would be difficult to overstate the attraction of Malaysia for
anyone who appreciates the natural world. Its primal
forests, ranging from shoreline mangrove to mountaintop
oak, are of the sort that most of the world now knows
only in myth. Although Malaysia's size is similar to that
of Norway, natural trees and forests cover almost three
quarters of the land, an area equivalent to almost the
entire United Kingdom. One can walk for hundreds of miles
in Malaysia under a continuous canopy of green, marveling
at an abundance of plant and animal species equaled by no
other location in the entire world. A single
half-kilometer plot of land in Borneo's lowland
dipterocarp forest, for example, may well contain more
than eight hundred different species of trees alone, a
stunning degree of variety that pales, however, in
comparison to the profusion and diversity of flowers,
birds, ferns, and insects.
This endlessly varied environment also shelters a host of the world's rarest and most remarkable animals: the Sumatran Rhinoceros, the Clouded Leopard and Malaysian Tiger, the Sun Bear, the Monitor Lizard, and the Orang Utan, or "man of the forest," are just a few examples. Malaysia's forests are also home to Southeast Asia's highest peak, as well as to the world's most extensive and capacious natural caverns. The forest itself is one of the most ancient on the planet, far older than the equatorial forests of the Amazon or the Congo. It has for tens of thousands of years been the home of nomadic forest peoples, and ancient civilizations have flourished as well as disappeared in its vastness. Legends abound, and archaeologists have only just begun their efforts here. Equally exciting discoveries are now being made by genetic biologists, who have begun searching the wealth of life in Malaysia's forests for new medicines with which to combat AIDS, cancer, and many other illnesses.
And that is only the forest. Malaysia's offshore islands are of legendary beauty. For millenia, Pulau Langkawi and Pulau Tioman have been sought-after havens of peace from the turbulent outside world, a tradition that is evidenced today by their international status as holiday destinations. Pulau Sipadan, a small oceanic island off the eastern shore of Borneo, rises in a sheer column more than six hundred meters from the seabed. Completely encircled by sheer drop-offs and walls, Sipadan is one of the world's foremost dive sites.
In order to safeguard its precious natural heritage, Malaysia has set aside many areas as parks and wildlife reserves. Together with natural forest management, conservation of wildlife, birds and marine life, nature reserves have been established through a network of protected areas. Almost one and a half million hectares of conservation areas are protected by legislation.
Besides the many splendid sights in Malaysia's
National Parks, visitors can enjoy an exhaustive tour of
thrills and spills during their visit--boating through
swirling rapids or between emerald green islands,
stalking big game and fly-fishing for giant carp,
bird-watching, mountain climbing, spelunking, swimming in
placid river waters, or camping amidst giant tropical