Come May-June, there's always this tingling feeling of wanting to escape somewhere for a holiday. If you're looking for somewhere close to home, you'd be happy to know that there are plenty of hidden gems in Malaysia as well as other underrated destinations. After all, you've been working hard for the first half of the year, why not reward yourself before resuming that crazy schedule, huh?
Say it with me now: "Boss, I need a break!"
Okay darlings, now that you've learnt the mid-year mantra, here's a list of 8 underrated destinations in Malaysia to choose from as you visualise that perfect vacation you've been needing all this while ?
1. Balik Pulau, Penang
When someone mentions Penang to you, a non-Penangite, places like Georgetown or Batu Feringghi would quickly come to mind. Jam-packed with tourists, and tourist traps ? And then there are the Instagrammable spots nearby halal eateries ? It is, therefore, our social responsibility to let you know that the charm of Penang encompasses the whole state, and Balik Pulau deserves a place in your hearts.
Located in the west of Georgetown, this quiet corner of the island offers the suburban vibe we all need from time to time. Animal lovers, you're in for a treat. Saanen Dairy Goat Farm is a place worth visiting, and it's pretty self-explanatory ?? It's a wholesome family-friendly zone where you could also feed the goats, watch the milking process, and treat yourself to the farm-fresh dairy products you'd hardly find in the city.
Before you ask "Can I ride the goats?", let me quickly direct you to Countryside Stables Penang.
Nestled in the heart of Sungai Burung, an agricultural area, this is where you can go for pony and horse-riding. Not the goats, please. You can also stroll around and learn more about the variety of breeds they have; Polo Pony, Pure Bred Arabian Horses, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysian Ponies.
If you're looking to get to know the town better, visiting the small scale businesses here would be a great idea. There are Lean Seng Bedak Sejuk (traditional face mask), Chop Kim Hua Belacan (shrimp paste; which exports internationally - all the way to Holland!), and not to forget Stepping Stone Centre; an arts and craft workshop run by the special needs community.
While there's a lot to do, there's also a lot to eat here. Fan of local street food? Drop by Pasar Malam Pondok Upeh for your dose of halal hawker guilty-pleasures i.e nasi lemak, yong tau fu, apam balik, the list goes on! We also covered 12 halal eateries you can drop by while you're in Penang - bon appetit!
So yeah, while you're on your way to Bayan Lepas airport from your vacation in Batu Feringghi, why not take a detour and see this lovely tranquil town for yourself?
Saanen Dairy Goat Farm
Opening hours: Mon-Fri; 10AM – 5PM; Sat-Sun; 10AM – 6PM.
Address:298 MK 1, Sungai Pinang, 11010 Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang.
Contact: Call 019-5163017
Countryside Stables Penang
Opening hours: Open daily; 10AM - 12PM, 2PM - 7PM
Address: Lot 10050 Jalan Sungai Burung, Kampong Jalan Baru, Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang.
Contact: Call 012-408 0678
2. Seremban, Negeri Sembilan
Say it isn't so! We're fairly surprised as you are, but yes, Seremban has more than there is to it. Travelling to the east nearing Jelebu, the few kilometres covering the outskirts of the rainforest is where all the stunning jungle resorts are situated.
The likes of The Shorea and The Dusun are few of the resorts here located barely 2 hours from Klang Valley. Blessed with the view of the Berembun Forest Reserves and the clean air sustaining this area, we couldn't think of a better way to take a break from the city. Apart from the infinity pools (which could've easily kept us occupied for a whole day ?), the resorts each offer a variety of recreational activities. This would make for a fun retreat especially if you come with a company. If these don't appeal to you, don't worry. We've got you covered with 12 Gorgeous Nature Retreats in Malaysia for a Refreshing Getaway here!
Haw Kee Durian Orchard is also nearby, saving you from your durian cravings. Get your hands on these juicy King of the fruits, because nothing beats the feeling of enjoying them right at the orchard.
#HHWT Tip: The upcoming durian harvest season is expected to be throughout June - July ? You're welcome!
