Why I Love Malaysia: It’s Not What You (Probably) Think!

Tourist at Petronas Twin Towers, Kula Lumpur.
I love Malaysia as much as I hate my fashion sense back then and inability to look natural on camera :D

I love Malaysia. 

Every time I travel to this wildly underrated country, I get goosebumps. I feel impatient and antsy.

I lose my appetite for food because I’m so excited to get there that I can’t focus on whatever entertainment option I have at my disposal. 

Book, podcast, music, movie… it doesn’t matter just get me there already and put my name on a the tarik!

I Love Malaysia For Sentimental Reasons (& 10 More)

What possibly could be the reason behind the gushing confession of “I love Malaysia?” Could it be the aforementioned tasty tea (and flavoursome food on top of that?) The intense festivals in Malaysia? The gorgeous beaches? 

Let’s be real here, as much as I do believe that Malaysia is an unsung hero on the well-beaten Southeast Asia trail, you have all of the above (and more) already taken care of on the doorstep of the region if you want it. 

Thailand has so many cool festivals. You can find intense religious fervour in the Philippines and also the option to swim with Whale Sharks (for better or worse) then there is Indonesia which caters for all kinds of travel, from the smoothie bowl munching yogi to the most adventurous of hikers.

My bouncing emotions for Malaysia are bigger than all of these reasons put together. A force that is hard to explain until you feel it yourself, and is often the most powerful catalyst for bringing on such heightened feelings.

And that is the wonderful force of nostalgia.

Malaysia reminds me of the most pertinent part of my personal journey; the beginning. It was the first country that I landed in at the start of this undoubtedly life-changing journey, over a decade ago. 

£1000 in the bank, zero income, petrified, not a clue what my next move was, how it’d all turn out and no return ticket back home. I’d burnt all my bridges and had just said goodbye to all I had ever known.

When I stepped out of Kuala Lumpur airport with my stomach in absolute knots; the heavens opened and I experienced my first-ever tropical thunderstorm. 

I didn’t run for cover. 

I looked up to the sky (a-la Tim Robbins Shawshank style) and let the rain hammer off my face, with my arms aloft in the air. I felt every drop onto my pores and didn’t care about how soaked I was. I laughed hysterically as I attempted to take in the magnitude of what I had done… finally taking a risk on myself with all my chips on the table.

And then I cried. 

I cried hard and I cried real tears, representing a passionate cocktail of built-up, raw emotions. 

It was actually the last time I cried in three years of publishing this post. I must have looked like a crazy man to the locals who ran for cover. Standing there in the storm with a huge smile on my face, looking up to the Gods with tears strolling down my face. 

I’m sure it sounds over the top to anyone who didn’t feel what I felt during that moment. But the simple fact is…

I’ve never felt more alive than I did that day.

It’s a healthy level of sentimentality. I don’t wish to relive those moments upon arrival and there is no demand that Malaysia provides a theatrical reunion of those powerful emotions. 

Just mutual respect and a deep feeling of gratitude.

I Love Malaysia for many reasons, but this one is my most cherished and important reason to me and it always will be.

10 (Other) Reasons Why I Love Malaysia

My crush-like reminiscence aside, I love Malaysia for many of the same logic as other travellers who make their way there. A few of these are obvious, some of them not so much for those not familiar with the country.

Let’s get our teeth into the top ten (extra) reasons why I love Malaysia, in no particular order: 

1. Bangin’ Food

I could have cried again when I swallowed my first bite of the national dish, nasi lemak. Same deal for beef rendang, all the flavours dancing around my mouth while I (happily) tucked in local style; by eating it with my strongest hand out of a banana leaf… I fell in love with not just Malaysia, but travel itself.

Ten years later and I have made the (very difficult) decision to stop eating meat. I don’t feel like I’m missing out when I’m in India, special vegetarian events in Thailand and also Malaysia. (Indian) Malay cuisine is sophisticated and complex, a lot of love and thought goes into its dishes and it’s all about the herbs and spices that make that perfect party in your mouth. 

Indian food is well-known for this and rightly so, but the Indian Malaysian fusion doesn’t seem to get the plaudits that it deserves, or maybe I am blinded by the aforementioned sentimentality.

Thai food is without a doubt – absolutely b-b-b-bangin’ too, but again this is no shock to anyone as it’s famous for it. 

Malaysian curries are a worthy shout and the multicultural effect of the nation adds layers to the food journey you can have there. More influences equal more options, and it shows.

2. The People of Malaysia

What’s a good place without good people? I’d much rather travel in a relatively poor country with friendly people than be in the latest à-la-mode postcard destination with a bunch of miserable arseholes, or where people have lost their basic manners. 

Luckily Malaysia has both; it’s a brilliant travel destination with amiable and welcoming people with the Global Peace Index rating the country a very respectful 23rd in the table of 163.

Malaysians can be funny too. This is of course subjective to the individual and also culture, but even the most well-meaning comedians haven’t made me laugh naturally as much as some Malaysians have.

It’s similar to Filipino humour; a little cheeky, with a hint of sarcasm for good measure with good intentions. I love Malaysia and I love Malaysian people!

3. Hotpot of Culture 

The tasty grub that I mentioned earlier probably wouldn’t make the list if it wasn’t for the almost unprecedented level of multiculturalism that makes up the country. 50.4% of the population is Malay, 23.7% Chinese, 11% indigenous, 7.1% Indian, and 7.8% go down on paper as ‘other races.’

I’m aware that there is nuance to this story and that Malaysia has had its dark period regarding the chain reaction of a country hosting such a melting pot of different ethnicities. I’m happy to learn more about this, but I do see time and time again people of the 3 main ethnic groups and various creeds sitting together at the same table, so the romantic in me likes to think that times have changed for the better. 

