Our guide to the most epic bucket list experiences to try in Malaysia before 2020 draws to a close
While 2020 might have been off on a rocky start, there’s still time to end the year with a bang. Venture on an epic bucket-list journey across Malaysia and take part in some of the most thrilling experiences the country has to offer. We’ve put together a list of destinations and adventures, ranging from alternative water sports activities to a rustic farm stay, offering novel ways for travellers to see Malaysia. Here are some of the most memorable experiences to end 2020 with.
Live and dive off an oil rig
Perched on stilts in the middle of the ocean off Mabul Island in Malaysian Borneo is the world’s first resort and dive platform that takes the form of a brightly hued, retired oil rig. Opened in 1997, Seaventures Dive Rig offers a novel way to take in the technicolour marine life of Sabah. A diving school that doubles as an unorthodox hotel, it is equipped with Wifi, a recreation room with table tennis and snooker tables and a sun deck offering picturesque panoramas of the emerald sea. Waste no time from the moment you wake up and embark on a spontaneous dive off the house reef, or sign up for freediving and scuba diving courses, which include cavern and technical diving. Better yet, opt for Seaventures’ own PADI Rig Diver Specialty course to master the art of diving from and around an oil rig – a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed.
Stay at an eco-lodge along the Kinabatangan River
Discover the diverse flora and fauna of Sabah with a stay at Sukau Rainforest Lodge, an award-winning riverside destination in Kampung Sukau, Kinabatangan. Built with locally sourced hardwood and run mostly by locals, the eco-lodge features resort-style villas with contemporary creature comforts, as well as raised platforms that protect the natural landscape of the rainforest. Besides on-site amenities such as plunge pools, al fresco dining and a traditional spa, the lodge also offers nature walks and river cruises, where you can glimpse wildlife such as pygmy elephants and orangutans in their natural habitat.
Experience a rustic farm stay
Get a taste of the bucolic, WiFi-less life at Kiulu Farmstay, where you can retreat to the countryside of northwestern Sabah and immerse yourself in local life. Wake up to fresh country air surrounded by lush paddy fields and crystal-clear rivers, and spend your days getting acquainted with the community. Activities include rice-pounding and sieving, rubber-tapping and traditional handicraft-making. Opt for a two-night stay to fit in a morning trip to a local school as well, followed by a trek through the jungle, leading to Kampung Pinangon Baru, where you’ll learn to forage and pick produce. Lunch is then served in the home of a villager, providing you a glimpse into life in this remote part of the country.
Go snorkelling around the islands of Malaysia
Malaysia is home to a multiplicity of offshore islands with crystal-clear, cerulean waters that are perfect for a snorkelling expedition. Discover the underwater limestone caves of Sipadan Island, mingle with sea turtles at Redang Island, one of Terengganu’s most famous islands, and take in the technicolour corals of Perhentian Island. With Kopetro Travel & Tours, an established Malaysian tour operator, you’ll get to experience all that and more without worrying about the itinerary. The travel agency offers all-inclusive packages such as a three-day snorkelling trip, where you’ll get to stay at a charming, seaside resort, enjoy complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner, and hit the best spots for an underwater excursion.
Indulge in one of Malaysia’s most luxurious spa experiences
Step into Thai Pampering Wellness Centre, a luxurious, family-friendly wellness centre in Bukit Mertajam, Penang that opened its doors in 2019, and you’ll be greeted with towering green walls, the familiar scent of lemongrass and a soothing atmosphere that puts you immediately at ease. Recognised by Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture as one of two platinum-rated wellness centres for foot reflexology in the country, Thai Pampering is equipped with foot baths, where you can enjoy a salt scrub on a bed of smooth river stones, upscale amenities and private rooms for couples. It also offers full-body massages, bone alignment therapy for neck, back and shoulder aches, as well as aromatherapy treatments, where you can choose from a selection of essential oils (including lemongrass, lavender, rose, ginger and jasmine).
