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Malaysia is a country of contrasts, bathed in the warm tropical sun, endowed with 3,000 km of coastline, several historic cities, a unique cultural mix, a string of cool hill resorts, the world's oldest rainforest-and even Southeast Asia's highest mountain.

Geographically, somewhat oddly, Malaysia comprises two distinct bodies of land, politically joined in 1963 after independence from Britain. The Malayan peninsula is the historic home of the Malay people, today's heart and the population centre of the dynamic modern nation. East Malaysia claims the northern edge of the huge, wild island of Borneo. Ethnically and culturally, Malaysia is a fundamentally Malay country overlaid with Chinese, Indian and British influences, and possessing several indigenous tribal peoples such as the Iban, Penan and Negrito.

Yet it preserves many traditional cultural aspects-dress, religion, food and architecture-and retains great natural beauty in beaches, forests, rivers and mountains. Visiting Malaysia provides a step into a special and distinctive world that can be done with ease and comfort via high modern standards of transportation and accommodation.

Holidaymakers love to head for the beach first and forget their workday cares. Malaysia offers a huge range of seaside relaxation running from luxurious total-comfort resorts to deserted away-from-it-all beaches. On the northwest coast of the peninsula sits the holiday island of Langkawi, set on the Andaman Sea. In its myriad coves and inlets, beside palm-fringed golden sand beaches, Langkawi offers international-standard resort hotels and simple chalet accommodation. For a bit of action, there are water sports of all kinds, a fine golf course and duty-free shopping. Especially easy to access, Langkawi has its own international airport.

Farther down the coast lies Penang Island and Batu Ferringhi's resort hotel-lined beach with little offshore islands ideal for snorkeling and diving, or cruising around. Penang has long been popular with international tourists, as the large island offers many attractions, including a hill resort, botanical gardens, rainforest, typical Malay villages and the historic port city of Georgetown. Farther south, in the Straits of Malacca, lies the island of Pangkor, a popular getaway for Malaysians with its many sandy bays and all kinds of accommodation and diversions.
On the east coast, in an archipelago of 64 volcanic islands, sits Tioman Island. Blessed with miles of soft white sand and swaying palms, with a forested, mountainous interior where wild flowers grow in profusion and cool waterfalls cascade down rocky slopes, Tioman affords a paradise for everything from nature walks to sea sports, or just plain lazing in the tropical sun. The states of Pahang, Terengganu.

East Malaysia also boasts beach resorts such as at Damai, near Kuching, with its brilliant white sands and the Sarawak Cultural Village-a museum of Sarawak's ethnic cultures. The real highlight, however, comes from diving in the waters off Labuan Island, famous for underwater shipwrecks, and Sipadan Island, in the state of Sabah.

With its wealth of natural environments, Malaysia offers a plethora of adventure opportunities: jungle trekking, white-water rafting, mountain and rock climbing, great cave exploration, scuba diving, kayaking, mountain biking and more. Throughout the country the settings provide ideal adventure activities-dense forests, rapid rivers, craggy mountains, huge cave systems, bountiful seas and kaleidoscopic coral reefs-plus abundant wildlife and ancient indigenous peoples.