Arrive at the airport for your overnight flight to Penang via Kuala Lumpur.
Although Malaysia is a member of the Commonwealth and was part of the British Empire for many years, it is perhaps less well-known than many other ex-colonies in South East Asia. Yet there’s so much to see and experience between Peninsular Malaysia, its outlying islands and the vastness of Borneo. It may sound like a bit of cliché, but the country really is an incredible ‘cultural melting pot’! Every major city is a fascinating amalgam of Chinese, Indians and Malays, all with their own individual histories, architecture, traditions and cuisines.
In the not too distant past, Malaysia was an assortment of competing states, which only finally became independent as late as 1963. Prior to that, the three main cities – Penang, Malacca and Singapore – were known as the Straits Settlements and were controlled direct from Britain. Before the British came on the scene, Malacca, in particular, was fought over by the Dutch and Portuguese, who first settled there in the 16th century – there’s still a sizeable community here proud of their Portuguese heritage. Add to the mix the intriguing indigenous tribes of Borneo and no other country in the region can boast such a contrasting collection of cultures.
Borneo is Malaysia’s shining verdant jewel in the crown, the third-largest island in the world. Its luxuriant tropical forests teem with thousands of extraordinary endemic plant and animal species. There are long-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, gibbons, flying squirrels, sun bears, the world’s largest snake, no fewer than 102 types of bat and, of course, the remarkable red-haired ‘man of the forest’ – the orangutan. Borneo is also known for the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower, named after Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. Our tour includes a stay in the Borneo state of Sabah, covering the northern tip of the island and dominated by the towering bulk of Mt Kinabalu, which at over 13,400 ft, is the highest peak in Malaysia.
The first stop of our exploration of Peninsular Malaysia is the island of Penang, just off the northwest coast. Its main settlement, George Town, was founded in 1786 by Francis Light of the British East India Company. He built Fort Cornwallis, which still stands to this day, and promoted it as a free port, vastly increasing trade and attracting large numbers of Chinese and Indian settlers. The same successful tactic was followed in Malacca to the south and both cities, along with Singapore, developed their unique mix of cultures which is still evident today. What is particularly fascinating is that despite being bombed by the Japanese in World War II, George Town still has thousands of pre-war buildings, mostly Chinese-owned ‘shophouses’, many fine colonial-era villas and public buildings, which have helped it attain UNESCO World Heritage status. George Town represents a fascinating glimpse into 18th-century colonial life.
In complete contrast, the city of Kuala Lumpur is super-modern, with numerous startling skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes. After our stay in ‘KL’, we fly to Sandakan in Borneo, a lesser-known colonial outpost, which unfortunately was bombed very efficiently by the Allies towards the end of World War II so not many original buildings survived. But it’s here that you can get closest to one of the natural wonders of this amazing island; a few miles outside town you’ll visit the famed Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, where you can see orangutans in their natural forest habitat.
Then it’s off to Kota Kinabalu via a short flight for a relaxing three-night stay at the renowned five-star Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort, considered one of the best hotels in the country.
Of course, any trip to the Far East cannot be complete without trying out the delectable flavours of one of the world’s most varied cuisines. The best-known Malaysian dish is satay – meat skewers marinated with turmeric, grilled over charcoal and served with a mildly spicy peanut sauce. But there’s so much more: nasi kandar, steamed rice soaked in a variety of flavourful curries; asam laksa, a tangy fish broth listed on CNN’s ‘world’s 50 most delicious foods’; beef rendang, a rich meat dish seasoned with a mouthwatering mix of spices; chicken rice, a Hainanese-influenced dish of steamed or roasted chicken served with fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth – the list is almost endless!
The Malaysians themselves are supremely welcoming and keen to share their history, culture and cuisine with all visitors, so come with us to explore this extraordinary country.
Arrive at the airport for your overnight flight to Penang via Kuala Lumpur.
This morning we enjoy a walking tour of the beautifully preserved colonial centre of George Town. A UNESCO World Heritage site, George Town is perhaps unique in Southeast Asia in having over 30,000 pre-war buildings.
After a fascinating ride by cycle rickshaw, you’ll enjoy an included lunch. The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the many facilities of your hotel. In the evening, the local night market is an easy stroll from the hotel and a great chance to try the local street cuisine or hone your bargaining skills.
Reached by the Penang Hill Funicular Railway, the 2,700-foot Penang Hill was used as a cooler retreat during the British colonial period. Many prominent bungalows were built here, as well as the original official residence of the Governor. You can still see the post office and police station, built in 1894 and 1929 respectively.
After an included lunch, you are free to enjoy the afternoon at leisure.
We cross over the eight-mile Penang Bridge to Butterworth on the mainland of Malaysia, where we start our journey to the capital, Kuala Lumpur – commonly known as ‘KL’. On the way, we’ll cross the lush and mountainous central region of Malaysia, and stop for an included lunch in the charming and often-overlooked small colonial town of Ipoh. We stay in Kuala Lumpur for three nights.
2020 departures stay at the four-star Element by Westin Hotel, and 2021 departures stay at the Meliá Hotel.
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4* Meliá Kuala Lumpur Hotel
This morning we take a half-day tour of the city, its modern skyline dominated by the 1,483-foot-tall Petronas Twin Towers. Designed by Argentinian architect César Pelli, the 88-storey glass and stainless steel-clad skyscrapers are beautifully decorated with Islamic motifs.
We visit the National Mosque, the Tugu Negara War Memorial, pass by the old Railway Station, the Tudor-styled Cricket Club and the King’s Palace. We go to Robson Heights to visit one of the biggest Chinese temples in Southeast Asia. Tonight, why not head to Jalan Alor, for some of the best street food in Asia.
