Year after year, before you know it, the holidays have come around again. It’s the time of the year when everyone is excited for yet another family trip to the various attractions in Malaysia, such as Genting Highlands or Langkawi.
But if you’re tired of the same old beach holidays, theme park holidays, or shopping holidays, and craving for something new and exciting, then a stargazing trip might just be right for you. Yes, you heard right: stargazing in Malaysia. It’s something that the country is actually quite well-known for. Forget the Northern Lights or the Orien Belt; we have the Milky Way!
Astro-tourism is an increasingly popular facet of the tourism industry, especially when combined with the necessary treks through nature and exploration of less well-trodden paths that comes with being far away enough from a city to stargaze with the naked eye. For the average person, a retreat to nature, with the shining heavens as a backdrop, is a perfect quiet respite from the intrusions of modern technology and work life. Instead of a hectic holiday filled with aggressive cab drivers or long lines at roller-coaster rides, go for a walk in the starry, starry night instead.
Top Spots for Stargazing in Malaysia
1.Kota Belud, Sabah
Milky Way at Kota Belud / Photo Credit: Murphy Ng
However, for something more off the beaten track, you can also check out Lasau Podi, a countryside region about 20km away from Kota Belud, one of the coastal towns in Sabah. Take note that the road to Lasau Podi is relatively dark without any street lighting, and there are cows freely roaming around to watch out for, so some extra preparation will be needed when it comes to after-dark navigation and accommodations.
Best way to get there: The only way to get there easily is by car, though it’s advisable that you book a room at the nearby Times Traveller Lodge before you head out to the Lasau Podi Plains to stargaze at night. The Lodge, which is 30mins away from Kota Belud and 1.5 hours away from Kota Kinabalu Airport, has basic amenities for you to rest and recharge before heading back to the city proper. Check out this hotel guide for other lodging in Kota Belud itself.
2.Redang Island, Terengganu
Redang Island / Photo Credit: David FSLoh
Best way to get there: Berjaya Air used to fly commercial flights from either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, but as of November 2016, they only offer private chartered flights. The easiest way to get to Redang now is to either take a public ferry from Shahbandar jetty in Kuala Terengganu, or, if the resort you are staying at operates its own ferries, you may depart from Merang jetty (40mins away from Kuala Terengganu) instead. Remember to check the ferry schedules in advance, and explore more transportation options, here.
3. Tioman Island
Milky Way at Tioman Island / Photo Credit: Shi Heng Cheong
Best way to get there: Once again, Berjaya Air is no longer the most convenient option. Instead, book a ferry ride from either Mersing or Tanjung Gemuk. Because the departure times are dependent on the tide, timings are not fixed. There are three separate agents selling tickets for Bluewater Ferry, the only ferry operating this route: easybook.com, tiomanferry.com, or tiomanferryticket.com.
4.Cameron Highlands, Pahang
Milky Way in Cameron Highlands / Photo Credit: Vincent Pang
Best way to get there: Most people drive up, but there are also luxury or economy coaches running daily trips from major bus terminals in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, or Singapore.
5.Broga Hill, Selangor
Broga Hill / Photo Credit: Fatah Herzy
Located in Selangor, Broga Hill is a popular hiking destination for city-dwellers in Kuala Lumpur (40mins away by car) who want to catch a pretty sunrise or just want to get some fresh air. It’s remoteness, however, also makes it a perfect spot for stargazing. Get there early, because the steep climb can be quite taxing, and you can catch both the stars and the sunrise.
Best way to get there: Unfortunately, there is no public transport up to Broga Hill. Most people either drive there or take a taxi from Semenyih, the nearest town. Make sure you pass by the University Nottingham Campus (Malaysia) on your left, with the common drop-off point being opposite the rabbit farm.
Quick Stargazing Tips:
1. It’s all about timing, timing, timing. Firstly, you want to plan ahead and find a date and time when the moon is not visible in the night sky, so that more stars will be visible. Use the moonrise and moonset calculator here to choose either a new moon night or a night when the moon sets early.
2. Always check weather conditions beforehand. Use Accuweather and set the Pesonalised Forecast to “Astronomy” to see if the weather is ideal for stargazing on your date of choice.
3. If you have an Android with GPS, download the Google Sky app and use your phone to identify stars, planets, and more when you overlay your phone camera over the night sky.
4. It’s all about preparation. Stargazing takes time and effort to coordinate due to the small window of time stars might be visible at night and the capriciousness of the weather. While these forces of nature are out of your control, what you can do is prep as much as possible: that means allocating time for travel and set-up, bringing along food, water, and flashlights, and, if you plan on taking some photographs, figuring out the best settings for night photography on your camera.