Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Escape the Crowds in Perhentian Islands
Tired of busy beaches packed with tourists? Looking to find a slice of paradise away from the crowds? Then head to the Perhentian Islands off the northeastern coast of peninsular Malaysia.
Made up of two main islands, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, this islands are known for their idyllic white sand beaches, lush tropical jungles, and crystal clear waters teeming with marine life. It's easy to imagine you've landed in your own private island paradise here.
The Perhentians attract far fewer visitors compared to more popular beach destinations like Langkawi or the Cameron Highlands. And even during the peak season from March to October, it's easy to find secluded stretches of sand to yourself if you know where to go.
On Perhentian Besar, head to the western beaches which are only accessible by boat or jungle trekking. These include secluded gems like Turtle Beach, Shark Bay, and Arwara Beach that see very few tourists. The east coast also has quieter options like Adam and Eve Beach.
For ultimate seclusion on Perhentian Kecil, take a short boat trip to smaller neighboring islands like Susu Dara. The coral reefs and excellent snorkeling here more than make up for the lack of development.
If you prefer some amenities while still avoiding crowds, try beaches on the northern tip of Perhentian Kecil like Coral Bay or Ayer Batang. The west coast beaches here hide away from the main tourist hubs but still offer basic accommodation and restaurants within reach.
Avoid the southern beaches of Perhentian Kecil around Long Beach and Pasir Panjang if escaping crowds is your goal. These popular spots attract both families and the party crowd, especially come nightfall.
Wherever you choose to go on the Perhentians, be sure to respect the fragile environment. Limit your impact by not littering, anchoring boats away from coral, and avoiding tour operators who feed or otherwise harass marine wildlife.Following sustainable practices will ensure these islands remain an unspoiled paradise for future generations of travelers seeking the road less traveled.
What else is in this post?
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Escape the Crowds in Perhentian Islands
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Discover Royal History in Kota Bharu
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Immerse in Nature at Taman Negara National Park
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Wander Through Colorful Street Art in Penang
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Taste Laksa in Kuala Lumpur's Petaling Street Market
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Explore Rainforests and Caves on Tioman Island
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - See Fireflies Light Up the Night in Kuala Selangor
- Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Relax on the Beaches of Langkawi
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Discover Royal History in Kota Bharu
Step back in time and immerse yourself in the royal history and traditions of Kota Bharu, the capital of the Malaysian state of Kelantan. This conservative Islamic city offers a window into Malaysia's past, where you can still glimpse the grandeur and rituals of the royal courts that once held sway here.
Start your journey into Kelantan's history by visiting Istana Jahar, the Grand Palace built in 1887 during the reign of Sultan Muhammad II. This beautiful wooden palace gives you a taste of the opulent lifestyle of Kelantan's rulers, with its dazzling interior of intricate woodcarvings, sparkling chandeliers, and royal artifacts. Don't miss the chance to watch a traditional Shadow Puppet performance bringing Kelantan folk tales to life.
Next, head over to Istana Batu, the Palace Museum exhibiting the royal collection of artifacts gifted over centuries to Kelantan Sultans. Marvel at the fine china, jewel encrusted weaponry, and stunning reproductive arts as you learn about the customs and ceremonies of the Kelantan courtly past.
For the full royal treatment, time your visit with the weekly audience with the Sultan at the Balai Besar or main audience hall. Witness firsthand the pomp and circumstance as commoners and dignitaries alike pay homage to the seated Sultan. It's a rare chance to be part of living history.
While in Kota Bharu, you can also catch a unique cultural performance called Mak Yong, a dance drama with its origins in the Kelantanese royal courts. Traditionally performed only for Sultans, it is now shown at Cultural Centers around town.
The Spirit of Kelantan Wayang Kulit troupe at the nearby Gelanggang Seni also puts on Shadow Puppet shows that provide insight into Kelantan's myths and royal legends. Don't miss taking in one of their entrancing performances.
