After hosting the 1998 Commonwealth Games, for which Malaysia invested over £300 million, sports facilities have been greatly improved throughout the country. The authorities’ initiative to present Malaysia as an international sports venue continued with an unusual bid for the 2008 Olympic Games and the construction of a £44 million Formula One racing circuit in Sepang (located adjacent to Kuala Lumpur International Airport).
However, it is Malaysia’s beaches and rainforests which endure as the main attraction for activity holidays. A comprehensive list of tour operators offering tailor-made package holidays is available from Tourism Malaysia (see Top Things To Do).
Sabah, located in northern Borneo, is Malaysia’s premier destination for outdoor adventure sports and there is a wide range of sporting and activity events held in the region throughout the year. For further details, contact the Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation .
The tropical waters off peninsular Malaysia and Borneo offer ideal conditions for scuba-diving. Water visibility is often greater than 30m (100ft). The selection below gives a brief overview of some of Malaysia’s best dive sites:
Layang Layang: Located northwest of Kota Kinabulu, off the coast of Sabah and accessible by air, this coral atoll consists of 13 coral reefs linked together. Underwater sights include an amazing array of corals, marine life and cliffs that plunge 2000m to the ocean bed.
Miri: Located north of Kuching, off the coast of Sarawak, Borneo. Popular dive sites include ‘Sea Fan Garden’, ‘Atago Maru’, a Japanese World War II shipwreck and ‘Scubasa Reef’, a shallow reef which provides refuge for migrating turtles during August each year.
Pulau Redang: Home to Malaysia’s first protected marine park, the Terengganu Marine Park, located north of Kuala Terengganu. The Pulau Redang archipelago contains nine islands. Popular sites include the ‘Mini Mount’ (good for both day and night dives), the ‘Picture Wall’ (dotted with sea fans and corals) and ‘Cathedral Arches’ (canyon network with huge arches). ‘Turtle Bay’, known for its sea turtles, is at the northern end of the island.
Pulau Sipadan: Located off the northeastern coast of Borneo, Pulau Sipadan is Malaysia’s only oceanic island. It is renowned for its wide range of rare marine species.
Pulau Tioman: Located within the Pahang Marine Parks, consisting of eight islands. One of the best dive sites is Tiger Reef, which has a particularly high number of sea fans; divers should note that currents can be very strong.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park: Close to Kota Kinabulu (15 minutes by boat). One of the most popular sites in this area is Mamutik.
Pulau Tenggol: Popular weekend getaway for Malaysians, located south of Terengganu, accessible by air. The waters are protected by marine park status.
Pulau Paya Marine Park: Located on Peninsular Malaysia, in the south of Langkawi Island (a busy tourist resort) in the north of the Malacca Straits.
Pulau Perhentian: Eastern Malaysia’s northernmost island group consisting of Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, located in the South China Sea, off the coast of Kelantan. Can be reached on a fishing-boat trip from Kuala Besut, a small fishing village on the mainland. It is rich in coral and marine life and is possibly one of the finest tropical islands in Malaysia. It is surrounded by beautiful beaches and has a tropical interor, filled with wildlife, such as monkeys, lizards, flying squirrels and butterflies. A fairly isolated region, praised by divers for the giant soft corals, large schools of pelagic fish and nocturnal shellfish.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park: Located in Borneo, easily accessible from Kota Kinabalu. Local marine life includes manta rays, lion fish and whale sharks (from December to April).
Labuan Island: Popular wreck-diving destination. Two wrecks from ships sunk in World War II, and one recent Malaysian wreck.
Trekking and caving
Nearly 75 per cent of Malaysia is covered in forests, of which the rainforest is reputedly the world’s oldest (130 million years). There are seven national parks and many wildlife reserves and protected areas. Many of the parks offer excellent trails for jungle trekking, particularly at Taman Negara National Park (peninsular Malaysia). The best time to visit is between February and September (dry season). There are many clearly marked trails including a canopy walkway. Expert guides should be hired from the Wildlife Department at the Taman Negara Resort at Kuala Tahan, the park’s headquarters. Tour packages lasting from one to three days are available. Kuala Tahan is reached by a three-hour riverboat trip from Kuala Tembeling, but there is also a daily shuttle bus from Kuala Lumpur. Treks up Gunung Tahan mountain (2187m/7174ft) are also possible; a guide is compulsory and the trip takes several days. In East Malaysia, the best treks are in Sarawak, Borneo and Gunung Mulu National Park, which is renowned amongst caving enthusiasts. The recently discovered Sarawak Chamber and the 51km- (32 mile-) long Clearwater Cave (accessible by boat only) are favorite destinations. Permits for Gunung Mulu National Park must be obtained in Miri, reached either by a short flight or a couple of three-hour boat trips. Adventurous trekkers may wish to explore the Kelabit Highlands around nearby Bario, but these are quite demanding and should only be undertaken in the company of a local guide. Another famous trekking destination is the Kinabalu National Park, located in the state of Sabah, whose centerpiece, Mount Kinabulu (4101m/13,452ft), is South-East Asia’s highest peak. Despite its size, Kinabulu is very easy to climb. No skills are required, but a guide and a climbing permit (which can be bought on location) are still compulsory. The climb involves an overnight stay in one of the resthouses along the route. Due to the altitude, people with high blood pressure or heart problems should not attempt the climb.
Malaysia has over 200 golf courses. The locations vary from coast to tropical rainforest or the mountainous highlands. The Malaysian Open Golf Championships, held on the 16-19 February 2006, attract top professionals. For further information, contact Tourism Malaysia (see Top Things To Do).
More than 150 karate training centers offer regular training sessions under black-belt instructors six days a week. Visitors are welcome to receive free karate training for one week in any of the centers. A list can be obtained from the Chief Instructor, Karate Budokan International, Jalan Jubilee, Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia has many unusual sports, including Gasing-top spinning (called Main Gasing), which uses tops fashioned from hardwood and delicately balanced with lead. Wau-kite flying is a traditional pastime. Sepak Takraw is a game like volleyball, played with a ball made of rattan strips. Players may use their heads, knees and feet but not their hands.
Malaysian longhouses, which are common along the rivers in Sarawak and Sabah, are really entire villages housed under one single roof, inhabited by native communities. For some years now, Tourism Malaysia has been promoting these characteristic habitations to tourists who are welcome to stay free of charge (although small gifts as a sign of appreciation are recommended). Visitors should be accompanied by a local guide who can also take them on a jungle walk.
Malaysia’s central railway travels largely through areas of dense jungle. It commences near Kota Bahru and continues via Kuala Krai, Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis and Jerantut to meet the Singapore-KL railway line at Gemas. Owing to extensive road building, this itinerary may change, and travelers are advised to check with Tourism Malaysia (see Top Things To Do).
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