Located 13 km (8 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves have become one of the most significant Hindu religious sites outside of India. Built within a series of caves inside a limestone hill, three main caves make up a temple complex devoted to the Lord Murugan. During the Hindu Thaipusam festival, held each year in either January or February, devotees bathe in the nearby Batu River before donning kevadis, stainless-steel racks decorated with flowers and fruits and held to the body with pins and skewers. A procession leads from the river to the hill and up the 272 steps to the main cave. The festival draws over 800,000 each year, but the caves are a nice side trip any time. The most convenient way to visit is by booking a taxi in advance from any tour operator. A round-trip tour, with a 2-hour wait, will cost about RM150. If you can get a regular metered taxi to take you, the trip from KL will take about 25 to 30 minutes and cost approximately RM20. During Thaipusam, regular shuttles depart from the Central Market to the cave site, and it is an absolute madhouse -- but a memorable and fun experience. The Malaysia Tourism Centre will have complete instructions on how to catch one of the shuttles.
Taman Negara National Park
Malaysia's most famous national park, Taman Negara, covers 434,350 hectares (1.1 million acres) of primary rainforest estimated to be as old as 130 million years, and encompasses within its border Gunung Tahan, peninsular Malaysia's highest peak, at 2,187m (7,173 ft.) above sea level.
Prepare to see lush vegetation and rare orchids, some 675 bird species, and maybe, if you're lucky, some barking deer, tapir, elephants, tigers, leopards, and wild cattle or gaur. As for primates, there are long-tailed macaques, leaf monkeys, gibbons, and more. Taman Negara showcases efforts to keep this land in as pristine a state as possible, despite extensive logging in many parts of the country.
There are outdoor activities for any level of adventurer. Short jungle walks to observe nature are lovely, but then, so are the hard-core 9-day treks or climbs up Gunung Tahan. There are also overnight trips to night hides where you can observe animals up close. The jungle canopy walk is one of the longest in the world, and at 25m (82 ft.) above ground, the view is spectacular. There are also rivers for rafting and swimming, fishing spots, and a couple of caves. Fishing permits must be obtained beforehand from the Ranger Headquarters.
If you plan your trip through one of the main resort operators, they can arrange, in addition to accommodation, all meals, treks, and a coach transfer to and from Kuala Lumpur. Prices vary, depending on the season and your level of comfort desired. The best time to visit is between the months of April and September; other times, it will be a tad wet (that's why it's called a rainforest).
Mutiara Taman Negara Resort, well established in the business of hosting visitors to the park, is the best accommodation in terms of comfort. It organizes package trips for as few as 3 days and 2 nights up to 7 days and 6 nights, as well as an a la carte deal where you pay for lodging and activities separately. Accommodations come in many styles: a bungalow suite for families; a chalet and chalet suite, both good for couples; standard guesthouse rooms; and dormitory hostels for budget travelers. To get an idea of pricing, a 3-day, 2-night package runs about RM1,040 per person, double occupancy in a chalet, with air-conditioning with attached bathroom, plus full board, meals, and activities. What it doesn't include is bus transfer from KL (RM140 per person round-trip) and the boat upriver from the park entrance (RM100 per person round-trip). A la carte activities include a 3-hour jungle trek, a 1 1/2-hour night jungle walk, the half-day Lata Berkoh river trip with swimming, a 2-hour cave exploration, and a trip down the rapids in a rubber raft (Kuala Tahan, Jerantut, 27000 Pahang; tel. 09/266-3500; Kuala Lumpur sales office 03/2782-2222; www.mutiarahotels.com).
Genting calls itself the "City of Entertainment," serving as Malaysia's answer to Las Vegas, complete with bright lights (which can be seen from Kuala Lumpur) and gambling. And although most people come here for the casino, there's a wide range of other activities, although most of them seem to serve the purpose of entertaining the kids while you bet their college funds at the roulette wheel. While it lacks the sophistication of other casino destinations, it is very popular with local punters and families seeking a one-stop destination in the cooler mountain air.
Getting There -- To get to Genting from Kuala Lumpur, Genting Highlands Transport (tel. 03/6251-8393) operates buses every half-hour from 6:30am to 9pm daily from KL Sentral train station. The cost one-way is RM4.30 for adults and RM3.20 for children, and the trip takes 1 hour. The bus lets you off at the foot of the hill, where you can take the Awana Skyway Cable Car for the 11-minute scenic trip up the mountain, alighting at Highlands Hotel. The ticket for the cable car costs RM5.
You can also get there by hiring a private car through your hotel's front desk or by calling Red Fury Tours (Ste. 2.18, Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang; tel. 03/2162-2693); the cost will be around RM180. Red Fury also has a full-day coach tour to Genting (RM200 adults, RM140 children), which includes the price of the cable car and the theme park entrance fee.
Where to Stay -- Many hotels, facilities, and a large casino in Genting are operated by Resorts World Genting (tel. 03/2718-1118; www.rwgenting.com), the same company behind Singapore's Resorts World Sentosa integrated resort casino complex. Within the resort are six hotel properties and a giant casino, Casino de Genting.
