Malaysia is a melting pot of delicious food, culture, thriving jungles and lush beaches.
For some unknown reason, Malaysia seems to be an underrated country in South East Asia. It’s often missing on backpacker’s itineraries and isn’t really explored in depth by a lot of its visitors.
The fact that Malaysia isn’t as popular as other countries in Southeast Asia can have huge advantages to those who do visit; tourist attractions aren’t as busy, the culture isn’t diluted by tourism and exploring the country makes you feel like you discovered a little hidden gem.
Whatever you’re looking for out of your trip, you’re likely to find it in Malaysia. If your perfect holiday is lazing on a beach all day, with refreshing dips in the crystal clear sea then Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands are the places to go!
Are you looking for a bit of adventure instead? Then head to the Cameron Highlands or Malaysian Borneo and you’ll find mountains, dense jungles and tea plantations to explore. We also can’t go without mentioning the opportunity to see Orangutans in Borneo either.
And speaking about wildlife, That’s not the only wildlife Malaysia has to offer. Take a deep breath, dive underwater and you’ll be treated to a thriving underwater world – turtles, sharks, coral and fish galore.
After all of that exploring, you can fill your stomach with some of Malaysia’s diverse cuisine. You’ll find a unique blend of Chinese, Indian and local Malaysian dishes, like Nasi Lemak, Satay and Nasi Goreng.
Top places to visit in Malaysia
Can’t wait to start planning your trip to Malaysia? Here are our top 3 places to visit in Malaysia (it was hard to pick):
Kuala Lumpur – most travellers see Kuala Lumpur as a big airport hub, but nothing more than that. you’ll probably arrive into Kuala Lumpur, but make sure to venture outside of the airport. The city itself has a lot to offer. Unlike other South East Asian capital cities, it’s not overwhelmingly busy and the culinary scene is enough to make you want to stay on it’s own. Head to Jalan Alor to satisfy all your street food desires! Some other things to do include visiting the Petrona Towers, a trip to Batu Caves or end the day with a firefly boat trip. If you want to ventrue out to the country side, consider taking the 4 hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands.
Langkawi – is a beach paradise situated 30km off the coast of northwestern Malaysia. Not only is the island duty free, meaning you can go wild whilst shopping and not break the bank. It’s also a population holiday destination due to its soft white sand and crystal clear seas. If you get bored of the beach (is that even possible) then you can take a ride on the cable cars, hunt for waterfalls or even visit a 3D art museum. Check this page for the best transport options from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi.
Perhentian Islands – are hidden gems that we’d love to keep to ourselves, but that just wouldn’t be fair. Situated off of Malaysia’s east coast are two inhabited islands, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil. Besar has more luxurious accommodation aimed at families and couples, while Kecil is filled with backpackers making the most of the cheap accommodation. Both islands offer pristine white-sand beaches and incredible diving opportunities due to the great visibility. Looking to do your Padi? This is the perfect place to do it. It’s very cheap and you’ll get to do it alongside sharks, turtles and manta rays. Check this page for the best transport options from Kuala Lumpur to Perhentian Islands.
When’s the best time to travel to Malaysia?
The west and east coasts of Malaysia tend to have opposite weather patterns meaning that at any point you’ll be able to find somewhere with good weather in Malaysia.
Another bonus is that when large parts of South East Asia are experiencing their rainy season, between June and October, you’ll be able to find good weather on the east coast of Malaysia.
West Coast – Langkawi, Penang etc.
The best time to visit these islands is between November and April. During this time it’s considerably drier, however you may still experience some small showers which can often be a nice relief from the heat.
East Coast – Tioman Island, Perhentian Islands etc.
The islands situated on the east coast are hot and sunny for most of the year. The only time to avoid is between November and March, when the monsoon season hits.
Highlands and Lowlands – Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Cameron Highlands etc.
Rainfall can come at any time in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, but is worse during the rainy season between April and October. There’s no need to worry about it getting cold though. Temperatures tend to range between 22-30°C all year long.
The Cameron Highlands experience a slightly different climate than the rest of the peninsula. Due to the elevation, temperatures are much milder and can get down to 15°C during the night. Rainfall is heaviest during September and December, so it’s best to avoid Cameron Highlands during this time.
