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Thursday June 5, 2014 MYT 11:43:00 AM
Friday June 6, 2014 MYT 4:50:47 PM
by michelle tam
One of the spectacular caves at Mulu National Park that draws visitors from all over the world. Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
IF you're hankering for a holiday and plan to book an expensive ticket to a faraway destination, hold on to your hat and ringgit – Malaysia's tropical climate has more than one trick up its sleeve.
The country is home to many spectacular natural wonders, leaving nature lovers spoilt for choice when trying to decide on their next outdoor adventure.
Whether you feel like scaling great heights or exploring the mysterious deep, one of these beautiful eco-tourism hotspots is sure to tickle your fancy.
Mulu Caves National Park, Sarawak
Go big or go home - if there was an award for the biggest and the best, then this eco-tourism destination is recipient to a whole host of superlatives.
The Unesco World Heritage Site boasts one of the world's longest networks of caves in the world, with the Clear Water Cave being the longest in Southeast Asia.
The Sarawak Chamber, which is the world's largest underground chamber, is capable of fitting 40 Boeing 747 planes in its confines – without their wings overlapping!
London's iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral could be replicated five times over, and still fit snugly into the world's biggest cave passage, the Deer Cave.
Other key attractions include the Eden Valley Walk, the Medicine Plant Trail and the Paku Waterfall.
When evening falls, a sight to behold is the millions of bats - 12 species in all - departing the caves in great swarms, an event fondly known as the Bat Exodus.
Suffice to say, no one can blame you if the urge strikes to shout "To the Batcave!".
Penang National Park, Teluk Bahang
On the flip side, the world's smallest national park proves that size does not matter. Despite measuring only 29.6sq km, this green space was declared seventh heaven on Agoda.com's list of highest rated parks in Asia.
Tourists and locals alike flock to the prime beachfront site for its many attractions, including the lowland mangrove swamp in Teluk Tekun and hiking trails at the popular Monkey Beach.
Another marvel is the unique meromictic lake in Pantai Kerachut, one of only three in Asia. There, salt water and fresh water do not mix, resulting in differently coloured layers that host vastly different environments.
Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Selangor
Just 30 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur, FRIM is a firm favourite among nature lovers for its wealth of flora and fauna.
Founded in 1929 for forestry research, the Kepong site was declared a national heritage in 2012, and tens of thousands have enjoyed its pristine, unpolluted environment spanning a 544ha area.
Whether you choose to pitch a tent, pack a picnic basket or tote a pair of binoculars for a spot of bird-watching, be sure to check out their famous canopy walkway, located at the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve at about 300m above sea level.
The walkway system, suspended between trees at approximately 30m above ground level, offers visitors a panoramic view of the verdant forest and the Kuala Lumpur area along its 150m span.
Before you visit, do check out their opening hours as attractions are weather-dependent.
Royal Belum State Park, Perak
Recently hailed as one of Malaysia's best kept eco-tourism secrets at Europe's largest tourism fair, the Royal Belum State Park is located within the Belum-Temenggor rainforest reserve area.
Said be over 130 million years old, the vast virgin jungle - relatively untouched by human exploration - is older than the great Amazon and Congo rainforests.
It hosts 10 hornbill species and over 3,000 species of flowering plants - even the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia - and serves as a natural habitat for 14 of the world's most threatened mammals, including the Malayan Tiger and the Sumatran Rhinoceros.
But make prior preparations - visitors need to apply for a permit from the Perak State Park Corporation (Perbadanan Taman Negeri Perak) in order to enter the rainforest as it is a protected zone.
At the state park, which spans an area of 1,175sq km, you can try the overnight stay at the wildlife observation hide, give bamboo rafting a go, or observe the natural salt licks where animals flock to for their dose of the much-needed mineral.
No local eco-tourism list is complete without this venerable elder, reputed as the world’s oldest rainforest at more than 130 million years of age.
Once known as the King George V National Park, it earned its new moniker after Malaysia's independence in 1957.
With a total area of 4,343sq km, it spans three states - Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu. Also located within the park is Gunung Tahan, the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia.
Visitors can experience the great outdoors in many ways, including trekking trails, river rapid shooting and rafting, overnight stays at wildlife observation hideouts, and traversing the 530m canopy walk.
There are more than 300 species of fish in the park's many rivers, including the famed Ikan Kelah or Malaysian Mahseer. Tourists can feed this protected species at the Kelah Fish Sanctuary, and watch the speedy, agile creatures chase the treats.
Fishing is allowed only in certain areas, and anglers need to ask local guides for approved locations, lest they run the risk of a fine after landing a catch in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cameron Highlands, Pahang
If tropical rainforests don't do the trick for you, head to the highlands.
The hill station, which spans 712sq km, offers a wealth of attractions with the added bonus of temperatures that dip as low as 12 degrees Celsius when night falls.
As the environment is less humid, the jungle trail hikes are decidedly more pleasant, although mosquitoes are as much of a threat here as they are in the lowlands.
Pick heaps of strawberries at the farms to eat with lashings of sugar and whipped cream, and spend your morning at the Sungai Palas tea plantation - the lush and beautifully tended green vistas are a welcome break from the concrete jungle.
Selfies recommended at the picturesque Boh Tea Centre, though you'd be wise to book a taxi to and fro the remote destination, lest you find yourself pleading for a ride back - standing space only - in a crowded bus inching along the narrow road.
And don't forget the Rose Centre! The charming spot in Brinchang offers a rewarding hike up among flowered paths, along with weathered art installations and unique sculptures, such as murals depicting signs of the zodiac and a giant shoe.
Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu
If it's sun, sand and sea that you want, try the beautiful Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil islands on for size.
With their beautiful coral reefs, secluded coves and laidback atmosphere, rarely has the phrase "tropical paradise" seen more apt use than for these islands that fringe the edge of the Pulau Redang Marine park.
Unfortunately, the influx of tourists sees the island struggling to keep pace with the demands inflicted on its natural environment.
So whether you choose to visit Turtle Bay, explore private bays, get your diving licence, snorkel in its crystal clear waters, or laze on the beaches to do nothing at all, be sure to leave the place as you found it.
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