39 Best Sights in Malaysia

Agnes Keith House

On a hill overlooking town and Sandakan Bay, the home of author Agnes Newton Keith is a trip back in time. American-born Keith came to Sandakan in the 1930s with her British husband, a North Borneo Company official, and wrote books about her experiences. "The Land Below the Wind" introduced Sabah to many Europeans, and "Three Came Home," chronicling Keith's captivity in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, is Keith's best-known work. The 1950 Hollywood film version was partially shot in Sandakan. Keith's two-story wooden villa, destroyed during World War II and rebuilt identically when the family returned in 1946, includes period photos and memorabilia evoking the highs and lows of Keith's time in Sabah. The house was nearly destroyed again during the 1990s before the Sabah Museum restored it. The grounds include exquisitely tended gardens and an observation pavilion with sweeping views of the town and harbor.

Jalan Istana, Sandakan, 90709, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM 15, Daily 9--5

Arked Punggai Beach

Big waves and strong winds characterize this long stretch of beach, where a few resorts are located. Generously shaded by a line of trees, it’s an easy beach to laze the day away on while snoozing and reading with occasional dips to cool off. Locals like to fly kites here because of the steady winds. Amenities: showers, toilets, camping. Best for: solitude, walking.

Tanjung Punggai Pengeran, 81600, Malaysia

Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum

Peranakans, also called Straits Chinese, are descendants of the Chinese who migrated to Malacca and adopted the Malay culture; here you can learn about the history of Malacca and get an inside look at what life was like for these families in the early 20th century. The historical museum is housed inside the stately traditional house of Baba Chan Cheng Siew. A guide leads you on a house tour and tells stories about the families' lives and their belongings, including fine examples of china, jewelry, and silk embroidered panels.

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Batu Layar Beach

A quieter alternative to the busier Desaru Beach, Batu Layar Beach (Sail Rock) is a wide, sandy virgin beach characterized by its sail-shaped rock, a submerged reef with a staghorn coral field. A tranquil spot, it's the perfect place for a picnic and offers easy swimming in the turquoise water.  The beach may be closed during monsoon season. Amenities: Showers; toilets. Best for: swimming, camping, solitude.

Chinatown (Petaling Street)


KL's thriving Chinatown, commonly referred to as Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling (its main stretch of street), is known for two main things: shopping and eating. Here vendors hawk knockoff goods like watches, sunglasses, and T-shirts in the market, and bargaining is expected and essential; a good rule of thumb is to accept one-third the original asking price. You can also find inexpensive souvenirs and knickknacks here, such as wooden bead bracelets and imitation silk coin purses in chinoiserie prints. After shopping, be sure to visit one of the food stalls on or just off Petaling for claypot noodles, barbecue, and Hokkien noodles, or walk five minutes to Central Market, which is filled with local food and tropical juice stalls. Cool down with a glass of air mata kucing, an iced fruit drink made from winter melon (tong kua), monk fruit (lo han kor), dried longan (long ngan), and sugar. The best spot to find it is the Air Mata Kucing stall on the southern end of Jalan Petaling near Jalan Hang Lekir. Also in Chinatown, the Taoist Sze Ya Temple and Hindu Sri Mahamariamman Temple both deserve a visit.

Jalan Petaling Between Jalan Hang Lekir and Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: Free

Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park

Located on an island with the same name, Dayang Bunting features caves and karstic landscapes, but the biggest draw is the Lake of Pregnant Maiden. Local legend has it that the waters in this lake are beneficial to women's fertility. Possibly contributing to this tale is that, from afar, the outline of the lake appears to be shaped like a heavily pregnant woman lying on her back. Go for a dip or rent paddle boats and canoes (RMB20–RMB30) for a quiet ride on the turquoise waters. Watch out for the monkeys on the walk leading to the lake, as they're known to snatch food, drink, and anything shiny, including glasses and earrings. Travel agents throughout Langkawi can help arrange transportation to the island.

Filipino Market

Right by Le Meridien hotel, KK's Filipino Market—formally known as Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Centre—is a maze of stalls, selling a range of crafts and souvenirs from around the region. Look out for traditional woven baskets, dry-food goods, and cultured pearls. Follow your nose and you'll be led to fish and prawns being grilled slowly over little gas stoves and numerous other vendors preparing scrumptious snacks. Evening is the best time to visit.

