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Written by Milly Whitehead on 16 / 06 / 2017

Gap Year Advice

Did you know - A gap year in Malaysia is the hottest new trend?

Move over Thailand – there's a new sheriff in town… Malaysia is the new hot-to-trot destination of choice for the discerning gap year traveller who is seeking fresh adventure, pristine beaches and an unspoilt culture.

Easy to get to and easy to move about – let’s have a peak and see what’s going on and find out where and how these gappers are spending their gap year in Malaysia?

Quick Geography Lesson

Gap Year in Malaysia

Malaysia consists of two geographical regions divided by the South China Sea: the Peninsular Malaysia (or West Malaysia) on the Malay Peninsula bordered by Thailand up on the north and Singapore to the South. Then there's Malaysian Borneo (or East Malaysia) located on the northern part of the island of Borneo in the South China Sea, bordering Indonesia and surrounding the Sultanate of Brunei.

Overall Malaysia covers an area of 329,847 km², making it slightly larger than the U.S. state of New Mexico, with a population of about 31 million people. The largest city and the national capital is Kuala Lumpur. Spoken languages are Malay (official), English, Tamil, and Chinese (Cantonese).

The highest mountain is Mount Kinabalu standing at 4,095 m on the island of Borneo and the surrounding Kinabalu Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So there we have it - fastest geography lesson around for all those considering a gap year in Malaysia.

Penisular Malaysia

Running from the Thai boarder in the north, to Singapore in the South. Kuala Lumpur – is the capital and the first entry point for most. Expect a slick city, with slick prices so the Gap year traveller doesn’t spend much time here – but if they do they have budgeted accordingly – so beware.

The Gappers are seeking variety and typically try to include a spot of jungle trekking, chilling out on white-sand beaches and thankfully some colourful cultural heritage. But where?

Adventure: Jungle trekking in Taman Negara National Park

Covering about 4,000 square kilometres, Taman Negara is one of the largest national park and home to the tallest peak in peninsular Malaysia. The old-growth forest, mostly untouched by humans, is believed to be more than 130 million years old — making it also the oldest primary forest in the world.

The Gappers are packing their insect repellent and trekking into Taman Negara to catch a glimpse of the sun bears, Asian elephants, tigers and leopards. Trekking is interspersed with days floating down the river in a dug out canoes so it is not all sweat with no pleasure!

Beach life: Got to be the Perhentian Islands

No better place than the two islands of Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian) which sit across a narrow body of water from one another up off the northeast coast.

Each islands has its own identity and vibe but they both have stunning beaches, coral reefs and cool places to stay, eat and have fun. Expect a semi-untouched feel. The gap traveller in Malaysia definitely makes a beeline for these islands.

Culture: Tour Malaka

Melaka (Malacca) is a cosmopolitan trading port which lies midway between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The Indian, Chinese and Arab traders plus Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists have all left their mark, not only on the unique architecture and delicious food but in the blood that runs through the veins of Melaka’s people.

Gappers are heading here to see the ‘relics of history’ including the Portuguese fortresses, Dutch town halls, Chinese temples and various churches and mosques dotted around the city’s historic quarter, before they chill in one of the riverbank cafes. And why not.

Malaysian Borneo

Borneo itself is a huge island BUT the Malaysian side only constitutes the two northern states of Sabah and Sarawak. The rest (south) is Indonesia.

Sabah and Sarawak have their differences but both are ‘tropical paradises’ as the jungle forests stretch down to vibrant corals. Yes, it doesn’t get much better.

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and Kuching the capital of Sarawak – both sit on the coast line and act as the spring boards for all interior exploring. Typically the gapper seems to be traversing both states to summit Mt Kinabalu, see the orangutangs, meet local communities before flopping on a beach.

Adventure: Summit Mount Kinabalu

Climb Mount Kinabalu in Borneo

This is an absolute must for all gappers. One of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia, Mt Kinabalu is a relatively easy climb with no need for specialist equipment – so all can enjoy the sense of achievement when nailing the summit. Crocker Range National Park and Kinabalu Park, surround the Mountain which are great destinations for a wildlife safari - which has to done.

Wildlife: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Orange apes are Borneo’s big drawcard, and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre cares for “people of the forest” who have been orphaned or injured due to deforestation or previously illegally kept as pets. Sepilok do an amazing job and everyone seems to head here to support their great work, which depends on tourist donations. It is quite simply an amazing place and the orangutans will blow your mind.

Beach life: Sipidan Islands

The Sipidan islands are seemingly a gapper firm favourite and we can see why as they float and glint away in the Celebes Sea off the East coast. World-renowned as the "it" diving destination, the underwater wildlife here is exceptional. More than 3,000 species of sea creatures can be seen in the warm tropical waters around the island, it’s not a question of whether you’ll see large pelagic species like manta rays, sea turtles, barracuda and sharks, but how many.

For more information on Borneo's best beaches have a read of this other blog -

Culture – Long house communities.

Gap year jungle

Gappers are heading to Sarawak to meet jungle-bound communities still living a subsistent, long house life. To boost their income, they have opened their homes to the intrepid explorer who is prepared to trek in and live amongst them – helping and sharing in their day to day life. This experience is unbeatable and because of the remoteness the concept of 'tourism' hasn’t tainted the experience.

Join the Trend?

I know no one likes to be sheep, following the gap crowd around the world in 365 days! BUT come on you have a chance to hit the highlights of Malaysia before it becomes another over run Thailand - sorry Thailand but have you not had your day and its time to hand over the baton?

Join a Leap Team to travel and contribute around the best of Malaysian Borneo

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