For more royal rituals, visit the Royal Museum housed within Istana Telipot. Displays showcase Kelantan's royal ceremonies, traditions, and way of life. One exhibit provides an up-close look at elaborate royal weddings.
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Immerse in Nature at Taman Negara National Park
If you want to truly immerse yourself in Mother Nature and witness her boundless glory, there's no better place in Malaysia to do it than Taman Negara National Park. Spanning over 4,300 square kilometers, this pristine rainforest is one of the world's oldest and it positively teems with biodiversity at every turn. Endless treks reveal exotic flora, close encounters with wildlife, and breathtaking scenery that proves Malaysia is so much more than just beaches.
One could spend weeks exploring Taman Negara's trails and still not see it all. But highlights for nature lovers include the Canopy Walk, an adrenaline-pumping stroll across sky bridges suspended high above the forest floor. Get a bird's eye glimpse of monkeys, exotic birds, and epiphytes up here. The Lubok Simpon is another must-visit – a series of natural swimming holes and mini-rapids perfect for splashing about in the heart of the jungle.
Or take the trail through dense forest from Kuala Tahan up to Gunung Tahan, Malaysia's highest peak at 2,187 meters. The 3 day hike takes you across rivers, through remote Orang Asli villages, and eventually above cloud level to summit sunrise views. The more adventurous can trek to remote corners of Taman Negara now accessible via newly cut trails, with the promise of extra tranquility.
And you simply can't leave without a night safari to spot nocturnal residents. Creep silently downriver by boat, keeping eyes peeled for shy tigers, elephants, tapirs, civets, flying squirrels and more that only emerge in the dark. Just be sure to bring binoculars and a flashlight! During the day, go fishing for giant freshwater fish like the kelah, temoleh and sebarau that inhabit the park's rivers.
But humans aren't the only ones fishing. Watch along riverbanks for kingfishers swooping acrobatically, snatching their prey. Hornbills squawk overhead through high canopy and long-tailed macaques peer from branches. Deer, tapir, mouse deer and more may visit the mineral licks to supplement diets. Though elusive, tigers and leopards prowl, so exercise caution.
The sounds of the jungle are just as extraordinary. An orchestra of buzzing and chirping insects, bird calls, and primate hoots. The trees themselves make music, creaking and groaning as they sway in the breeze. Rainstorms are a drummer's solo. Being immersed in Taman Negara is a sensory experience like no other.
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Wander Through Colorful Street Art in Penang
Penang’s vibrant street art scene embodies the island’s creative spirit. Exploring the insta-worthy murals offers keen insight into Penang’s culture, history, and vision for the future. Wandering past these splashes of color invigorates the senses and inspires travelers to see the city through an artist’s imaginative lens.
The street art phenomenon kicked off in 2012, when Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the George Town Festival. His whimsical, oversized paintings of local children, landmarks, and daily scenes garnered global attention, putting Penang on the map as an open-air arts destination.
Today over fifty murals grace facades throughout George Town, transporting wanderers into diverse realities. Armenian Street depicts the immigrant heritage of traders who once sold wares in this neighborhood. Beach Street captures nostalgic scenes of bygone times. Down quaint alleyways, magical realism murals concealed from plain view reward those who purposefully peek around the corners.
Yet the murals are more than just photo backdrops. They tell the unique story of each locale. The children’s series along Cannon Street aims to revitalize a once-forgotten corner of Chinatown. The steel wire sculptures stretching down walls visually represent the area’s historic metalwork trade. Images celebrate cultural diversity, advocate environmental awareness, and promote Penang as a hub for arts and technology.
Beyond Zacharevic’s contributions, works by artists around the globe enliven previously drab façades. Julia Volchkova from Ukraine, Louise Lowry of the UK, and Tang Mun Kit from Malaysia are among the painters who’ve left their creative mark on the cityscape. Their stylistic diversity demonstrates how art crosses borders and cultures to bring communities together.
While street art abounds in Penang, tourists should be respectful when visiting. These neighborhoods are home for residents, not amusement parks. View the murals, but be aware of your surroundings and neighbors. Ask permission before entering private property, and don’t disturb residents’ daily routines. Upholding etiquette ensures the magic of Penang’s art scene endures for locals and travelers alike.
