Langkawi is synonymous with ‘tropical paradise’. Since 2008 the archipelago’s official title has been Langkawi Permata Kedah (Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah), no doubt inspired by the island’s clear waters, relatively pristine beaches and intact jungle. The district has been duty free since 1987 and pulling in tourists well before that.
After years of being criticised as a dirty, chaotic border town, Johor’s capital Johor Bahru has been repaved and replanted and is suddenly a lively, appealing place to hang out. Even the sketchy watch salesmen and down-and-out sidewalk lurkers who congregated along Jln Tun Abdul Razak have been swept away by an increased police presence.
Kota Bharu has the energy of a mid-sized city, the compact feel and friendly vibe of a small town, superb food and a good spread of accommodation. A logical overnight stop between Thailand and the Perhentians, KB is a good base for exploring Kelantan. The state’s villages are within day-tripping distance, and its crafts and culture are present in the city itself.
Most travellers use the capital of Kedah, also known as Alor Star, as a jumping-off point to Langkawi or southern Malaysia, but there’s enough around to keep you exploring for a day. This is a very Malay city, culturally rooted in a conservative mindset that references a fairly strict interpretation of Islam and reverence for the local monarchy.
This busy, compact fishing town has everything that travellers passing through on their way to the islands might need: cheap internet, OK sleeping options, grocery stores, cold beer and a pharmacy. The river is clogged with colourful fishing boats, but beyond the riverfront there’s not much to explore.
Fraser’s Hill (Bukit Fraser)
Of all the hill stations, Fraser’s Hill (Bukit Fraser), around 100km north of KL, retains the most colonial charm and attracts a fraction of the visitors of Genting or the Cameron Highlands. Situated across seven densely forested hills at a cool altitude of 1524m, this quiet and relatively undeveloped place is best visited for gentle hikes and bird-watching.
Like Bako National Park 8km to the east, the Santubong Peninsula (also known as Damai) is a 10km-long finger of land jutting out into the South China Sea. The main drawcards are the longhouses of the Sarawak Cultural Village, some beaches, jungle walks, a golf course and a great seafood restaurant in the fishing village of Kampung Buntal.
This hill station, 50km north of KL on the Pahang border, is in stark contrast to the Old English style of other Malaysian upland resorts, its raison d’être being Resort World Genting, a glitzy casino that's the only one in the country. In its slender favour is its cool weather; at 2000m above sea level there’s no need for air-conditioning. The 3.
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. Cultural Riches Mirroring the natural environment's diversity is the region's pot pourri of cultures.
An eye-catching array of monumental architecture amid lush, manicured greenery is on display in Putrajaya, 25km south of KL and 20km north of KLIA. Covering 4932 hectares of former rubber and palm-oil plantations, the Federal Government’s administrative hub was but a twinkle in the eye of its principal visionary – former prime minister, Dr Mahathir – back in the early 1990s.
Kubah National Park
Mixed dipterocarp forest, among the lushest and most threatened habitats in Borneo, is front and centre at this 22-sq-km national park, which more than lives up to its clunky motto, ‘the home of palms and frogs’. Scientists have found here an amazing 98 species of palm, out of 213 species known to live in Sarawak; and they have identified 61 species of frog and toad (www.
The quiet town of Lundu, an overgrown fishing village about 55km west of Kuching, is the gateway to Gunung Gading National Park. The road north out of town leads not only to Gunung Gading National Park but also to two beaches that are popular with Kuchingites on weekends and holidays.