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There comes a time when the regular road trip or short holiday just doesn’t cut it anymore. You’ve been to Penang and Melaka one too many times. You crave for more than another duty-free escapade in Langkawi. Even those idyllic get-close-to-nature bungalow retreats are getting a tad plain. What else is out there in Malaysia for the more adventurous traveller?

Today, local culture and sustainable tourism are quickly making their way up travellers’ list of priorities. Simple, basic lodgings and minor inconveniences are becoming acceptable trade-offs for the sake of new experiences. With that in mind, Agoda.com, one of Asia’s leading hotel booking sites and part of the Nasdaq-listed Priceline Group, highlights some out-of-the-ordinary travel destinations in Malaysia that still remain off the beaten path, for now at least.

6. Cherating Surf_Ashleigh Hong

Surfing in Malaysia may sound far-fetched to some, but from November to March, Cherating is surrounded by waves of world-class quality and consistency, according to SatuSuku – a local surf school in Kampung Cherating Lama. The good news: These waves are ideal for beginners.

For beach-loving city folk looking to learn something new, Cherating makes a great place for a weekend retreat that wouldn’t cost more than RM300-RM500, including surf lessons. The popular stretch along Cherating Beach is anchored by SatuSuku and several guesthouses that offer simple, basic accommodation. Its surroundings still retain a local charm despite a steady (and increasing) flow of surfers who visit every monsoon season, and locals are known to be friendly and helpful.

How to get there: Driving or taking a bus to Cherating on Friday evening is recommended, as most would want to catch the early morning surf on Saturday.

Agoda.com travel tip: Be sure to check the wave forecast on magicseaweed.com before planning your trip! And catch the ice cream man who patrols the beach on a motorbike for some nostalgic ice cream cones or roti aiskrim for less than RM3!

Where to stay:
Riverside 3rd Point Chalet (1.5 stars)
Residence Inn Cherating (3 stars)
Holiday Villa Beach Resort and Spa Cherating (4 stars)

5. Sibuan Sunrise by Amanda Ting

Sibuan and Bohey Dulang are two of Sabah’s lesser-known islands within the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, accessible via the coastal town of Semporna. These islands are relatively untouched, completely free of commercialisation, and are astoundingly beautiful.

Mostly frequented by locals and dive enthusiasts, the islands are surrounded by world-class dive sites and pristine beaches. What makes them even more interesting is the lack of any facilities, accommodation or permanent residents on the islands; save for clusters of Bajau sea gypsies who live in stilt houses above the crystal clear waters.

On Bohey Dulang, trekking to the island’s peak is a popular day trip activity. Travellers can also witness giant clam spawning and seaweed farming at the Marine Research Unit on the island. As for Sibuan, snorkelling and catching the sunrise on the beach will make your excursion unforgettable.

How to get there: Take a flight into Tawau Airport and charter a taxi / van to Semporna. From Semporna, day tours can be easily arranged to both islands. A speedboat ride from Semporna to Tun Sakaran Marine Park takes about 45 minutes.

Agoda.com travel tip: Try to make friends with the Bajau folk and they may just climb a coconut tree to pick a fresh coconut for you. Be sure to obtain proper approvals from Sabah Parks when visiting these islands.

Where to stay:
Sipadan Inn 2 (3 stars)
Seafest Hotel (3 stars)
Borneo Global Sipadan Backpackers (1 star)

Perenthian Islands, Malaysia

Homestays in Malaysia offer an immersive experience in rich local culture, one of Malaysia’s most captivating tourism assets. Homestay lodging is a far cry from the comfort of thread count sheets and air-conditioning, but the raw cultural experience offered makes up for it exceedingly. Travellers get to live, eat, interact and play with locals while participating in local lifestyle and economic activities.

Homestays are typically located in rural areas, and there are many activities to keep travellers occupied throughout a homestay vacation. Depending on the type of homestay, travellers can get to learn traditional recipes, dances and songs, or even witness traditional marriage ceremonies. Participating in agricultural activities like rubber tapping and growing paddy on the fields are also common.

When considering a homestay, travellers are encouraged to check if a particular homestay is registered with the Malaysian Homestay Programme by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. With many homestays only offering bare basic amenities, travellers can opt to book in advance through Agoda.com to benefit from the site’s secure and cashless transactions, for extra convenience and peace of mind.

Agoda.com travel tip: Urban homestays are different from cultural homestays, be sure to filter them out if you’re looking for a cultural experience!

Agoda.com recommended homestays:
Balik Pulau Lodge – Hakka Village, Penang
If you can’t do away with a Penang vacation, try staying at this Hakka cultural settlement instead. Nestled 300ft above sea level, Balik Pulau Lodge in Pulau Betong offers guests an interesting encounter with Hakka folk culture. The lodge serves traditional Hakka dishes, and is spread across 12 acres of fruit orchard. Different types of accommodation are available within the village, but the African-style tent is a standout – and is bookable via Agoda.com.

Ecoteer Community House – Educational & Volunteer Project, Pulau Perhentian
This homestay offers 3D2N volunteer packages via Agoda.com, where travellers can get to assist in marine research, conservation, and other activities that will help enrich the local community of a fishing village on Perhentian Island. Activities range from collecting data on coral bleaching, snorkel tours and dining with the locals, to teaching English lessons and painting classrooms.

Homestay Teluk Ketapang, Kuala Terengganu
Homestay Teluk Ketapang offers a rich encounter with traditional Malay culture, coupled with the charm of Malaysia’s east coast. It is also one of the most successful homestays in Terengganu, having opened their homes to more foreign travellers than other homestays in the state. Guests will get to learn and experience the preparation of traditional Malay food, witness traditional ceremonies like weddings, explore a mangrove river, and visit traditional business like Attap roof weaving. Activities conducted at the homestay depend on the length of stay, and two packages (3D2N and 2D1N) are currently available on Agoda.com.

3. Bohey Dulang by Philip Ong


By Ashleigh Hong

Photos: Amanda Ting, Ashleigh Hong & Philip Ong

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