sepilok and Sandakan. However, these usually involve travel with just one meal. The better option is to book with a tour operator for one of their one-night packages that allows you to enjoy the river in the morning and evening.

14. Taman Negara National Park

Another of the top things to do in Malaysia that will give you a chance to see the unique wildlife in the country is to visit Taman Negara National Park. The main national park is also home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world, and there are many treks, treetop walkways, and chances to spot wildlife here. Some of the tours even last an entire week.

15. Learn More About Traditional Crafts

Many traditional crafts originate from Malaysia, including batik-dyed cloth made by taking material and applying hot wax with a copper stamp or pen. As the wax resists the dye of the fabric, a pattern appears. This process is often repeated until a stunning display of colors remains.

Along with Batik cloth designs, you can learn more about and invest in rattan baskets, Labu (gourd-like ceramic jugs), and songket.

16. Gungun Mulu National Park

Gunung Mulu National Park, found in Sarawak, is another of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is named after the mountain found at its core, which stands 2376 meters tall. If you choose to climb the Gunung Api, another adventurous thing to do in Malaysia, you will be treated to incredible views of rough limestone peaks.

If you need more, this national park also boasts some spectacular underground caves that are the homes of many varied wildlife species.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are so many great things to do in Malaysia, no matter who you travel with or what type of trip you are looking for. There are beaches, wildlife parks, chances to feast on local cuisine, and the contrasts of modern Kuala Lumpur with the country's more remote and rural parts. You can learn about indigenous peoples' rich and diverse culture and the colonies that landed there over the centuries.

We hope you take the time to visit and try some of the things we have listed, and if you have been before and think we may still need to include one or two, please let us know in the comments section below. We are always looking to improve our lists to make them even better for travelers looking for inspiration for their next trips.

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