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Your guide to Malaysia’s nature trails

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The South Asian nation is a heaven for trekkers, campers and climbers. Here’s a list of its best experiences

moderate / mountain

Trek up South-East Asia’s highest peak

Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

Whether you are in search of that perfect sunrise, a fitness-testing challenge, or just bragging rights of scaling the highest peak in South-East Asia, a two-day climb up Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo will do all that and more. The eight-km trek starts at the Timpohon Gate at the park entrance (1,800 m), involves a night-stop at Laban Rata (3,273 m), and then the push to the summit (4,095 m) in time for that gorgeous sunrise. You will be back in time for lunch, with a brand-new notch in your belt.

waterfall / moderate / mountain

The quickest getaway from Kuala Lumpur

Bukit Saga, Cheras, Peninsular Malaysia

If you are in KL and are looking to stretch your legs, hit the Bukit Saga trail in nearby Cheras, up to the summit at just 430 m. The low elevation comes with several short steep climbs, enough to get your heart pumping, but minus the next-day soreness. Choose from three trails with varying gradients to get to the top. A stop-off at the waterfalls of Bukit Apeh is recommended. This 5.5-km trek typically takes around four hours, both ways.

mountain / moderate-challenging

Test your stamina on this two-day trek

Gunung Semangkok, Selangor

The highest peak of Selangor may have an elevation of just 1,824m, but it will test your mettle as a climber. Two days are recommended, as the way down is as demanding as—and takes even longer— than the way up. There are two stops for great views: the first at Pine Tree Hill and the second at Rhodo Hill; there is no view to speak of at the top. It typically takes eight hours one way, and pundits have rated this a tough one. So be warned.

easy-challenging / multiple trails

Malaysia’s most bang-for-buck nature trails

Cameron Highlands

This is Malaysia’s most favoured trekking spot, with multiple trails leading to various end-points. Several are steep, wild and untended; several of them inter-cross with each other through dense foliage, tea plantations and barely-discernable dirt tracks. The climate is gorgeous and the scenery stunning. Climb Mount Brinchang (2,000 m) for an unbeatable view at the top, but don’t expect solitude up there: buses bring tourists up by road as well. For a nice family-hike, head to Parit Falls.

beaches / moderate / mangroves

Check out Penang’s best beaches

Penang National Park

This is Malaysia’s youngest and smallest park, yet promises a good burst of sweat with its steep trails. Eight of Penang’s best beaches are here in the park, often as destinations on any of the three main trails, through lush mangroves and past brackish lakes. If you plan an overnight stay at the spectacular and secluded beaches, you may be rewarded by the sight of nesting sea-turtles. Head to Pantai Kerachut, Monkey Beach, or the Muka Head lighthouse.

beaches / moderate

Visit the home of Malaysia’s most exotic flower

Gunung Gading National Park

Despite being the least visited park in Borneo, it boasts some of the most well-marked trails in all of Malaysia, and also some of its finest scenery and biodiversity. Rare flowers, a dormant volcano, a lush rainforest, several waterfalls, and even beaches make this a trekker’s paradise. Try and catch the beautiful Rafflesia flower in full bloom, an alien-looking species three feet in diameter and the heaviest in the world. Head to the Pandan and Siar beaches for peace and seclusion.

mountain / moderate-challenging

Experience the world’s oldest rain forest

Taman Negara National Park

This gargantuan national park (4,300 sq km) has the distinction of being the world’s oldest rainforest. Indigenous species of flora and fauna have evolved here over millions of years, and what better way to see these up close than from the nature trails that wind through this living, breathing lung. Experienced trekkers/climbers should take up the challenge of the five-day ascent of Gunung Tahan (2,187 m), peninsular Malaysia’s highest peak.

challenging

Sight a rare, endangered animal species

Endau-Rompin National Park

Nature lovers, take heed. This second-largest national park in peninsular Malaysia will offer rare sights of the Sumatran rhino and the indigenous Orang Asli tribe of ancient Malay. Hoof over volcanic rock- formations dating back to 200 million years en route to the park’s three stunning waterfalls, the Pandan, Beringin and Tinggi. Multi-day treks are recommended here, over a maximum of three days, to do justice to this mysterious and magical rainforest.

moderate / flora-fauna / orangutans

See the world’s most lovable primate in its natural habitat

Batang Ai National Park

No trip to Malaysia should be complete without at least one sighting of the majestic and adorable Orangutan in the wild, before they disappear off the face of the earth. This park, which continues on into neighbouring Indonesia, is one of their last remaining habitats. Apart from this shy and gentle primate, a typical trek though the rainforest will yield sights of Borneo gibbons, giant squirrels, hornbills and the extremely rare clouded leopard.

caves / moderate / archaeology

Explore South-East Asia’s cradle of human civilisation

Niah National Park, Sarawak

Smaller than its giant neighbours, this one comes with exotic add-ons like ancient caves in which South- East Asia’s oldest human remains were discovered. This little cradle of civilisation is visited by avid trekkers, archaeologists and ecologists. There is a little peak as well, Gunung Subis (394 m), for climbers who wish to work up a sweat. The recommended trek here is a tour of the labyrinthine caves, followed by a sunset trek to see millions of swirling bats heading home for the night.