Islands and beaches
If beaches are your weakness then Malaysia should sit right at the top of your vacation wish list. From the sweeping shorelines of the peninsula’s east coast, to the emerald green islands that rise up out of the South China Sea like precious gemstones, there’s an endless amount of sand to sink your toes into. Work your way down the coast of Terengganu for vivid yellow grains and warm seas before hopping on board a boat and setting off on a spot of island hopping, kicking off your tour on the Perhentian Islands. Book yourself into a rustic wooden beach hut on smaller island Kecil, or opt for a more luxurious stay on big brother Besar; either way you’re guaranteed the finest of sugar white sands and sparkling aquamarine seas, served up alongside some pretty spectacular dive and snorkelling spots. With no roads at all you’ll have to navigate by water taxi or take on the island’s dense forest interior – just watch out for monitor lizards, they come pretty big here.
From the Perhentian’s carry on down the coast to Redang Island, the largest of the Redang archipelago of nine islands and blessed with marine park status. The longest beach on Redang Island is Pasir Panjang (which also happens to be a nesting ground for baby sharks – we’re assured they’re harmless), but for a slice of secluded island luxury head off to Teluk Dalam, a palm-fringed private cove carpeted with powdery beaches. Our final desert island destination goes by the name of Tioman and lies just off the coast of Pahang. Shaped like a teardrop and teaming with colorful marine life, this little landmass is the stuff of fairytales. Explore its lush rainforests and towering mountains on an adrenaline-fuelled adventure, or simply sit back and take in the views from the sand.
Malaysia’s largest and oldest national park, Taman Negara straddles three different states (Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu), and is an eco-lover’s dream destination. With a unique and complex ecosystem, this is the place to really get a feel for the Malaysia rainforest and perhaps spot a tiger or two. In fact, there is a whole catalogue of rare animals to be found within these dense topical remits, from Crab-eating Macaques to Sumatran Rhinos and Asian Elephants. We’d recommend communing with nature on a night walk through the jungle, or for those less inclined to venture out after dark, a daytime trek up Tersik Hill offers some pretty impressive panoramas. Another national park well worth exploring can be found at Endau Rompin. A great place to try your hand at some on-the-water exploration, Endau Rompin offers heart-pumping rapids as well as majestic waterfalls and sleepy streams.
The urban east coast
After you’ve acquainted yourself with the hustle and bustle of KL, hop across to the other side of the island to experience city life on the east coast. Moving to a much more laid back beat, the urban east coast is still primarily focussed on fishing, fusing the city with the sea. Start off at Kota Bharu, right up on the northeast coast of Kelantan, close to the mouth of the Kelantan River. A deeply religious city, Kota Bharu houses several mosques and a conservative population – something to bear in my mind on route to the beach. With so much to see spread across the city, make sure to take your time here – wandering amongst vibrant markets and stopping off for a bite to eat at a street-side food stall. Word of warning though, the food here is served on hot side.
Your next stop on route down the coast is the state capital of Terengganu and seat of the sultan. A vibrant town which retains elements of its humble past as a small fishing village, Kuala Terengganu is a great place to experience authentic Malay culture. Peruse the craft workshops in search of handmade batik, before climbing up to the top of Bukit Puteri (or Princess Hill) for incredible views over the city. Last but not least on the urban tour, swing by the capital of Pahang, Kuantan. Known for its stunning beaches as well as its bustling local markets and beautiful old colonial buildings, this is the ideal springboard from city to beach.