Despite having turquoise-ringed tropical islands, misty rainforests, cosmopolitan and arty cities, colourful festivals and one of the world's most interesting ethnic mixes, Malaysia remains Southeast Asia's most unsung destination.
In 2017, the country turns 60 years old. With a new hi-speed train system, comfortable buses and low-cost air connections to most of Asia and beyond, backpacking in Malaysia today is quicker and easier than ever. Here are our top tips to help you make a trip.
Consider going to the east coast for island-hopping, stopping in Kota Bharu to experience a blend of Thai Buddhist and Malay Islamic culture. Or stop at Taman Negara, the world's oldest rainforest, visiting the quaint little towns that surround it. Cheap flights can get you over the South China Sea to Sarawak and Sabah, in Borneo, where you may see orangutans, meet former headhunting tribes, and experience a side of Malaysia that feels like another country.
On top of that, to most Malaysian Chinese and Indians, Bahasa Malaysia is a second, or even third language. Stick to English: as a foreigner, everyone will expect you to do so. Practise your Bahasa only in Malay-dominated regions, such as the Peninsula's east coast, or in Malaysian Borneo, where it really helps befriend locals.
In the northern fringes of Kuala Lumpur at Kepong, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), established in 1929, is an accessible jungle research centre covering 600 hectares. At last, the Titiwangsa Lake Gardens are perfect for jogging, a quiet jungle stroll, and views of Kuala Lumpur's skyline.
For more information on how to spend your time in Malaysia's capital city, read our guide to the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
Even without venturing into Malay hinterland – Kelantan, Terengganu, Johor states and the islands along the east coast – meeting liberal Malays in the cities will change ideas built on stereotypes.
More ancient mysteries await in the Lenggong valley: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's home to the Perak Man – Southeast Asia's oldest most complete human skeleton – and a three-million-year-old meteorite impact site. If that's not enough, British-built bona fide manor Kellie's Castle, near Batu Gajah, is said to have secret dungeons and a resident ghost.