Page 1




From jungle-clad hills to tropical azure waters to old-growth rainforest, Team Outpost explores magnificent Malaysia—island to highland, cave to treetop, river to basin—and discovers a land of timeless culture and endless adventure

In partnership with:





has been drawing travellers, adventurers, traders and explorers for thousands of years. Many were so pleased by what they found that they stayed, forging a nation that’s a rich mosaic of cultures, religions, traditions and languages and as historically diverse as any country on the planet today. Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is comprised of Peninsular Malaysia, a beach-lined, jungle-clad finger of land that winds 740 kilometres (460 miles) from its southernmost tip to its land border with Thailand in the north; and East Malaysia, which perches on the island of Borneo and boasts 2,607 kilometres (1,620 miles) of idyllic coastline as well as forests filled with orangutans, monkeys and spectacular birdlife. The first residents of Malaysia were the indigenous tribes, or Orang Asli, who are believed to have arrived on the peninsula perhaps 40,000 years ago, and whose descendents can still be found throughout the country. Next came the Malay people several millennia ago and a little later, Chinese and Indian settlers. Although Islam is the country’s official religion, Malaysia is defined mostly by secularism. Its constitution calls for the protection of all religious beliefs, resulting in skylines that mix magnificent minarets with towering Hindu temples and breathtaking Buddhist statues. From the 16th to the 20th century, present-day Malaysia was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, all keen for a share of the region’s rich natural resources. Finally gaining its independence from Britain in 1957, remnants of European colonial rule are still evident, further adding to its grand ethnic mix. Nominally ruled by a king, the head of government is the democratically elected prime minister, and together they form a constitutional monarchy not unlike that of the United Kingdom. Today, more accessible than ever, Malaysia attracts adventurers as effectively as it attracted settlers in centuries past. Whether hiking tropical jungle in search of sun bears and leopard cats, or swimming crystal clear waters alongside whale sharks and sea turtles, Malaysia is a paradise for every lover of wilderness and wildlife.

Follow Team Outpost as we whet your appetite for discovery and adventure, then visit our Malaysia Travel Center to wet your feet for real.



Kuala Lumpur,

city of a million worlds


ince Kuala Lumpur is always the launching point of a trip to Malaysia, I associate the city with blearyeyed excitement, a feeling of anticipation, and a vague disbelief at where on the planet I’ve landed. KL, as it’s generally called, echoes all that energy, mirrors and magnifies that sense of wonder as you take in its design, its people, its food and its vibe. I felt instantaneously activated, a little buzzed, somewhat restless and ready for anything. For all its modern architecture, sleek storefronts and shiny skyscrapers, KL still feels wild somehow, as though it can’t be totally tamed. Dark jungle foliage looms in the spaces between the innovative electric trains and the restaurants. In the 1850s, a group of Chinese tin prospectors went in search of a place to set a mining operation. They found themselves at the junction of two rivers—the Sungai Klang and the Sungai Gombak—and aptly named the location Kuala Lumpur, which means “muddy confluence” in Malay. KL subsequently ballooned into a frontier town. Today, it’s a confluence of much more than two rivers— Indian, Chinese and indigenous people have all contributed to its explosive growth, as have tourists and businesspeople from all over the world. And you walk through many realms on its streets: Chinese reflexology spas, tranquil bird parks, women with and without hijabs, teenagers in flip flops sipping Starbucks or heading to the mall. We spent a few days exploring KL’s iconic buildings: the stunning Petronas Towers stretching high and hopeful into the clouds, the National Mosque, the Sultan’s Palace, where guards on horseback sit unflinching in the sun. We lit candles at the beautifully ornate Thean Hou Temple, we drank and danced at Skybar, floating happily above the city lights. Yet one of my favourite things to do in KL is to meander through its street markets browsing stalls and sidewalks, or sitting curbside with a chilled coconut just watching people go by. It’s a hot and bustling mess—spicy curries simmering in huge cauldrons, vendors shouting, the incessant honk of motorbikes weaving through the slow clusters of pedestrian traffic. And in the background, always, the lush and mysterious tropical forest, closer than it appears.

