World Heritage Day 2022: 4 Amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia

World Heritage Day 2022: 4 Amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia

Living legacies

Text: Natalie Khoo

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Get to know the four cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia and why you should visit them at least once in your life

Malaysia is widely known for its diverse culture and remarkable heritage, owing to the country’s unique historical and geographical context. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, also known as UNESCO, has recognised four World Heritage Sites in Malaysia for their irreplaceable value to mankind.

Of the four, two are recognised as cultural sites and the other two as natural sites. The recognition of these sites bears great significance as UNESCO adheres to strict selection criteria, resulting in only 1,154 World Heritage Sites in the world today. Sites can also be delisted if they do not maintain integrity in their management plans. 

Not only do these four World Heritage Sites make up an important part of Malaysia’s DNA, they also offer amazing sights and features that you should experience at least once in your life. How many have you visited?

1. Kinabalu Park

Kinabalu Park was established in 1974 as one of Malaysia’s first national parks, earning a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2000. Sprawled across 75,370 hectares of tropical rainforest in Sabah—93 per cent of which is still untouched—it is home to three of the tallest mountains in the country, namely Mount Kinabalu (4,095m), Mount Trusmadi (2,642m), and Mount Tambuyukon (2,579m). Aside from breath-taking mountainside views, nature lovers stand to discover more than 1,000 species of orchids, 78 species of Ficus, 60 species of ferns, and 326 species of birds in the park’s flourishing ecosystem.

What’s more, the park and its surrounding three districts are collectively on track to be recognised as a UNESCO Global Geopark site, forming a single unified geographical area that’s “managed with a holistic concept of protection, education, and sustainable development.”

RELATED: Must-visit natural treasures in Sabah and where to stay while you’re there

2. Gunung Mulu National Park

Inscribed as a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, Gunung Mulu National Park is the most studied tropical karst area in the world. The park spans a massive 52,864 hectares and is famous for its impressive biodiversity and karst limestone features. It boasts at least 295km of explored caves, which is home to millions of swiftlets, bats, and the Sarawak Chamber—the largest known cave chamber in the world.

One of its most distinctive features is the dramatic white limestone pinnacles at Mount Api, formed over 1.5 million years ago. Fun fact: these are the very same rock formations found on the RM100 banknote! Plus, there are seventeen vegetation zones in the park supporting an abundance of flora and fauna. Needless to say, visitors are sure to be awed by the exceptional natural beauty of the rare flowers, plants, and animals here.

3. Malacca and George Town

Although Malacca and George Town are technically two cities located in different parts of Malaysia, UNESCO designated them as one single World Heritage Site in 2008—dubbed the Historic Cities of the Malacca Straits. They both represent the tangible and intangible multicultural heritage and tradition of Asia in terms of architecture, art, music, food, and daily life.

Malaysians will know from our history books that the history of Malacca dates all the way back to the 15th century, when it was founded by Parameswara from Majapahit. From there, it developed into a major trading hub and spice route between the East and West. This attracted several world forces including the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, which captured and ruled Malacca over the span of 500 years—leaving behind layers of colonial imprints in the form of religious buildings, shophouses, and local dishes. Intermarriages between local Malay and Chinese traders have also resulted in a 'Baba Nyonya' Straits Chinese or Peranakan community that’s unique to Malacca and lives on until today.

On the other hand, George Town has stronger British influences in its history, which is closely tied to the founding of Penang by Captain Francis Light in 1768. Today, it is a hotspot for cultural buffs in search of well-preserved and carefully restored colonial shop facades that line the century-old streets across the town grid. The colourful town is also known for its pre-war buildings, clan-based fishing villages, and amazing street food that attract local and international tourists alike. In efforts to preserve its status as a cultural gem, George Town World Heritage Day is celebrated annually on 7 July to commemorate the anniversary of its special designation, as well as to drive conservation and economic activities.

READ: Films shot in George Town and other fun facts to know about the UNESCO World Heritage Site

4. Lenggong Valley

Those who are fascinated by archaeology or history should make Lenggong Valley a must-visit in North Malaysia. Discovered in the 1980s, this historical location comprises four archaeological sites that are said to be close to two million years old. There are prehistoric remains from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, and Metal ages discovered at these sites, including skeletons, cave drawings, weapons, and pottery. 

Lenggong Valley is also considered one of the longest records of early man in a single locality, and the oldest outside the African continent. This is where Southeast Asia’s oldest complete human skeleton, dubbed the Perak Man, was discovered. If you're interested to explore the caves and excavation sites, visit the Lenggong Valley Archaeological Museum or opt for a walking tour to learn from a local expert. 

For more information on UNESCO World Heritage sites, visit this website.

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