To rid of the guilt after stuffing your face with all that durian goodness, a challenging hike at Gunung Berembun awaits! What's interesting about the hike is along the way, you'll pass by Lata Berembun waterfall and a World War 2 plane crash site. The 70-year-old historical site is still pretty much preserved up to this day, where you can identify aircraft debris once belonged to the British Royal Air Force scattered in the jungle.
There's an entry fee of RM5/pax, which will be collected by the management staff. Every visitor is required to log in their details prior to the hike.
Haw Kee Durian Orchard
Opening hours: At management's discretion. Kindly call prior to the visit.
Address: Lot 2013 Kampung Kolam Air Mukim Pantai Baharu, Jalan Jelebu, 71700 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan.
Contact: Call 012-283 8610
3. Semporna, Sabah
Unlike Kundasang and Kota Kinabalu, Semporna is somewhat mentioned not as frequently by tourists. However, it holds beneath itself an underwater treasure, preserved and untouched. For those of you who couldn't resist a breathtaking getaway filled with vitamin 'sea', this is for you.
The best things to do here are aplenty, and it all starts with island-hopping. From the coast of Semporna, you can hop on a boat ride to the trinity world-renowned diving spots: Mabul, Kipalai, and Sipadan. The Tun Sakaran Marine Park, formed on the remains of extinct volcanoes, is Sabah's largest marine park consisting of 8 islands. Bohey Dulang is one of its noteworthy islands; emerald lagoon, mere 300 metres peak that calls for a great hike, flourishing coral reefs, etc (the list is endless?).
You'll also get to admire settlements of Sabah's seafaring nomad community known as Orang Bajau Laut.
P.S. Thinking of exploring the rest of Sabah? We've got you covered with 10 Scenic Accommodations in Sabah ?
A short drive to the southeast of Semporna brings you to Bukit Tengkorak a.k.a. the Skull Hill, where archaeologists believed was Southeast Asia's largest pottery making factory of the neolithic age. We recommend visiting Bukit Tengkorak Archaeological Museum to find out more about the links between the present community in Semporna and their ancestors.
If you're not a history buff, that's okay. You can still bask in the beauty of the hill and the lush plains (which look like it belongs in Africa/Australia, by the way!) that surround it. Notice the black boulders sticking out on the grasslands in Bukit Tengkorak? Those are actually volcanic rocks formed millions of years ago!
#HHWT Tip: Before visiting Bukit Tengkorak, make sure you come prepared with covered shoes for the hike. Rubber covered shoes are sold at the entrance, but it's not the most comfortable gear!
4. Taman Negara, Pahang
Oh Taman Negara... If there's any grand geographical feature of Malaysia I appreciate the most, it would be our national parks. That's right, we have several Taman Negara located all over East and West Malaysia i.e Penang, Negeri Sembilan-Johor, Sarawak.
If your getaway involves friends and family, the escape gives a good reason to bond without the distraction of your gadgets. Whether it's trekking or taking a trip on the boat, the park gives you the sensible freedom to discover the ins-and-outs of our national treasure that is Taman Negara.
The thrill doesn't stop there. Be sure to experience the world's longest canopy walkway while you're here. It was originally built for researchers but was later on opened for public. Here's a fun fact: the walkway is secured without the use of any drill/nail so as to not damage the trees. No worries, however, as it is completely safe!
5. Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak
If you think the conversation we're having on national parks stops at Pahang, think again. Sarawak is too special, it'd be a federal crime for us to not feature it ?
Psst... We wrote a special article on 10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Kuching and we think you'd want to give it a read ?
The fascination with Gunung Mulu National Park spans beyond what the age-old rainforest embodies. Named as one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites, the exceptional beauty of this park and the abundance of wildlife it houses make it a must-see for those who are curious of what Malaysia has to offer.
With the Mulu summit standing tall 2376 metres above sea level, prepare to strap your trekking shoes on and explore the huge cave chambers, stunning underground river, and the tropical geo-diversity. The view at the pinnacles is unlike no other, so make sure you take a photo to commemorate your victory when you get up to the top!
As it is very remote, the only way to access the park is via MASwings flight to Mulu, which is available daily from Miri, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu. More info on Gunung Mulu National Park's website.
#HHWT Tip: Between June and September is the park's busiest period, so plan well if you prefer lesser crowd when travelling. The park is open year-round.
