Malaysia Travel Guide
Put Malaysia on your bucket list if it’s not already – it is one of the most spectacular countries to visit in South East Asia boasting a scenery of cascading tea plantations, pristine white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and wild tropical rainforests, all in one! Malaysia also has a fascinating heritage, a mix of Malay, Chinese, Muslim, and Christian making up its rich and diverse cultural tapestry. Not only does this translate into mouth-watering cuisine, too, but into the vibrant customs and traditions still present to this day.
So why should you visit Malaysia?
Kuala Lumpur has become one of the big hubs for international flights so getting into Malaysia shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll find hundreds of flights flying into this metropolitan capital daily whether you’re flying in from further West, or from elsewhere in Asia. Malaysia’s own Malaysia Airlines is a great choice for comfortable and affordable long-haul flights while budget airlines such as Air Asia and Tiger fly the shorter flights at even cheaper, especially connections to/from the mainland to East Malaysia’s Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
It is always the right time to go to Malaysia
Thanks to Malaysia’s equatorial location, the country’s climate is best described as ‘tropical,’ with hot and humid weather throughout the year.
Its two seasons, dry and wet, are dictated by the southwest and northwest monsoons (as well as typhoons) but don’t let them put you off, it’s so worth it. Plus, the rain is warm anyway!
Nevertheless, make sure to plan your trip with the seasons in mind if you want to visit Malaysia’s stunning islands. Some ferries and speed boats might not be running and if you plan on going diving the visibility in the water might be not be as good.
The great thing about all this rainfall is that no matter when you visit, the jungles will always be dense and lush, and those tea plantations thriving! Just make sure you bring a good waterproof jacket for your hikes.
Malaysia caters for all types of travellers
Whether you’re visiting Malaysia on your honeymoon, you’re taking your family on an adventure holiday, or you’re backpacking on a budget, your every need will be catered for.
For those strapped for cash there are hostels offering shared dorms for around MYR25-50, and private rooms from MYR60. You’ll find mid-range options with hotels and guesthouses offering large comfortable en suite rooms for around MYR75 – usually including breakfast and air conditioning, too. Remember larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur, will always be at the higher end of the scale whatever your cash flow.
On the islands, such as Langkawi and the Perhentians, you will be able to find stunning beachside bungalows and upmarket resorts with endless view of turquoise sea and pure white sand just outside your door. Here you can expect rooms to start around MYR90 and up. You certainly won’t struggle finding luxury in Malaysian paradise.
Accommodation in the National Parks and the jungles, however, is somewhat less lux and creature comforts might be at their minimal with shared open plan dorms and basic accommodation more readily available. But remember, you’re there for the experience not the lodging, so you might find some bucket showers and mosquitos nets to contend with.
Calling all foodies!
Another of the great things about Malaysia is its food. Lovers of spices, rice, eggs, chicken, and fresh fish will certainly not go hungry here!
Malaysian cuisine has been inspired by its multi-cultural heritage so you’ll find Chinese rice dishes, Indian curries, and Malay flavours all mixed together to create tantalizing dishes.
One of the best ways to experience this culture is trying the street food – for instance, you’ll often see women bent over steaming woks stirring together fresh vegetables and noodles into a mee goreng (popular fried yellow noodle dish) and charging you just MYR5. Nasi lemak, a Malaysian ‘signature’ dish, is another popular hearty meal to try made up of anchovies fried in shrimp paste, sambal chilli sauce, peanuts, a hardboiled egg, fried chicken, and coconut milk rice. If you’re looking to eat on the run, grilled batu maung satay (meat skewers) are everywhere and they’re delicious – not to mention ridiculously cheap.
Where to go in Malaysia
You have not seen Malaysia without...
Whilst planning that trip to Malaysia, three not-to-miss destinations we would recommend you visit to make the most of the country’s incredible landscape of beach and jungle, wildlife and sea life, are Kuala Lumpur, the cosmopolitan capital; Borneo, home to the wildest jungles; and the paradise islands of Langkawi and Perhentian.
Spend a few days exploring Kuala Lumpur – not quite as polished as Singapore, but not quite as hectic as Bangkok – with British colonial traces throughout the city, a scattering of Muslim mosques, and a vibrant and colourful Chinatown. Punctuating the city’s skyline are the Petronas Twin Towers, standing at 451m, which when illuminated can be seen across the city (top tip: there are a few great sky bars to take in the incredible views over happy hour). Needless to say, the capital’s diversity will keep you entertained from morning until night.
From concrete jungle to tropical jungle, just a short flight from KL will take you to Kuching or Kota Kinabalu, to explore Malaysian Borneo: home to some of the oldest rainforests in the world, dating back 140 million years. Here you will find amazing wildlife from endangered orangutans, Sumatran rhinos, elephants, monitor lizards, pythons, tarantulas… you name it!
One of the best things to do is a multi-day jungle tour with a guide and explore the wonderful wildlife and nature for yourself.
If it’s beach time you’re after, Malaysia isn’t short of a tropical island, or two. Make a beeline for Langkawi, Malaysia’s original postcard paradise, an archipelago off the mainland’s west coast, where people have been coming to for years to enjoy its stunning white beaches and turquoise seas.
But if you’re after something a little less travelled, the Perhentian Islands are a great alternative on the east coast of the mainland and if you time your trip right, you might even be able to see turtles hatching on Turtle Beach (the island is renowned for its turtle nests!)
Where to go if you like...
What really stands Malaysia apart from some of its neighbouring countries in South East Asia, is the incredible number of things to do and activities you can get involved with to experience the diverse landscape, wildlife, and sea life.
Malaysia is ‘one to watch’ in the diving scene with stunning reefs and corals for those who love to explore the underwater world. Some of the best dive sites are found off the east coast of Borneo, in Sipidan, where the National Marine Park and its conservation efforts protects the dramatic sea shelves home to exotic fish, sharks, turtles, and rays. You will have to book ahead for a dive pass, as they are sold daily and limited to avoid too much environmental impact. Extend your diving for a few more days to visit the neighbouring dive sites of Mabul and Kapalai Islands, too.
Hiking and mountaineering
Malaysia has some incredible mountains whose peaks and pinnacles are just calling out to be climbed. Mount Kinabalu is Malaysia’s tallest mountain, standing at 4095.2m (13,435ft). Join a 2D/1N guided climb and stay overnight up the mountain before waking up to conquer the peak for sunrise. It’s hard work (we can’t lie!) but once you reach the summit, you’ll feel on top of the world and you’ll get to witness an incredible sunrise.
Another climbing adventure on Borneo is at Mulu National Park whose guided tours will take you around the national park, its incredible cave systems, jungle walks, and a climb up the pinnacles: incredible jagged limestone daggers. Did you know the pinnacles are designed onto the MYR100 note?
Jungle trekking & wildlife
Something to be aware of on your visit to Malaysia is the rise of (and speed of) deforestation for ruthless palm oil plantations – this is a huge problem not only for the rainforests but for the wildlife, too. We urge you to visit the lush green jungles while you can, there’s so much to experience and learn from just make sure you are supporting sustainable and ethical companies when booking your tours.
Some of our favourite jungle trips are to Danum Valley, an important research centre where you can stay on site with the team, and join in jungle walks, talks, and night safaris. For a swampier experience, Kinabatangan river jungle can also be explored by boat and you’ll get to stay in a floating camp on stilts – right in the thick of it!
For Malaysia’s history and heritage, many visit Cameron Highlands for a more subdued hiking adventure, but also to learn about the country’s history at the tea plantations. Not only does this experience offer stunning views, but an insight into the British Colonies.