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

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1.Kota Belud, Sabah

Kota Belud, Sabah

Milky Way at Kota Belud / Photo Credit: Murphy Ng

Sabah is particularly famous as a stargazing site, mostly because of its low light pollution and year-round clear sky. There are many places where you can go, the most famous probably being Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, also known as the “Tip of Borneo.” Located in Kudat at the northernmost edge of Borneo, it’s a popular site for local stargazing buffs and travelers alike.

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, Terengganu

Redang Island / Photo Credit: David FSLoh

Redang Island is best known for its crystalline waters and immaculately white and sandy beaches. One of the most famous islands off peninsular Malaysia, tourists flock there for snorkeling and diving opportunities and the chance to see coral reefs and sea turtles in their natural habitat. However, when night falls and the beaches empty out, don’t just head back indoors into your resort. Stay out long enough, and a myriad of stars will be revealed to you.

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

Tioman Island

Milky Way at Tioman Island / Photo Credit: Shi Heng Cheong

Tioman Island is no stranger to tourists, but, like Redang Island, is an often overlooked spot for stargazing. However, its wide array of available day-time activities makes it an ideal destination for travelers who want to get a bang for their buck instead of going out of their way just to stargaze.

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

Cameron Highlands, Pahang

Milky Way in Cameron Highlands / Photo Credit: Vincent Pang

If islands don’t appeal to you, Cameron Highlands is also a great option. In the day, trek through its mossy and foggy jungles, pick strawberries at the local farms, and visit the infamous Rafflesia flower. At night, find an open, elevated spot (preferably not in busy Brinchang) and enjoy the view.

 

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

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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.