Today is a free day to explore KL at your leisure. Go up to the amazing Skybridge and observation deck of the Petronas Twin Towers, or wander through the colonial-era landmarks of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building or the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Perhaps discover the history and process of pewter craftsmanship at the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre, or take a short ride out of KL to explore the impressive cave temples of Batu Caves.
Alternatively, you may wish to take our optional full-day tour to historic Malacca, one of Southeast Asia’s greatest trading ports in the 15th century. One of the more famous of the Straits Settlements, it was originally colonised by the Portuguese and later taken over by the Dutch before finally succumbing to the might of the British East India Company. There’s plenty to see in the many old shophouses, now converted into attractive boutiques and cafés, but many are still family homes as well.
Another option back in Kuala Lumpur is the Perdana Botanical Gardens. Located just southwest of Chinatown and spread over 220 acres, it is an area of verdant calm far removed from the bustle of the surrounding city. The park features a beautiful hibiscus garden, devoted to Malaysia’s national flower, and a stunning orchid garden with 800 species.
Today we fly to Sandakan for a two-night stay at the three-star Sabah Hotel with breakfast. Founded in 1879 by the British North Borneo Company, Sandakan is a charming small port town with a fascinating colonial history on the eastern side of Borneo. We’ll have a short tour of the city on arrival. We’ll also stop by the Sandakan Memorial, which commemorates the Australian and British soldiers held by the Japanese as prisoners of war between 1942 and 1945. The memorial is adjacent to the original Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp location.
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3* Sabah Hotel - Sandakan
This morning we visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, a sanctuary for the endangered Borneo Sun Bear, set within more than six acres of enclosed forest. Next, we visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the largest of its kind in the world and a highlight of our tour. The aim of the centre is to reintroduce orangutans into the wild and, as such, it is open to the forest, so orangutans are free to come and go as they please. There is a smaller more enclosed area where younger individuals are cared for.
After an included lunch, we visit the Agnes Keith House, a rare survival of post-war colonial wooden architecture. The museum here is dedicated to the American writer known for her autobiographical accounts of life in North Borneo before, during and after the Second World War.
This morning, we catch the short flight to Kota Kinabalu on the western side of Borneo and transfer to our luxurious home for the next three nights, the outstanding five-star Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort & Spa, with breakfast. All our rooms overlook the beautiful pool and gardens.
On the way to the hotel, we’ll stop at the living museum that is the Mari Mari Cultural Village. You’ll be able to experience the intriguing traditions, history and culture of five of the local indigenous tribes, including the feared Murut headhunters, right in the middle of the rainforest.
After an included lunch, the rest of the day is at leisure at your hotel.
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5* Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa - Kota Kinabalu
You have two free days to enjoy the large sandy beach and extensive swimming pools at your hotel. There is also a 400-acre nature reserve with its own walking paths adjacent to the resort, as well as an 18-hole championship golf course and a superb spa. Choose from five restaurants and two bars – this is the best spot to watch the spectacular sunset over the South China Sea.
After a morning at leisure, we transfer to the airport early this afternoon for your overnight flight home via Kuala Lumpur.
You arrive back in the UK early this morning.
Along with your experienced and knowledgeable tour manager and local experts, you’ll discover so much on our award-winning Classic tours, offering the best value for money way for you to explore the world.
Our tour managers have been rated as the best in the business for their knowledge and experience and will go above and beyond to ensure every aspect of your holiday runs smoothly – so all you need to worry about is your packing.
Our Private tours will take you on a voyage of discovery to the world’s most exciting destinations.
As you travel by private car, you’ll experience the same carefully crafted itinerary and the same hand-picked hotels as our Classic tours, the difference is in the depth of personalisation; with your own private guide you can move at your own pace; waking early to catch the sunrise, or indulging in a relaxed afternoon.
Upgrade your room at the 5-star Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort & Spa
Ocean Wing Junior Suite with a view of the sea and a private balcony, complete with oversized bathtub.
Upgrade your room at the 4-star superior Park Royal Penang Resort
Deluxe Sea-Facing Room overlooking the Strait of Malacca.
For hotel information please see the accommodation tab, or call us for details.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|Penang International Airport||Penang||1 hr 15 mins||Koto Kinabalu||Kota Kinabalu International Airport||1 hr 30 mins|
We care deeply about our customers and the holiday experience they have. We’re passionate about travel and we want all aspects to be perfect, with personal service and attention at every step of the way. Our world-class holidays include everything you need, with no detail overlooked. We carefully curate every aspect of your trip based on our own first-hand experience and expertise built up over decades in the travel industry.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a room and includes:
We guarantee there are never any hidden costs or surcharges, inflated prices or artificial discounts.
Daily breakfast and five lunches are included, meaning you are free to experience traditional cuisine at local restaurants for the remaining meals.
Single and upgraded rooms are subject to availability at the relevant supplement.
Requests to pre-book your seat are subject to the airline’s conditions. If you would like to pre-book seats please contact our Reservations Team, we will be able to provide further information regarding the possibility and also the cost.
The deposit for this tour is £200 per person, payable at the time of booking.
UK Citizens do not require a visa to enter Malaysia however must have a valid passport. For the most up-to-date passport and visa information visit
We are unable to accept responsibility if you are unable to travel because you have not complied with any passport/entry/immigration requirements.
Whilst there are no specific health requirements for travelling to Malaysia, we would recommend discussing this with your GP.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility, we encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
Jane and Barry Baldock
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