Malaysia: Mega Malls, Monkeys and Rain Forests

Following an Air France flight via Paris, we arrived in bustling and diverse Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia two weeks ago! On a quick side note, Emirates via Dubai or Etihad via Abu Dhabi would have been better as they provide more meals for dietary restrictions and their in flight entertainment is better. The Air France flight crew were pretty nice but the experience definitely fell short of our recent trip to Dubai, Singapore and Melbourne, Australia on Emirates earlier this year.

Flight Options to Kuala, Lumpur Malaysia

The plane tickets on Emirates were only a little bit more originating in Dublin. But we liked the idea of having a 12 hour flight to sleep rather than two 7.5 hour flights because that’s more disruptive to resting, especially with so many movies to choose from! We’ll save an airline review for another time though.

Petronas Towers
Petronas Towers

Midvalley Mega Mall

We arrived to find ourselves at the Midvalley Cititel hotel which is attached to the Midvalley Mega Mall (Like Americans, Kuala Lumpur residents love massive and sleek air-conditioned shopping centers). We were surprised by the number of chain restaurants at the mall, everything was there, even a Kenny Roger’s Roasters. Border’s bookstore was also at the mall, which recently went completely under in the USA. Read more on the cultural differences and similarities between the USA and Malaysia.

The Midvalley Mega Mall was actually the largest mall we’d ever been in and it also housed plenty of Malaysian and other Asian eateries, several grocery stores and even a bowling alley! The reason we were put up at the mega mall is that it’s relatively near Malaya University, which is where Bell was consulting on their research study on ageing. In a bizzaro world moment, I swung into a Doc Marten shop and saw shoes made in…England! A few were absolutely beautiful, and the prices ranged up to 2,000 Malaysian Ringits. That’s 500 euro ($650 USD), for shoes, in Malaysia, made in England!

Batu Caves

The highlight of Kuala Lumpur was the Batu Caves and watching the cheeky Macaque monkeys playing around the 276 steps up to the caves. They really know how to put on a fantastic show! Also, the 42.7 meter statue of  Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war and victory was very impressive. We’ll be writing more on this in the near future as it’s extremely worthy of its own post. And after all, who doesn’t love copious amounts of monkey photos?

Batu Caves - Monkeys!
Batu Caves – Macaque monkey with baby!

Sabah: One of Two Malaysia provinces in Borneo

Currently, we are in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo, the world’s 3rd largest island, and specifically the northern province of Sabah. Sabah is famous for being one of only two places to see orangutans in the wild, the other being the nearby Indonesian island of Sumatra. And it’s the only place in the world to see one of the world’s weirdest looking monkeys, the proboscis monkey. It’s also home to the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia, though the flower can also be found in other parts of Southeast Asia.

Wild Water Buffalo
Wild Water Buffalo

North Borneo Railway

Often when we travel for more than a week, and it’s not the busy season (it’s currently low season in Borneo because it storms more frequently from November through February), we like to keep plans open and see where our current whims take us. However, if it were high season in Borneo and we had specific resort or diving plans, we would definitely need to book in advance. So far this has served us well.

We were in Kota Kinabalu for 4 days, and needed to be there as Alex came down with food poisoning (bad luck as it can happen anywhere) and unfortunately missed the North Borneo Railway trip. Bell, however, had a lovely morning riding a Vulcan steam engine back into past. Tours last 5 hours and prices are around $90 USD, including lunch on board.

Vulcan steam locomotive
Vulcan steam locomotive


A short flight over to the other side of Sabah, had us land at the Sandakan airport and be whisked off to the Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat in Sepilok. This place receives rave reviews… Our review would be that for one type of traveler they would LOVE it, for others, it lacks certain facilities. As you are out in the jungle you are very much stuck with their food, which was only ok. The rooms are basic, which isn’t a problem aside from there being large cracks in the floors, walls and roof, and all the while you are free to run the air conditioning! So if bugs aren’t your thing, then this place is not going to be for you.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

But we were able to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and watch these beautiful creatures eat some dinner, while the cheeky Macaque monkeys stole fallen bananas and other treats from around their feet!

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Sandakan Hotels

We then moved into Sandakan and spent a night at Four Points by Sheraton… this is a fantastic bargain, at 41euro (180 MYR) a night. They have a beautiful pool, rooms have a lovely view of the sea and the staff are just so friendly!

We then traveled to the amazing Sukau Rainforest Lodge, situated along the Kinabatagan River. To get there, we took a boat for over two hours. En route, we were fortunate that our guide spotted a family of pygmy elephants! Pygmy elephants actually aren’t that small. They are still rather big, especially the male of the herd. We wouldn’t want to mess with him, but they were just beautiful and it was an unforgettable experience.

Borneo Eco Tours

We then spent a wonderful evening cruising around the river, spotting monkeys, crocodiles, hornbills, lizards and snakes arranged by Borneo Eco Tours! After such a busy day, we collapsed in our lovely room and listened to the tree frogs and crickets chirp the night away. We spent the night 2 doors down from where Sir. David Attenborough slept when he visited the Sukau area.

Sukau Rainforest Lodge- Rated by National Geographic as one of the world's top 50 rain forest lodges in 2009
Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Malaysia “Simply Asia”

Now we are writing this from Sandakan, and we’re back at the Four Points by the Sheraton. Where we’re off to next is still a bit of a mystery, but we’ll be sure to let you know! If anyone has any tips for us, please share in the comments. We look forward to sharing more about this beautiful and wonderfully diverse country! With a mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians and other minorities from around the region, Malaysia truly lives up to its slogan as “Simply Asia.”

Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu
Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu

We would like to thank the Sabah Tourism Board for their help in arranging both the North Borneo Railway trip and our stay and tour with Borneo Eco Tours and Sukau Rainforest Lodge. 


  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

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2 thoughts on “Malaysia: Mega Malls, Monkeys and Rain Forests

  1. Sounds like a fascinating adventure with lots to see and experience. Malaysia certainly does have a lot to offer and the Orangutans are very special and everyone falls in love with them. Look forward to more posts

    1. It certainly has been an adventure! And Malaysia really is an interesting place, one of the things we didn’t fully get into is how friendly and helpful people are here. When Alex and I were sick, the hotel staff directed us to a pharmacy, and when we found it, the staff were quite worried about us and sorted us out with everything we needed quickly and threw in a bottle of water as they felt we looked a bit dehydrated!

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