It’s a wonder that the sheer biodiversity and variety of landscapes that abound in Malaysia don’t have other countries crying foul. And, while you may have stuck more pins into your map of Malaysia marking what you’d like to explore than into a pincushion, it’s best to stagger your wish list over a few trips.
Taman Negara, Peninsula Malaysia: We have three words for you: “oldest primary rainforest.” If, after reading that, you aren’t already halfway to the airport to flag down the first plane headed east, maybe this will do the trick: the towering deciduous forests of Taman Negara National Park protect a mind-boggling array of wildlife like sun bears, tapirs, tigers, flying squirrels, hornbills… the list goes on. But, while a trek into this prehistoric world will be like nothing you’ve done before, you’re unfortunately not likely to see any of the larger animals.
The forest that is home to these animals is so untouched that it keeps its secrets. If you do some overnight trekking, you might have the opportunity to see some tapirs, small deer, monkeys, lizards and, most certainly leeches, though, and maybe even have the chance to sleep in a cave (four hours by road from Kuala Lumpur; Department of Wildlife and National Parks: 00-603-9075-2872; trips depart from Kuala Tehan; from ¥ 4,000for a two-day, one-night trek).
You can also do a canopy walk (about 45 minutes from the visitor centre; 10am- 3pm Sat-Thur, till 4pm Fri; park entry: ¥ 20, canopy walkway: ¥ 80).
Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Borneo: Not only is this park home to the largest cave chamber in the world, it is also home to one of the largest cave networks in the world, meaning you can wade through underground rivers, squeeze yourself through crevices, swim in rock pools and make yourself claustrophobic
to your heart’s content. A near-magical combination of sandstone, limestone and water has created the dramatic razor-like spikes that explode out of the earth and into the ghostly subterranean caves, creating a landscape and biodiversity so unique that it has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Kinabatangan River, Sandakan, Sabah: Slipping through the murky brown waters of the Klias Kinabatangan River in Borneo, with thick forest on either side and the eyes of unseen animals watching your every move, may seem like a scene out of Heart of Darkness. Luckily, though, the hidden creatures here are much less frightening than Colonel Kurtz, and, sadly, more in danger from us than the other way around. Here live the strange proboscis monkey with its bulbous nose, long-tailed macaques, all eight species of hornbill, and orangutans. Need we say more?