Dine at one of Kuala Lumpur’s most iconic rooftop restaurants
Mosey on over to Marini’s on 57, an upscale Italian venue with a rooftop bar and whisky lounge, to get a bird’s-eye view of Kuala Lumpur. Since its inception in 2012, the restaurant – established by entrepreneur Caveliere Modesto Marini – has bagged multiple awards and become a hotspot for celebrities such as Lewis Hamilton, Ed Sheeran and Sami Hyypiä. Savour gourmet nosh such as white truffles and blue lobsters, made with the freshest and finest ingredients, before swinging by its rooftop bar, a sleek space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, for a tipple. Don’t forget to check out the stunning collection of vintage cigars and single-malt whisky at the lounge.
Charter a luxury yacht for a private cruise
Live it up with a private party or day-cation with friends and family on a luxury yacht, the ultimate bucket-list experience for those looking for a taste of the high life. One of the largest yacht charter companies in Malaysia, Platinum Charters is home to a broad range of catamarans, motor yachts and sailing yachts that travel to and from destinations such as Langkawi, Penang, Port Dickson, Pangkor Island, Johor Bahru, Redang Island, Tioman Island, Kota Kinabalu, Singapore and Phuket. These yachts can be booked for day charters, overnight charters or charters lasting more than a week or two. Each yacht is like a floating five-star hotel, equipped with upscale amenities and luxury cabins. For an exciting day cruise, we recommend the Dickson Dragon, a trimaran designed as a party yacht that sails daily along the coast of Port Dickson and fits about 60 people. It even comes with a saltwater jacuzzi, barbecue grill, karaoke machine and disco lights. Sign up for a sunset cruise and sail along the ancient spice trade routes of Malaysia, while taking in the beautiful vastness of the ocean.
Visit the best, most beautiful dive spots in Malaysia
For your next vacation, try an all-inclusive dive trip with Big Ocean Dive, the go-to place for experiencing the natural beauty and hidden gems of Malaysia’s marine life. With Big Ocean Dive, you’ll get to stay at a beach resort or in a water villa and explore the underwater environment every day with a team of dive experts. Established in 2015 by commercial diver Michael Grossman, Big Ocean Dive is a Kuala Lumpur-based dive centre that specialises in adventure experiences for both beginners and water sports enthusiasts. Take up PADI certification courses, discover the art of freediving or opt for a tour of Malaysia’s most underrated islands over the weekend. Forget Bali or the Maldives. Explore Pom Pom Island, a postcard-perfect slice of paradise about 45 minutes away by boat from the coast of Semporna, Borneo, with a four-day dive trip. You’ll get to embark on three dives per day, go kayaking and hiking, and even witness the release of baby turtles into the ocean, if you’re lucky.
Visit an ecological park in Langkawi
A mangrove forest that’s part of the Unesco Network Of Global Geoparks, Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi is a must-visit for any nature lover. One of three major conservation areas in Langkawi, it is home to ancient fossil beds and unique limestone formations that have been around for more than 500 million years. You may even catch sight of sea eagles, brahminy kites, mud crabs and monkeys, while you’re here. One of the best ways to explore this ecological park is with a mangrove tour, which includes pit stops at a floating fish farm. Don’t miss the limestone caves, the most popular of which are the Crocodile Cave, Cave of Legends and Bat Cave, or Kilim Village, where you can immerse yourself in the local way of life.
Learn to play a new instrument from industry veterans
Have you always dreamt of picking up the guitar? Sign up for one-on-one lessons with Soheil Sanjabi, the lead guitarist of renowned Malaysian band Billie Blue And The Nowhere Men. Intrigued by the violin? Learn to play the classical instrument from a former child prodigy, one who started teaching at the age of 14. Do all that and more at The Academy Music Centre, a leading music school in Petaling Jaya. The laid-back venue, which includes a retail space and jamming studios, also boasts an impressive catalogue of well-known and boutique brands such as Ibanez, Roland and Maestro Guitars. Other unique offerings include ukulele, flute, cajon, vocal, band and orchestra coordination lessons for students of all ages.