5 Ways to Get Off the Beaten Path in Malaysia

From exploring island getaways to trekking through ancient rainforests, Meg Koffel from Intrepid Travel explores lesser-known Malaysia.


Photo © Getty Images/John Seaton Callahan

Perhentian Islands

Off the east coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are considered to be some of the most beautiful in the world. The Perhentian Islands are home to unspoiled reefs, colorful coral, crystal-clear water and white sand. Time can be spent snorkeling, swimming, trekking into the inland jungle, exploring the nearby islands or just lying in a hammock - bliss!

For those with experience, there is also the option to scuba dive in this pristine area, where you might be lucky enough to spot local sea turtles in their natural habitat.

Snorkeling with sergeant major reef fish. Photo credit: Getty Images/andy_lim


Once the most important trading port in Malaysia, Melaka attracted Chinese, Indian, Dutch, Portuguese as well as British traders, all seeking wealth or an opportunity to control the Straits of Malacca, a vital trading route between the Indian and Pacific oceans. All these traders left their mark on the town, and although the effects of recent economic growth are apparent, the town still retains its old-world charm.

The old port town of Melaka is the place to wander the narrow streets to absorb the atmosphere of this historically important town. The streets of Chinatown are lined with Peranakan (Straits Chinese) shop houses allowing some insight into how locals lived in days gone by. Make sure you tour this area in a trishaw and hear about the ancient spice trade. There are also temples, churches and mosques, museums and forts to visit which will be waiting for you to explore.

Today, Melaka's multicultural past is revealed in the distinctive cuisine, known as Nyonya. Nyonya food is famous to the Straits Chinese and is a colorful fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisine. Make sure you try a traditional Nyonya cooking class.

The river city of Melaka in Malaysia. Photo credit: Getty Images/Fariz Abdullah/EyeEm

Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands were a favorite getaway of the colonial British looking for tranquillity, beauty and an escape the humidity of the jungles. Named after William Cameron, a British surveyor who was commissioned by the then colonial government to map out the area in 1885, the Cameron Highlands has an exceptional ecosystem. The Highlands are home to tea plantations, vast forests, waterfalls and rolling green hills. The journey to the highlands is very scenic and the average temperature is around 10 degrees Celcius.

Intrepid travel tip: visit the Boh Tea Plantation for some tea-tasting and incredible photos of the picturesque plantations.

The vibrant green Cameron Highlands. Photo credit: Getty Images/Ng Hock How

Taman Negara National Park

The ancient rainforest of Taman Negara National Park is considered to be one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Experience a canopy walk high in the trees to get a monkey's point of view of this magical place. Head upstream for one hour in longtail boats, to brave the low-level rapids and enjoy a refreshing swim surrounded by rainforest jungles.

Another option is to trek along purpose cleared paths through primary and secondary jungle to see the crystal-clear waters of the Tahan River. Along the way, you might be lucky enough to spot some of Malaysia's extraordinary wildlife including many exotic birds. The walking isn't overly challenging, but a good level of fitness is required as the humidity can affect even the fittest trekker.

For the more adventurous, you can continue to walk for 30 minutes past the cascades further upstream and then return back down the Tahan River in small dugout canoes.

Hiking in Taman Negara National Park. Photo credit: Getty Images/Moritz Wolf

Island hideaway

On Intrepid trips through Malaysia we stay at a small homestay run by our long-term friends Aziz and Asiah, located on a picturesque lake just outside of Kuala Kangsar.  At our homestay, we can listen to the morning calls of gibbons, and take a walk through a traditional kampung (village) and rubber plantations. Our walk ends at a cascading waterfall where we take a refreshing swim before returning to the lake to try out your kayaking skills or, if you prefer, simply relax. The walk takes a few hours and is not difficult but you will get wet.

During the course of our stay, be prepared for a memorable cultural experience. We enjoy a traditional banquet of regional delicacies, eating with our hands, wearing sarongs and also get plenty of opportunities to delve further into Malay culture.

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