Top 10 gems in Malaysia


Surrounded by greenery: Kenyir Lake in Terengganu is a tourist paradise. (Photo was taken before the Covid-19 pandemic)

THERE’s no better time to be a domestic tourist. For Klang Valley folk looking for a change of scenery away from the concrete jungle, StarMetro lists some off-the-beaten-track destinations to explore around the country, some of which are even Unesco World Heritage sites.

1. Mantanani Islands, Sabah

You’ve heard of Redang Island and Tioman Island, but what about Mantanani Islands?

Located off the north-west coast of Sabah, and facing Kota Belud, is a group of three small islands: Mantanani Besar, Mantanani Kecil and Lungisan.

It’s about an hour from the mainland by speedboat.

The islands’ clear aquamarine waters make it a popular destination for diving and snorkelling. As the waters have a visibility of up to 40m, it’s easy to watch the diverse marine life such as seahorse, imperial shrimp and blue-ringed octopus.

In the evening, activities in the area include kayaking and cruises to watch the sun set over South China Sea.

Visitors to the Royal Belum State Park can enjoy lake cruises and visits to waterfalls. — FilepicVisitors to the Royal Belum State Park can enjoy lake cruises and visits to waterfalls. — Filepic

2. Royal Belum State Park, Perak

Dating over 130 million years old, the Royal Belum State Park is possibly the oldest rainforest in peninsular Malaysia and is part of the Central Forest Spine, a hotspot for biodiversity. It is also a Unesco World Heritage site.

The endemic flora and fauna, including gigantic rafflesia flowers, are a big draw for nature lovers. There are trekking tours led by certified guides, besides activities such as river cruises, fishing as well as visits to waterfalls and lakes.

Overnight stays at Orang Asli villages can also be arranged.

Other tours include birdwatching and cruise on Temenggor Lake.

3. Qing Xin Ling Leisure & Cultural Village, Perak

Hidden in the hills of Ipoh is a picturesque cultural village some 20 minutes outside the city.

For a small fee, visitors gets to enjoy scenic views of a beautiful mirror lake surrounded by mountains, reminiscent of Guilin’s landscape in China.

Activities at the cultural village include jungle trekking, cycling, barbecue and feeding fish. Ducks, geese and even tortoises can be seen at the lake.

For Instagram buffs, there are old-style street stalls and shops beside the lake in addition to 3D art murals here.

Visitors can also have their fortunes told or make a wish at the giant banyan tree that is covered with red ribbons.

Bicycle and trishaw rental is available for those who wish to explore the surrounding area.

Tickets need to be purchased a day in advance from the Kota furniture shop in Ipoh, which is a 10-minute drive from Qing Xin Ling.

4. Balik Pulau, Penang

Many may not be familiar with this section of Penang island because as its name suggests, it is somewhat hidden and less developed. But therein lies its charm.

Like the state capital George Town, Balik Pulau also has street art murals.

Drawn by Siberian-born Russian artist Julia Volchkova, the iconic murals of Balik Pulau like “Wrinkled Old Fisherman”, “The Silat Master” and “Hakka Dancing Girl” depict a bygone way of life.

Balik Pulau also offers a variety of mouthwatering delicacies such as Kim’s famous laksa at Nan Guang Kopitiam.

The shop serves traditional Penang asam laksa as well as siam laksa, which are popular with locals and tourists.

At Nada Natural Farming, food and drinks served at its cafe are made from locally sourced ingredients, some which are grown at the farm itself.

City slickers who would like to experience farm life can visit Saanen Dairy Goat Farm.

The family-run farm sells goat milk products and offers experiences such as feeding and milking the goats.

As Penang is known for its nutmeg products, pay a visit to the nutmeg factory in Balik Pulau where tourists can see the fruit being processed.

However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the tours may not be available.

The Pinnacles at Mulu National Park require a few days’ trek to reach.The Pinnacles at Mulu National Park require a few days’ trek to reach.