Jalan Tun Fuad Stepfens Pusat Bandar, Kota Kinabalu, 88000, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: Free, Daily 9--10

Gomantong Caves

These limestone caverns are Sabah's best known source of swiftlet nests, used to make bird's nest soup, Chinese medicines, and other luxury products. The caves are filled with rickety rattan and bamboo scaffolding that villagers use to harvest nests from crevices on cave roofs and walls. Mainly composed of congealed saliva, the most coveted white nests can fetch upwards of US$250 per pound. The dense forest around the caves is full of wildlife and walking trails. Venturing into the caves themselves means wading through bird droppings thick with insects in the dark. The caves are about 2½ hours from Sandakan and are included in some local tours.

Gomantong Hill Lower Kinabatangan, Sandakan, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM 30

Harmony Street (Jalan Tokong)

So-called Harmony Street in Malacca's Chinatown neighborhood (its official name is Jalan Tokong Besi) takes its nickname from the trio of interesting religious attractions found here. The intricately carved Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is Malaysia's oldest Chinese temple, dating from 1646 and still in use as a Buddhist temple while the 18th-century Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple is Malaysia's oldest Hindu temple. The third house of worship is Kampung Kling Mosque, which is not the oldest mosque in Malaysia (that honor belongs to Masjid Kampung Hulu, also in Malacca and built by the Dutch in 1728), but it was finished back in 1868 and is notable for its pagoda-like architecture.

Jalan Tokong Besi, Malacca, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: Free

Islamic Arts Museum

More than 7,000 artifacts make up the permanent collection at Southeast Asia's biggest museum of Islamic arts. Pieces range from delicate jewelry and vibrant tapestries to hand-written Korans and large-scale architectural models. The 12 permanent galleries represent the diversity of Islamic people and the multicultural heritage of Malaysia. If the Arms and Armour gallery doesn't appeal to kids, the Children's Library will; it's packed with books and also offers arts and crafts. Visit the on-site restaurant for a taste of Middle Eastern cuisine, and stop by the gift shop on your way out to pick up Islamic crafts and jewelry to take home.

Jalan Lembah Perdana, Kuala Lumpur, 50480, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM14, Daily 10--6

Kek Lok Si Temple

Southeast Asia's largest Buddhist temple, Kek Lok Si ("Temple of Supreme Bliss") was founded in 1890 by an immigrant Chinese Buddhist. A maze of souvenir stalls leads to Ban Po Thar, a seven-tier tower that displays a Chinese base, a middle tier with Thai architecture, and a Burmese crown on top. On the hillside, above the pagoda, a huge bronze figure of Kuan Yin ("Goddess of Mercy") was completed in 2002. The temple faces the sea, and the view from the cable car and the upper levels is fantastic. During Chinese holidays, particularly Chinese New Year, the temple is a hive of activity and celebration.

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

An irony of deforestation and plantation development is that surviving forest areas become home to a wide variety of wildlife that once occupied a far larger range. The Kinabatangan River flows through rain forest, freshwater swamps, and mangroves, harboring monitor lizards, reticulated pythons, pigtailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, orangutan, and even elephants. Bird life includes such spectacular creatures as the Asian paradise flycatcher, stork-billed kingfisher, brahminy kite, and several species of hornbill venerated by Borneo's indigenous people. Several tour operators offer Kinabatangan trips via Sukau, a village about two hours from Sandakan by boat or road.

Kuan Yin Tong Temple

About a mile from the center of Bintulu, this interesting Chinese temple includes a lovely garden courtyard, koi ponds, a waterfall, and carved Chinese zodiac animals. Three churches are nearby.

Km. 2, Jalan Sultan Iskandar, Bintulu, 97000, Malaysia

Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

This unique facility provides a rare opportunity to check out the endangered and extremely odd-looking proboscis monkey. Found only on Borneo, it's recognizable by its potbelly and distinctive long, bulbous nose. The sanctuary spans hundreds of acres of mangrove forest that had previously been slated for development as an oil-palm plantation. The combination of plantations and deforestation has made the proboscis an endangered species; some estimates say fewer than 5,000 remain. Because of their specialized diet (proboscis monkeys break down their food in a complex digestive process—thus the big bellies), they can't be moved. Efforts are currently underway to protect more of the monkeys' habitat. At Labuk Bay, observation platforms allow good views of the proboscis, as well as silver langurs, maroon-leaf monkeys, and several bird species. The sanctuary is about an hour's drive from Sandakan.

Mile 19 Jalan Labuk Junction SPS 3, Sandakan, 90000, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM 60


These wooden houses on stilts, with thatch roofs and bamboo walls, are the traditional dwellings of Sarawak’s indigenous groups, and (by arrangement) these hospitable people will welcome you inside. You will usually arrive by longboat, and you’ll usually be offered a meal and a tour by gracious hosts—you may even be able to spend the night. A number of longhouses on the Kemena River can be reached within a half-hour drive or boat trip from Bintulu. Any local travel office in Bintulu will help you arrange the tours, usually for around 75 rinngit.