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Taste Laksa in Kuala Lumpur's Petaling Street Market
No trip to Kuala Lumpur is complete without a visit to Petaling Street Market to taste authentic Laksa. This bustling Chinatown street market explodes with color, scents, and flavors that have been tempting tastebuds for over a century. For Laksa lovers, it's a blissful mecca.
Laksa originated right here in Malaysia but takes on different regional forms. The Laksa found in Petaling Street combines Chinese and Malay influences into a coconut milk curry broth brimming with noodles, tofu puffs, shrimp, chicken, mint, coriander, chili flakes for serious kick, and more. Stalls lining the chaotic street serve up piping hot bowls, with customers slurping away among market madness. Is there any better place to experience Laksa love in all its glory?
Beyond the sensory chaos, Petaling Street Laksa digs deep into KL's cultural DNA. Chinese tin miners and traders arrived here generations ago, colliding with native Malay traditions. Laksa symbolizes harmony born from this fusion - Chinese egg noodles meet Malay curry spices and textures. Food stall operators proudly carry on family Laksa recipes perfected decades ago, valuing heritage above modern gimmicks.
Cafe Old Market Square has been serving their signature Laksa for over 70 years. "My great grandfather started the business and passed his skills to my grandfather and then father," explains owner Lim Wei Choon. "We want to keep things simple and consistent." Their fragrant Laksa broth has attracted celebrity fans like Anthony Bourdain and takes hours to prepare.
For Jason Loh of Jasons Food Hall, Petaling Street evokes nostalgia. "I remember coming here as a kid in the 1980s. The sights, sounds, smells - it was sensory overload." He fondly recalls how his Laksa initiation began with a mountain of chilis handed to him by a grinning vendor. "My nostrils burned for hours, but I was hooked!"
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Explore Rainforests and Caves on Tioman Island
Let’s venture into the untamed wilderness of Tioman Island’s interior for the ultimate rainforest adventure. Diverse tropical ecosystems here teem with exotic wildlife and intriguing caves await underground exploration. It's the perfect counterbalance to Tioman's famous beaches.
Lush jungle blankets the densely forested interior, where hornbills squawk overhead and long-tailed macaques scamper across the canopy. This is one of the most biodiverse habitats in Malaysia, though elusive due to challenging terrain. Intrepid trekkers are rewarded with waterfall plunge pools for swimming, including the remarkable 40-meter tiered cascade of Lama Waterfall. Keep eyes peeled for rare bird species only found on Tioman like the Nicobar pigeon.
As you hike under vine-draped trees, the sounds of the forest are your soundtrack - birdsong, insect buzz, frog croaks, and the rustle of creatures unseen. Stay alert and tread softly to enhance chances of spotting shy mouse deer, black giant squirrels, and the critically endangered Banded Langur monkey. Even the endangered Dusky Leaf Monkey has been spotted here. An overnight jungle camping excursion may reveal civets, boars, and slow loris after dark.
Continuing upwards leads past mossy boulders and pitcher plants up to the island's highest peak, 1019-meter Nenek Semukut. Here in the clouds, the air is refreshingly cool and the panoramic views across the jungle canopy down to the sea simply sublime. It's worth spending a night on the summit to catch the sunrise and gaze at the starry night sky undimmed by light pollution. Just don't forget the mosquito spray!
Heading underground, intriguing caves riddle the ancient limestone interior and provide shelter from tropical showers. At Gua Genting, rock climbers clinging to stalactites navigate the cavern's challenging routes. Gua Pinang Kecil requires some scrambling over boulders in a stream bed lined with pristine rock pools. Bring headlamps to illuminate drawings of human and animal figures made on the walls here by ancient peoples. They serve as a reminder that we are but passing visitors in the timeline of this sacred habitat.