6. Tasik Kenyir, Terengganu
Now, if you frequent travel articles about Malaysia, you're sure to come across this name. In a list of must-go places here in this country, Tasik Kenyir is an unassuming one. It's a lake; what's so great about it?
A quick read on Wikipedia would tell you that this is by far Southeast Asia's biggest man-made lake. Artificial or not, we love the fact that this lake is nature's rich reservoir, and how it's encapsulated by the stillness of the surrounding majestic rainforest.
Since it was reserved as an eco-tourism destination, you can find plenty of chalets and boathouses to enjoy the charm of Kenyir beyond just a day.
To explore the beauty of this reservoir, reserve a day to go canoeing/kayaking/rafting. You can soak in the foliage-filtered sun while birdwatching (hey, to certain people, this is the definition of bliss!). Here's a good reason why: this area is home to about 350 species of birds, including hornbills!
If you're an angler or simply the enthusiast version, fishing is the #1 activity when you're here especially in August when the water level is lower. However, it's only allowed in certain spots so be sure to inquire from your boat provider/tour guide on the regulations before casting your rod!
Other popular activities to do here includes caving at Gua Bewah, go for a fish spa treatment at Kelah Fish Sanctuary, and checking out waterfalls i.e Lasir waterfall.
If dipping in the water all by yourself is no fun, there's an option for you to get splashing with elephants! Kenyir Elephant Conservation Village was launched in 2012 to care for lost or abandoned elephants before releasing them back into the wild. Visitors get play with the elephants while also learning more about the gentle creatures.
7. Sasaran, Kuala Selangor
As a local, I would not have expected in a million years that my own country offers sky mirrors. I thought wrong. If Malaysia has everything (except winter and snow-capped mountains and a few other things I might miss), why wouldn't sky mirror be one of it?
While many of you might know Kuala Selangor for its firefly sanctuary, this is another attraction that most travellers may miss when going through the checklist ?
The sky mirror is essentially surface reflection caused by the low tide (you might have heard of Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia?) located in Kuala Selangor beach. There's a catch: it's only accessible twice a month, during the full moon and new moon. In between, the tide submerges the sand bar below sea level and you'll have to wait a few weeks to get a cool reflective picture ?
Sea clams and shore crabs are aplenty here, which is why Kuala Selangor is also an ideal fresh seafood escape for many KL-ites. We don't want to get your hopes too high, but on a good day, you might be able to spot friendly pink dolphins from a distance!
To join, you are required to sign up for the Sky Mirror Malaysia tour that'll take you on a 30-min ferry ride to the sky mirror beach. Definitely perfect for those who want a half-day getaway from Klang Valley.
8. Pulau Rawa, Johor
Tucked away off of Mersing shores in the South China Sea, this pristine nature's little paradise corner is dubbed as the Maldives of Johor. Compared to the rest of the gorgeous islands Malaysia has to offer, Pulau Rawa certainly takes the cake when it comes to offering its visitors the best of mother nature without the crowd and modern developments.
There's a good reason why the name 'Rawa' is given to this island; it's home to a lot of white doves (called rawa)! Thanks to the fact that it's not usually thronged with tourists here, everything you do comes with a little bit of privacy. Sleep all day in the hammock? Go ahead. Take a thousand OOTDs with your new bathing suit along the island trails? No one's watching. Feast on fresh seafood BBQ platter all by yourself? By all means!
Apart from that and the A-Zs of what nature has to offer, tourists often go for snorkelling and diving whenever they visit. It's safe to say that the azure waters and all that vitamin D goodness are enough to make your getaway here very relaxing.
Oh, and let's not forget that the Rawa experience is not only centred around the beach but also the Hill Top View. The hike takes less than half an hour, and you'll be blessed by a scenic view of the South China Sea you never knew you needed all this while.
P.S. Want to know what other private islands are there in Malaysia Truly Asia? We've rounded up 11 Muslim-Friendly Private Island Resorts in this article just for you.
So! Do these underrated destinations tempt you for a vacation or what? If you're planning your mid-year vacay, we hope this article gave you bit of an idea to start off with ?