Malacca River Cruise

Now a lot cleaner than it used to be, the Malacca River is worth a short scenic cruise to see old warehouses, churches, Malay villages, and bridges from a different perspective. The facades of many historic buildings along the route have also been painted with murals, making the cruise a bit of an art tour as well. The departure point is next to the Maritime Museum—a minimum of eight passengers is required before they'll leave—and tours last about 30 minutes. It's especially nice to do the cruise at dusk, as the sky changes color, or at night, when many buildings along the way are illuminated (and it's much cooler, weather-wise).

Jalan Tun Sri Lanang, Malacca, 75100, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM16

Mt. Kinabalu

The biggest tourist attraction in Sabah is less than a two-hour drive from KK. Mt. Kinabalu is Malaysia's first World Heritage site and—at 4,095 meters (13,435 feet)—it's the highest peak in Southeast Asia. It's a must-visit for botanists, bird-watchers, and nature lovers. While all climbers need to be in tip-top shape before undergoing the challenge, it is regarded as one of the easier mountains of its height in the world to conquer. Keep an eye out for 800 species of orchids and 600 species of ferns, as well as a glimpse of Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. Those not feeling up for the climb can scour around Kinabalu National Park. While the wildlife is not quite as varied as what you will find at the top, there are still more than 4,000 species of flora and fauna to explore. Surrounding hot springs and treetop walks are also worth experiencing.

Niah National Park and Caves

Thick rain forest covers this gorgeous 12-square-mile park, where caves thought to have been inhabited 40,000 years ago are accessed via a short boat ride (0.50 ringgit). Alight from the boat onto a boardwalk that runs between the caves: the Great Cave, at 820 feet wide, is one of the largest caves in the world; the Painted Cave is filled with ancient rock paintings; and the Traders’ Cave is where bird nests were historically collected for soup—and sadly, they still are, though the practice has been decreasing. The park is about a two-hour drive from the Bintulu pier.

Miri, 98200, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: 10 ringgit, payable at park headquarters, Daily 8–5

North Borneo Railway

Originally constructed in 1886 to transport tobacco to the coast for shipping, North Borneo Railway was restored in recent years to offer travelers a chance to board an old steam train and ride through the coastal towns, rice fields, and rain forests that lead from Kota Kinabalu to the agricultural town of Papar. Two journeys take place per week (Wednesday and Saturday) year-round and last for about four hours. Breakfast and a typical "tiffin" colonial lunch is included in the ticket price and served onboard. Booking is required at least a day before departure.

Penang Botanic Gardens

A nearby cascade of water has given Penang Botanic Gardens the widely known nickname of the "Waterfall Gardens." Originally established by the British back in 1884 out of an old granite quarry site, the gardens lie in a deep valley and feature 30 hectares (75 acres) of tropical forests. Keep an eye out for long-tailed macaques, dusky leaf monkeys, and black giant squirrels, and be sure not to feed the monkeys—there are plenty of signs to remind you and a steep fine for anyone who breaks the law. Don't try and tempt them with snacks or bottled drinks either; they'll simply snatch them from you, occasionally aggressively.

Penang State Museum and Art Gallery

For a better understanding of Penang's rich, multicultural history—and for a break from the heat—duck inside this stately white heritage building, formerly the Penang Free School. The museum introduces visitors to the history of Penang through photographs of old transportation, artifacts that include weapons and betel boxes, and paintings that capture the past. The art gallery houses a collection of modern and contemporary art—a combination of sculpture, prints and videos—from 1965 to the present. The pieces cover themes including urbanization, globalization, and the environment.

57 Macalister Rd, Georgetown, 10400, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM1, Closed Fri.

Perdana Botanical Garden

Formerly named Lake Gardens, this is city's most popular park, dating back to the 1880s and spread over 92 hectares (227 acres) of green. It's built around a man-made lake, and boats are available for rental on the weekends; free tai chi sessions also take place early most mornings, and jogging trails attract plenty of locals. The gardens have a number of interesting sections, including the Bird Park (with some 200 species) and the Butterfly Park, which has more than 7,000 winged creatures fluttering about. There is a café, shaded paths, and gazebos to take a break from the sometimes intense sun, but the gardens are the most comfortable spot to relax in the early morning or late afternoon. Free guided tours are available weekdays 8–10, but you should book in advance via email ([email protected]).