A good result for travellers who love Malaysia is that there are more public holidays and fascinating festivals in Malaysia to enjoy, the country ranks number 7 in the world for the most public holidays in the world.

4. Malaysian Borneo

Visiting Borneo while already in Malaysia feels like a 2-for-1 package deal; it feels as if you are visiting two different countries at the same time. 

The island of Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world behind Greenland and New Guinea (The landmass that is Australia is a continent so it can’t be classed as an island) and Malaysian Borneo packs a good punch for things to do considering it owns only 26% of the island (Indonesia govern 73% and Brunei govern 1% of Borneo).

The most popular states Sabah and Sarawak are fantastic. There is so much to do such as watching cute families of orangutans in the wild in Kuching, national park touring and seeing the world’s largest flower (the smelly rafflesia, which dies within a week after taking 9 months to bloom).

If you’re feeling adventurous you can climb the mighty Mount Kinabalu. It’s constantly referred to as the tallest mountain in South Asia, which isn’t the case; it’s 29th behind Puncak Jaya and most of the higher peaks belong to Myanmar. 

But that’s just me being pedantic. I climbed Mount Kinabalu and with it standing tall in the clouds at 4,095 metres, it’s a truly solid workout and a beautiful mountain to hike while visiting Malaysia. 

It’s the largest mountain in Malaysian Borneo and Malaysia as a whole, well worth the effort to get there and get busy until you reach the glory of the top and the views that greet you when you do.

5. Wildlife in Malaysia 

It is estimated that Malaysia has 20% of the world’s animal species. That’s 1 in 5 of all of the weird and wonderful (and terrifying) animals on the whole planet!

This is an undeniable bragging right. I love Malaysia’s diversity of wildlife, they have majestic big cats; the Indochinese tiger, Malayan tiger, clouded leopard and the Indochinese leopard and other badass animals such as the Sumatran rhinoceros and saltwater crocodiles (although I try not to get too close to those).

Malaysia is also home to cuter animals such as mouse deer, barking deer, red squirrels and mongooses. Then there are of course the ridiculous-looking (and deceptively athletic) Proboscis monkeys who leap from tree to tree in the jungles of Malaysian Borneo, with their peculiar faces and skinny-fat bodies.

These are just a few of the animals that you can see, 20% is no joke and any wildlife lover who travels would be mad to skip Malaysia while planning to visit Southeast Asia.

6. The Weather

This is a case of “different strokes for different folks.” Some people like to be in the cold (you weirdos), I am from a cold winter city, but I always follow the sun and Malaysia has that every day. 

Are some days too hot? Sure. Does it rain too much at times? In accordance with my dramatic intro where I confessed the most important reason why I love Malaysia, hell yes it rains too much at times. It’s a tropical country and that’s how they roll.

But it’s fine.

Malaysia is also relatively safe from natural disasters. While it can have floods and landslides, it lucks out with earthquakes, which after living in Mexico City is definitely a nice extra thing to not have to worry about.

Malaysia is one of those countries where the weather follows a general seasonal pattern and it’s easier to plan your travels for this reason.

7. Good Value For Money

Malaysia is a good value for money as a travel destination. I avoid using the word “cheap” as that’s a suggestion that the quality might be low, in Malaysia you can get a really good bargain on accommodation, food and transportation.

The capital city, Kuala Lumpur comes with a little extra premium, but let’s be real; that’s just a capital city thing and it’s not just Malaysia where this is the case.

8. Diversity of Travel

It’s no shock that a travel blog spouting out adoration for a country would suggest that the country is brilliant for travelling, but I am going to hammer home that point here; because Malaysia caters to many different tastes.

Whether you are a foodie eating your way through Penang, a wildlife nerd, a broke backpacker, a luxury traveller, or a simple sun and sea kind of tourist; Malaysia has your back.

Scuba Diving is a big hit in Malaysia too, it’s where I got my first PADI underwater certification. That worked out almost tragically in the end, but if you’re a lover of scuba then Malaysia awaits. Same if you’re a tea geek, the much cooler climate of the Cameron Highlands is a stunning part of the world and you’ll be able to enjoy a good cuppa while you take it all in.

9. Hub(ba Hubba!)

I love Malaysia because it’s such a good hub destination. The capital city acts as a handy connecting city not just for Malaysia, but other countries within Asia, making it excellent for regional and ongoing travel.

You can get direct flights from Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) to; Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Oman, United Arab Emirates, East Timor, New Zealand and Australia.

Malaysia is a phenomenal hub country, the above list is worth making a note of for travel planning.

10. Bahasa

You can get by just fine in Malaysia with English, but it’s always good to have a couple of niceties in your locker when travelling to another country. Bahasa is a language, which derives from Sanskrit and it is spoken (albeit in different dialects) in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei.

I do try and use some of the goldie oldies when I visit Bahasa-speaking countries. I loved it from day one, it’s relatively easy to pick up as it is not a tonal language and it is similar to English with respect to vowels followed by consonants on a regular basis.

Have a crack at some Bahasa phrases below and tell me you’re not having fun, I dare you:

  • Good morning: Selamat Pagi
  • How are you: Apa Kabar?
  • Thank you: Terima Kasih!
  • You’re Welcome: Sama-Sama! (My personal favourite)

There you go, I rest my case on all the reasons why I love Malaysia. It goes without saying that the one in my intro will always be my personal favourite.

Anthony Middleton

A former loser who took a risk. I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand after visiting over 100 countries. Stay tuned for the next challenge against that clock!
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Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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