4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia
With only four recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia – the numbers seem too few, with the country’s remarkable natural geological formations and diverse ethnic heritage and culture.
The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated four World Heritage Sites in Malaysia classified under natural and cultural sites.
Of the two cultural sites, the cities of Georgetown and Malacca are listed under one category as ‘Historical Cities Along the Straits of Malacca.’
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is essential to the cultural or natural heritage described in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
Malaysia has so much to offer in unique places, colonial cities, and archaeological sites with evidence of the evolution of early humans.
Many of these landmarks of Malaysia are unknown, obscure, and waiting to be discovered by the most persistent travelers.
Travel influenced by UNESCO sites allows intrepid visitors to visit World Heritage properties, fostering increased awareness, aid preservation, learn about humanity’s history, and wonder at unequivocally majestic sites.
While Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, and Machu Picchu are world-famous, I want to introduce you to Malaysia’s UNESCO sites that are worthy of inclusion in any naturalist and travelers off-the-beaten-track bucket list.
Natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia
The rainforest-clad island of Borneo is home to the Natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Malaysia.
Kinabalu National Park was gazetted in 1964 to protect Mount Kinabalu and its plant and animal life.
Location: Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia 6°15′N 116°30′E
Criteria: Natural: (ix), (x)
Kinabalu Park was established as one of the first national parks in Malaysia in 1964.
It is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in December 2000.
Notes for its “outstanding universal values” and role as one of the most important biological sites in the world – Kinabalu Park has four climatic zones and boasts one of the richest collections of biodiversity in the world.
Kinabalu Park has over 4,500 species of flora and fauna, including 326 birds, around 100 mammal species, and over 110 land snail species.
On the west coast of Sabah, Kinabalu National Park covers an area of 754 square kilometers (291 square miles) and incorporates two mountains, Mount Kinabalu (4095.2 m) and Mount Tambuyukon (2,579 m).
Mount Kinabalu, standing at 4,095.2 meters tall, is the highest mountain on the island of Borneo and the 20th most prominent peak in the world.
Thousands of visitors come to Sabah annually to climb Mount Kinabalu and experience its nature’s mystical beauty.
Getting To Kinabalu Park
A 2-hour scenic drive from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, visitors exploring Kinabalu Park will notice the cooling temperature, ranging from 15 to 24 °C (60 – 78 °F) in Park.
The first option is to catch a minivan from the Long-Distance Bus station near Night Market in the city center, which will drive directly to the Kinabalu Park Headquarters.
The gateway to climb Mount Kinabalu is the Park HQ, situated 1,563 meters (5,128 feet) on its southern boundary.
Minivans leave when full, cost RM15 each way, and the journey takes 1.5 hours.
Gunung Mulu National Park
Location: Northern Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Criteria: Natural: (vii), (viii), (ix), (x)
The Gunung Mulu National Park is a national park in the Miri Division on the island of Borneo in the State of Sarawak, Malaysia.
Set in a mountainous equatorial rainforest, the Gunung Mulu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing caves and karst formations known for their biodiversity and karst features.
Gunung Mulu, a 2,377 m-high sandstone pinnacle, dominates the Park.
The 295 km of explored caves are homes to millions of cave-dwelling swiftlets and bats.
The Sarawak Chamber, 600 m by 415 m and 80 m high, is the largest known cave chamber in the world.
The 52,864-ha park contains seventeen vegetation zones.
There are some 3,500 species of vascular plants, with vibrant palm species; 109 species in twenty genera noted.
A series of over 20 expeditions named the Mulu Caves Project have been mounted to explore them and their surrounding rainforest.
Most notable was the Royal Geographical Society Expedition of 1977–1978, which saw over 100 scientists in the field for 15 months.
Getting To Gunung Mulu National Park
MASWings, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, operates flights to Mulu from Miri, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu using 64-seater ATR turboprop aircraft.
There are three flights a day from Miri (30 mins) and daily direct flights from Kuching (1 hr, 35 mins) and Kota Kinabalu (55 mins).
Source: Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak
Cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia
Malaysia is an array of multi-ethnicity, especially in the trading ports of Malacca and Penang.