We Go Spelunking

in Gua Tempurung It’s

rare that I find myself crawling through mud and bat droppings in complete darkness, and rarer still that I’ve eagerly chosen to do this. But deep in the bowels of a cave called Gua Tempurung I’m consumed by the stunning enormity around me, coaxing me to explore further. Malaysia’s massive limestone hills are a constant backdrop as you travel through the peninsula and the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak. Mysterious and quietly loud, they’re easy things to admire from car windows. Some people just look, others climb, but if you venture inside, you’re rewarded with fascinating history, old, dusty secrets, and wild geological formations overwhelming and foreign to most eyes. Gua Tempurung is two hours north of Kuala Lumpur, nestled in the forested hills of Perak. At 1.5 kilometres long, it’s the biggest cave on Peninsular Malaysia. Gua means cave in Malay, and tempurung translates to coconut shell—a poetic tribute to the cave’s domed ceilings, soaring and smooth.


From behind a rusty metal entrance gate, a dull orange light catches my eye and the exploration begins. My cave guide, a nimble Malaysian guy inexplicably named Jay-Z, tosses me a miner’s helmet and headlamp, and we step inside. The white limestone walls slope and spike dramatically, carved and cultivated by millions of years of ocean waves. Overhead, bats swoop in and out of our conversation, fluttering and flapping, then suddenly still.

We climb a long series of metal stairs up into the cave’s imposing ceiling, then slide down a steep hill, the marble so polished against my quick-dry pants that it’s impossible to brake, let alone land gracefully. From there, we shimmy down a tiny black hole barely wider than my torso, and drop into a cool, knee-deep underground river. I land abruptly on my hands and knees into the water, and hear the rhythmic plonk of dripping stalactites. The spaces darken and tighten, and often the only way forward is flat on my belly, walking on my forearms through the darkness. Gua Tempurung houses all kinds of stories and secrets. There’s scattered evidence of tin mining activity, which played a huge role in Malaysia’s cultural and economic evolution, and was one of the reasons it was so coveted by various European nations. We crawl past several makeshift gravestones; during the Second World War the locals used Gua Tempurung to hide after the Japanese invasion. I try to imagine what that must have felt like—long before the routes in and out of the cave had been established, before powerful headlamp beams could cut through the darkness. Eventually, we wash up in a burst of daylight, and the cave’s ceiling slopes gently upwards, high enough for us to wade out toward the trees. Turns out, Malaysia—and Borneo especially—has massive cave networks, with some of the world’s most famous in Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. I vow to return to spelunk again.

The Tea


and Cool Crisp Forests of the

Cameron Highlands 6 a.m. and we’re driving carefully It’s up a steep, winding mountain road in complete darkness, a sheer cliff

face mere feet from my passenger door. Occasionally, another car surprises us around a blind corner. Letting someone pass is a complicated and comical pas de deux when there’s barely space for one vehicle.

and valleys ripples into forever, and we can make out the Malacca Strait which separates us from Indonesia as well as islands and mountains and beyond.


The rolling green hills below are vast and dappled with sunlight. This is tea plantation country, where rows of neatly cultivated tea leaf plants cover the sprawling landscape. Up here in the Cameron Highlands, the air is cooler and cleaner, a welcome break from Malaysia’s more customary tropical heat.

The Highlands are not just for growing tea. In places the thick foliage has been cleared to allow vast orchards and nurseries and other plantations, though much of the forest still remains. The cooler climate has long attracted residents and visitors alike, and there are still mock-Tudor buildings and Anglican churches left from the British days. In earlier times, the area was a popular resort simply to escape the heat, but today it attracts travellers keen to explore an ecosystem so very different than the steamy jungles of Borneo.

