From the pastures of Kundasang, Sabah where cows graze on green slopes similar to those found in New Zealand, or the Moroccan Pavilion at Astaka Putrajaya, with its elaborately carved arches and doors – you’d be surprised at Malaysia’s diverse and varied landscapes
1. Lata Berkoh, Pahang
Despite the allure of adventure, a trip to the Amazonian jungle to experience riding down the river is something many of us may not be able to afford. Closer to home, there’s Lata Berkoh, a spectacular cascade located within Taman Negara in Pahang. Known as one of the national park’s crown jewels, the spot is rife with rare butterflies, insects and birds such as kingfishers and straw-headed bulbuls. What makes the journey truly memorable, however, is the boat ride to Lata Berkoh itself. Trees on both sides of the Sungai Tahan river converge to form natural archways, and branches are covered with ferns and orchids. Visitors will then have to trek 500 metres along a well laid out forest trail that leads to the cascade’s riverbank
2. Klebang, Melaka
A land reclamation project in Klebang, Melaka, has become an impromptu tourist attraction, thanks to towering man-made sand dunes littering the landscape ala the Sahara desert. Some of the dunes are several stories high, and seeing as there are not many tourists, it’s easy to feel like you are lost in the middle of nowhere. Be prepared to do some hunting as there are no proper signboards leading to the place. Many visitors park on the tarred road and venture an hour on foot to reach the secluded spot, which is located between Pantai Klebang and the Submarine Museum.
3. Pulau Rawa
Turquoise waters and white sand are the signature of many islands in the Caribbean. Channeling similar vibes is Pulau Rawa in the southern state of Johor. Often overlooked for more popular islands such as Redang, Tioman and Perhentian, Rawa remains relatively untouched and maintains a pristine beauty. Expect crystal-clear blue-green waters, sandy white beaches, gently swaying coconut palms and a plethora of marine wildlife in the area surrounding the tiny island. Take part in water activities such as snorkeling, diving and kayaking, or go for a hike up the island’s hill to catch the sunrise.
4. Kundasang, Sabah
Tucked in the shadow of Malaysia’s highest mountain, Kundasang in the state of Sabah is a small town with mesmerising views. Its high elevation, mild weather and vivid green landscapes have earned it two monikers: the ‘New Zealand of Borneo’ and the ‘Scotland of the East’. One of the most picturesque spots in town is Desa Dairy Farm, a farm-cum-homestay with a majestic backdrop of Mount Kinabalu. Vast acres of green pastures are surrounded with white picket fences and dotted with black and white cows, making the scene something straight out of a postcard.
Another beautiful spot for photography is the Kundasang War Memorial, dedicated to fallen British and Australian soldiers of the Sandakan prisoner of war camp in World War II. Be transported to the quaint English countryside as you take a stroll through its four beautiful gardens, which are filled with towering pine trees, blooming roses and ivy-covered brick walls.
5. Bukit Tinggi, Pahang
Colmare Tropicale Resort lets you travel to two ‘foreign’ destinations, all within the span of a day. Located on the slopes of Bukit Tinggi in Pahang, the buildings at this holiday resort feature symmetrical patterns, colourful facades and steep roofs, reminiscent of an old, provincial French village. Visitors walk past a stone bridge and an archway to enter the enclave, which has a moat filled with mallards, ducks and swans.
After sipping on tea at one of the chic cafes lining the cobblestoned pavement, leave ‘Europe’ and head to ‘East Asia’, as the resort’s Japanese Village is just a short drive up the hill. The tranquil garden was meticulously designed by renowned architect Kaio Ariizumi, with the landscaping done by a team of skilled Japanese craftsmen. Inside, visitors will find a Japanese tea house, Tatami Spa, Botanical Garden and a Japanese restaurant. To immerse yourself fully into the experience, rent a kimono and join a tea ceremony to learn more of Japanese culture.
6. Cameron Highlands
With its sprawling tea valleys and gentle, undulating green hills, Cameron Highlands evokes the beauty of a mild summer in the English countryside. Spend an afternoon at the Baccarat Plantation tea house, which offers a spectacular view overlooking the tea valley below, and sip on a warm, milky brew paired with freshly baked scones and sweet strawberry jam.
Then, retreat to Ye Olde Smokehouse, a historic cottage-style hotel that dates back to 1939. Built in the English Tudor style and surrounded by lush gardens, the hotel boasts classic interiors that feature four-poster beds, open fireplaces and wood-panelled walls. Wake up for a stroll through the hotel’s lovely gardens that are filled with temperate climate flowers, before tucking into a hearty full-English breakfast of sausages, eggs, bacon, beans and hash browns.
7. Semporna, Sabah
When it comes to island holidays, the Semporna region in Sabah can rival anything the Maldives or Bora Bora has to offer. Surrounded by crystal clear waters, islands such as Sipadan, Mabul and Layang-Layang are prime dive spots, boasting rich and diverse marine wildlife, as well as a vast coral reef system. Book a spacious water chalet sitting pretty on stilts to enjoy panoramic views of the turquoise ocean. Alternatively, stay the night at an exclusive island resort, rise early for a stroll on the beach and catch the sun rising on the horizon.
8. Astaka Morocco, Putrajaya
In the heart of Malaysia’s administrative capital lies Astaka Morocco, a stunning 18,000 square feet showcase of architecture that recalls the grand, opulent Moroccan palaces of old. Tucked within the verdant and cooling landscape of Taman Botani Putrajaya, the pavilion is a popular spot with photographers looking to capture a slice of Moroccan beauty.
Emulating places such as Cordoba and Granada in Spain, the main building features three inner courtyards, one of which houses a water fountain inspired by the Lion’s Court of Alhambra. Here, one will find geometric designs, floral motifs arabesque, tiles and intricate carvings, as well as walls covered in calligraphic verses from the Quran. Most, if not all of the material was made in Morocco and shipped to Malaysia, with the assembly and final touches done by skilled Moroccan craftsmen.
9. Sasaran Beach, Selangor
Few places in Selangor make for such striking photos as Sasaran Beach, also known as ‘Sky Mirror’ or Malaysia’s very own Salar de Uyuni. Like the salt flat lake in Bolivia, Sasaran’s shallow waters reflect the sky to create a mirror-like surface that is perfect for photography enthusiasts. However, this unique phenomenon only happens twice a month, during the new moon and full moon, when the low tide causes the sand bar to emerge. At other times, this ‘secret island’ is submerged in the sea. Most visitors pair a trip to Sky Mirror with other attractions, such as the historic Bukit Melawati and Taman Alam nature park, or enjoy delicious seafood at the abundance of restaurants around the area.
10. Mossy Forest
Enchanting is the word that comes to mind as you trek through Mossy Forest in Gunung Brinchang. This ancient 200,000-year-old tropical rainforest gives off Fangorn Forest vibes – the only thing missing would be Ents walking out of the mist. The trees here are closely knit, forming a dense canopy with twisting branches, so little sunlight hits the forest floor. This provides a conducive environment for moss and lichen, which hug the trees in large clusters. The effect is both gloomy and haunting, yet beautiful. Treks are considered moderate or hard, and should only be attempted with a guide, owing to the treacherous terrain and uneven trail.