About 75 percent of Malaysia is covered by forest so it’s no surprise that country features Asia’s best park system. A “national park” in Malaysia is something very different than Yosemite. A park in Borneo can contain up to 800 plant species and can be home to orangutan, Sumatran Rhino, Clouded Leopard, tiger, Proboscis Monkey, the world’s smallest pachyderm (the Pygmy Elephant) and the world’s largest flower (the Raffleasia). The parks can be found on both peninsular Malaysia and in Sabah and Sarawak, the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. Malaysia’s diversity is manifested culturally in cities and villages, naturally in parklands, beneath the sea in the most bio-diverse reefs in the world, historically in a city like Melaka (as ancient as any in the world) and contemporarily in its modern gateway of Kuala Lumpur. As a former British colony, English is spoken almost everywhere.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital, gateway and financial center. KL (as it’s known) has reached for the sky in recent years with its iconic Petronas Towers. KL has abundant shopping, dining and nightlife. It’s ethnic diversity is reflected in restaurants and neighborhoods, with plenty of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Western and Southeast Asian strands in the population. If KL is the great modern city, Melaka is the great ancient city. Traders have sailed the Straits of Melaka carrying spices, gold, textiles, tea, opium and pirate booty for as long as anyone can remember. Melaka’s old mansions, traditional restaurants and antique shops reveal the influence of the many cultures that took root including Indian, Arab, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and English. The town lies under the hilltop ruins of A Famosa, a fort built in 1511.
At 13,500 feet, Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Southeast Asia. Climbers on Kinabalu move from one ecosystem to the next as they make the ascent, from tropical at the base all the way to alpine meadow at the peak. The Sepilok Forest Preserve in Sandukan houses a sanctuary for orangutans. Kinabalu Park and the Poring Hot Springs offer a variety of trails for visitors to explore. Besides the attraction of the baths themselves, which offer a glimpse into Borneo's local community relaxing in the hot springs, the Poring site also features a series of string bridges through the high canopy of the rainforest. Sabah’s off-shore reefs and those of such off-shore islands as Sipadan are the most diverse biologically in the world. Sarawak’s impenetrable rainforest is fed by several village-lined rivers.
Sarawak’s Mulu Caves in Gunung Mulu National Park attract cave explorers and nearly a million bats to its vast labyrinth. In the evening the bats swarm out in mass, forming one of nature's more awesome spectacles. The limestone caves of Niah National Park are the site of archeological discoveries dating back 40,000 years. Kuching’s anthropological museum explains the society of the “head hunters” and their longhouse-based communities where entire villages live under one roof. The British began colonizing Penang in 1786 and made Georgetown their colonial capital. The resort region of Langkawi comprises a main island off the northwest coast of the peninsula surrounded by 98 smaller islands famed for beaches, diving and resorts.
January, February and March are Malaysia’s driest months, but temperatures are high throughout the year. Malaysian cuisine has taken all of those diverse ethnic influences and created one of the world’s finest culinary hybrids. Between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore there are a multitude of flights from the U.S. Travelers to Malaysia find these elements backed by superb hotels and highways, air connections and rail.
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