Tourism Malaysia

Ethical travel destination: Malaysia

Ethical travel destination: Malaysia

Multi-ethnic, rich in culture and biodiversity, Malaysia is both a place you want to visit and don’t want to spoil by being an “ugly tourist”.

By “spoil” I mean contribute to overdevelopment, thereby watering down the traditional culture or even destroying the nature that brought you here in the first place. “Ugly” tourism fails to respect the local culture or environment and rather draws people solely for its weather, waves and lightness on the wallet.

Bako National Park, Borneo. Pic: tbSMITH (Flickr CC).

Bako National Park, Borneo. Pic: tbSMITH (Flickr CC).

Ethical travel, on the other hand, does the reverse. The ethical tourist wants to give something back – and I don’t mean empty beer bottles or even some duty free shopping. The idea of ethical tourism is not only to minimise the tourist’s negative impact on the destination, but to try to make things better. An ethical holiday in Malaysia can take the form of volunteer vacations (volun-tourism), eco-tourism and sustainable travel. These categories can be distinct, but can also overlap considerably.

Let’s start with an ethical holiday activity in Malaysia that doesn’t involve its incredible natural beauty. Hard to believe? Read on.

Ethical business

The Downtown Night Market in the capital Kuala Lumpur features hundreds of market stalls which employ or are owned by recovering drug addicts. It was started by a recovered addict who wanted to create a project to help ex-addicts stay clean. KL Downtown has now become the city’s largest night bazaar.

From the BBC:

“The bazaar (open from 10 pm to 4 am) is a huge draw for tourists […] offering everything from local, handmade batik fabrics to street food to foot massages to five-minute haircuts. On weekends, the market invites local dancers and musicians to perform on its stage. A portion of all proceeds go to Kuala Lumpur’s Pengasih rehab centre.”

The Downtown Night Market is a great way to do your holiday shopping and help the locals help themselves.


Malaysia has different options for volun-tourism including working on organic farms, volunteering at organizations that protect endangered sea turtles from poachers, educational stays at orangutan rehabilitation centers and more. These stints can be combined with eco holidays. A stay at an organic farm might follow or precede a jungle trek or river expedition. Some diving schools incorporate working with turtle conservation projects into their activities.

Turtle in Malaysian Borneo. Pic: LKEM (Flickr CC).

Turtle in Malaysian Borneo. Pic: LKEM (Flickr CC).

Other examples of volun-tourism include teaching English in combination with environmental awareness and there are internships/positions available that can last several months. Alternatively another example would be to visit an uninhabited island to observe seahorses and spread awareness of their plight.

A fantastic organization and resource for volun-tourism as well as ethical travel and eco-travel in Malaysia is Wild Asia. Other helpful links include Kahang Organic Rice Eco Farm and Bubbles Dive Resort.


A homestay in a traditional village is a great way of experiencing the authentic, rustic lives of Malaysia’s tribal cultures. Your appreciation and financial support encourages these villages to preserve their way of life. It’s also a great way to see how these traditional communities live harmoniously with nature and to appreciate their rich local biodiversity.

Homestays can also be combined with rainforest camping, jungle trekking and rafting trips. See Peraya Homestay for more information.

Rainforest lodges and eco-resorts

Though less activist in nature, but high in environmental awareness are stays in Malaysia’s eco-lodges and similar resorts. These holidays are perfect for those willing to spend a little more who perhaps don’t want to rough it by volunteering or embracing a traditional village lifestyle. However these people still care about Malaysia’s incredible nature and want to experience it in ethical style and comfort.

Rainforest resort, Taman Kota. Pic: CDN Harv (Flickr CC).

Rainforest resort, Taman Kota. Pic: CDN Harv (Flickr CC).

Rainforest lodges are situated in natural parks surrounded by Malaysia’s tropical rainforest. Other types of eco-resorts include luxurious island accommodation on beaches adjacent to mangrove forests and even floating resorts located off the coast.

All rainforest lodges and eco resorts are close to nature and offer ample opportunities to observe wildlife, such as orangutans, and participate in various nature-based activities like jungle trekking, swimming, rafting, diving and snorkeling.

See Eco Tropical Resorts and Bagus Place for some great rainforest and eco-lodge ideas.

Nature nature nature!

Most (though not all) of the above varieties of ethical tourism involve Malaysia’s astoundingly biodiverse natural environment. Malaysia is believed to contain around 20 percent of the world’s animal species with a high percentage of endemic species. Two thirds to three quarters of the country are covered in forestland. Tourism that encourages the preservation of this wondrous biodiversity is inherently ethical. This means taking advantage of Malaysia’s 26 national parks and numerous state parks and nature reserves.

Use it (ethically) or lose it!

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