(CNN) — Once you’ve escaped the Kuala Lumpur International Airport maze and explored the city itself, these five day trips are worth penciling into the itinerary.
This historic seaside town is the first port of call for anyone interested in Malay culture and cuisine. It epitomizes Malaysia’s multicultural history. Not only does it display the country’s more common Islamic, Chinese and Indian influences, it also harbors a rich European history too.
Why go?: Over the centuries Malacca (Melaka in Malay) has been colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch and British and there is plenty of evidence of its chequered past. Its strong historical importance has earned Melaka UNESCO World Heritage status and its small size makes it easy to navigate the shaded alleys and passageways by foot or trishaw.
The colonial heart of the city is situated on the east side of the Melaka river (Sungai Melaka) and boasts ruins of the old Portuguese fort Porta de Santiago and St Paul’s Church.
St. Paul’s Hill provides great views over the city. The town square offers reminders of Melaka’s Dutch past and the old Stadhuys (Town Hall) and Christ Church look like a small slice of Amsterdam.
It’s not all ruins and architecture, though. Visitors can also fill up on some renowned local cuisine called Nyonya, which is hard to find anywhere else. It’s a fragrant fusion of Chinese and Malay cooking that was formed over centuries of mixed marriages in this area.
Top tip: A 15-minute walk to Kampung Morten in the north of the city is worth an evening visit. A stroll along the riverside boardwalk provides views of traditional Melakan fisherman’s homes and some interesting river wildlife, including monitor lizards and the bizarre mudskipper fish. The whole area is also beautifully lit up at night.
Getting there: It’s a two-hour drive south from Kuala Lumpur down the North-South expressway, or there are half-hourly buses from Puduraya bus station.
Melaka epitomises Malaysia’s multi-cultural history.
Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary
This is the only center of its type in Malaysia. The sanctuary helps track, relocate and care for displaced or orphaned elephants from across Southeast Asia.
Why go?: The forest elephants of Asia are rare and elusive animals and Kuala Gandah is the best place to get up close with these giants of the jungle.
The elephants can be fed by hand and brave visitors can even ride them into the murky river, plunging under the water in a frothy squall of muddy bodies and nervous laughter.
There’s also a visitor center with educational videos and detailed information about the important conservation work.
Top tip: Anyone wishing to frolic in the river with the elephants needs to bear in mind that the water isn’t just brown with mud – the elephants also use the river as a toilet! However, there are showers to purge away any filth after the fun has ended.
Getting there: The sanctuary is in the state of Pahang near Lanchang, about two hours drive northwest of KL. It is worth booking an organized tour through a travel agent, as the rural route from KL is not a simple one.
Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is unique in Malaysia.
Mohd Samsul / Mohd Said / Getty Images
The fireflies of Kuala Selangor
Fireflies or “kelip-kelip” are actually small flying beetles that emit a bright glow caused by a chemical reaction in their abdomen. They live on the mangrove (Berembang) trees along the bank of the Selangor river near Kampung Kuantan. Both males and females create a light to attract a mate.
Why go?: Drifting down the Selangor river in a small sampan (flat-bottomed boat) as the mangroves throb with thousands of pulsing lights is a wondrous sight. This is one of the finest places in the world to see these captivating creatures, although bear in mind that flash photography is largely forbidden.
Top tip: Try to time your visit on a dry, moonless night, just after dark and no later than 11 p.m., when the mating ritual tails off. It’s also wise to go on a week day to avoid the crowds.
Getting there: The two-hour trip north to Kampung Kuantan (five miles east of Kuala Selangor) from KL isn’t simple, particularly when you get to the nearby back roads. It’s wise to book a tour or haggle on a return taxi from Puduraya Station. The last bus from Kuala Selangor to KL is too early, so you could only take the bus on the way there and then catch a taxi back.
Plenty of wildlife can be seen while drifting down the Selangor river
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The attraction of Port Dickson (locally known as PD) is not so much the town itself, but the 11 miles of nearby beaches against a backdrop by palms and banyan trees.
Why go?: KL isn’t missing much, but one thing it lacks is a beach to cool off at. The only sandy beaches close enough for a day trip are the ones that stretch out along the coastal road south of Port Dickson. The road traces the coastline so it’s easy to find a suitable place to stop.
Top tip: Ten miles south of Port Dickson is the Blue Lagoon, a small bay next to Cape Rachado. The small coral reef a short distance from the beach helps protect the lagoon, ensuring it has some of the clearest water in the area.
Getting there: A 90-minute drive south of KL on the North-South expressway. Anywhere along the coastal road between Port Dickson and Cape Rachado offers beach opportunities, although Teluk Kemang is the most popular. Regular buses from KL to Port Dickson leave from Puduraya station.
The beaches south of Port Dickson offer plenty of opportunities for sand and sea-based fun.
Malaysia meets Scotland in this quaint little hillside resort up in the clouds. Fraser’s Hill is named after James Fraser, a Scottish pioneer who mysteriously disappeared after setting up a tin-ore trading post in the 1890s. It rises 1,500 meters above the heat and humidity of sea level and it blends an intriguing mix of cloud forest and British colonial architecture.
Why go?: The cool, fresh air and wide variety of outdoor activities help invigorate weary bodies and refresh jaded minds. Nature trails wind under a tropical canopy that chatters and hums with bird and insect life. The five-kilometer trek out to Jeriau waterfall will give you the chance to bathe in the invigorating pool beneath. Fraser’s Hill holds an annual birdwatching event in June which is testament to the area’s rich fauna.
If walking seems like hard work there are paddle boats on a small lake called Allans’ Water, or you can hire some modestly priced fishing rods. There’s even a nine-hole golf course at Royal Fraser’s Hill Golf Club.
Top tip: When travelling to and from the resort it’s worth bearing in mind that the last eight kilometers up Fraser’s Hill is alternate one-way traffic. Going up to the resort there’s a 35-minute window to start the ascent every two hours, starting at 7a.m.
Getting there: Fraser’s Hill is 100 kilometers north up the Karak Highway and it’s a bit tricky to get to without your own wheels. However, you can get one of the half-hourly buses from Puduraya bus station to nearby Kuala Kubu Bharu and then get a taxi. It’s worth haggling on a return taxi fare as they’re hard to catch on Fraser’s Hill.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2010. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.
Dan Waters of Dan Waters Creative, is a writer and photographer who specializes in travel and wildlife. Although he’s based in the UK, Dan’s marriage to a Malaysian travel consultant has resulted in a rather special insight into Malaysian culture; he has the knowledge of a local and the enthusiasm of a tourist.
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