Nowhere fuses epic landscapes with larger-than-life cities quite like Malaysia. One day you’re looking up as orangutans lope languidly through trees, the next you’re letting your hair down in a skyscraper cocktail bar. Here, tea plantations offer a taste of old-world charm while luxury hotels invite you to experience new age Malaysia. Then there are the temples, blissed out beaches, food culture… It’s impossible to do justice to the country in just one visit. But here’s a day-to-night guide to get the very best out of your trip.
MALAYSIA BY DAY
Where to see incredible wildlife
With raw jungle, river treks and mangrove forests – not to mention the one and only orangutans of Borneo – you can almost hear David Attenborough narrating your journey through Malaysia. In the country's heartland lies Taman Negara. This awe-inspiring rainforest is one of the oldest habitats on earth, cobwebbed with hikes and canopy-level walkways. Here, you're likely to see vividly coloured butterflies, hornbills, bison-like gaur, buffalo and even Sun Bears on the hunt for honey. Just keep an eye out for Macaque Monkeys if you pause to eat while trekking through the rainforest – there's no stopping them when they spot food. By contrast, the native Malayan Tapir is much friendlier.
Experienced hikers can tackle the trails that twist and turn through Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve in Penang. While it's home to an array of creatures, most visitors come here to see Malaysia's amazing flora – including the almost otherworldly, carnivorous 'pitcher plants'.
Then again, you don't need to venture far from the city to enter the animal kingdom. Kuala Lumpur's inner city KL Forest Eco Reserve is a protected area of jungle known locally as Bukit Nanas. If you've a head for heights, the canopy walkway puts you (practically) nose to beak with some of the country's beautiful birdlife.
How to go waterfall chasing
East coast Kuantan is the laid-back and lesser-visited side of Malaysia – and all the more enticing for that reason. This is waterfall country. And on a hot, humid day, nothing beats standing in the cooling spray. Sungai Pandan is possibly Malaysia's most picturesque falls. Not far from here are Berkelah Waterfalls too, a towering, seven-tier series of cascades. Bring a picnic – and some solid shoes.
While you're on this side of the country, venture further north towards Dungun where you can visit Air Terjun Chemerong, a tropical nature reserve with an incredible waterfall as its centrepiece. Leading off from the powerful falls are gentle streams and natural pools – perfect for an afternoon dip.
MALAYSIA AT NIGHT
What to eat – and where
The term 'melting pot' could easily have been coined for Malaysia. Its diverse blend of cultures makes for a delicious mix of cuisines. And the best way to sample a little of everything is through street food.
When the sun goes down, more and more street food stalls pop up. In Malacca, follow the scent of satay and chendal to Jonker Street – that's also a hotspot for hipster cafés and bars. George Town is a standout city for street food, particularly from the charismatic jumble of teahouses and shophouses in Chinatown where hawkers dish up some of the best assam laksa (fragrant broth) and char koay teow (stir-fried rice noodles) you can get your chopsticks on.
How to shop, Malaysian style
Forget early morning pottering. In Malaysia, the best shopping is done after dark. As well as street food, you'll find handicrafts and Malay mementoes in pasar malam, or night markets – from Jonker Street in Malacca to almost everywhere in Kuala Lumpur. Look past the bric-a-brac, don your haggling hat and keep your wits about you – it's an entertaining experience.
If you're staying near Kuantan, make a beeline for Jalan Gambut on Saturday evenings or riverside Taman Gelora on Sundays. You can find a beautiful selection of batik here, with street food snacks to keep you going as you browse.
Where to stay…
Many visitors stop and stay in Kuala Lumpur. But the lesser-visited (and less bustling) east coast offers an enticing mix of wildlife and laid-back night-life. Truly tranquil Mangala Resort & Spa lies in a beautiful conservation area, putting everything from guided wetland walks and mountain biking to paddle boating at your feet – or oars.