With diverse cultures of Malay, Chinese and India – a hotchpotch of many wonderful influences – Malaysia truly is a multi-faceted country, boasting rich historical heritage; traditional and modern architecture and breathtaking natural beauty.
Malaysia Peninsular has a thriving metropolis in Kuala Lumpur , but head towards the coast and dotted islands and you are lucky enough to walk on some of the world’s most stunning beaches. Cutting across the South China Sea, you enter a different landscape altogether – lush tropical rainforests, nationals parks, and the home to the famous Borneo Orangutans.
Hubby and I have visited Malaysia twice, the first time separately, during our backpacking adventures, and the second time as a couple. The first time I went, it was more of a travel-through to get overground to Singapore , before I flew to Indonesia. Travelling from the bottom of Thailand, we stopped in Penang and continued south towards Kuala Lumpur.
I didn’t appreciate my time there, it was a blur, which is why I was determined to go back and enjoy some of what the country had to offer. Hubby didn’t take much persuasion – but on a limited time frame it was difficult to decide where to stay.
We are beach lovers, while I enjoy scuba diving and snorkelling and was keen to do both. But Malaysia has so many wonderful beach resorts such as Langkawi. It’s a large country and rather than spending most of our time travelling it, after much deliberation we chose to go to the Perhentian Islands, followed by Tioman Island. But our first stop was to re-visit Malaysia’s capital city KL.
There is no denying that Asia does luxury on a grand scale – and for a relatively modest price. Unlike western counterparts, you can pick yourself up a real bargain if you’re prepared to look around.
We stayed at The Mandarin Oriental, located next to the Petronas Towers and the City Centre Park. It is centrally located and has all the facilities and modcons you would expect from the luxury chain of hotels. I will never forget walking into the grand foyer, with all its sparkles and shiny marble floors in our flip flops, with the porter carrying our beaten-up old rucksacks. We looked really out of place, but soon settled into our upgraded suite and hurried down to the plush infinity pool which overlooks the park.
And at the time, all for the bargain price of around £80 per night. Okay, so it’s gone up since then, but you’re still looking at around £110, which, for 5-star luxury, isn’t extortionate, considering some TravelLodges in London charge more.
We only spent two days here, before heading to the islands. But we made the most of our time by taking a stroll around Merdeka Square and consequently going to China Town to grab some street food. Then exploring the Golden Triangle, the modern part of downtown KL. It was just fun soaking in the sights and sounds of street life and the markets.
The Perhentian Islands
These beautiful pair of islands, Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil, just off the east coast, is a snorkelling and diving haven, with white sandy beaches framed with palm trees. It’s suitable for all budgets. This was the mainstay of our whole trip, and just a few hours from KL via an internal flight and then a couple of hours by car to the small fishing village of Kaula Besut – where we hopped on to a speedboat and found paradise.
We stayed on the big island (Besar) at the Tunabay Island Resort, which is on a quiet part of the island. It’s a small, family-run hotel, with air-conditioned chalets overlooking the South China Sea. We literally hopped off our verandah and on to the beach. They also offer jungle and garden chalets as well as family-sized accommodation. Amenities were clean and basic, and there is only one bar and one restaurant which serves fresh seafood and has an extensive choice. On this part of our trip we were more budget conscious – and with seaview chalets from £80 per night, it was a slice of paradise for next to nothing…
- Going swimming with turtles
- Scuba diving and snorkelling – Tuna Bay has a brilliant dive centre
- Boat hopping and exploring Kecil
- Trekking and exploring Besar
- The red mullet steamed in banana leaves. It was delicious
- Doing absolutely nothing
After spending a glorious week in the Perhentians, we felt we needed more white sandy beaches, and more lazing around in the sun – as if a week was enough! So we made our way back further south and took a 1-hour plane journey over to Tioman Island.
Famous for being the setting for 1958 musical South Pacific (I’m gonna wash that man right outta of my hair… doop dee doop), Tioman Island was only beginning to attract tourists – with a small cluster of boutique hotels on offer including ours. Peaceful and tropical, there were points throughout our stay where we felt like the only people there.
We upgraded this time and opted for plush resort Japa Mala and, even though it was still being built in parts, this didn’t detract from the feeling of luxury and the staff’s attention to detail (although the breakfast chefs were unsure how long to boil eggs after I broke into one and it was still raw!).
We chose to stay in a treetop chalet (from £125 per night). We really did feel at one with nature, particularly at night when our room was infested by bugs… but hey, that’s a minor complaint seeing as we were situated in the jungle canopy – we had a fantastic view! As I mentioned previously, Japa Mala was planning to expand the resort and I believe that things have changed for the better – they now have a spa, another restaurant and more excursions. It was very quiet when we stayed – not that it was a bad thing… but it did lack atmosphere.
If you want a slice of paradise and want to get off the usual tourist package holiday conveyor belt, then Malaysia is a wonderful destination. Once you’re out there, it’s relatively cheap to eat and drink, and meanwhile, the scuba diving and snorkelling is second to none. We still haven’t visited Borneo or Sipidan Island, which is one of the best diving sites in the world, but it’s certainly on our very long list of places to go. And we’re so glad to have gone back again. It certainly won’t be for the last time…
KL Chinatown image: Flickr: Mahmood Al-Yousif