We can’t drive too slowly or we’ll miss the sunrise over Mount Batu Brinchang, the region’s highest peak. We scramble up a wet rusted ladder onto a viewing platform that hovers in the mist above the treetops. A vast expanse of peaks

The next morning we meet our trekking guide, Balan. He’s a fourthgeneration Cameron Highlander in a cowboy hat and 4 x 4 with buffalo horns attached to the front. He takes us into an Orang Asli indigenous settle-

ment, the entry point to our forest trek. An older villager joins us. He speaks no English, but ties ferns around our heads and helps us across rushing rivers. He smashes through the leaves with his machete and shows us how to find clean water inside a bamboo stalk. After a few hours of striding up steep hills, bees swarm us in ominous black formations. The forests here in the Highlands are home to a number of endangered and protected species as well as wildlife, plants and flowers not found elsewhere in Malaysia. Eventually, we reach our goal. Before us sits the infamous rafflesia, an enormous bright red flower with a three-foot diameter. I recognize it instantly from the Malaysian ringgit banknote—quirky and iconic. Our guide smiles with pride. The unique flower, the largest in the world, is a source of pride for everyone in Malaysia, but nowhere more so than in the Cameron Highlands.

The Wildlife

Wow Factor up close and personal with orangutans and monkeys

I could

have happily spent every waking minute of my time in Malaysia seeking out and staring at its outrageous variety of strange creatures. Whether exploring the ocean floor, scanning the skies, trekking in the rainforest or wandering through a sanctuary, the wildlife was incredibly foreign and fascinating. When we arrive in Borneo, we begin with the big one: the orangutans. Malaysia’s world-famous giant apes have become a factor in the purchase of many a plane ticket, I know. The best place to see them is at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, nestled on the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sabah, just outside of Sandakan town and about five hours from Kota Kinabalu. The reserve sits on 43 square kilometres of protected forest, the orangutans’ natural habitat. The goal of the sanctuary is admirable: to rescue orphaned and injured orangutans and prepare them to re-enter an independent life in the jungle. The fact that the sanctuary is in the jungle makes their transition a natural one. Most orangutans leave by simply disappearing further into the jungle one day and never coming back. If you’re lucky enough to have an interaction with one, even as simple as eye contact, it’s a startling thing. They look at you with such intensity, with so much thought and feeling and curiosity. It’s a wonderful reminder that as people we’re not separate from nature, but in it and of it.


While in the area, we head over to another centre: the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. The mood is decidedly zanier here, as though the 40 creatures on the viewing platform are doing an all-monkey remake of an old slapstick comedy. There’s just one dominant male in the bunch, with the bizarre protruding nose. He’s surrounded by females and babies, and this arrangement appears to be a huge stressor for everyone involved: every single monkey on the platform is screaming and leaping and chattering and swatting other monkeys in the face. The group falls suddenly silent for about three nanoseconds, but before anyone can relax, the collective madness begins anew. Getting off the obvious paths in Malaysia will often reward you with sightings of animals truly in the wild. It takes patience; we trekked for days in the rainforest before coming across a nervous leopard cat darting through the bush. Local guides are helpful here; ours was able to detect a flying squirrel, several species of snakes, and the gibbons playing in the trees overhead—he could even mimic their distinctive call. It’s also possible to see orangutans in the wild in Borneo, but it’s difficult and requires time and effort. Borneo reminds me that seeing animals is not the only way to experience them. The more time we spent in the rainforest, the more I began to notice the hoots and hisses, the sudden crashes through the leaves, and the more I began to sense the presence of life encircling me—timid, but there.

The Ancient Jungle

of the Lost World of Sabah T here aren’t a lot of places left in the world where nature—wild, free and completely untouched—runs the show, but entering the Maliau Basin feels like stepping off a ledge, falling off the planet we know, and tumbling into some kind of old-world forest wonderland from a fantasy novel. It’s just pure magic, and it quickly became the highlight of my Malaysian trip.


The Maliau Basin is exactly that: a huge, circular, crater-like depression in the earth that cradles 390 square kilometres of pristine rainforest. The cliff walls of the Basin form a protective fortress around this incredible ecosystem, almost as if to underscore the crucial importance of preserving it. Located deep inland on Borneo—geographically almost equidistant between Kota Kinabalu in the north and Tawau in the south—the Maliau Basin is fondly referred to as The Lost World of Sabah. Fortunately, it’s also benefitted from having been found: in 1981, the government officially made the region a protected area, and it’s used primarily as a research station, a living, breathing classroom for conservationists and students, and a secret heaven for hiking enthusiasts from all over the planet. The Maliau Basin is not easy to access. It’s a long dusty, muddy and rough drive in from Tawau. You need to factor in

