To many developing countries, tourism is one major driver of economic growth due to its pristine beaches and natural wonders. Tourism generates jobs and improves the living standards of many residents of their local communities.
In 2019, before the pandemic, there were over 26.1 million tourist arrivals, with a Gross Value Added of Tourism Industries (GVATI) of RM240.5 billion (15.9% share of GDP) and employing 3,561.8 thousand people (23.6% percentage share of total employment).
Now that the pandemic is behind us, it is time to explore Malaysia at ground level and in doing so, you will contribute directly to communities and people living in those areas.
If you are looking for an experience that is both unique and more meaningful than your typical tourist destination, then come and experience these CBT activities and places to stay in Malaysia. Learn more about the local cultures, discover natural wonders and make meaningful contributions to the local communities.
#1: Min House Camp, Kubang Kerian, Kelantan
Located on the edge of Kota Bharu town, Min House Camp provides a beautiful nature experience, especially for those who enjoy visiting natural places and discovering flora and fauna. Set amongst lush tropical greenery, Min House Camp offers many different activities with a focus on nature and the local culture.
One of its main highlights is firefly-watching, allowing you to catch nature’s light show in a pristine, natural habitat. Other activities you can engage in include
handicraft-making, cooking lessons, traditional games and watching cultural performances such as the wayang kulit (shadow play) and dikir barat (a Kelantanese traditional dance).
#2: Kampung Pulau Tengah, Kubang Kerian, Kelantan
Once a sleepy little village, following the MCO Kampung Pulau Tengah has become a hit with local tourists looking for natural scenery and a chance to experience the local cultures.
Here you can take a 3km river trail by boat from Kampung Pulau Tengah to Kampung Pulau Melaka, visiting three villagers where you can observe the local community’s activities, from harvesting nipah (palm fruits) to searching for lokan (freshwater mussels) and enjoy the natural beauty at Sungai Pengkalan Datu.
And then at night, you can visit the firefly park and take a moonlit boat tour while surrounded by nature’s light show.
Finally, you can have lunch or dinner at the Astacona Riverview Island Restaurant, which offers the unique experience of dining on a tree as tall as 10 metres.
#3: Perahu Kolek Traditional Fishing Boat Tour, Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan
Experience the traditional fishing village life of Kelantan on this spectacular boat tour. You board a perahu kolek (a colourful traditional fishing boat) that will take you on a cruise down the Pengkalan Datu River Basin.
Highlights of the tour include observing and learning how the local communities harvest nipah (palm fruit) and collected lokan (freshwater mussels), visiting the Ar-Rahman Mosque and Senok Beach and experiencing local cottage industries such as Kampung Laut’s serunding (spicy chicken, beef or fish floss) industry.
For a truly unique lunch, visit Cerana Villa Floating Restaurant at Kota Pengkalan Datu Resort for the must-try Colek leghrak with ‘shell out’ experience; a combination of mixed fruits with deep-fried seafood and mushroom in a crispy batter, cooked in your favourite sauce and spread on the table to be enjoyed bare-handed with family and friends. For a real taste of the kampung menu, try pulut ikan kering, glutinous rice with freshly grated coconut and dried fish.
#4: Native Discovery
Founded by Penangite Daniel Teoh, Native Discovery builds businesses with Orang Asli communities by using elements of their culture to boost their livelihoods and give them an avenue to share their stories with the world.
With over 30 local community members engaged, and 500 guests connected, Native Discovery is helping connect with our country’s heritage while also supporting the often marginalised indigenous communities.
Native Discovery will allow you to explore Orang Asli culture up close and personal. Embark on a waterfall and nature hike experience, learn how to forage and make crafts using materials found in the forest, or lose yourself in the flavours of the Orang Asli cuisine as you get a chance to not only taste their food but learn how to make them yourself.
#5: YMCA Kedah
YMCA Tourism offers alternative tours in Kedah that will provide a unique and meaningful learning and sharing experience, where you can truly contribute to the local communities and help the less privileged.
You can visit organic oyster and rice farms to learn more about sustainable agriculture, volunteer at the NTA Refugee school, SuperHope Training Centre and Soup Kitchen to help provide for marginalised or underprivileged groups, visit Orang Asli communities to experience their culture and take in wonderful sights such as Merbok Mangrove Forest and Beris Lake.
#6: Kiulu Farmstay, Sabah
Experience the country life at Kiulu Farmstay. Engage in cultural activities such as rice planting and processing, cross the famous Tamparuli Suspension Bridge, sample local dishes prepared by local chefs, go jungle trekking, quad biking or river rafting, or just take a relaxing tour of the village.
What’s more, you will also help give back to the local communities through the Community Development Contribution (CDC) Fund, which will go directly to MUKEST, a local community-based organisation overseen by BEST Society.
#7 Gombizau Honey Bee Farm, Matunggong, Sabah
Want to learn more about beekeeping in a traditional village setting? Then visit Gombizau Honey Bee Farm, only 2km away from Kota Kinabalu City.
Founded over ten years ago, this bee farm produces honey both for the consumption of the local people as well as to be sold in bottles for those who are akin to the sweet taste of raw honey. For many generations, the people of Kampung Gombizau have been consuming raw honey for its purported remedial properties as well as flavouring to their cooking.
Here at the bee farm, you can observe traditional methods of beekeeping and even try raw honey straight out of the honeycomb! Besides that, there are also rubber trees planted around the bee farm, giving you the chance to witness traditional methods of rubber tapping and rubber rolling.
You can even purchase a bottle of locally-produced honey, bringing that Sabahan taste back home.
#8 Marais Centre, Tenom, Sabah
Set up in Marais Village, Marais Centre offers you the chance to experience Murat culture in a peaceful natural setting surrounded by mountains, creeks and crisp fresh air.
You can stay overnight at the guesthouse to get the full ‘kampung’ experience. And choose from a wide array of activities from cycling around the paddy fields to trekking to learning basket weaving from the local community at a minimal cost.
Witness traditional activities like rubber tapping, paddy cultivation and lanjung (basket) making, observe a traditional Murut dance ceremony and savour delicious traditional Murut cuisine, cooked with locally sourced ingredients.
If you are interested, send them an email to book a visit.
#9 Fuze Ecoteer
Fuze Ecoteer (FE) runs volunteer conservation projects in Malaysia and supports local NGOs. These conservation projects focus on connecting people with nature, be they local villagers, volunteers, primary-aged students or corporate employees, to connect people with nature in the hope that they will then protect what they have come to love.
FE offers three marine-based programs in Perhentian that you can join:
- The Perhentian Turtle Project is all about protecting and studying sea turtles. You will kayak and snorkel to observe and record sea turtles in their natural habitats, go on night patrols to protect turtle nesting beaches under a blanket of stars and live and work with the local community.
- The Perhentian Eco-Education Project is perfect for those who want to get involved in teaching and eco-education. And is an excellent volunteering experience for families looking for a cultural experience where both adults and children can learn from each other. Here, you can help teach and support the local islanders to care for their splendid environment whilst experiencing community life in a traditional Malaysian village surrounded by turquoise seas, white sands and vibrant marine life.
- The Perhentian Marine Research Station is the newest of all the FE-established projects to preserve and restore coral reefs and seagrass beds around the islands. The project provides the perfect opportunity to practise your diving skills while also helping to restore and conserve our coral reefs.
Explore our sources
Tourism Satellite Account (2021) Department of Statistics Malaysia. Link.