Enjoying a couple of drinks overlooking the river at sunset makes a visit to Malacca well worth it, but thanks to a huge selection of museums, exhibiting everything from Islamic art to the world's bees, there's plenty to look forward to even on a cloudy day. Ruined Portuguese forts or Jonker Walk in Chinatown; if you're looking for cultural comparisons, Malacca's definitely merit a couple of days.
Just 40km from Kuching, Bako has long provided sanctuary for many of Borneo’s wild animals within protected rainforest, mangrove and coastal habitats. As the only way into Bako is by boat this feels like an adventure right from the start with ocean eroded rock formations and chances to spot proboscis monkeys, flying lemurs and slow lorises, all to be anticipated on a visit to Bako.
Berembun Forest makes for a really convenient escape if you're pushed for time or just fancy a few nights surrounded by nature. Jungle treks to secret tiered waterfalls, visits to the wet market in Seremban and bird watching tours in search of more than 300 species, including five types of hornbill; Berembun maybe just an hour from KL but it's another world away entirely.
Not many beaches in Malaysia do wild and windswept as well as Penang with dolphins, jellies and turtles skirting the shore whilst crab-eating macaques and monitor lizards prowl over golden sands. Follow jungle tracks over melting roots and through fern forests before emerging onto a deserted beach littered in moon shells or keep walking uphill for panoramic views from lighthouse peaks.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre invites a peep at Malaysia's most iconic animals from close quarters – especially if you visit during twice-daily feeding sessions. Logging and hunting are both responsible for orangutans entering Sepilok and finding out more is certain to pull at the heart strings as well as inspire positive action against Borneo's unsustainable and illegal industries.
Over half of Malaysia is tropical rainforest with the national parks of Taman Negara, Penang and Endau-Rompin, all playing their part in protecting natural environments for generations to come. Building a rainforest expedition into an itinerary is the best way to discover the country's unique ecosystems with expert local knowledge certain to help you explore from an educated perspective.
Dive boats offer access to the mesmerising marine world surrounding Lankayan, Perhentian and Tioman islands although it's equally rewarding to don a mask, snorkel and flippers and wade into warm waters, right off the beach. Snorkelling in Malaysia is definitely recommended with island hopping letting you compare fish-filled coral gardens before returning to shore to soak up the sun.
The main island within the Langkawi archipelago offers settings for sun, sea and duty-free without the propensity for profit that has struck numerous other Southeast Asian idylls further up the coast. Although Langkawi Island’s beaches can get busy, particularly in the south, they're still not too overdeveloped with a cable car to the top of Gunung Machinchang one of the best ways to take it all in.
If you like air-conditioned shopping malls than you're in luck as KL is swamped in them to offer visitors an undercover experience without ever having to step foot within the much more authentic Chow Kit wet market or Kampung Baru night market. Forget Petronas; head to Petaling Street instead for an authentic, lively and exciting intro to Malaysia, without the shiny corporate bits on the side.
A trip to Batu Caves, or the remote beaches on Langkawi Island, such as Tengkorak, will involve monkeys. Although they may look like fun from a distance, close up they’re a whole different prospect and if you feed them they will come back for more. Monkeys can be aggressive and will happily steal from children or unsuspecting sunbathers – you have been warned.
It would be a real shame to miss out on the multicultural dishes available in Malaysia. Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and traditional Malay are all on offer, with Mamak and Nyonya street stalls offering the tastiest and most affordable options. From night markets in Malacca to homestays near Kuala Kangsar, dipping into local fare is much more rewarding than searching for home comforts.
Book into a bungalow near Berembun or an Inban longhouse on the Lemanak River but whatever you do, try to avoid spending too much time in an all-inclusive high-rise city hotel. Thankfully, the majority of the country's coastline has remained relatively untouched so keep up the good work and opt for local guesthouses or homestays to get a true sense of life, without the corporate twist.