SPOIL YOURSELF WITH A TROPICAL SAFARI IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Talk about here, there and everywhere. Where shall we start? Malaysia, sitting pretty in southeast Asia and lying just north of the equator, is partly located on a peninsula of Mother Asia and partly on the northern third of the island, Borneo. To the west, it cozies up to Thailand, then linked via a causeway and a bridge to the island state of Singapore. It doesn’t stop here. Malaysia has the glorious South China Sea and the magnificent Straits of Malacca as coastlines. The eastern part of the county – Borneo – has Brunei and Indonesia as its neighbors. Geography lesson is done and dusted. With parts of the country scattered about, it is no surprise that Malaysia offers visitors a wide range of experiences! LET’S ZOOM IN Peninsular Malaysia is more developed and urbanized than the wonderfully rural East Coast – divided by a solid mountain range, the Titiwangsa. You’ll be heading into rainforests alright. Sadly, a vast region has been converted into palm oil plantations, especially in the more accessible and flatter regions, but fortunately, pristine rainforests still abound – located inland, where it’s mountainous. HOW DO I NEGOTIATE THE MONSOON? Malaysia is as tropical as a cocktail. Watch out for the northeast monsoon (October to February) – it deluges Borneo and the east coast in rain with floods aplenty. The west coast (especially Langkawi and Penang) does not experience this raincoat-induced weather. A much calmer south-west monsoon (April to October) flips the pattern. If you make your way towards the southern regions of Malaysia, which might include an enduringly soggy Kuala Lumpur, you’ll be privy to both weather conditions. If it’s the rainy season, the showers are quite something, but brief. Because of its proximity to the equator, warm weather is on the cards. Temperature-wise, you’re looking at 32°C (89.6ºF) at midday to 26°C (78.8ºF) at midnight. Like the bulk of Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia's sunny days are overshadowed by the monsoon season. Temperatures drop at night to about 23°C (73.4ºF) on rain-filled days. It’s cooler in the highlands – Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill range from 17°C (62.6ºF) at night to about 25°C (77ºF) during the day. At Mount Kinabalu, temperatures drop to below 10°C (50ºF). That’s our stats breakdown, for now. MANY RIVERS TO CROSS Peninsular Malaysia is awash with an intricate system of rivers and streams. The longest river, Pahang, meanders for 434 km (270 mi). Streams flow year-round, because of the constant rains. Welcome to Waterworld! As in Peninsular Malaysia, the drainage pattern of East Malaysia is set by the interior highlands, which also form the watershed between Malaysia and Indonesia. The rivers, also perennial because of the year-round rainfall, form a dense network covering the entire region. The longest river in Sarawak in Eastern Malaysia, the Rajang, is about 563 km (350 mi) long. Board a shallow-draft boat as you drift along about 240km (150 mi) from its mouth. In Sabah, the Kinabatangan River is there to navigate. The rivers allow for communication between the coast and the interior, with many a settlement on their banks. WHAT’S THAT STRANGE-LOOKING PLANT? Tidal swamp forest awaits you on the coast, freshwater- and peat-swamp forest on the ill-drained parts of the coastal plains, lowland rainforest on the well-drained parts of the coastal plains and plenty of foothills as high as 600 m (2 000 ft). The wonderfully named ‘cloud forest’ is to be found in higher areas. The incredibly leached and sandy soils of parts of central Sarawak allow for an open heath-like forest, known as the ‘kerangas forest.’ The Malaysian rain forest is among the richest on Planet Earth. There are more than 2 000 species of trees, but let’s stop in our tracks at the parasitic monster flower… the world’s largest known flower, the Rafflesia. It measures nearly 1 m (3 ft) from side to side. Carnivorous pitcher plants also grow in Malaysia’s forests. One acre (0.4 hectares) of forest may have close to 100 different species of trees, alongside shrubs, herbs, lianas – a type of creeper – and those inevitable nonparasitic plants that grow on other plants. The forest canopy is so dense that the sunlight can hardly find a way through! ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL East Malaysia is the unmistakable playground for agile orangutans and sturdy rhinoceroses. Then there are sun bears, which also go by the lovely name of ‘honey bears’ and the characterful proboscis monkey – a reddish tree-dwelling fellow. Cave swift nests are everywhere. If you ever order Chinese bird’s nest soup, then this is where it hails from... SAFARI IN THE PARK Malaysia has done a stellar job with their national parks. The list of expeditions available to safari-goers is long – catering for the hotel-hopping safari-goer to ones where you are knee-deep in the jungle with only the guide and your party. Tours vary from about four days to a beautiful two weeks or longer. Note that in Eastern Malaysia hiking sans guides is often not possible – even for seemingly easy-going trails. At Bako National Park you can roam on your own. The sighting of animals is quite a challenge, but oh so worth it. One of the oldest rainforests with its orangutans, pygmy elephants and leopard cats is Danum Valley. All along Kinabatangan River, there are pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, and orangutans as well. Telupid Forest Reserve, also known as Deramakot, is home to the rare clouded leopard – there are only 700 left in Sabah. The more popular the park, the better its accessibility – wooden boardwalks and concrete walkways allow safari-goers a taste of jungle life. In these parks, you might not spot a tiger or an elephant – for that, you’ll have to stay longer than a few days. Come on, make it a couple of weeks! Right, you’ve been warned… the jungles have their fair share of leeches! The rainforest is ridiculously humid, but strangely not incredibly hot. Thank the shade made by the canopy created by interlocking trees. Dedicated packaged tours are synonymous with Eastern Malaysia whilst tourism in Sarawak and Sabah is more focused on large groups. NOW FOR NATIONAL PARK HEAVEN Should you want to exit the muggy tropics, then head for the breezier highlands of West Malaysia or set off for Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. You are now in Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site. Some 90 lowland mammal species roam about. If flora occupies the frontal lobe of your gray matter, then 5 000 vascular plant species are there to be admired. Scout for the enigmatic Rothschild slipper orchid, one of the rarest orchids in the world. Here you can alpine rock climb and paraglide like a banshee. There are also expeditions offering breathtaking views on Mount Kinabalu and the Mountain Torq – the world’s highest and Asia’s first Via Ferrata or ‘Iron Road’ – up to 3 800 m above sea level. Note that Mount Kinabalu is highly popular. If you want to scale its heights, we advise you to make reservations at least six months in advance to avoid disappointment. The number of climbers is limited to 135 per day. Kinabalu Park plays host to a multitude of natural attractions and classic activities such as mountain biking, birding, farm tours and canopy walks (let the tough guys in your party sweat it out on the mountain). Tap into your inner photographer! HEAD FOR PRISTINE SURF Malaysia’s beautiful beaches offer fantastic diving opportunities. Snake towards Sipadan, located off the coast of Sabah and the Perhentian Islands, which is itself, off the coast of northern Terengganu. Our tip is to pack your sunscreen for coastlines in the less industrialized parts of the country. Laid-back seaside kampung (villages) are surrounded by natural beauty. And don’t go for a solo swim at any beach which is not protected by capes – powerful undertows lurk beneath... Be sure to check with the locals where it is safe to swim, before donning your snorkel and flippers. HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE Langkawi, an archipelago of 99 islands known for its beaches, rainforest, and jaw-dropping mountains… Penang or Pulau Pinang is known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ with its excellent cuisine… The Perhentian Islands, beckoning with its sparkling waters off the East Coast, lying undiscovered like yesterday… The grandiose Taman Negara National Park – vast stretches of dense rainforest spanning Kelantan, Pahang, and Terengganu… Tioman, considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world… What is not to like… a safari-goer and explorer’s dream. Keep in mind that Malaysia’s wildlife regions are rural and remote – it gives you the added benefit of being pleasantly surprised though. Soak up the mist-shrouded forests from a cave entrance at Niah National Park, lounge in a longboat moored in a creek of Clearwater Cave, walk all along the jetty at Coral Bay beach on the Perhentian Islands or look up a tree, two storeys high, as a rust-colored orangutan emerges from a nest made from twigs and branches. Simply put, enjoy a feast of a safari in Malaysia!