Malaysia’s tourist hotspots among locals, foreign tourists

by AZALEA AZUAR / pic BERNAMA

SINCE Malaysia reopened its international border on April 1, tourist arrival has been surging exponentially and by the end of September, surpassed the initial target of 4.5 million visitors. 

The Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry is now raising the bar, hoping to achieve 9.2 million arrivals for the whole year with an expected tourism receipt of RM26.8 billion. 

Malaysia is a popular tourist destination in South-East Asia (SEA) by virtue of its unique attributes of cultural and religious diversity, variety of food choice, the population’s proficiency in English and recently, due to the ringgit freefall, the dirt-cheap cost.

Nation-wide, there are various established and popular tourist destinations available for the local and foreigners alike to appease their holiday demands. 

Langkawi, Kedah 

Langkawi, an archipelago of 99 islands, is famous for its incredible rock formations, sandy beaches and captivating forests. 

Also known as the “Jewel of Kedah”, the island appeals to tourists with different interests, whether they are thrill-seekers, foodies, explorers of culture or sightseers looking for a relaxing holiday on the beach. 

Apart from the pristine beaches of Pantai Cenang, Tanjung Rhu and Pantai Tengah, tourists can check out the cable car of Gunung Machinchang where they can witness breathtaking views while being ferried to the top of the mountain. 

There are also night markets that bustle with life and hawkers who sell choices from traditional food to accessories. 

Langkawi is also home to more than 150 different species of animals and birds. Currently, the island is on target to receive 2.5 million tourists. 

Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) 

Located in the heart of Malaysia’s capital, both local and foreign tourists alike are never bored of going to KLCC, be it for sightseeing or shopping. 

Of course, the highlight of this bustling area is the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, formerly the tallest twin buildings in the world. 

Underneath the towers is one of Malaysia’s most popular shopping malls, Suria KLCC, where tourists can find everything from souvenirs, local food, interesting activities (Petrosains) to luxury brands. 

The KL Convention Centre, which is a walking distance from the mall, is known to host business events, concerts and conferences. 

Within its vicinity are luxury hotels of international standing such as Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons. 

Batu Caves, Selangor 

Batu Caves is known as a pilgrimage site for Malaysian Hindus to congregate during festivities such as the Thaipusam festival. 

The site was chosen by K Thamboosamy Pillay, a prominent Malaysian of Tamil origin during the pre-independence year. 

The entrance of the main cave resembles Lord Murugan’s spear, a Hindu deity who triumphed over demons in the Hindu folklore. 

More than 10,000 tourists visit during the celebrations at the cave annually. There are a total of 272 flights of steps which are all painted in vibrant colours. 

Genting Highlands, Pahang 

As Malaysia is known for its year-round hot and humid climate, people would flock to Genting Highlands to enjoy the cool environment with temperatures falling to between 10°C and 25°C. 

On top of its cooling climate, Genting’s existential attraction is its casinos, which spread out over 200,000 sq ft with 400 electronic tables, a massive LED screen, eight dining venues and around 3,000 slot machines. 

Genting is also home to the world’s largest hotel, First World Hotel, which has 7,351 rooms, the Arena of Stars — known for international concerts — and a 10.52ha amusement park offering 25 thrill-ride and attractions. 

Since Genting has a subtropical climate, it also has strawberry and honey farms, and butterfly parks, as well as being a great spot for hiking. 

Tourists can also buy Bentong ginger which is well-endowed with nutrients like gingerol, which has medicinal benefits that help to alleviate digestive problems and nausea and respiratory conditions. 

The Stadthuys is among the colonial buildings in Melaka that have been preserved for historical appreciation (pic: Bernama)

Melaka City, Melaka 

Melaka is a historical state in Malaysia and home to one of the first sultanates in the Malay Peninsula. 

The city was listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2008, with remnants of colonial buildings well preserved for historical appreciation. 

Among buildings that have been preserved are the A Famosa, an old Portuguese fort; the Stadthuys, a Dutch city hall; the mosque of Kampung Kling; the Church of St Paul; the Cheng Hoon Teng temple; and the mausoleum of the rogue warrior, Hang Jebat. 

Tourists can head to Jonker Street which is a bustling open-air market on weekend nights with an array of food, souvenirs and entertainment. 

There is also a Portuguese settlement where tourists can explore the culture which has been around since the 1500s. 

George Town, Penang 

Penang is among the first regions to be colonised by the British, with memories of its Commonwealth master echoing at, among others, Fort Cornwallis, St George’s church and Suffolk House. 

Apart from its colonial heritage, the island state is a foodie’s paradise, offering arrays of delicious and authentic street food. 

Malaysians from all over the country flock to this northern island to enjoy authentic nasi kandar, a dish popularised by Indian Muslim traders, which offers steamed rice and an assortment of different curries, sides and condiments. 

Laksa, a type of noodle dish, comes in many different forms across the country but Penang is particularly famous for its spicier and more sour-flavoured assam laksa. 

Another popular tourist attraction is the Kek Lok Si Temple which is one of the largest and finest temple complexes in SEA. 

Since the reopening of the borders, Penang’s international direct flight has increased from 12 weekly flights in January this year to 106 weekly flights in July. 

Mount Kinabalu, Sabah 

Located in Sabah, a part of the Borneo Island, Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in SEA (4,095m) and one of the most hiked mountains in the region. 

It is popular among mountain climbers due to its sunrise view, exotic vegetation and challenging journey. 

In fact, there is an international climb-a-thon held every year which is a hit among European climbers. 

There are also activities for non-climbing tourists as they can visit the foot of the mountain for the Poring Hot Springs or immerse themselves with the 5,000 species of flora and fauna available in the area. 

Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak

This national park is dominated by three mountains — Mulu, Api and Benarat — and covers 52,000ha of primary rainforest. 

It is mostly renowned for its cave networks which display impressive limestone karst formations. 

It is home to the world’s largest underground chamber (the Sarawak Chamber), the world’s largest cave passage (Deer Cave) and the longest cave in SEA (Clearwater Cave). 

Gunung Mulu is accessible either by air via a small airport which lies just outside the park boundary; by land from Miri or Limbang but needs to be combined with some boat rides and hiking; or by boat via Kuala Baram, which may take up more than a day depending on the route and connections. 

Ipoh, Perak 

Being the capital of Perak, this town is known for its charming kopitiams, and its sweet and buttery white coffee. 

The city is located within swathes of lime-stone caves such as the cave temple of Sam Poh Tong and other temples offering distinct Chinese elements. 

Among other attractions is a dedicated area for mural art called the “Mural Art Lane”, featuring Malaysians of all races and backgrounds, scenes from family life and favourite childhood games, as well as Indian and Chinese dances. 

Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu 

Pulau Perhentian consists of two small islands, the Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil. 

With its crystal-clear water and abundant marine life, it is a popular choice for tourists both local and international alike. 

Offering excellent visibility, the corals off Pulau Perhentian is home to the manta ray and reef shark, while sightings of open-sea-habitants, such as barracudas, green turtles and the whale shark, are also common within its water boundaries. 


  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition