Malaysia is a unique travel experience that is much different from its neighbors. 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, encountering incredible 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. Malaysia has a ton of stuff to offer travelers and is often quickly visited by travelers who breathe through on their way to or from Thailand. Take this country slowly, enjoy all the great Indian food and curries, and get off the beaten path to get the country to yourself.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Malaysia
1. Visit Kuala Lumpur
2. Dive in the Perhentian Islands
3. Visit Georgetown
4. Hike Mount Kinabalu National Park
5. Tour the tea plantations
Other Things to See and Do
(Click the title to expand the text)
1. 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. Day tours will cost under 500 MYR, while a multi-day tour will cost upwards of 10,000 MYR.
2. 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.” Three dives in the area will cost around 350 MYR per person while a snorkel trip will cost 150 MYR.
3. 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. Admission is 50 MYR for adults and 25 MYR for children, not including lunch.
4. 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. Admission is 1 MYR, and 5 MYR if you want to take photos.
5. 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.
6. Discover Kota Bharu
Also known as ‘The Islamic City,’ this is a great city to check out royal palaces, an array of museums, and some crazy back-alley markets. This is also a great place to spend the night before heading south or into Thailand.
7. 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 so be sure to spend some time here!
8. 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.
9. 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 200 MYR.
10. 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.
Food – A street meal will start under 5 MYR and rarely cost more than 15 MYR. Fast food (think McDonald’s) will cost around 14 MYR for a combo meal. Expect to pay 10-20 MYR in restaurants, however western meals will always cost more. For a meal at a mid-range restaurant expect to pay around 25 MYR per person. Beer will be under 15 MYR, and a week’s worth of groceries will cost between 90-150 MYR. Stick to local food items, as western specialties like wine and cheese will destroy your grocery budget!
Transportation – Expect to pay around 5-15 MYR per hour on a bus trip. Taxis can be expensive 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, many taxis do not have working meters. In this case, agree on a price up-front! A bus from Penang to Kuala Lumpur will cost around 50 MYR, while flights can be found for as little as 100 MYR. A train from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok will cost around 175 MYR, while a flight can be found for around 300 MYR.
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. White-water rafting will cost around 200 MYR, and entry into most of the national parks will cost less than 20 MYR.
Suggested daily budget
130-180 MYR / $30-40 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out the street, and using local transportation. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eating out at nicer restaurants, expect this number to be higher end (or more)!)
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 per night.
- 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.
- Take a free walking tour – A free walking tour with Airotour is a great way to explore Kuala Lumpur. You’ll not only get to see the sights but you’ll learn about the history and culture, too. Win-win!
My Must Have Guides For Traveling to Malaysia
This book shows you how to take money out of the travel equation and and master the points and miles game. It will show you how to easily collect and redeem travel points for free airfare and accommodation so you can get you out of your house faster, cheaper, and in comfort.
Kristin Addis writes the solo female travel column for this website and her detailed guide addresses all the concerns women have about traveling and gives the specific advice and tips you need to conquer the world and stay safe.
This book will teach you everything you need to know about landing your dream job and features interviews with dozens of teachers, recruiters, detailed information on the top teaching destinations, sample resumes, advice on nailing your interview, and much more.
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach how to master the art of travel so that, no matter how long you want to travel for, you’ll save money, get off the beaten path, and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Articles About Southeast Asia
Photo credits: 5