Malaysia is arguably one of the most underrated countries in Southeast Asia. In another life, I could have easily lived in Kuala Lumpur, gorging on the street food of Jalan Alor, haggling my way through Chinatown or taking in the view at the Heli Lounge Bar. It’s not too late to live out that dream, but that’s not what this post is about.
Malaysia Tourism calls Malaysia “truly Asia,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Not only does it embody the fast-paced and modern development that is so often associated with the region, but it also holds old school charm in quaint ex-colonies and stunning countryside views.
Although I visited Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore on my Geckos Adventures Discover Bangkok to Singapore Tour (read the review here), Malaysia unexpectedly stole my heart. And if you follow my recommendations, I guarantee you’ll go home and tell all your friends that it is Malaysia that needs to be their next travel destination. I highly recommend the Geckos Adventures tour, which offers 6 days in Malaysia. However, if you have more time, this 10 day Malaysia itinerary offers a slower paced taste of what this glorious country has to offer.
- Compared to its Thai and Singaporean neighbors, Malaysia has far fewer tourists, making it an ideal destination to experience an unspoiled local culture.
- English is widely spoken here, making it easy to get around and interact with locals.
- Although it isn’t the cheapest destination in Asia, it is still on the more inexpensive side compared to many countries in Asia.
- Malaysia has something for everyone – beaches, cities, food, nature. You’d be hard pressed to get bored here.
Where to Go:
This historically charming state on the northwest coast of Malaysia is truly one of a kind. Penang is made up of two parts: Penang Island, home to its capital Georgetown, and Seberang Perai, on the mainland. Penang is famous for its quirky street art and delicious street food, but the true gems of this city lie in its diverse landscape. Here, the coastline meets the urban cityscape and the ancient clan jetties are nestled amongst ships at the harbor. Let’s not forget that Penang is a globally recognized foodie city, with mouthwatering dishes such as Penang curry, assam laksa and sate.
What to do: Penang Museum, shophouses, the Chew Jetty, Khoo Kongsi Clan House, Kek Lok Sii Buddhist Temple, Street Art exploration in Georgetown, Tropical Spice Garden, Blue Mansion, Penang Hill, and Penang National Park.
What to eat: Anything and everything you can get your hands on. You can’t go wrong with street food or hawker centers. Don’t miss: assam laksa, Penang rojak, nasi kandar or Penang curry. Insider tip: Check out this delicious food tour to experience all the great eats Penang has to offer!
How to get here: Fly into Penang airport (PEN).
If you want to spend some extra time in Penang, check out accommodation options here!
The Cameron Highlands
Lush, green, and cool with expansive tea plantations and fields of fresh strawberries, the Cameron Highlands are the ultimate getaway destination. With temperatures hovering between the 70s and 80s (bring a jacket!), this giant hill was once a popular getaway amongst the British during colonial times. This may explain the presence of several large tea plantations. While here, hire a guide to take you around the large town. Get your hiking shoes ready for a trek through the mossy forest and a climb up some seriously rickety steps to get the amazing view from Gunung Brinchang, the second highest mountain in the Cameron Highlands. Don’t miss a visit to the Boh Tea Plantation or the butterfly farm, and end the tour by picking and eating handfuls of fresh strawberries from the strawberry fields. Strawberry fields foreverrrrrr.
What to do: Butterfly Farm, Strawberry Farm, Boh Tea Plantation, Mossy Forest, and Gunung Brinchang. Optional: Ee Feng Gu Honey Bee Farm and Cactus Valley.
What to eat: What goes best with fresh picked strawberries? Scones! The Cameron Highlands are well known for delicious scones with strawberry jam, thanks to a combination of the altitude (for farming) and the British influence. For lunch or dinner, find an Indian food stall and eat your meal with your hands, straight from a banana leaf.
How to get here: Getting to the Cameron Highlands is not for the faint of heart, due to the long and windy roads leading up the hill. Drive or request a private car from Penang. If you’re coming from Kuala Lumpur, the bus is an option as well.
If you want to spend some extra time in The Cameron Highlands, check out accommodation options here!
Although Singapore is by far the most impressive city/country I’ve yet to visit in Asia, if I had to choose a city in Asia to live in, it would definitely be Kuala Lumpur. Why, might you ask? What is SO great about Kuala Lumpur? The multicultural capital city of Malaysia is the perfect epitome of modern-meets-traditional. It’s filled with skyscrapers and impressive malls yet home to thriving street food markets and street stalls selling any and every item imaginable. No matter how much time I spend in this city, there are always new places to discover.
What to do: Batu Caves, National Mosque, KL Bird Park, The Islamic Arts Museum, The National Monument, Masjid Jameh, Sultan Abd Samad Building, Merdeka Square, Little India, Chinatown, the KL Gallery, the Central Market, and the Petronas Twin Towers. Insider tip: you can get amazing views of the Petronas Towers from both The Sky Bar and Heli Lounge Bar.
What to eat: STREET FOOD! Go to the famous street food street called Jalan Alor and feast. Sample everything and anything for cheap. Pudu Wai Sek Lai is another great area for street food, offering more Chinese-Malay dishes. Insider tip: Check out this delicious food tour to experience all the great eats Kuala Lumpur has to offer!
How to get here: Fly directly into KUL airport from most airports. If you’re coming from the Cameron Highlands, take the bus directly to the city.
If you want to spend some extra time in Kuala Lumpur, check out accommodation options here!
Loud and intriguing are just two words that I’d use to describe this ostentatious city. Melaka (or Malacca depending on how you want to spell it) was once colonized by the Dutch – and the Portuguese. They left behind a plethora of Dutch architecture and Portuguese food. That, combined with the fact that it was once of the greatest trading ports in Southeast Asia, brings a true multicultural flair to the city. Nothing truly symbolizes Melaka like its famous pimped-out trishaws. Only here can you walk around the city and spot trishaws of all shapes and colors, loudly playing everything from Malay music to Dr. Dre. If you’re looking for cool architecture, delicious food, unique transportation and a complicated cultural history – Melaka has got you covered.
What to do: Dutch Square, Harmony Street, St. Paul’s Hill & Church, Jonker Street, Menara Taming Sari, Stadthuys, Melaka River Cruise, Democratic Government Museum, Villa Sentosa and Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum.
What to eat: Nyonya food, the blend of Chinese and Malay cuisine. Try Laksa, curry chicken rice or taukwa rojak. Other good eats include cockles, cuttlefish and of course – Portuguese seafood. For street food, head to the Jonker Street night market on Friday and Saturday evenings.
How to get here: Take the public bus from Kuala Lumpur directly to the city.
If you want to spend some extra time in Melaka, check out accommodation options here!
While I’ve had the pleasure of visiting four different areas in Malaysia, I would still return in a heartbeat. This country is intriguing and complicated. Traditional and modern. And incredibly, incredibly diverse. No matter where you are in Malaysia, you’re guaranteed to discover a hidden gem, a delicious new dish, or even your latest Facebook profile photo. So, what’s stopping you?
>> Book the Discover Bangkok to Singapore trip HERE.
>> Check out all the Geckos Adventures trips HERE.
>> Join a discounted Geckos Adventures trip HERE.
NOTE: If you’re over 29 and still want to go on a similar adventure, be sure to check out Geckos Adventures’ sister brand, Intrepid Travel.
Tell me: Have you ever been to Malaysia? If so, which city was your favorite? Share in the comments below!
Like this post? Pin it and save it for later!