Malaysia offers a fascinating mix of cultures that combines Indian and Chinese traditions in a tropical paradise. The country’s unique location on both peninsula and an island has protected much of the landscape and wildlife, while other parts of southeast Asia suffered destruction from thoughtless human intervention. Today Malaysia is actively working to preserve the natural beauty of the country and eco-tourism is both welcome and encouraged by locals.
Life’s a Beach
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Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah, is an archipelago of 105 islands that have remained pristine. With so much coastline you would expect a variety of beach types and travellers can enjoy sandy stretches, rocky cliffs and forested hills. The main island Pulau Langkawi has been designated as a World Geopark by UNESCO and three geo-forest parks make up the bulk of the conservation area.
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The five Perhentian Islands are all part of a protected marine park. Take the ferry -not a speed boat - to the islands and then enjoy backpacking through the hills. Be a good steward and bring a bag of trash back to the mainland with you.
Sipadan Island is one of the top five dive spots in the world and was described by Jacques Cousteau as an untouched piece of art. Circle the island with a pleasant half-hour walk and see how many different bird species you can spot in this tiny bird sanctuary. Divers can usually meet up with turtles, parrotfish and barracudas as they swim around the coral.
Pulau Redang is a group of nine islands off the Terengganu coast and is also a popular dive spot. Not only are there amazing species to be seen in this protected Marine Park, there are two shipwrecks that have been underwater since World War II. No fishing or coral collecting, but plenty of exciting things to look at both under and over the water.
Just Park It
Taman Negara means “national park” and this one has been so designated since 1938. It’s the oldest tropical rainforest in the world and is a popular eco-tourism site. A number of rare mammals live in the protected region and a canopy walkway system has been set up to allow sightseeing of the forest canopy without disturbing habitats.
The Tabin Wildlife Resort offers a chance to spend more time in a natural setting. The Resort works with the Reserve to let visitors view wildlife and take specialized tours. If travelling with a tour group, choose one such as G Adventures that includes reserves in its packages.
Belem-Temenggor is another 130-million-year-old rain forest and several portions are protected. The Royal Belum State Park is within the forest and there are plans to put the entire region under the protection by the Maylaysian National Forestry Act. Despite the obvious value of the rainforest, much damage has already been done by deforestation. Encouraging eco-tourism in the area may also encourage the government to provide greater protection to the forest as Belem-Temenggor brings travel money into the economy.
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The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is within the Nature Reserve of the same name and rehabilitates injured or captured animals, mainly orangutans. If you want to see these remarkable apes, the Centre is one of the best places in Malaysia to do it. Tour the centre during feeding times and you’ll see the semi-wild animals returning from the forest to grab a free meal. Other endangered species may be present, but none are as prevalent as the orangutan.
Trek Through the Trees
Tawau Hills National Park is a nice spot to stop for a picnic and some photos. You can camp there and take advantage of the great trails and take the trek up Gunung Magdalena, the highest point in the park.
Ulu Muda Eco Park is different from most other parks in that it has salt licks, limestone caves and hot springs. Go there to see lizards and birds rather than mammals and plan on some hiking if you stay in the area. Ulu Muda is very remote and the only practical way to get there is by taking a tour.
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Mount Kinabalu National Park has the highest peak in southeast Asia and a hike up Kinabalu will take you through four climate zones and over 5,000 varieties of flowering plants. Several hundred species of mammals and birds also call the mountain home and UNESCO has recognized the park as a World Heritage Site.