Geography of Malaysia

Situated between Thailand and Indonesia, Malaysia is a country that's at both the geographic and cultural heart of Southeast Asia.
Situated between Thailand and Indonesia, Malaysia is a country that's at both the geographic and cultural heart of Southeast Asia.

Situated between Thailand and Indonesia, Malaysia is a country that's at both the geographic and cultural heart of Southeast Asia. A tropical country spanning both the Malay Peninsula, which it shares with northern neighbor Thailand, and the island of Borneo, which it shares with Indonesia and the tiny Brunei, Malaysia is a country that offers the true tropical experience for visitors.

While crossing the border from Thailand to Malaysia today might seem like the ultimate cultural contrast, in reality it's not so simple. The borders of Malaysia have changed dramatically over the past century. Now a country that spans the lower Malay Peninsula and parts of Borneo, other areas like the nearby Singapore, along with Thailand's southern districts, were once in Malaysia.

Malaysia is made up of two main areas – Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. The first, which takes up the lower half of the Malay Peninsula, is the political, economic, and cultural core of Malaysia. Home to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, the vast majority of Malaysia's economic might and administrative culture is centered around the western portion of Peninsular Malaysia.

Other key areas of the peninsula include the state of Johor, home to the city of Johor Bahru and the short causeway linking Malaysia with Singapore. Visitors to Singapore frequently cross the gap to enjoy cheap shopping in Malaysia, often for items that are unavailable in Singapore. To the north, visitors will find the state of Penang – home to one of Malaysia's top tourist destinations and one of the country's largest coastal settlements.

Peninsular Malaysia is made up of both coastal flatlands and a surprisingly large amount of small mountainous regions, known as 'highlands' to locals. Some of these areas, such as Genting, act as popular weekend tourism spots for Malaysians, largely due to their more manageable summertime temperature. Others, particularly to the north of Kuala Lumpur, are significantly less developed.

While Peninsular Malaysia's west coast is undoubtedly the country's economic and cultural core, it's not what most visitors think of when they imagine 'Malaysian Coastline'. The eastern coastline of Peninsular Malaysia is significantly more of a postcard-style destination. Famous tourist spots like the Perhentian Islands make this stretch of land one of the most photogenic areas in the world.

Eastern Malaysia, also known as Malaysian Borneo, is the country's larger yet significantly less populated half. Sitting across the South China Sea from Peninsular Malaysia, this undiscovered, infrequently traveled expanse of land is home to many of Malaysia's best natural attractions and coastal regions.

Split into two states – Sarawak and Sabah – East Malaysia is culturally and geographically a very different place from the peninsula. With a lower population, a much greater religious presence, and even a different set of languages from the peninsula, it can often feel like a different country for some visitors. Despite this, the two different areas share a lot of common features and lifestyles.

East Malaysia is home to Malaysia's tallest mountain – the UNESCO-protected Mount Kinabalu. A popular destination for hikers and mountain climbers, the stunning mountain reaches into the air at one of Malaysia's most northern boundaries. Along with its mountainous terrain, Borneo remains a major attraction for its undiscovered islands, SCUBA diving locations, and laid back lifestyle.

Despite the rugged interiors of both Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo, getting around the country is rarely difficult. With air connections to all major cities and a fantastic highway network, Malaysia's stunning geography is purely an attraction for visitors, and rarely an inconvenience.

From its postcard-perfect tropical beaches to its chilly and picturesque highland villages, Malaysia is a country that offers a great deal more geographical variety than most visitors expect. Regardless of whether it's the beaches, the mountains, or the incredible islands that attract your attention, you'll find a lot of nature to love during your stay in Malaysia.