Photo by KL Tourism Bureau
In Malaysia, you’ll never want for options where interesting walks are concerned. Here, you’ll find that a dizzying array of historical buildings, natural beauty and unique gourmet treats await the intrepid adventurer.
David May, creator of the Malaysia Traveller and Thrifty Traveller websites, makes it his unofficial travel rule to walk wherever possible rather than drive when exploring. May has written extensively about self-guided heritage walks in various Malaysian states, teaming up with the PocketGuide app makers to showcase these iconic heritage trails as digital tours available via the app.
Digital tours aside, a number of free guided tours around Malaysia offer strolls through historical cities, featuring iconic architecture alongside traditional villages and lush forest reserves. Whether you decide to join a tour group or explore these places yourself, be sure not to miss these walks.
Photo by Badan Warisan Malaysia
The Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau offers four free guided tours at least two to three times a week, depending on the tour. The Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) Heritage Walk is a great place to start. The two-and-ahalf- hour walk brings you to century-old structures like the copper-domed Sultan Abdul Samad building, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Victorian Fountain and eight other famous sites around Dataran Merdeka.
The other guided tours include the KL Night Walk, which covers similar areas as the Dataran Merdeka tour, with the addition of lively night markets, street bazaars and the Panggung Bandaraya, one of the oldest theatres in the country. Alternatively, the Old KL and Nature Walk will lead you to eight bustling locations like Petaling Street (Chinatown), as well as Central Market, Loke Chow Kit Mansion, Jamek Mosque, and the KL Forest EcoPark at Bukit Nanas: the only tropical rainforest reserve in the world that’s surrounded by a city.
If you’d like to wander off the beaten path to see traditional Malay living spaces, the Jalan-Jalan @Kampong Bharu Cultural Walk will take you to seven adjacent Malay villages in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, while the Little India @Brickfields tour will show you the colourful marketplaces, temples, restaurants and heritage buildings unique to the Malaysian Indian community in the city.
While the Kampong Bharu tour only scratches the surface of modern-day Malay village life, you’ll actually be able to visit the oldest preserved Malay house in the country by donating a minimum of RM10 to join a guided tour by the Malaysian Heritage Trust (Badan Warisan Malaysia) featuring the Rumah Penghulu Abdul Seman, a century-old headman’s house which was relocated from its original spot in Kedah.
“Lesser known heritage walks by proper guides can be found in Ipoh, Klang and Brickfields,” suggests May. The Royal Klang Heritage Walk, a free guided tour jointly organised by the Klang Municipal Council and Tourism Selangor allows participants exclusive entry to closed-door sites like the Royal Klang Club and the hilltop Alam Shah Palace, the latter built in 1950 for the installation of the fifth Sultan of Selangor. The most recent version of this heritage walk – the Pokemon Go edition – is available on Saturdays and Sundays and is a two-and-a-half-hour walk that covers 11 historical sites around the town centre.
“Heritage doesn’t only refer to buildings, that’s part of our tangible heritage,” says licensed tour guide Erina Loo, founder of BeTourist and the Malaysian Women Tourist Guide Association. “Malaysia has so much intangible heritage that’s not being highlighted, and that includes natural heritage. We’ve recently included FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia) tours to showcase the ecological aspects of Malaysian culture.”
FRIM is a 545-hectare forest reserve and a gazetted national heritage site. It’s home to several breathtaking nature trails including the Keruing Nature Trail, the Salleh Nature Trail and the Engkabang Nature Trail, the first of which is the oldest of FRIM’s trails available to the public, converging on one of FRIM’s oldest plantations. The Salleh trail leads through a forest plantation that was established in the late 1920’s, while the Engkabang Trail contains lowland trees planted in the 1930’s and passes through an area that was once grass-covered wetland.
In collaboration with the Perak state government, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar created a self-guided heritage trail through the royal town of Kuala Kangsar focusing on 23 destinations of interest. Covering approximately 8.5 kilometres, the Royal Town Kuala Kangsar Heritage Trail map has explanations on each historical site, like the Memorial Palace (Istana Kenangan) that was constructed without a single nail, home to Sultan Iskandar Shah from 1931 to 1933 before he moved to Iskandaria Palace, which is yet another attraction on the same heritage trail. You may find yourself going over the estimated time it takes to complete the trail as you explore the old buildings, which have sheltered generations of Perak’s royalty.
Heritage walks in Perak’s capital city of Ipoh are also very appealing. The free guided tour by the Ipoh World organisation begins at 8am on Saturdays at the Ipoh Railway Station, designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, the British architect responsible for conceptualising many heritage buildings in Kuala Lumpur including the Railway Station, the Royal Selangor Club and the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building. This two-hour walk comprises 24 locations including the Straits Trading Building, Chartered Bank, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, The War Memorial and the Federal Malay States Bar and Restaurant.
The Penang Heritage Trust and Georgetown World Heritage Inc. are invaluable sources of heritage guided tours. The Penang Heritage Trust charges approximately RM130 to RM160 per person for specialised tours in three areas in Georgetown: Little India, Armenian Street and Clan Jetties, and The Colonial District that boasts the remains of the famed Fort Cornwallis. Additionally, the Street of Harmony Heritage Walk along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling features multiple places of worship all on one street.
Also by the Penang Heritage Trust is the free Cemetery Tour every last Sunday of the month, starting at the Protestant Cemetery where European pioneers like Sir Francis Light, James Scott, Reverend Sparke Hutchings and others were laid to rest.
Georgetown World Heritage Inc. organises free tours like the LaCaLa Discovery Walk which explores the multicultural microcosm of Armenian Street, Acheen Street and Cannon Street. They also offer a Walk for the Visually Impaired, a paid tour exclusively for the visuallyimpaired facilitated by trained guides who cover Georgetown’s main European, Chinese, Indian and Malay settlements and is a collaboration with the National Council for the Blind Malaysia.
The Old Melaka Heritage Tour is a free tour by the Melaka Museums Corporation and the Melaka tourism board held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, starting at 9am at the Tourism Malaysia Tourist Information Centre on Jalan Kota. The two-and-a-half-hour walk covers 12 places of interest including the 150-year-old Kampung Kling Mosque, three museums, two temples, an ancient Dutch fort, the chapel ruins at St Paul’s Hill, and the Melaka River where commerce ruled and war was played out during the turbulent 15th century.
The Johor Bahru City Council’s Johor Heritage Trail tour will give you a glimpse of Johor’s colonial past within the historical heart of the city. Notable attractions include the Johor Bahru High Court with its famous fountain and monument bearing the Johor coat-of-arms, along with the stately Sultan Ibrahim Building, the Chinese Heritage Museum, the Old Johor Bahru railway station built in 1931, and Kampong Wong Ah Fook, named after a Chinese carpenter who was commissioned by Johor Sultan Abu Bakar in the late 1880’s to build the state’s most iconic mosques and palaces.
The two-hour Kota Kinabalu Heritage Walk includes a restored 1940s coffee stop at the Kopitiam Museum, a treasure hunt on Gaya Street, and a number of historical landmarks like Independence Field, the Atkinson Clock Tower, the North Borneo War Memorial and the Jesselton Hotel. This paid tour is available every day from 9am and a coffee break, batik bandana souvenir and KK Heritage Walk booklet is included in the RM120 fee.