If you’re heading out to Malaysia and you can’t decide between Borneo and the peninsula, you’re not alone.
A debate that’s troubled the minds of explorers for years, we’ve highlighted the best bits from each to help you decide exactly where to spend your travels. Choose your side, grab the suitcase and let’s go.
Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur is home to an abundance of super-shiny, gargantuan mega-malls. In London they say you’re never more than six feet from a rat, but in Malaysia the same can be said for a mall. For the serial -shopper this is paradise. The population of KL love shopping so much that to avoid the warming walk between malls, they’ve fashioned some kind of rabbit-like tunnel/walkway for humans that stretches 1.173km, linking the Pavilion KL, Impiana KLCC Hotel, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the KCC shopping centre all together. If Gucci dresses and Louis Vitton handbags are your style, then the KL Pavilion in Bukit Bintang well deliver as it is home to some of the flashiest shops this city has to offer.
The Cameron Highlands
Escape the buzz of the city and take a trip to the Cameron Highlands for a taste of rural Malaysian life. Malaysia is proud of its tea industry. There seems to be a tea plantation around every corner that stretches as far as the eye can see, making this a popular destination for the scenery alone. With butterflies so gigantic you could confuse them with colourful pterodactyl-type creatures, the region’s butterfly gardens are impressive, even to the avid gardener. In fact, they’re a great place to practice your up-close photography. Visiting flower gardens, and honey-bee farms and partaking in a spot of strawberry picking are all popular activities for tourists here as all are set amongst stunning green rolling hills. The journey to get here alone is one to remember, as the shoddy road and incredible hairpin bends will keep you on your toes. Stay in a hill resort for easy access to the many trails and don’t forget a light jacket- it’s a lot cooler than the rest of Malaysia due to the elevation.
This stunning island is just a short boat ride from the North East coast and it’s truly a diver’s paradise. The water is crystal clear and the sand is soft and pearly white. Coral reef sharks rove the shallow waters, as well as the thousands of tropical species of fish that weave in and out of the legs of swimmers. This is one of the best snorkel locations in the world. Day trips on Laguna Redang Resort’s boat to the marine parks and incredible dive spots are worth the trip whether you’re a diver or a sunbather. For those with land legs, not sea legs, sunbathing on the pristine beaches with a cocktail in hand is the ideal way to spend your days. Evenings should be spent eating until you can eat no more at the resort’s exceptional buffet, before heading to the nearby beach disco. Get to know the resort’s dive instructor, Chang and if you’re lucky you might get a private excursion to meet the nearby turtles.
The Petronas Towers
Once the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004, the Petronas Towers have since been knocked off the top spot, but still hold the title of tallest twin-towers in the world. The towers dominate the city’s skyline, as their postmodern, futuristic style give Kuala Lumpur the 21st century look. The view from the Skybridge is epic, but stand beneath the towers and simply look up and you’ve found the best view in the entire city. The Petronas Towers are iconic symbols of Kuala Lumpur and are a must see should you be passing through.
What better place to meet these magnificent creatures than in their native habitat? Thousands visit Borneo every year to be in with a chance of getting up close and personal with the native orangutans. A day trip to a rehabilitation centre or a sanctuary is the easiest way to witness them swinging from tree to tree, but populations do still live in the wild. Majestic in nature, intriguing to those who watch, hours could be spent in the forests captivated by their behaviour. Forget your common zoo, this is the closest you’ll come to one of life’s natural marvels.
Kinabulu National Park
Thousands of acres of lush rainforest await exploration on the island of Borneo, but head to Kinabulu National Park for the real pièce de résistance. This stunning World Heritage site is home to Mount Kinabulu, which at 4,095m is Borneo’s tallest mountain. The two-day trek to the top is challenging, but the great thing about Kinabulu is that is easily within the capabilities of those who are allergic to exercise. Catching the sunrise at the peak of this natural feat is on the bucket list of many and it’s easy to see why. Climbers can enjoy sweeping views from the top amid 4,500 species of flora and fauna – including 326 bird species, 100 mammal species and over 110 land snail species. Low’s Peak is iconic, and as the clouds, part and Borneo island are revealed beneath you, you’ll forget all about the trauma of the 2 am start you experienced earlier that morning.
Epic Dive Spots
A dive site that consistently appears in the world’s top ten as well as at the top of the list of must dive places for divers the world over, thousands visit Sipidan every year. The island itself is protected, therefore accommodation on a nearby island is essential, however, all benefit from pristine beaches and glistening blue waters. There are thousands of species passing through these waters daily, ranging from scalloped hammerhead sharks to giant parrot fish. This is an unspoilt paradise for divers that allows for unrivalled exploration of the deep blue sea. Take a boat from the mainland for around 45 minutes and you’ll find yourself in this tropical utopia.
Turtle island lies just 40km off the coast of mainland Borneo and unsurprisingly, this is the place to witness sea turtles in their natural, unspoilt habitat. A stay here will open your eyes to the lives of these unassuming creatures as you are able to witness the collection of eggs, tagging of mother turtles and the release of baby turtles into the sea. The turtles will hatch their eggs during the night, so an overnight stay is a must do. Getting there is simple; head over to Sabah Parks jetty at Jalan Buli Buli Sim and the boat ride to Selingan takes just an hour. The park’s headquarters is located on Selingan and home to a turtle hatchery, tourist accommodation and basic facilities. Visit between July and October when the sea is at its calmest.
And the winner is….
It’s impossible to choose a winner. Whilst Borneo might attract the more adventure-savvy amongst you with a love for all things underwater and activities high in the sky, the peninsula has the hearts of those who enjoy culture and the more relaxing side of life. That said, if you’re heading to that side of the world- why not just try both? Malaysia has it all.