Editor’s Note: *Due to the current Covid-19 outbreak, please be sure to postpone any travel plans until well after the pandemic has subsided.*
While certain Southeast Asian destinations such as Bali, Bangkok, and Singapore have cemented themselves as world-class tourist hubs, Malaysia is a rising star within the region, with over 26 million international tourists having visited the country in 2019. The nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a major urban component to the country’s newfound success, but when it comes to pristine natural beauty, rich biodiversity, and off-the-grid exploration, nothing quite compares to Malaysia’s national parks.
Located deep in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia, Taman Negara is the oldest national park in the country, having been established in the late 1930s under the name “King George V National Park”. Today, the sprawling reserve stretches across three separate states, offering visitors an opportunity to explore some of the world’s oldest pristine rainforest dating back over 130 million years. This oasis of natural beauty is the perfect destination for any wildlife enthusiasts, offering the opportunity to spot native species such as tigers, elephants, slow loris, gaurs, and thousands of different native birds. Be sure to take a trek across the park’s Canopy Walk – the rope bridge stretches over 1,500 feet across the treetops, making it one of the longest ropewalks in existence.
Gunung Mulu National Park
Just southeast of the Brunei border, Gunung Mulu National Park is home to some of Borneo’s most stunning geological features, a quality that has caused this unique stretch of land to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the park is renowned for its jagged karst formations formed by dissolved limestone, its most notable claim to fame is its massive collection of caves, many of which were first explored in 1978 on the largest expedition ever led by the United Kingdom. The intricate maze of caverns is a biodiversity hotspot rife with indigenous bats, birds, and plant species, and is home to Deer Cave, the largest cave passage on earth, as well as Clearwater Cave, Southeast Asia’s lengthiest cavern system.
Endau-Rompin National Park
Split between the states of Johor and Pahang, Endau-Rompin is the second-largest national park on the Malaysian Peninsula, as well as the second-oldest protected area in the country. The reserve is composed of roughly 340 square miles of protected land, and is home to some truly ancient natural features, including some of the world’s oldest swathes of tropical rainforest as well as geological formations roughly 250 million years old. The pristine jungle is a haven for Malaysia’s indigenous species, with tigers, leopards, elephants, tapirs, monkeys, and countless other beasts freely roaming the area.
One of Malaysia’s most popular tourist destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this historic preserve was established in 1964 to protect the land surrounding Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain on the island of Borneo. While Kinabalu is one of the youngest non-volcanic mountains on earth, it’s developed an astoundingly high degree of biodiversity throughout its (relatively) short life, with a wide variety of endemic plants and invertebrates spread across the region’s four distinct climate zones. Keep an eye out for carnivorous plants while trekking across the park’s many hiking trails – the mountain is known for being home to a wealth of colorful pitcher plants.
Niah National Park
Located just inland from coastal Sarawak, this ancient collection of limestone caves is a must-see for anyone interested in early Malay civilization. The caverns have served as a treasure trove for archaeologists, with axes, pottery, jewelry, and 40,000 year old human remains all having been discovered throughout their passages. The park is also a prominent destination for wildlife enthusiasts – a fascinating daily phenomenon can be viewed around sunset, during which hundreds of thousands of native bats pour out of the caves in search of food as hundreds of thousands of swiftlets return to their nests after a busy day out.