The hotels in Resorts World Genting are: Maxims (www.maxims.com.my; RM1,080-RM1,260 double), an all-suite luxurious property; the Genting Hotel (www.rwgenting.com/en/accommodation/genting_hotel; RM265-RM455 double), which is directly linked to the casino; the Highlands Hotel (www.rwgenting.com/en/accommodation/highlands_hotel; RM285-RM475 double); the Resort Hotel (www.rwgenting.com/en/accommodation/resort_hotel; RM245-RM445 double); the budget Theme Park Hotel (www.rwgenting.com/en/accommodation/themepark_hotel; RM180-RM335 double); and the First World Hotel (www.rwgenting.com/en/accommodation/firstworld_hotel; RM175-RM315), which is enormous and houses a 46,450-sq.-m (500,000-sq.-ft.) indoor theme park. The resort's main restaurants serve Cantonese, Thai, and continental cuisine.
Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort (tel. 03/6101-3025; www.awana.com.my) is an independent property that offers midpriced accommodations (RM280-RM485 double) and is home to an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Ronald Fream. The resort is popular with Southeast Asian golfers who like a break from the sweltering tropical air in the lowlands.
Attractions -- The Casino de Genting (www.rwgenting.com/en/casino), managed by Resorts World Genting, offers 18,580 sq. m (200,000 sq. ft.) of table games, slots, and keno. The Genting Theme Park (www.rwgenting.com/en/themepark) has an outdoor and indoor zone, with rides, games, swimming, bowling, and even an indoor snow play area. Resorts World Genting hosts performances by big stars, although most acts are known only within Asia.
Located in the hills, between 1,070 and 1,830m (3,510-6,000 ft.) above sea level, this Colonial-era resort town has a cool, crisp climate, which makes it a popular retreat for Malaysians and Singaporeans who want to escape the heat. If you've been in the region awhile, you might also appreciate the respite. Temperatures in the highlands average 70°F (21°C) during the day and 50°F (10°C) at night.
The climate is also conducive to agriculture. After the area's discovery by British surveyor William Cameron in 1885, the major crop here became tea, which is still grown today. The area's lovely gardens supply cities throughout the region with vegetables, flowers, and fruit year-round. Among the favorites here are the strawberries, which can be eaten fresh or transformed into yummy desserts in the local restaurants. At the many commercial flower nurseries, you can see chrysanthemums, fuchsias, and roses growing on terraces cut into the hills. Rose gardens are prominent.
The three main towns here are Ringlet, Tanah Rata, and Brinchang. Tanah Rata has the most facilities for travelers, including the bus terminal, a taxi stand, banks (with ATMs), tour operators, a post office, convenience shops, and restaurants. Most of the area's major accommodations are located in Brinchang, which also hosts a pasar malam (night market) Friday and Saturday evenings.
Getting There & Getting Around -- To get to Cameron Highlands, Unititi Express operates a VIP bus from the Bukit Jalil bus station in KL (tel. 010/226-5919) to the terminal in Tanah Rata (tel. 05/491-1485) three times daily for RM35 one-way. (Bukit Jalil is the temporary bus terminal while the Puduraya Bus Terminal on Jalan Pudu undergoes renovation. The Jalan Pudu location is slated to reopen in 2011.) In Tanah Rata, the bus terminal is along the main street, called Jalan Besar, and just next to it is the taxi stand. It's a two-horse town; you can't miss either of them.
Taxis between towns cost RM10 to RM20; you can either flag down a taxi or call the taxi stand next to the bus terminal in Tanah Rata (tel. 05/491-1234).
Where to Stay -- The most luxurious hotel here is the Cameron Highlands Resort (tel. 03/2783-1000; www.cameronhighlandsresort.com; US$230 double), a 56-room boutique property that fronts (and operates) the highland's only golf course. The resort and guest rooms have modern conveniences but are decorated in Colonial style. Their spa is one of the country's best, managed by Spa Village. The par-71 golf course accepts walk-in players; greens fees are RM53 Monday to Friday, RM84 Saturday and Sunday.
The Smokehouse Hotel (Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Pahang Darul Makmur; tel. 05/491-1215; www.thesmokehouse.com.my; RM400-RM680 suite), situated between Tanah Rata and Brinchang, is a picturesque Tudor-style mansion, with pretty gardens and a charming old-world ambience. Built in 1937 as a country house for British guests, it retains the feel of a Colonial guesthouse. Suites have four-poster beds and antique furnishings, with some of the wear that one might expect from an old inn.
Attractions -- Throughout the highlands, there are trekking paths that take you through the countryside and to surrounding mountains. You can swim in the pools of both Robinson Falls and Parit Falls.
Most of the sights can be seen in a day, but it's difficult to plan your time well. In Cameron Highlands, I recommend trying one of the sightseeing outfits in either Brinchang or Tanah Rata. C. S. Travel & Tours, 47 Main Rd., Tanah Rata (tel. 05/491-1200), is a highly reputable agency with a half-day tour of the major attractions for RM25 that takes you to the Boh tea plantation and factory, flower nurseries, rose gardens, strawberry farms, butterfly farms, and the Sam Poh Buddhist Temple. You're required to pay admission to each attraction yourself (about RM5). Other interesting tours include half-day trekking (RM60 adults, RM40 children) and full-day tours of the area's major farms (RM85 adults, RM65 children).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.