Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei
Entwined by shared history, Southeast Asia’s terrific trio offer steamy jungles packed with wildlife, beautiful beaches, idyllic islands, culinary sensations and multi-ethnic culture. Why I Love Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei By Simon Richmond, Writer For Southeast Asia in a microcosm you can’t beat this trio of fascinating countries.
Imagine a city, with a skyline punctuated by minarets, Mogul-style domes and skyscrapers; imagine colourful, food-stall-lined streets shaded by a leafy canopy of banyan trees. Street Feast It won't take you long to realise that, despite the heat, this is a city best explored on foot.
Pint-sized Sabah occupies a relatively small chunk of the world’s third largest island, yet what a colourful punch it packs: the treasure of turquoise-fringed desert islands with coral reefs swarming with marine biodiversity; trekkers' paradise Mt Kinabalu reaching 4095m into the clouds; and jungles pulsing with a menagerie of bug-eyed tarsiers, gibbons, pythons, clouded leop.
If there's a better microcosm of the exotic east than Penang, we've yet to find it. Located at the intersection of Asia’s great kingdoms and Europe's powerful colonial empires, Penang has long served as the link between Asia’s two halves and an important outlet to the markets of Europe and the Middle East.
Combine three distinct and ancient cultures, indigenous and colonial architecture, shake for a few centuries, and garnish with some of the best food in Southeast Asia, and you've got the irresistible urban cocktail that is George Town. The time-worn shophouses of the Unesco World Heritage Zone will likely spark a desire in some visitors to move here.
This compact Malaysian state's catchphrase – 'Don't mess with Melaka' – sums up its confident attitude. Recent years have seen Melaka capitalise on its illustrious history and assert itself as one of Malaysia’s most irresistible tourist draws. Back in the 15th century, Melaka was one of Southeast Asia's greatest trading ports.
Clifftop temples, dam-flooded wilderness, a mining town now famous for chicken with beansprouts – Perak's highlights are as intriguing as they are varied, but somehow this rugged Malaysian region has never seized its share of the limelight. Time spent unpeeling Perak's layers will reward you richly.
Langkawi, Kedah & Perlis
The states of Kedah and Perlis represent a rural idyll that is central to the Malay identity. Limestone pillars thrust up through emerald paddy fields, which contribute to the harvest of over half of the country’s domestic rice supply. Not that many foreigners see this. In fact, most travellers would draw a blank if you asked them about ‘Kedah’.
For travellers’ purposes there are essentially two Kedahs: the tropical island of Pulau Langkawi and its surrounding islets, and the rural, little-visited mainland Kedah, known as Malaysia’s ‘rice bowl’. Langkawi is the stuff of tourist brochures that don’t skimp on descriptions such as ‘sun-kissed’ and ‘paradise’.
Pahang & Tioman Island
For many visitors, a journey to Peninsular Malaysia's largest state begins and ends on the enchanted isle of Pulau Tioman. Between its exhilarating diving, brilliant beaches, gnarly jungle treks and spirited villages, its tropical-island allure is impossible to resist.
Kota Kinabalu (KK) won’t immediately overwhelm you with its beauty, but you’ll soon notice its friendly locals, breathtaking fiery sunsets, blossoming arts and music scene, and rich culinary spectrum spanning Malay to Japanese, Western to Cantonese, street food to high end.