How to get around in Malaysia
By bus – Malaysia has quite an extensive and reliable bus network that can get you to most places across the country. It’s a super affordable way to travel, even on the executive coaches that sometimes even offer an on-board meal. The cross-country bus services are provided mainly by Transnasional, Plusliner, Aeroline and Super Nice. Once you arrive at your destination, buses are also a great way to explore the city. Places like Kuala Lumpur have an ultra-efficient bus network, whilst the local buses in other cities also do a great job of getting you from A to B.
By car – if you like to have as much freedom as possible, then hiring a car may be the best option for you. Malaysia’s highways are big and well-maintained, making them relatively easy to get used to. Good roads tend to mean tolls though, so make sure to carry cash with you to pay for these. As with most Asian cities, the roads get narrower and the drivers crazier. Now these inner-city roads may take a bit longer to get used to! Car rentals start at around RM120 per day for weekly rental.
By train – the train network is operated by a company called KTM. Trains run from the north to the south of the country, with the main stops being Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth and Johor Bharu. There are two different types of train available. Express is modern and air-conditioned, whereas the local trains tend to vary in quality. You’d probably expect the train to be the fastest option over the bus, however on some routes the bus can actually be a few hours faster, so make sure to check this!
By plane – flying is often the fastest way to move between places, but it’s important to remember that it’s also the most polluting. Therefore we’d recommend flying only when it is completely necessary, for example if you want to get from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo. The most popular airline operators include Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia.
By taxi – Malaysia, like other Asian countries, predominantly use the taxi app Grab to order taxis. Uber does operate in some places, but cars tend to be more widely available via Grab. Long-distance taxis tend to be at least two to three times the price of an express bus, so unless you’re travelling as a group taxis may be too expensive.
Visa for Malaysia
Who doesn’t like easy travel? Well Malaysia makes it pretty straight-forward to travel to when it comes to immigration.
If you’re from Europe, the United States, Australia and South Africa then you’ll be able to visit Malaysia for 90 days without having to apply for a visa.
You can see whether your country is included in the 90-day visa free travel here.
The Perfect Packing List for Malaysia
Malaysia’s climate is mainly hot all year round, so make sure to bring loose-fitting clothes as you’ll want to stay as cool as possible. If you’re travelling during the rainy season then a raincoat is a must!
Aside from the essential travel gear, here are some that have become permanent fixtures on our packing list:
Reusable water bottle – they’re better for the environment and can save you money on water.
A portable charger – there’s probably going to be a time when your phone’s battery is on red, at a time that you desperately need it.
An adaptor – A universal travel adaptor is a great purchase if you’re travelling between different continents. Malaysia use plug type G, a plug with 3 rectangular shaped pins.
What other tips should you know?
Here’s a selection of the best tips and pieces of information that may make your trip to Malaysia that little bit easier:
Malaysia uses the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR). As of January 2021, $10 was equivalent to around 40 MYR.
It’s good to always have some cash on you as not all establishments take cards. You’ll also need cash for taking the bus, markets and tips too.
The official language of Malaysia is Malay.
It’s always good to know a few essential words before travelling to a place, so here’s a few to get you started:
Hello – Hello
Good morning – Selamat pagi
How are you – Apa khabar?
Goodbye – Selamat tinggal
Thank you – Terima kasih
You’re welcome – Sama-sama
Please – Tolong
Food and drink
As we mentioned previously, Malaysian cuisine is a delicious fusion of Chinese, Indian and local-Malay flavours, making it an exciting place to eat.
Here are some of our favourite dishes to try:
Nasi Lemak is Malaysia’s national dish, so you can’t go to Malaysia without trying it. The white rice is soaked in coconut milk and then served with a hot spicy sauce (sambal), hard boiled egg, cucumber slices, small dried anchovies and roasted peanuts.
Laksa is a popular spicy soup in Malaysian that also contains noodles, a form of proteins and other toppings such as bean sprouts or vegetables.
Satay can be found both from street vendors and restaurants. It’s much more than just grilled meat, and once you try it you’ll agree too. Accompanied with a peanut-dipping sauce it’s the perfect snack to add to your food tour or accompany another dish.