As a country blessed with a rich and diverse ecosystem, Malaysia has a thriving ecotourism scene boasting renowned national and state parks. The country is a haven for unique wildlife and lush tropical rainforests, all of which can be found at these gazetted venues.
Whether it’s the tall tualang tree you seek or a sight of the tapir, the parks offer a treasure trove of nature experiences. There are also dramatic trails to be discovered within the vicinity.
With the help of Tourism Malaysia, here are some renowned as well as under-the-radar parks that feature plenty of natural beauty, biodiversity and accessibility.
Taman Negara (Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan)
The forests in Malaysia don’t get any older than the ones here. Taman Negara – which is Bahasa Malaysia for national park – is regarded as one of the oldest in the world. Its forests were already flourishing when Earth’s tectonic plates were still shifting!
As a result, Taman Negara has almost every type of forest habitat found in Malaysia – from lowland to cloud forests. The lowland forest itself houses over 100 species of trees while mostly all of Peninsular Malaysia’s large mammals can be found across its vast terrain.
To get an idea of its vastness, consider this: The park extends across the states of Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu.
There are a series of well-laid trekking trails for visitors – Negeram, Palas and Lubuk Simpan. They vary in difficulty and duration.
Other activities include canoeing, camping and bird watching. Don’t leave without walking one of the world’s longest canopy walkways. You can also take a boat to an orang asli settlement for a glimpse of indigenous life.
Royal Belum Park (Perak)
Forget about Jurassic Park, the Royal Belum Park actually houses limestone hills that date back to the late Jurassic period. Adding to that prehistoric appeal is the fact that the surrounding forests have remained untouched for the past 130 million years. Although you won’t find any dinosaurs roaming here, other animal sightings are possible.
A WWF survey reported that Royal Belum Park is a vital habitat for a number of large mammals such as the Malayan gaur (seladang), Asian elephant, Malayan tiger and Sumatran rhinoceros. Look out too for the tapir, white-handed gibbon and Malayan sun bear.
Entomologist will have a field day here as there are hundreds of species of butterflies, moths and beetles.
Hides have been built around some of the salt licks for visitors to see large mammals at night. As the park borders Thailand, there is a northern element to the flora species.
Go jungle trekking to discover over 3,000 species of trees and flowers. Three species of Rafflesia can be found within Belum. Alternatively, take a boat ride along the numerous river systems to the heart of the rainforest.
Endau-Rompin National Park (Johor)
The second designated national park in the peninsula is also home to one of the most undisturbed lowland forests in Malaysia. What this means is plenty of untouched natural wonder within its vicinity. But don’t mistake that for inaccessible – the park can be explored through many well-marked trails.
Jungle trekking here will bring visitors through various waterfalls, with the most popular one being the 50m-tall Mahkota Falls. Climb up and you will find Gadang Cave hidden halfway.
Don’t travel alone, though! Hire a guide from among the indigenous Jakun tribe who has immense knowledge of the area.
The remote wilderness of the park is a perfect setting for many plants and animals to thrive. Keep an eye out for the beautiful fan palm (livistona endauensis) as well as other rare species.
Large mammals such as wild boar, bear cat and the civet are also a common sight at the grounds. Bird species such as hornbills, Argus pheasants and kingfishers are abundant too.
Penang National Park (Penang)
Consider going for an outdoor adventure instead of a gastronomical one the next time you’re in the Pearl Of The Orient. Penang is home to the world’s smallest national park.
Formerly known as Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve, the Penang National Park is spread across the northwestern tip of the island.
The park has several hilly but well-marked trails, with many of them leading to scenic beaches. The trail to Muka Head will lead visitors to a beautiful lighthouse. Another trail leads to Pantai Kerachut that has a meromictic lake, which is formed from two bodies of water.
There is also a turtle hatchery at the end of the lake. Nesting species are the Green, Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles.
There are a wide range of flora and fauna in the relatively small area. Pitcher plants, orchids and ferns are abundant while the rare flying lemur has been sighted here.
For some recreation, set up camp at the park for a night or two. Teluk Bahang and Teluk Tukun have camping grounds and other recreational facilities.
Kinabalu Park (Sabah)
The majestic Mount Kinabalu, sacred to the people of Sabah, is the prime attraction at this Unesco World Heritage Site. The mountain is home to an impressive range of flora, with more than half of the world’s flowering plants said to exist at the park. Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower, is also found here.
An obvious activity here is climbing up Mount Kinabalu, but if you don’t plan on conquering the mountain, there are other activities on site too. The Poring Canopy Walkway provides a glimpse of forest canopy at its peak of 41m above ground.
Other attractions here include a botanical garden, orchid conservation and a butterfly centre.
About an hour’s drive away from the park is the Poring Hot Springs where you can soak in natural hot tubs and pools.
Recreation aside, the park is home to most of Borneo’s mammals. Some species to look out for include the orang utan, clouded leopard, bearded pig and sun bear. The park reportedly has the most species of stick insects, moths and butterflies in the world. Take a guided walk along the many nature trails here for potential sightings of these creatures.
Batang Ai National Park (Sarawak)
Long fast-flowing rivers beckon at this national park which is located in the southwest of Sarawak, close to the Indonesian border. Its role as an important water catchment area aside, the place is also a vital shelter for protected animals such as the orang utan.
Another highlight are the Iban longhouses upriver. Step into one to experience the traditions and lifestyle of the tribe. The locals are actively involved in the park’s conservation, and visitors are encouraged to use their services (boatmen, guides, porters etc) as the income is channeled back to the community’s development.
The park is an abode for many vibrant species of flora and fauna. Trek through any of the well-marked trails to discover protected wildlife such as the horbills, gibbons and white-fronted langurs.
Along the way, marvel at the park’s rich forests, with its mix of terrains.
NEXT PAGE: Do's and don'ts when visiting national parks