entrance and guiding fees, and know that the infrastructure is basic and the trekking physically demanding. To make it really worth your while, any hike here should span at least a few days. But just like in the fantasy novels, if you’re able to overcome this series of challenges and obstacles, you’ll be richly rewarded with one of the best jungle hikes in the world. Our team trekked for about a week, essentially following the perimeter of the Basin in a giant circle, which led us to a different cabin each night. The terrain is dramatic: without warning, steep, uphill, heart-pounder hiking swings suddenly into near-vertical downhill slope. We also had to contend with deafening torrential rain, blood-thirsty leeches (which, ironically, are totally harmless), heavy packs and thick tropical humidity. The Maliau Basin tests you and amazes you and beckons you forward, all at once. No matter what kind of madness you’ve encountered during the day’s trek, when you reach camp and leap into a glistening waterfall in the fading light of the afternoon, your body strong and warm, happily tired, the gibbons hooting in the trees above your head, the only thing you want to do is get up in the morning and just keep going forever.


I wake

up sweating and thirsty under a hanging mosquito net. Outside my room, insistent roosters and goats are engaged in a loud and very heated debate. A group of village women are humming a song, and through the bamboo slats I can see them sitting in a circle, hand weaving bracelets and necklaces. Boys are running around, shouting in Malay. The heat hangs heavy in the air. Of all the places I’ve woken up in the world, this is among the most surreal. This is the traditional longhouse of the Rungus tribe, located in rural Kudat on the very northern tip of Borneo. The longhouse, which is built entirely from bamboo and includes about 20 bedrooms plus an eating and socializing area, is more than a remarkable feat of architecture: it’s a testament to communal living. Multiple generations cluster together under one roof, sharing in everything from chores to celebrations to raising kids. Some tribes on Borneo still live in longhouses, but most have incorporated modern amenities into their homes, such as satellite dishes and parking spots out front. Lying on my mattress, I think about our own endless love affair with one-bedroom condos, how easily solitude becomes seclusion. There are several longhouses throughout Malaysia that have been built as guesthouses just for the purpose of giving visitors a taste of traditional village life. They may not be as authentic as befriending a local and being invited into their home, but there’s not much that’s artificial about the experience either, as my early morning wake-up call can attest. At the Rungus longhouse, the community pulls together to give us a traditional and very colourful welcome. We arrive in time for a simple dinner of rice, cooked jungle ferns and hot tea. After our meal, the floors rattle and shake as decorated members of the tribe dance to the sounds of clapping, drums and gongs. The longhouse kids teach us a game similar to jump rope, using bamboo poles instead—the happy shrieks and dares seems to be a common feature of childhood the world over. Over several days with the Rungus, the longhouse provides a home base from which to explore the goings-on in the nearby villages. Each village seems to have a single specialty. A hot and dusty road leads us into the Kampung Sumangkap Gong Factory, where craftspeople squat in clouds of flying orange sparks as they shape and pound metal. In the next village over we wander into the Gombizau Honey Bee Farm and chew on samples of dripping honeycomb. Further down the road, a family heads out into their rice paddy, hand picking the grains in the stillness and heat of the afternoon. We spend our last night at the Rungus longhouse with a group of villagers who’ve excitedly produced a guitar and a bottle of whisky. There’s a language barrier between us but it quickly disappears as we take turns playing well-known American pop songs, passing the bottle around and shout-singing Led Zeppelin and The Beach Boys. No matter where you find yourself, no matter who’s around, late, great nights are made of the same stuff.

Life in a

Borneo Bamboo



norkelling and


From Clownfish to Giant Sea Turtles, it's a Coral Reef Marine Dreamland


standing barefoot at the end of a jetty on Pulau Gaya, just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. The hot wooden slats are burning my feet. The jetty is alive with noise and bustle: the loud arrival of our speedboat, the giddy chatter of first-time divers. The clinks and clanks of oxygen tanks, the plastic tangle of snorkelling masks, instructors shouting, the rhythmic swell of waves. Moments later, I jump off a speedboat into utter, eerie silence. It’s not too surprising that a country with such an expansive tropical coastline could offer so much snorkelling and scuba diving. What sets Malaysia apart is how the government has gone to great lengths to ensure that its marine treasures are properly protected and around for the long-term. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is one such spot, and is comprised of a cluster of five islands—Gaya, Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi and Sulug—just ten minutes from Kota Kinabalu. Further afield, Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai islands in Sabah are world famous for their diving, while just off the peninsula Tioman, Redang and the Perhentians also lure people to don flippers. All of Malaysia’s top spots offer dive shops and instructors.