5. Mulu National Park, Sarawak

Mulu National Park was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2000.

Home to one of the world’s most spectacular caves, the park is known for its limestone karst formations.

Visitors can watch a bat exodus at the Deer Cave, one of the world’s largest cave passages, which is home to more than three million bats.

The many other caves to be explored here include Clearwater Cave, Wind Cave and Lang Cave where there are a plethora of mineral formations such as limestone shawls.

Those exploring the jungle will discover gems like the Paku Waterfall, while those who opt for the Canopy Skywalk will enjoy a bird’s eye view of the forest as they walk above the treetops. There are also night walks to see fireflies and the occasional nocturnal animal.

Those seeking more extreme experiences can climb to The Summit or take a three-day trek to the Pinnacles, also known as Mount Api.

6. Kebun-Kebun Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur

Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is a 1.01ha community vegetable garden in Kuala Lumpur built by a group of passionate volunteers with the intention of feeding the underprivileged.

Located outside the city centre, the community garden has a variety of vegetables and animals such as cows and chickens that visitors can feed and pet.

Visitors also have the option of volunteering there. There is no entrance fee. Instead, visitors are encouraged to donate towards the garden’s maintenance.

The Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary gives visitors a chance to enjoy close-up experiences with elephants. — Photo courtesy of Pahang TourismThe Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary gives visitors a chance to enjoy close-up experiences with elephants. — Photo courtesy of Pahang Tourism

7. Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, Pahang

Situated approximately two hours from Kuala Lumpur is the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah, Pahang.

The sanctuary was established within the Krau Wildlife Reserve in 1989.

It is managed by the Wildlife and National Parks Department that uses the sanctuary to spread awareness on Asian elephants, which are an endangered species.

The sanctuary is open to visitors who are keen on having a close-up experience with elephants.

Visitors can feed the elephants, go on elephant rides and bathe with them.

While entrance is free, visitors are encouraged to make donations to help sustain the sanctuary and the elephants’ upkeep.

8. Kenyir Lake, Terengganu

Kenyir is one of the largest man-made lakes in South-East Asia, and the largest in Malaysia. It was made a dam between 1978 and 1985 to produce hydroelectric power.

Visitors can charter a boat from the Pengkalan Gawi jetty to access many of the sites around the area.

There are also a few houseboats available for rental.

Tourists can enjoy canoeing and water rafting at the lake and in the surrounding area.

Other activities available in the area include fishing, birdwatching, visiting waterfalls and jungle trekking.

City folk can experience life on a farm at Desa Dairy Farm in Kundasang. — Photo courtesy of Desa Dairy FarmCity folk can experience life on a farm at Desa Dairy Farm in Kundasang. — Photo courtesy of Desa Dairy Farm

9. Kundasang, Sabah

At the foothills of Mount Kinabalu is Desa Cattle Dairy Farm.

With the cows, blue skies, green pastures and magnificent hills in the background, this farm can easily pass off as one in New Zealand.

Visitors get to feed the calves with bottled milk and feed goats with grass, besides seeing how the milking of cows is done.

Apart from fresh milk, fresh yoghurt ice cream is also available at the farm.

Also in Kundasang is Sabah Tea Garden. The plantation offers tours to its tea factory to show how tea is processed.

For those who are seeking a little more adventure, there is the option of paragliding to take in the spectacular view of Kundasang from the sky.

Water chalets at Sipadan Island – Photo courtesy of Amazing BorneoWater chalets at Sipadan Island – Photo courtesy of Amazing Borneo

10. Semporna, Sabah

Semporna has long been known to diving enthusiasts globally as the gateway to Sipadan Island, which is famous for its magnificent underwater views.

The port town is also the means to reach the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, a group of eight islands with dive sites.

Sea turtles, beautiful corals, dolphins and — occasionally — whales can be spotted here.

A diving licence is required for deep-water activities at Sipadan Island. Those without one have the opportunity to earn a licence here.

Among the popular tourist activities here are snorkelling and island-hopping off Semporna.

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