My Paradise: Short trip to Malaysia

At Batu Caves complex. Photos by Taeko McFadden
At Batu Caves complex. Photos by Taeko McFadden

My Paradise: Short trip to Malaysia

by Taeko McFadden
Stripes Korea

What are some of the top destinations in Asia that pop into your mind? Places like Thailand, Bali, Singapore, and Vietnam probably made the top of the list. How about Malaysia? If it didn’t land close to the top, this may change your mind.

Malaysia is very culturally and ecologically diverse. Its capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a modern business hub with famous skyscrapers. It has pristine beaches, amazing hiking area, beautiful mountains, and endangered animals. It is truly an interesting and must-visit place in Asia.

I was fortunate to take a short trip to Malaysia several years ago with a close friend, but since the trip was less than a week, we limited ourselves to visiting only two places: Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown, Penang. Wow, did we have a great time!

First stop, Kuala Lumpur!
To maximize our time in KL, my friend and I took a highlights tour that included all the major sites of the city. We visited the National Palace, home to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or “King of Malaysia.” We also swung by , also known as the Merdeka Square.  Built in 1897, the building is a fantastic example of old Moorish brick architecture featuring a copper dome and clock tower, providing a welcome contrast to the modern high-rises of KL.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Next, we ventured north of KL to Gombak, Selangor, to see the Batu Caves, a religious complex comprised of 400 million years old limestone grottos. The temple dedicated to Murugan, the Hindu god of war, was built in the 1890s, and is one of the most popular Hindu temple and shrines outside of India. An impressive, 140-foot-tall gold statue of Lord Murugan greets visitors before the 272 steps ascending up to the temple, shrines, and caves.

In 2018 (after my visit), the temple's steps were painted in different colors, creating a stunning, vibrant carpet that leads visitors into the caves. The limestone formations and shrines inside the cave were beautiful and worth climbing all those stairs. For the adventurous sort, Batu Caves is the center of rock climbing in Malaysia with over 160 routes around the area. Will I see you clinging to the side of the cliffs on my next visit?

Visitors would be wise to mind the monkeys inside the caves. They will grab anything that looks like food, so be careful.

We drove past the Petronas Towers, made famous by the 1999 film Entrapment.  It was the world’s tallest building (1,483 feet) until 2003 and required 36,910 tons of steel to build, the equivalent of over 3,000 elephants. You can take tours inside for amazing vistas over KL.

Petronas Towers

Malaysia is home to sizable Chinese and Indian populations, along with the majority Malay Muslims.  So don’t forget to visit KL’s Chinatown around Petaling Street to visit temples and sample delicious Chinese food.  We also visited the Golden Triangle area known for its nightlife of bars, clubs, and restaurants around Jalan P. Ramlee, where you can party until the early hours of the morning if you want.

Georgetown, here we come!
Alas, we had to leave KL and headed to Georgetown, Penang.  Unbeknownst to us, Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an example of a historic British colonial town, developed from international trade beginning in the 1800s. It is also known as Malaysia’s foodie town thanks to its delicious street food. When people in KL found out that we were headed to Georgetown, they all responded with “oh, so you are going there to eat?” It wasn’t the initial intent, but food played a big role in our visit.


One of the highlights of our visit was the Snake Temple (or Temple of the Azure Cloud), a Taoist Temple built in 1805. The temple houses several Wagler’s pit vipers (de-venomed) put to sleep by incense that hang on stands throughout the temple.

We strolled down the Street of Harmony which is where five different religions have places of worship—definitely not a common sight. At the Street of Harmony you’ll find:

• St. George’s Anglican Church, the oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia, built in 1818.  
• Kuan Yin Temple, or Goddess of Mercy Temple, built in the early 1800’s and embodying the practice of Feng Shui to achieve harmony and balance.

Kuan Yin Temple

• Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, built in 1833.

Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

• Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque for the Indian Muslim community and offers public tours.
• Acheen Streen Malay Mosque, or Lebuh Aceh Mosque, built for Malay-speaking Muslims.

Foodie heaven
To satisfy our inner foodies, we visited popular hawker centers such as Chulia Street Night Hawker and Gurney Drive for a blend of Chinese, Indian, and Malay flavors such as fried roti, dim sum, char kway teow noodles (signature Penang dish with stir fried rice noodles, similar to Pad Thai) and nasi lemak (national dish of Malaysia).

Get there early if you want to try the popular stalls before they run out of food. For us, the gem was the Kapitan Restaurant recommended by a local taxi driver.  If you like Indian food, this is the place to go. I ordered the Tandoori Chicken set, which was so amazing. I didn’t have time to stop to take a photo.

To work off dinner, we walked around the area to see Georgetown’s colorful buildings and street art. You can get the full experience by lacing up your walking shoes or hopping on a bike to explore the city.  There are so many different styles and techniques that you won’t be bored.

Georgetown street art

This was a fantastic trip and even years later, I still think of the great time we had. I definitely cannot wait for my next visit to beautiful Malaysia!

Other spots to add to itinerary
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see more of Malaysia on this trip, but here are some spots on my list for the next time:

• Beaches in Langkawi, the Perhentians, or Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park – Malaysia’s beaches are beautiful and often less frequented, even untouched, compared to other countries.
• Taman Negara National Park, Pahang – The largest national park in peninsular Malaysia has the longest rope walkway in the world and features multiple hikes for all experience levels.
• Sepilok, Sabah (Northern Borneo) – Home to several sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers with the aim of rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing in the wild a variety of species not often seen outside of Malaysia.  Plan for two days since it takes about a day to travel to Sepilok and a day to see multiple centers.
• Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

  • Borneon Sun Bear Conservation Centre
  • Rainforest Discovery Centre
  • Climb Mt. Kinabalu – At 13,435 feet, Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia and considered an important biological site with over 5,000 species of plants, birds, and fungi.  Due to the risk of altitude sickness, all hikers must be accompanied by a licensed guide.

Speakin’ Malay

Please: Tolong
How much?: Berapa?
Can you speak English?: Bolehkah anda berbahasa Inggeris?
Where is the toilet?: Di mana tandas?
Thank you: Terima kasih
You're welcome: Sama-sama.


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