Malaysia. Borneo. Rainforest.
It just seemed so obvious.
When I first started my business, I wanted to focus on off-the-beaten-path experiences where we had local connections and could give travelers inside access. As such, Malaysia seemed like such a perfect destination to highlight, and one that other ‘travel companies’ in the US were not giving any attention to.
Since my father grew up on the island of Borneo and I had visited multiple times as a guest of local friends, I knew that I could give people a peek into this culture that others didn’t have easy access to. I spent 6 weeks, loving life, exploring the rainforest, making connections, visiting the orangutans, and eating and eating and eating.
So I built the trip of my dreams, our Discover Malaysia tour—market trips led by locals, trying tropical fruits, sunset cocktails on exquisite beaches, canopy walks with birds and monkeys, river safari cruises, laughing with street food vendors as they cooked, and so much more.
I thought we would reach eager travelers ready to explore beyond their imagination, but who also wanted a helping hand to give them safety, security, and comfort in such an exotic destination since I'd been there, tried it, and had all the right relationships and connections.
What I found is that it was a LOT harder to promote a destination that very few people really knew about.
Although Malaysia is growing as a destination on the international scene with many visitors coming from other Asian countries and Australia, American travelers who go to Southeast Asia are still frequenting Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali
I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t have the interest I thought it deserves. Malaysia had such a rich diversity and culture that made me yearn for being there every moment I was away.
Needless to say, if Malaysia isn’t on your bucket list (or even on your radar), here’s a few reasons why it should be:
1. Borneo is home to the oldest rainforest in the world
Even older than the jungles of the Amazon, this rainforest is home to approximately 10,000 different plant species (that’s more than on the entire continent of Africa!), including two THOUSAND species of orchids alone! *major heart-eye emoji*
In addition to crazy plant life, you’ll also find a number of crazy wildlife here, ranging from one of the smallest squirrels in the world—the least pygmy squirrel, no bigger than a mouse—and to the smallest elephant subspecies, the Borneo pygmy elephant, which are now endangered. You’ll also find it home to other species on the endangered list such as the Bornean orangutan.
On our Malaysia tour, we travel deep into the rainforest to stay a couple of nights in a secluded eco-lodge. We do a night safari to scout out the nocturnal wildlife, as well as a morning trek with naturalist guides who can fill us with knowledge on what we’re encountering.
2. Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures—and food…
In ancient times, Malaysia was a stop on the world’s spice trade route—so you can literally say that they have flavors from all over the world!
But really, over the centuries many different Asain ethnicities—particularly many Chinese and Indian immigrants— have settled here, bringing their home culture and cuisines with them to mix with the indigenous and the local Malay cultures and cuisines. This has resulted in making Malaysia a multiethnic and multicultural country, and an amazing country to EAT in if you love variety!
3. …And religions
Along with the rich mixing of many cultures brings the blending of different religious backgrounds as well. The Malaysian landscape is sprinkled with the influences of Hindu, Muslim and Buddist temples, shrines, and communities. Some even becoming a major pilgrimage hub, such as the Batu Cave Temples, with its 272 rainbow stairs and shrines dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war.
4. Malaysian street food
We mentioned food above, but honestly the street food of Malaysia deserves its own item on this list. Easy, quick eats are an integral part of the Malaysian food culture.
Think taco trucks, but not just tacos. In Malaysia, you can find street carts, small food stalls, and “kopitiam,” or coffee shops, where both beverages and meals are served. And although street food is commonly understood as "fast food", some of these kopitiam are just like our coffee shops where folks read their papers, chat with friends, and linger for hours.
They serve everything from coffee and teh tahrik (pulled tea - my favorite!!!) to noodle dishes and bbq pork. The list goes on and on.
5. Stunning Tropical Beaches
You’ve probably had friends who have raved about their time on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, and maybe you’ve jealously scrolled through their vacation photos on Facebook, but Malaysian beaches (as Malaysia is right under Thailand), are just as stunning with soft white sand, lush palm trees, and radiant blue water, but lesser-known, and therefore, lesser traveled.
6. It has the best of both worlds: the Modern & the Traditional
Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is a breathtakingly modern city housing 1.73 million people, rated 31 on the Top 60 Safest Cities in the world (above both Beijing and Shanghai), and home to THREE of the world’s largest shopping malls.
Considered a first-class city, it is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in Southeast Asia, both in population and in economic development. However, the surrounding, more traditional areas provide a fascinating contrast of the mix of old and new, of the modern and traditional.
7. It’s growing in popularity
Go before your friends do. Malaysia is growing in popularity, slowly, but surely. The destination is becoming more and more popular due to their conservation efforts and their endangered animals like the orangutan.
For the real, authentic experience in the country, it’s better to go sooner, before the giant cruise ships and mass tourists arrive.
Malaysia is a place that might not be on your bucket list, but we guarantee it should be.
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