From the dense urban jungle of Kuala Lumpur to the pristine beaches of the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia is a beautiful and often underrated country. Spend the day with a traditional tribe or in a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands or trek through the huge national parks of Gunung Mulu and Taman Negara, all the while coming across various wildlife including tigers and Orangutans. Make sure to head to Borneo and explore the jungle and dive at Spidan, one of the best dive locations in the world. Plus, there is a great Indian food and curries throughout the country. Malaysia is a unique travel experience that is much different from its neighbors.
Destination Guides for Malaysia
Accommodation – Dorms start at 30-55 MYR per night, with larger cities being on the high end of that spectrum. Private rooms cost around 75 MYR for a single room, and around 100 MYR for a double. Budget hotels start at 80 MYR.
Food – A street meal will start under 4 MYR and rarely cost more than 11 MYR. Expect to pay 7-20 MYR in restaurants. Western food will always cost more.
Transportation – Expect to pay around 5-11 MYR per hour on a bus trip. Taxis can be expensive though, as the fare is charged per person, and you’ll be charged four fares if you can’t find anyone to share with! Within Kuala Lumpur, fares start at 3 MYR for the first .6 mile, though many taxis do not have working meters. In this case, agree on a price up-front.
Activities – Most attractions in Malaysia are quite cheap. Trekking costs 35-75 MYR per day. Diving costs 245-300 MYR for two-day dives or 830-1,325 MYR for a full PADI course.
Money Saving Tips
Taxis – Taxis aren’t usually metered in Malaysia, so make sure to agree on the fare before you set off.
Camp – It’s possible to camp in Taman Negara to save on accommodation costs – expect to pay around 5 MYR.
Local street food – Street stalls are the place to go for hawker food which is delicious and costs just a few bucks. In my opinion, it’s the best food in the country and the cheapest!
Don’t drink – As Malaysia is a Muslim country, drinking is frowned upon, but it does happen. However to restrict it, the authorities have made drinking very, very expensive. Save your drinking for countries like Thailand, where the alcohol flows more freely and is better on the budget.
Top Things to See and Do in Malaysia
Visit Kuala Lumpur – Chances are you’ll be spending at least a few nights in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. The Petronas Twin Towers are a must-see, and if you don’t mind heights, you should walk across the bridge connecting the two. They stand an awesome 1,500 feet tall. There is a decent bird zoo and a few parks also worth seeing.
Dive at the Perhentian Islands – These islands are hugely popular with snorkelers and divers as the reefs and crystalline waters surrounding them are host to a wide variety of coral, sea-turtles, small sharks, and reef-fish. They are getting more popular every year but are a beautiful respite from the party heavy and tourist packed island in Thailand.
Hike Mount Kinabalu National Park – Kota Kinabalu National Park was designated as Malaysia’s first World Heritage in 2000 for its ‘outstanding universal values’. You’ll be expecting something pretty special on your visit and this National Park doesn’t disappoint. Mount Kota Kinabula is Malaysia’s tallest mountain and the fourth tallest in Southeast Asia. The hiking through the huge (over 600 square miles) park is fantastic.
Experience diversity at Sarawak Cultural Village – This living museum showcases the heritage of all of the racial groups in Sarawak – Malays, Chinese, and Indians have been living here peacefully for hundreds of years. Aside from the cultural experience, there are loads of bizarre, yet fun activities, like coconut bowling, blowpipe shooting, and traditional dance lessons.
Spot wildlife – Malaysia is rich in wildlife both on land and in its surrounding waters. Some of the world’s most rare and endangered animals can be found here. Orangutans, Malaysian tigers, Monitor Lizards, and Sumatran Rhinos are all indigenous to the country and can be seen on one of the many wildlife tours.
Dive at Sipadan Island – Sipadan Island is arguably one of the world’s best dive sites. Its crystal clear waters are filled with barracudas, manta rays, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, and greenback and hawksbill turtles. To give you an idea of the beauty of this place, Jacques Cousteau once declared the island an “untouched piece of art”.
Tour the tea plantations – The Cameron Highlands are covered in lush tea plantations and are a popular place to go on a tour. Visit the factories to learn about the production process or just relax with a cup of tea and obligatory cake or scone. This area is great to spend a few days, cool off from the heat of the rest of the country, and hike the trails that dot the area.
Visit Georgetown – Georgetown is often thought to be Malaysia’s most fascinating city with its crisscrossing streets teeming with bustling shops, historic buildings, and excellent nightlife. The city was listed as a World Heritage site in 2008 and is now surging in popularity.
Be adventurous in Taman Negara National Park – At an estimated 130 million years old, Taman Negara is the oldest rainforest in the world and the largest in Malaysia. This place is packed with activities, such as canopy walks, 4×4 safaris, cave exploration, and trekking.
Ride a trishaw – This is a unique form of transportation, found all over Melaka. These simple bike taxis are amped to the max with wild decorations — and some even play techno music. The drivers are essentially in an unspoken contest, which makes for lots of colorful, creative taxis to look at.
Discover Kota Bharu – Also known as ‘The Islamic City’, this is a great city to check out some royal palaces, an array of museums, and some crazy back-alley markets. This is a great place to overnight, whether you plan to head in to Thailand or back South.
Relax at Pulau Langkawi – When most people picture Malaysia, this is the island that comes to mind. Depicted in thousands of different magazines, websites, articles, and more, this island is a picturesque retreat with beautiful beaches and plenty of sun. There are plenty of great restaurants to choose from and interesting sights and villages to explore.
Visit Ipoh – This is one of the largest cities in Malaysia and is host to plenty of great restaurants and interesting sights to visit. There are several museums, and historical buildings, including the Birch Memorial Clock Tower and various temples.
Go whitewater rafting – Outside of diving, Malaysia is also known for its great whitewater rafting conditions. You can find all grades of rafting on the rivers here, and prices start around 190 MYR.
Understand Malaysia’s Colonial roots – Malaysia has undergone a diverse colonial history, falling into Portuguese, Dutch, and British hands before finally gaining independence. For a good understanding of this colonial influence, consider a visit to Malacca (or Melaka). The city center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, and the city is full of interesting museums, buildings, and temples to visit.