There you will find the unique hybridization of ancient Chinese culture with the local cultures.
In Malaysia, the term Peranakan refers to Straits-born Chinese and their descendants because of the centuries-long history of transculturation and interracial marriage.
The Straits Settlements states are Melaka and Penang (and Singapore) in the former British Malaya (now called Peninsular Malaysia)
There are several kinds of Peranakan;
- Peranakan Chinese (Baba-Nyonya)
- Peranakan Arabs (Jawi Peranakan)
- Peranakan Dutch (Dutch Peranakan)
- Peranakan Indians (Chetti Melaka)
The Peranakan Chinese form the largest and the most critical group and are often referred to specifically as the Chinese.
The Kristang, or Serani, is a creole ethnic group of mixed Portuguese and Malaccan descent based in Melaka and Penang in Malaysia.
Penang is proud of its designation as a World Heritage Site to the point that the state has made July 7, the day the designation was issued in 2008, George Town World Heritage Day.
The day is designed to allow citizens and visitors to celebrate the site’s culture, buildings, heritage, and history and for visitors to visit the Penang Heritage Trail.
Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca.
Location: Melaka and George Town, Penang, West Malaysia, Malaysia
Criteria: Cultural: (ii), (iii), (iv)
Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca is a UNESCO World Heritage listing comprising the historic urban centers of two cities, Melaka and George Town, that illustrate 500 years of cultural and trade exchange between East and West.
‘The Historic Town’ of Malacca City (also spelled Melaka) is the capital of the coastal state of Malacca.
With Chinatown’s major thoroughfare at its center – Jonker Street is where tourists head for its antique shops and night market.
Other interesting sights are the ornate17th-century Chinese Cheng Hoon Teng temple and the green, 3-tiered roof that tops the 18th-century Javanese-influenced Kampung Kling Mosque.
The evenings are pleasant to explore the Historical City of Melaka by gliding along Sungai Melaka with an awe-inspiring 45-minute cruise.
George Town in Penang, Malaysia, is now just as known for its street art as its heritage houses and street food.
Malaysian dishes like Penang Asam Laksa, Nasi Kandar, and Char Koay Teow cooked with duck eggs are found in George Town, considered among the best places to eat in Malaysia.
The city has a vibrant multi-culture and historical heritage.
The best way to see George Town is to check out the Penang Heritage Trail.
Aside from food, many traditional shophouses and heritage buildings have been converted to cafes, hotels, and art spaces.
Join sports-mad Penangites who love football, badminton, cycling, hiking, and swimming when you visit.
There are many cycling routes, bike shops, and rentals around the island for bicycles and motorcycles.
Penang Island City Council (MBPP) initiative has several LinkBike stations for anyone to rent bicycles for $2.50 to $5 a day.
Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley
Location: Perak, West Malaysia, Malaysia 5°4′N 100°58′E
Criteria: Cultural:(iii), (iv)
Southeast Asia’s oldest, most complete human skeleton, the mysterious Perak Man from the Stone age, is found in the Lenggong Valley, Perak, Malaysia.
Lenggong Valley is Malaysia’s most important archaeological site, dating from 10,000 to 11,000 years from the Stone age, starting in the Palaeolithic era.
UNESCO listed the Lenggong Valley as a World Heritage site on June 30, 2012.
The Lenggong Archaeological Museum or Kota Tampan Archaeological Museum is an open-air museum that houses many historical artifacts dating some 1.3 million years ago.
The museum is near the Lipur Lata Kekabu Rainforest, only 2 km from the site, about 100 kilometers north of Ipoh, through Kuala Kangsar (onwards to Grik).
How to visit the Lenggong Valley’s Cave system
Years of poor maintenance and neglect have left many cave walls defaced by ugly graffiti scribbled by the local tourists.
Today, they fenced all the cave sites off and closed them to the public.
You may access the caves by appointment and contact Mr. Sanjit, the Director of Lenggong Archaeological Museum (daily 9 am–6 pm; T05 767 9700) in Kota Tampan, 9 km from Lenggong town, and book your visit.