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Petronas Twin Towers

Skyscraper, Skyline, Night, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
FCG / Shutterstock

Completed in 1996, this 88-story twin structure encased in steel and glass is now one of Malaysia's most iconic buildings. The towers were inspired by former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad's vision of an internationally recognized landmark that would symbolize courage and the advancement of the nation—exactly what the Petronas Towers have become to many. Skybridge, the double-decker structure connecting the two towers and also the world's highest two-story bridge, helps form the letter "M" for Malaysia. Take the elevator up to Skybridge, walk across on the 42nd level, and then zip up to the 86th floor to take in the expansive panorama. Note that tickets for Petronas Tower are limited and issued on a first-come, first-serve basis daily, so show up early—doors open at 8:30 am and tickets go quickly. There are plenty of shops and places to eat at the base of the towers. Adjacent is Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park, whose playgrounds and long, inviting pool will keep kids happy for hours. You can also glimpse the towers from a distance at night for a brilliant light show.

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Pinang Peranakan Mansion

More than 1,000 antiques are on display here within this grand 19th-century mansion that was once the home of wealthy Chinese immigrant Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee, who made his fortune in opium. The Kapitan himself was not Peranakan, but he had his home built in Peranakan-style: an eclectic blend of Chinese, Malay, and British influences. The exquisite furniture, clothing, jewelry, and porcelain seen inside this beautiful home is not original to the house itself, though all the pieces are authentic to the region. The house suffered several decades of neglect before being restored and filled with its current furniture and accessories.

Pulau Payar Marine Park

If you've never been snorkeling, the perfect way to experience it for the first time is with a day trip out to Pulau Payar Marine Park, 19 nautical miles off the southern tip of Langkawi. Made up of four islands, the park was established in 1985 as the first marine park in Malaysia. A floating platform off Pulau Payar houses an underwater observation chamber where you can view the marine life surrounding the reef—perfect even for nonswimmers. Everyone else can dive under and get a first-hand look at various types of coral and brightly colored fish. Keep in mind that during public holidays in China, this is a popular activity and can get very crowded. Given the option, it is well worth springing for the buffet lunch package rather than the bagged lunch. Langkawi Coral is one of the main tour operators for the park and can help organize day trips.

Rainforest Discovery Centre

The centre highlights the rain forest ecosystems' contribution to biodiversity and has a fabulous botanical garden, perfect for picnicking. The center is within the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, with its Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Buses direct to Sepilok depart from Sandakan's Jl Pryer bus terminal, with minibus and taxi service also available for the 25 km (15 mile) trip. The last bus from Sepilok to Sandakan leaves at 4.30 pm sharp.

Sabah Museum

Designed to resemble one of the traditional tribal long houses, this modern four-story museum houses an assortment of relics that tell the story of Sabah's history. Ceramics include bowls and jars that date back to China's Song Dynasty (960 AD–1279 AD), and among the artifacts you'll find weapons, musical instruments, and various household items that have been used over the years. Visit the natural history section to learn about animals, birds, and insects that are local to the region, and stop by the museum shop for handicrafts and souvenirs.

Jalan Muzium, Kota Kinabalu, 88300, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM15, Daily 9--5

Sandakan Heritage Trail

Tourism authorities have developed this walking tour, which begins at the Masjid Jamik and takes in all the significant historic sites and attractions. A leaflet is available to guide you.

Lebuh Empat, Sandakan, 90000, Malaysia

Sandakan Memorial Park

At the site of the World War II Japanese POW camp, where the infamous "death marches" to Ranau began, Sandakan Memorial Park commemorates the 1,800 Australian and 600 British soldiers imprisoned here—of which only six escapees survived—along with local residents who risked their lives to assist them. Today, the grounds are a quiet wooded area dotted with rusting hulks of machinery from the camp's forced labor program. A pavilion at the center of park includes testimony from the survivors, plus photographs from guards, inmates, and liberators.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

This 10,600-acre rain forest reserve is the world's most popular place to see orangutan in their natural habitat. Asia's only great ape, the orangutan is the human's third-closest relative (behind chimpanzee and gorilla), sharing 97% of our DNA. A full-grown male may stand five feet tall (a female, about half that) and have an arm span of eight feet. Once found throughout Southeast Asia, orangutan have become critically endangered as their habitat has been destroyed by deforestation. Sepilok prepares illegally captured animals for reintroduction into the wild. Twice-daily feedings, at 10 and 3, give orangutan-in-training a chance to chow down and show off. Guided hikes through the forest are available. There's also an excellent exhibit on orangutan and other endangered species, plus a worthwhile video.

Jalan Sepilok, Sandakan, 90000, Malaysia
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Rate Includes: RM 30