George Town, Penang
The colonial city of George Town is the island of Penang’s multicultural capital. It’s architecture is a highlight, with British colonial buildings, romantic crumbling shophouses and magnificent mosques in the oldest part of the city. It also has some absolutely stunning, unique Chinese temples that can’t be found anywhere else in Southeast Asia, including Khoo Kongsi, arguably the most spectacular of all. Built by Khoo clansmen over a century ago, its lineage can be traced by 650 years. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s also considered one of Southeast Asia’s best destinations for sampling amazing street food of all types, including local Malay, Indian and Chinese.
Malacca City, Malacca
According to legend, Malacca was founded when Parameswara (circa 1400) was inspired by the courage of a mouse deer. This decision would foreshadow the bravery later required of the locals, because Malacca would be colonized not once or twice, but three times over the course of the next 500 years. The marks of colonization colour (quite literally) the city center, of which the Stadthuys is the most well-known.
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Home to the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, nowhere can compete with Sabah when it comes to hiking. Hikers typically set aside two to three days to conquer all 13,435 ft (4,095 meters) of Mount Kinabalu, and it’s advisable to book lodgings in advance. For the less adventurous, Kota Kinabalu (fondly known as ‘KK’) also offers a variety of other attractions, including the Gaya Street Sunday Market and the Klias River Cruise.
Located off Malaysia’s northeast corner in the Andaman Sea, the Langkawi is the country’s top island destination, with Langkawi the main island in the archipelago of 104. The island is famous for its jaw-dropping scenery with idyllic powdery sand beaches, azure waters and coastal mangrove swamps, though its inland areas that include a largely untouched rainforest are pretty spectacular too. Langkawi offers all of the usual beach activities as well as hiking and an abundance of popular tourist attractions, including the largest indoor aquarium in the country, the tomb of Mashuri and Oriental Village. Lake of the Pregnant Maiden is a beautiful body of water surrounded by lush green mountains that’s known as one of the island’s most romantic spots, and it’s even purported to help make women more fertile.
This shy, unassuming city in Perak offers a number of interesting, non-tourist-filled attractions. The historic Kellie’s Castle, also known as ‘Kellie’s Folly’, offers a fascinating architectural blend of Moorish, Scottish and Tamilvanan Indian elements. But if old (and possibly haunted) castles are not for you, the Tempurung Cave is another popular attraction, especially for spelunkers. Large chambers, impressive stalagmites and walking tours of various lengths make this cave a soul-humbling and feet-challenging experience.