There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia. These UNESCO Malaysia sites include beautiful nature, gorgeous architecture, and a remarkable prehistoric discovery. For a closer look at the Malaysia UNESCO World Heritage Sites, read on for our full guide below.
Historic Cities of George Town and Melaka – UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia
The first UNESCO World Heritage Sites Malaysia are Melaka (also known as Malacca) and George Town. These are a pair of historic trading cities located on the Straits of Malacca, in peninsular Malaysia. Both cities are fascinating, and really interesting to explore and see how various cultures have left their marks.
Melaka World Heritage City
Melaka sits at the mouth of the Malacca River, about halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The history of Malacca is quite fascinating. Founded in the 14th century as a Malay trading port, it quickly became a wealthy and important town.
Malacca was the centre of an Islamic sultanate that ruled much of the southern Malay peninsula. Sadly, little of this era remains in today’s Melaka UNESCO site. In 1511 a Portuguese armada arrived and conquered the city. They built a large fort, which still stands today.
A century later, the Portuguese colonists were pushed out by the Dutch East India Company, who ruled for the next 200 years. The Dutch built many buildings including Anglican and Catholic churches, a town hall and others which stand proudly at the centre of the Melaka World Heritage site.
It’s quite fascinating to walk around and see these various historical places in Malacca. There’s also the houses and temples of Chinatown, built over the years by Chinese merchants plying their trade in the city.
George Town World Heritage City
Further to the north, George Town UNESCO site is located on the island of Penang, just off Malaysia’s coast. It was founded by the British East India Company in 1786 and like Melaka, has many beautiful colonial-era buildings.
Some of the highlights to see here are the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, City Hall, Fort Cornwallis, and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as the Blue Mansion.
There’s also lots of streets with old colonial shopfronts and houses, many of them beautifully restored. And there’s some fantastic street art here as well, making this Penang UNESCO site one of Malaysia’s finest.
Mount Kinabalu – World Heritage Sites in Malaysia
Mount Kinabalu UNESCO World Heritage Site is located near the city of Kota Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo. Kinabalu’s height is 4905 metres (13,435ft), making it the highest mountain in Malaysia. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is a fantastic way to experience this incredible World Heritage site.
The climb itself is a fascinating experience. You start off in lowland rainforest regions, climbing slowly through jungle as the trees thin out. Eventually the trees become shrubs, and grasses, before ultimately giving way to alpine desolation. And of course, the views from the summit are spectacular!
Although the Mount Kinabalu climb difficulty isn’t super hard, hiking Mount Kinabalu is another great way to experience the national park. When we visited, our Mount Kinabalu hiking was via several of the trails in the area, with beautiful rainforests and stunning views.
The National Park itself is also fantastic, with thousands of plant and animal species. There’s over 300 different bird species in the national park, which is quite incredible. All up, Kinabalu Park World Heritage Site is an amazing place to visit.
Gunung Mulu National Park Malaysia – UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia
Gunung Mulu National Park is located in the north of Malaysia’s Sarawak state, on the island of Borneo. It’s an incredible landscape of tall limestone peaks covered in dense jungle and rainforest, full of unique plants and animals.
For us, the most impressive feature of Gunung Mulu (also known as Mount Mulu) was the caves running directly through the limestone, and we spent most of our two days in the Park boating and hiking around, exploring the various caves.
Clearwater Cave is estimated to be the world’s 8th longest cave system, clocking in at an enormous 222 kilometres. Intruigingly, much of it is still unexplored. Nearby, there’s also the staggering Sarawak Chamber, the largest known natural chamber on earth. It measures a scarcely-believable 700m long, 400m across and over 70m high – enough to fit around 40 jumbo jets without overlapping their wings!
There’s also the beautiful Cave of the Winds, and of course Deer Cave Mulu. It was thought to be the world’s largest cave until the 2008 discovery of Son Doong Cave at Phong Nha – one of the World Heritage sites in Vietnam! Every night, millions of bats fly out of Deer Cave in an incredible spiral pattern to avoid being attacked by birds – and it’s a really remarkable sight.
Aside from exploring the caves, there’s a lot to do in Gunung Mulu National Park. Rafting and kayaking, jungle trekking, mountain climbing, swimming, and even tree-top walking. Another site not to miss is the Mulu pinnacles, a spectacular mountain-top rock formation.
It’s also fantastic to see how well the site is managed by the Malaysian government. Development is minimal and accommodation limited, so visitor numbers are very low, meaning that the nature here is almost pristine.
Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley – UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia
The Lenggong Valley World Heritage site is located in an ancient, narrow valley in Perak state, in Malaysia’s rugged north. Misty mountains and palm forests surround the area. The landscape here has been largely stable for millions of years, making it an excellent location for archaeology. Here, modern archaeologists have uncovered man-made stone tools dating back 1.8 million years, an almost unimaginable period of time.
But the absolute highlight here takes pride of place in the local museum: Perak Man. Unearthed in a limestone cave in 1991, Perak Man lived around 10,000-11,000 years ago! Thus making him the oldest and most complete skeleton found in South East Asia.
Perak Man was buried in the foetal position with one wrist at his shoulder and the other across his stomach. He suffered from a rare genetic disorder called brachymesophalangia. This gave Perak Man a deformed left hand, shortened left arm, and a slightly twisted spine.
Perak Man couldn’t have hunted in his condition, so his estimated death age of 50 is quite surprising. Archaeologists currently believe Perak Man must have been an important or senior member of his society. Particularly since he was buried alone in a cave with some animal offerings, in what appears to be a labor-intensive process.
It’s these tantalising glimpses of a long lost society that make Perak Man and the Lenggong museum so interesting. Together with the Zhoukoudian World Heritage Site in Beijing and the Sangiran Early Man World Heritage Site in Java, the Lenggong Valley UNESCO site gives a fascinating insight into prehistoric man.
So there you have the four Malaysia UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We hope you’ve learned something from our UNESCO in Malaysia tour, and we’re sure you’ll agree that there’s a fascinating mix of nature and culture to be found here. Malaysia is one of our favourite countries, and one that we always look forward to visiting!
For some further reading, consider checking out the World Heritage Sites in Delhi! Or if you’re curious to learn more about World Heritage Sites in general, check out our World Heritage Site questions and answers post.