Get outdoors in Langkawi
Though it’s rightly known for its pristine beaches, the Langkawi archipelago also has UNESCO World Geopark status and is a good place for getting into nature. You can take a cable car and walk the curving 125m Langkawi sky bridge, impressively suspended over the rainforest canopy above Mount Mat Chinchang, 700m above sea level; or, for more hiking and to escape the crowds, you can walk up the road through the jungle to the summit of Gunung Raya, the tallest mountain on the island at 881m.
A five-minute walk from the cable car station, the Berjaya Langkawi Resort (www.berjayahotel.com/langkawi) boasts rainforest chalets and rooms on stilts over the water in Bulau Bar. Rooms from Dhs529.
Etihad flies direct to Kuala Lumpur, with returns from Dhs3,110 (www.etihadairways.com). Air Asia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi from Dhs315 return (www.airasia.com).
Visit the Niah Caves near Miri, Borneo
The Niah Caves are a 90-minute drive from Miri, a coastal town surrounded by rainforest. It’s roughly a four-hour walk into the caves and back, mostly on wooden walkways through beautiful rainforest. The
caves themselves are not just huge, dark and eerie: they also contain some of the oldest evidence of human habitation in the South-East. Miri itself is unremarkable, but you can go on decent dive trips to some of
the 28 reefs off the coast (www.redmonkeydivers.com). For a safe hotel option with a large pool, the Marriott Miri (www.marriott.co.uk) has rooms from Dhs477 per night.
Etihad flies direct to Kuala Lumpur; return from Dhs3,110 (www.etihadairways.com). Air Asia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Miri from Dhs705 return (www.airasia.com).
Learn to dive
Deep Blue Scuba (www.deepbluescuba.sg) runs an open-water dive course for Dhs2,200, which includes a pool class and two theory classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then you just sign up for one of the trips to the brilliant dive spots at Tioman or Dayang, which happen every weekend, with transport, food and accommodationall thrown in. It’s a slightly arduous six to seven hours by coach and ferry to Dayang, or five to six hours to Tioman, but you get to stay in a resort, and do three dives on the Saturday and two on the Sunday.
Most importantly, you’ll get the PADI certification, allowing you to dive wherever you go next.
Take a cheap foodie break in Malacca
There are many reasons to visit the old Peranakan city of Malacca – listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site – but you could go just for the food. At Baba Charlie Nyonya Kueh (72 Jln Tengkera Pantai 2, +60 19 666 2907), the kuih portugal ubi (tapioca cake), pulut tekan (glutinous rice cake served with coconut jam) and ondeh-ondeh (glutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar) are still made the way Baba Charlie’s grandmother made them. Don’t leave Malacca without having the satay celup at Ban Lee Siang (45E Jln Ong Kim We, +60 6284 1935). This hotpot satay meal requires you to dip skewers of raw meat, seafood and vegetables into a pot of satay sauce. Each stick costs 70 fils. Stay comfortably, yet within budget, at the Sayang Sayang Youth Hostel (16 Jalan Kampung Hulu, +60 12 250 5138). Check in to the air-conditioned private room that fits in a little living room and a sofa. From Dhs82 per person per night.
Though the capital of Sarawak in Borneo is not the charming town that Lonely Planet claims it is – truth be told, it’s a bit of a dump – it’s worth a trip for a weekend of kayaking and nature. Kuching Kayak runs a wildlife and rainforest adventure from Dhs326 (www.kuchingkayak.com), which involves a trip to see orangutans in the wild at the Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre, before a two-and-a-half-hour kayak down the river, including lunch – it’s relaxing despite the odd mini rapid, while a spot of waterfall swimming keeps things interesting. There’s also Bako National Park, a two-hour drive away – it’s home to rainforests, beaches and the comical proboscis monkey. The Secret Sanctuary (www.thesecretsanctuary.com) is worth a visit for its waterfalls and jungle-kitsch. Rooms from Dhs187.
Air Asia flies to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur; Dhs411 return (www.airasia.com).
Dubai to malaysia
Flight time: six hours 50 minutes.
Time difference: Three hours ahead of Dubai.
Dhs1 = 0.85 Malaysian ringgit.