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - See Fireflies Light Up the Night in Kuala Selangor
As dusk slowly darkens the skies over Kuala Selangor, a magical natural phenomenon begins to reveal itself along the banks of the Selangor River. Tiny bright lights start rhythmically blinking on and off amongst the dense riverside mangroves, illuminating this tropical habitat in a hypnotic neon glow. You've arrived just in time for one of Malaysia's most enchanting wildlife encounters - witnessing thousands of fireflies light up the night.
This is one of the best places in the world to observe fireflies in their natural environment. The combination of freshwater and intact mangrove forests form the perfect ecosystem that allows these beetles to thrive. As boats slowly drift along the darkened river, the magic of this moment washes over you.
The main attraction is the spectacular 'synchronized' fireflies, whose lights flash in perfect unison. Watching whole trees flickering on and off in harmony is simply mesmerizing, as if tiny fairies are putting on a light show just for you. The rhythmic display has a hypnotic, almost spiritual effect.
But it's also fascinating to observe the 'loner' fireflies who flash to their own beat, creating dazzling visual dissonance. Peer into the black water and you may even glimpse glowing larvae. But remember to stay quiet and turn off all lights, since noise and brightness disturb the fireflies' natural behavior.
Many travelers rank this as one of the top experiences of their lives. "It was unlike anything I've ever seen in nature. The fireflies were endless, lighting up the trees like Christmas lights," shares Amelia from Australia. "I felt I had stepped into a real life fairy tale."
For Matthias from Germany, it invoked childhood nostalgia. "It took me back to catching fireflies in jars as a kid and being amazed. But seeing thousands flashing in unison was on another level. It filled me with wonder and joy."
No matter your age, tapping into that childlike sense of awe and being immersed in the magic of nature's inventions feels like a gift. Firefly viewing reawakens a part of us often dimmed by modern life's constant lighting and distraction.
Donna from Canada echoed this sentiment: "The simplicity of floating along the river surrounded by thousands of natural lights pulsating was very calming. It de-stressed me and put life's worries into perspective."
Hidden Gems: 9 Off-The-Beaten-Path Places to Discover in Malaysia - Relax on the Beaches of Langkawi
After adventure-packed days exploring Malaysia's interior, travelers will undoubtedly be ready to kick back and relax seaside on the idyllic beaches of Langkawi. This island offers some of Malaysia's dreamiest stretches of sand, where cares melt away as you unwind against the backdrop of emerald waters.
The jewel of Langkawi's coastline is Tanjung Rhu ("Casuarina Tip"), renowned for its untamed beauty. Pristine powdery white sand lined with swaying casuarina pines sweeps around the bay, with not a high rise in sight. The water color morphs from crystalline teal to deeper emerald green out toward scattered tiny islands. At low tide, explore the sandbar linking Tanjung Rhu to neighboring islands.
"Tanjung Rhu looks like something out of the Maldives, with its postcard-perfect casuarina trees leaning over white sand," shares Andre, who planned to stay one night but ended up extending a week. "It was so unspoiled and peaceful, I could wander for hours beachcombing without seeing a soul."
Over on Pantai Cenang, one of Langkawi's most popular beaches, beach bars like Orkid Ria and Charlie Beach Club pump out tropical house beats. "Sipping a mango smoothie beachfront while people watching was my kind of paradise,"enthuses Mia from Singapore. "It had a fun lively vibe but wasn't crazy crowded."
For Roshni, Pantai Tengah "struck the perfect balance between offering restaurants and amenities while still feeling secluded." She adds: "The sunsets seen looking out at the islands silhouetted against the horizon were phenomenal."
Sea lovers will find their bliss at Burau Bay, where colorful fishing boats speckle the sheltered blue inlet. Here, you can arrange boat trips to promising snorkel spots and island hop between Langkawi's offshore gems. Nearby, Datai Bay delights with a quiet cove backed by towering limestone cliffs tangled in jungle greenery.
Heading up northwest, escape the crowds at Padang Matsirat, where the remote coastline embraces deserted vibes. Hans reminisces: "I had Padang Matsirat all to myself for beach cricket and trying out kitesurfing in the breeze."