The most popular destinations in Malaysia dot the west coast of the country's peninsula. If you have little time, you can visit this central corridor and still experience Malaysian cultural and natural heritage without traveling too far.

Kuala Lumpur, the nation's capital, lies about midway between the northern border with Thailand and the tip of the peninsula, before you reach Singapore. For a newcomer, the city's museums, shopping, and delicious dining choices make it a good introduction to Malaysia's culture. Kuala Lumpur is a great jumping-off point for discovering Malaysia's rainforests as well.

The sleepy town of Melaka (Malacca), a 2-hour drive south of the capital city, has retained much of its old-world charm, with evidence of previous Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonists, plus the culture of Arabs, Indians, and Chinese who settled and traded here centuries ago.

Pulau Pangkor, or Pangkor Island, is a secluded island hideaway with dreamy tropical resorts dripping with Southeast Asian ambience, a mere half-hour's flight from Kuala Lumpur.

Farther north, Penang is perhaps Malaysia's most popular destination. Once the seat of British colonial power in the region, Penang still bears signs of its former inhabitants. Georgetown, the island's main town, bustles with charm -- narrow streets, old shophouses, places of worship, and an abundance of excellent street food. If you stay in Penang's beachfront area, you can relax by the sea after a busy day of touring.

North of Penang, Langkawi has superb luxury beach resorts. Situated in the Andaman Sea, it also has the best waters of all the west-coast attractions, and watersports to match.