Planning the perfect trip to Malaysia doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, it’s one of the easier countries in Southeast Asia to travel around due to its small size (if you don’t count Borneo), good tourist infrastructure and an abundance of cheap flights. I’ve compiled a few tips below to ensure you get the most out of any trip to Malaysia, whether it’s a short beach getaway or a month-long backpacking trip.
Getting to Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, is the gateway to the country, and for many people, Southeast Asia as a whole. There are heaps of flights in and out of KL and there are some great bargains to be had. For attractive MAS online booking deals (Malaysia Airlines) there are lots of options, a local favourite being Traveloka. However you book your flights, you’ll arrive in one of the smallest and least intimidating capitals in Asia. It’s an OK place to spend a day or two but you’ll soon want to be moving on.
Where to go
Assuming you’re sticking to mainland Malaysia, it’s fairly easy to choose your travel route. The places you go will depend greatly on what you’re interested in. If you’re looking for a laid-back holiday with plenty of time for relaxing, shopping and eating, you’ll want to spend some time in Malacca and Penang. Malacca is one of the nicest “old towns” in Southeast Asia and it’s cool to see such impressive colonial architecture.
Penang is similar. There are lots of old colonial buildings as well as historic Chinese shop houses and temples. Penang is also regarded as one of the best cities in the world for food – there are so many dishes to try!
More active travellers will also want to head into the interior of the country. Cameron Highlands is full of jungle trails and tea plantations, and the cool mountain air makes for a pleasant change from the sometimes oppressive heat. I’ve been there a couple of times now and I love it – make sure you take a tour to see the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower.
There are also some jungle areas to explore, the most popular being Taman Negara. This is the oldest rainforest in the world and is home to many endangered animals (although they are apparently quite hard to spot).
Choosing the right beach
There are some beautiful beaches in Malaysia, and an island getaway is on most people’s itinerary. There are several popular islands to choose from, including Langkawi, the Perhentians and Tioman. Tioman was by far my favourite – the beaches there are amazing and it’s a really laid-back place. I wasn’t a massive fan of the Perhentians though, and Langkawi is more suited to activities than just relaxing on a beach. My advice is to choose Tioman!
Should you go to Borneo?
Two Malaysian provinces (Sarawak and Sabah) sit on the island of Borneo. It’s a short flight away and if you have the time I’d recommend a visit. Sarawak was my personal favourite. The capital, Kuching, is a cool little city and there are some fun things to do nearby, including hiking at Bako National Park and seeing semi-wild orangutans at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve.
Sabah features some stunning islands, the largest mountain in Malaysia and areas of pristine jungle. You could spend weeks travelling in Sarawak and Sabah, so if you only have a short time in Malaysia it’s probably best to skip it and go there when you have more time. Having said that though, you can get cheap flights between KL and Kuching / Kota Kinabalu – it could be worth it even if you only spend a couple of days there.
Don’t forget about Singapore
Singapore is one of my favourite cities in the world (I lived there for two years) and is so much more interesting than KL. You can get there in a few hours from most places in Malaysia and it’s definitely worth spending a couple of days there. There are some really cool historic areas and the inner-city skyline is impressive.
FURTHER READING: The Best Things to Do in Singapore
- Food: Eating is one of the best things to do in Malaysia. The mix of Indian, Malay and Chinese influences means you’ll never get sick of the local food and it’s cheap. There are small local restaurants and cafes all over the cities and the food is pretty much always good.
- Getting around: The bus system is excellent in Malaysia. Just head to the station and book a ticket — you don’t generally need to book in advance unless there’s a festival or some kind of event on. You can also travel by train or fly between cities.
- Shopping: In my experience, Malaysia is one of the cheapest places in Asia (and probably the world) to buy electronics. I bought a laptop for $600 and the same one was $1000 in Singapore! There are some huge malls in Malaysia and apparently the shopping is pretty good (I hate shopping, unless it’s for bargain electronics).
- Visas and money: Most people get a visa on arrival when visiting Malaysia. The local currency is the Ringgit (RM) and, at the time of writing, $1 USD will buy you 4.2 RM.
Are you planning a trip to Malaysia? Which places are you most excited to visit? Let me know in the comments below!
I collaborated with Traveloka to bring you this article. All thoughts and opinions are my own.