Pulau Gaya’s proximity to Kota Kinabalu is the main reason I’ve chosen it as the place to get my feet wet this time around, and I immediately feel at home amid the island’s campy, bohemian vibe. A few minutes with my mask on and I’m floating blissfully in a dreamlike state. My fins coast above the tops of the coral reefs, and the fingers of electric blue sea plants undulate gently with the waves. Between the wetsuit and the salt water, I barely have to work at staying afloat. I drift slowly through schools of striped and spotted fish. I watch moray eels burrowing into the ocean floor in furious bursts of dust, and a squid on its way somewhere, leaving a cloudy trail of ink in its wake. Hundreds of bright orange clownfish dart through a massive sea anemone which the guides have named Nemo Village. An enormous sea turtle lazes by in the distance. And then my snorkelling guide Kerry excitedly puts his hand straight up on his forehead in imitation of a fin as a black-tipped shark slinks past us into the shadows, gone before I can process how I feel about this. In between dives, we congregate in the hut for beers or an impromptu guitar session, as the island dog snoozes in the heat. After the boat drops us back in town, a group of us head out for Thai food on the waterfront, comparing fish identification tactics and ear-popping remedies as the sun sets over the ocean.


I lay on the white sand gazing skyward at the endless blueness breaking through the swaying palm fronds as inquisitive waves reached ever closer to my eager toes, I couldn’t help but reflect that life in Malaysia is pretty awesome. Throughout our travels, we had sated our appetite for culture, history, wildlife, adventure, relaxation and, well, our appetite, at every stop. Granted, it’s a long way to come merely for a perfect beach, but when there’s so much else on offer—and many times several gems all in one serving—that perfection is well worth the effort.

It’s a

Whether on the peninsula or Borneo, the country is lined with superb sand and dotted by spectacular islands—from famed Langkawi Island on the west coast to the unspoiled and affordable Perhentians on the east; from pristine Redang Island just to its south—which you might have to share with nesting turtles!—to the jungle-fringed paradise of Golden Beach on Borneo. Many are within easy reach of Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Malaysia’s other key gateways.

Chillin’ Malaysian

When you’re all tanned out and need to rebuild your strength after a hard day’s sunworshipping and surf-lapping, where better to chill than in a local eatery? With the country one big melting pot of cultures and traditions, it’s not surprising that there’s something for every conceivable gastronomic craving.



I can honestly say that during our travels I experienced my greatest ever curry, the best seafood imaginable, and more fresh fruit than you can throw an orchard at. Whether you like hot and spicy or cool and fresh, Indian, Chinese or to dabble in a spot of street-eats and night markets, there’s an abundance of variety I’ve never seen anywhere else. I could likely live forever on one of the local classics alone, nasi lemak—rice steamed with coconut milk and pandan leaves—but who could ever tire of the amazing chicken satay? Between the diverse food, the luscious fruit drinks and the limitless beaches, who even needs everything else Malaysia has to offer? But I digress.


Malaysia offers some of the region’s finest beaches, yet they’re generally less congested or even commercialized than those in neighbouring Thailand or Bali. In fact, with more than 4,665 kilometres (2,900 miles) of coastline all washed by the tropically-delicious waters of such legendary bodies as the Andaman, Sulu, Celebes and South China seas, there are almost as many beaches as there are grains of sand.



the Rapid

Hole—Paddling the Kampar River


he Kampar River raged in the distance as we arrived at a wooden hut hidden by lush, tropical jungle. Our young Malaysian river guide briefed us on the perils ahead, outfitted us with helmets and life-jackets, handed us paddles and then asked that we help heave the raft down to the dark green waters. Located in Perak just north of Kuala Lumpur, the Kampar is easily accessible for anyone visiting Malaysia even for a short stay. With nine sets of rapids along a seven-kilometre stretch that range in difficulty from Class I to Class III, and in a country known for its whitewater, this river is one of Malaysia’s most popular for a half day of fun. Although you can raft all over the world, what makes Malaysia special is the verdant jungle that hangs low over its rivers. When not shooting the rapids, surveying the course ahead or

rejuvenating in a dazzling pocket of warming sunshine you can gaze at treetops in search of bird and animal life, before turning your attention to the aquatic carnage just ahead. No sooner had we placed our eightperson raft into the river and the current had drawn us midstream than we were upon our first expanse of serious whitewater. Our guide screamed his commands as we paddled for dear life. The giant craft shot between the worst of the water, coasting down chutes and clear of boulders. Whether due to the skill of our paddling or the kindness of the river, I was unsure, but no sooner had we entered the maelstrom than the river had spit us out into calmer waters, giving us a chance to rest and enjoy the scenery once more. The next rapid was called the Easy Drop. At the briefing, I had naively assumed it had been so named

because of its gentility, but I was wrong. Moments later, I was experiencing the “easy drop” out of the raft and found myself flying through the air, then plunging, stunned and confused into the churning waters. Thankfully, I had paid attention to the warnings and knew to point my feet down river and float with the current. The only problem was that I couldn’t quite figure out which way was up, never mind which was down river. Soon enough, I popped up beside the raft in a bit of a daze. I quickly scrambled back into it, reclaimed my paddle and my dignity, and looked ahead to the next swirling challenge. I'd have to say I was pretty lucky with my Kampar River rafting team— the whole experience was a great reminder of the camaraderie that can spontaneously arise when you're open to adventure.





Full name: Malaysia Location: Southeast Asia, bordered by Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore Area: 329,847 square kilometres Population: 30,018,242 Capital city: Kuala Lumpur Tunku Abdul Rahman Currency: Ringgit National Park




Hulu Terengganu

Cameron Highlands












From Eastern Canada, Kuala Lumpur is almost the same distance flying in an easterly direction as it is in a westerly one. This allows travellers to choose to fly via Asia (Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, for example), the Middle East (e.g., Qatar Airways via Doha) or Europe (e.g., Turkish Airlines via Istanbul) with only a difference of a couple of hours depending on connecting times. From Western Canada, it takes approximately 21 hours including connections. The national carrier, Malaysia Airlines, does not operate out of Canada but is available from a number of U.S. airports.


There is good train and bus service throughout much of the country. Self-

driving is an option, but with driving on the left, you might want to leave it to someone else! Domestic flights are reasonably priced, especially when booked well in advance.


Malaysia sits 12 hours ahead of Eastern Canada, 15 hours ahead of Western Canada. (GMT +8)


Malaysian is the official language, with English widely spoken. In total, there are 137 languages spoken throughout the country, from tribal dialects to Cantonese, Mandarin and Tamil.


Much of Malaysia has a rainy season from October to April, but it is not


wet enough to affect travel plans. The eastern coast of the peninsula does receive significant rain from November to February, while Borneo receives its heaviest downfalls from October to March.


Kuala Lumpur is the capital and the sixth most-visited city in the world. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah on the island of Borneo and is the gateway to climbing Mount Kinabalu, diving in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park or seeing the orangutans at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre. To the west in Borneo, Kuching is the capital of Sarawak and convenient for birding in the forests, visiting turtle nesting sights, snorkelling or lounging on some of the island’s best beaches.



Travel Center

Outpost Magazine is partnering with Canada One Travel to bring you the absolute best of Malaysia

Save BIG with exclusive

travel deals and discounts

a TRIP WIN for TWO to Malaysia!

you can’t get

anywhere else! Malaysia—a magical land of orangutans and longhouses, giant sea turtles and pristine beaches, ancient rainforests and terraced tea plantations, busy streetscapes and bustling night markets Guaranteed to exceed your wildest adventure dreams

Visit for unbeatable offers designed exclusively for


AND just for visiting, you could


In partnership:


Malaysia Adventure Report  

A showcase of travel experiences available across Malaysia . Includes caving, diving, trekking, hiking, wildlife and more.