On 7 July, 2008, Melaka and George Town, Penang, were added to the list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites. The two Malaysian capitals thus joined the ranks of Gunung Mulu National Park and Kinabalu Park, both inscribed into the list in 2000.   It was an achievement for Malaysians to be proud of since it put Malaysia in the ranks of other iconic landscapes and monuments such as China?s Great Wall, India?s Taj Mahal, the US? Grand Canyon and Australia?s Great Barrier Reef. So what was it about Melaka and George Town that made the cut? Both cities are known to be steeped in culture and heritage, reflected in the architecture of its buildings and monuments. Melaka?s unique buildings, churches, squares and fortifications bear testament to the various influences that ruled the empire in earlier centuries, i.e. the Melaka sultanate, as well as the Portuguese and the Dutch powers.


George Town?s landscape, on the other hand, show significant influence from British rule in the 18th century. With a past firmly rooted in international trade, both Malaysian capitals naturally became the entry point for such culturally and ethnically diverse people from all corners of the world. Each brought with them their own heritage and tradition, art and culture, architecture and lifestyle, to imprint upon the town they entered. Soon, each community grew, building around them religious temples, places of worship and ethnic quarters, bringing their festivals and celebrations, dances, costumes, art and music, food and language into their adopted home. Among the places in George Town that have been recognized as world heritage sites are: the waterfront district including the Esplanade and harbour area, Fort Cornwallis, Weld Quay and Beach Street, the historical commercial centre, including the ?ethnic streets? like Bishop Street and Church Street (Eurasians), China Street (Chinese), Market and Chulia Streets (Indians), and Little India, the guilds and trades precinct including Chulia, Muntri, Leith and adjacent streets, the mosque and wakaf enclave of Acheen Street and Kapitan Keling mosques, and Chinese clans enclave with the Khoo, Cheah, Tan, Lim, Yap and Yeoh clan or kongsi (share) houses.



In Melaka, the UNESCO World Heritage list covers St Paul?s Hill, St Paul?s Church, Porta de Santiago (A Famosa) fortress and Stadhuys complex, the residential and commercial areas of Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street), Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Walk) and adjacent streets including Harmony Street, and the Malacca River. Melaka is easily accessible by road, about 147 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur. It is a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur on the North-South Highway. The journey to George Town from Kuala Lumpur, on the other hand, takes about four hours by road.



If Melaka and George Town made it on the UNESCO listing based on their cultural merit, then Gunung Mulu National Park and Kinabalu Park were certainly chosen due to the importance of their natural landscape. Gunung Mulu National Park is located near Miri, Sarawak. Named after Mount Mulu, the second highest mountain in Sarawak, the park was nominated due to its incredible caves and karst formations in a mountainous equatorial rainforest setting. The park is also noted for its many caves and exploration activities.   Within the park is the world's biggest natural enclosed space ? the Sarawak chamber, found in Gua Nasib Bagus (Good Fortune Cave). It is said to be big enough to fit St. Peter's Basilica or several jumbo-jets inside. Other famous caves are Benarat Cavern, Deer Cave, Wind Cave, and Clearwater Cave, which exposes parts of a long underground river going through the park. Gunung Mulu National Park is the most studied tropical karst area in the world.


The mountain and its surroundings feature a huge variety of flora, and is one of the world?s most important biological sites. The primary focus however has shifted to promoting activities that foster understanding and appreciation of the park?s natural assets. This is done through awareness programmes for the significance of the park and its environment, as well as ecotourism activities. The only way to get to and from Mulu is by air, from the Miri airport.   It is possible to travel by riverboat, but it requires the charter of a long boat for the last leg of the journey which would take around 12 hours from Miri, compared to the 30-minute journey by air. Kinabalu Park is located at the west coast of Sabah and is known as one of the first national parks of Malaysia.



It is also Malaysia's first World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in December 2000 for its outstanding universal values and its role as one of the most important biological sites in the world.   This botanical site is blessed with an astonishing variety of flora and fauna that ranges over four climate zones; from rich lowland forest and mountain oak, coniferous forests and alpine meadow plants to the stunted bushes of the summit zone. The mountain is famous for its many carnivorous plant and orchid species, most notably Nepenthes rajah. It is also home to a multitude of endemic animal species, including the Kinabalu giant red leech and Kinabalu giant earthworm. The park headquarters is 88 kilometers away from the capital city of Kota Kinabalu, easily accessible via the highways over a two-hour journey. The park is administered by an organization called Sabah Parks and reservations are processed through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges.