In late November and early December 2022, Joe and I spent 16 days exploring Western Malaysia. We absolutely loved our time there and before we had even left, we had begun talking about our next visit and when that might be. Malaysia is full of fascinating culture, interesting history, incredible food, friendly people, crazy drivers, bustling cities, lush jungles, stunning mountains, and gorgeous beaches.
It is also, in our opinion, massively underrated as a travel destination in Southeast Asia.
If you’ve never been to Asia before and you’re a bit daunted by the prospect of a huge culture shock, Malaysia is the perfect place to start. Most people speak a fairly good level of English, certainly enough to get about in both urban and rural places. It’s nice and cheap and the public transport was very reliable in our experience.
In this guide, I wanted to showcase the best of Malaysia, the highlights of our two week itinerary, and encourage you to visit.
Best time to visit: November to March for Peninsular Malaysia (the West), June to September for the East Coast (dry season), March to October for Malaysian Borneo
How long to spend in Malaysia: 10 days to 3 weeks
Currency and exchange rate: Malaysian Ringgit – currently around 5 MYR to 1 GBP
Language: Malay/Bahasa – most people also speak very good English
So, this is my recommended itinerary – it differs only slightly to ours but if we were to do the same trip again, this is how we’d do it…
3 DAYS – Kuala Lumpur
Arrive in Kuala Lumpur and settle into your hotel in the Bukit Bintang district. Spend your first day exploring KL Eco Forest Park, climb to the top of KL Tower and enjoy the views from the Sky Box! End your day shopping at Petaling Street market and eating delicious food in Chinatown.
On your second day in Kuala Lumpur, get a Grab to Batu Caves and climb the colourful steps to the beautiful cave temple. Head back into the city and walk the streets of Little India and Jalan Alor, sampling some of the best food in Kuala Lumpur.
Finally, head to the Botanical Gardens and enjoy a picnic while you keep an eye out for spectacular wildlife, including tropical birds, butterflies, and monitor lizards. In the afternoon, visit the Petronas Towers and if you fancy it, go up to the sky bridge which connects the two towers. Go shopping in the many malls in this modern part of the city and watch the light show in the evening.
Read my in-depth guide to Kuala Lumpur here!
3 DAYS – Cameron Highlands
Catch an early bus to Tanah Rata, the main town in the Cameron Highlands. It’s chillier up here which will be refreshing after the humidity of Kuala Lumpur. Once you’ve arrived, explore the quaint little town on foot and enjoy the cafe culture and good food.
Spend the next couple of days hiking up to the next town, Brinchang, where you’ll find strawberry farms and the quirky Time Tunnel Museum which details the history of the Malaysian highlands, including early colonialism and the impact of the Second World War in this remote region.
Downhill from Tanah Rata you’ll find the beautiful Bharat Tea Plantation. Take a tour of the tea fields and go for a short hike around ‘Jungle Trail 10’ which you can find on Google maps. Be mindful of sticking to the path, though, and it’s best to do this in the morning when it’s cooler before the afternoon rain rolls in.
3 DAYS – Penang
Hop on another bus to Penang Island where you’ll stay in the ‘capital’, George Town. This colourful and multicultural town is a backpacker’s paradise, providing colonial architecture, historical sites, fantastic street food, and nearby beaches.
Spend your three days here relaxing, drinking coffee, eating good food, and wandering the streets of this very walkable town. If you’re after a bit of adventure, get a taxi to Penang Botanical Gardens and head off the beaten path to a secluded waterfall – this 30 minute hike is *technically* out of bounds but if you download the Maps.me app, you’ll find the route clearly marked and it’s very easy to follow through the forest as someone has kindly tied red markers to the trees.
5 DAYS – Langkawi
Finish up your two week itinerary by catching a 40 minute flight from Penang to Langkawi. This beautiful island has suffered from the lack of tourism due to the pandemic but the people are incredibly friendly and there is an abundance of things to do.
Stay in the Pantai Cenang area on the west coast of the island – Kuah town used to be very popular but there is now next to nothing to do there and it costs more to get taxis if you stay on that side of the island. Instead, enjoy Cenang beach and its many beach bars, live music, fire shows, and watersports available there.
The activity we recommend you don’t miss is a boat trip. Take a tour of the nearby smaller islands to see golden eagles, craggy islands, and the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden (from a distance the island looks like a pregnant woman lying down!). Enjoy jumping in this lovely freshwater lake surrounded by cliffs or hire a paddleboard, kayak or an underwater handheld jet ski.
Make the trek up to Telaga Tujuh waterfall and hitch a ride in a cable car to the relatively new Langkawi Sky Bridge. The waterfall is completely free but the sky bridge costs around £15 per person (don’t forget to book your tickets on Klook for extra discount!). Without a doubt this provides the most incredible views over the island and the ocean beyond – if you’re not one for heights, I promise it’s still worth it!
Finally, one activity we didn’t do but will certainly do next time, is to take a tour of the Geoforest park and the mangroves in the northeast. This part of the island is full of wildlife, jungle, craggy mountains, and golden beaches.
On day 14, make your way back to Kuala Lumpur by flying either directly from Langkawi or via Penang.
So, what do you think to spending a couple of weeks in Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s hidden gem?
There is, of course, plenty more to see and do in this beautiful country. We would have loved to visit the east coast, but sadly it was monsoon season. We also skipped Malacca on the southwest coast and have since been told how amazing it is, so that’s one place we’re dying to go back to!
For any other digital nomads like us, Malaysia is a great place to live and work for a couple of months. It’s definitely on our radar if we end up deciding to change our plans. But maybe I’ll save that for another blog post…
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