Last Updated on September 10, 2021 by Chef
Travels in Malaysia. This Malaysia travel page will help you plan your own travels in Malaysia and let you know what to expect. It’s full of Malaysia travel tips and the best places to visit in Malaysia along with our personal first-hand experiences. We’ve visited Malaysia many times now, visiting diverse areas. Our personal travels in Malaysia and a guide and tips for visiting Malaysia.
There are loads of cool things to see and do in Malaysia along with some unique highlights. Kuala Lumpur is one of our favorite cities these days and Kuching and Sarawak fully hold our hearts as fabulous destinations. The Malaysian people tend to be some of the nicest on the planet too, very kind, helpful folk.
Please check and double-check all the information we give you locally as times, places, dates, and services do, as we found, change often. Restrictions and closures may apply.
We’re able to share with you some hints, tips, ideas, and suggestions for travel in Malaysia, mostly positive but some negative. We’ve had bad experiences in Malaysia over the years including theft, terrible hotels, an environmental disaster, and a ferry breaking down. We joke about our “Malaysia curse” and really, you couldn’t make it up. Everything that can go wrong for us in Malaysia, does.
We are not sponsored by Malaysia tourism so can share honest reviews and opinions. On this page, you can access the information you need to plan your holiday or vacation in Malaysia.
We’ll start by listing our individual posts on destinations in Malaysia, further down the page you’ll find general Malaysia travel information. We include links and tips from a few other blogs and bloggers too.
Plan Your Travel in Malaysia
The first part of planning your own travel in Malaysia is deciding where to go. We have a list of popular Malaysian destinations below, including cultural, cities, beach, and wildlife. Then you’ll need to think about accommodation, flights, trains, or buses to Malaysia, and internal transport in Malaysia. Of course you’ll need to consider current travel requirements, visas, health, and restrictions.
Below we list key destinations in Malaysia which you’ll probably want to include in your Malaysia itinerary. We cover facts and personal experiences.
Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant modern city where you can visit ancient temples in the morning, be in China Town for lunch, while away the afternoon in an up-market mall and watch a spectacular fountain display as the sun goes down. There is much to keep all of the family busy and Kuala Lumpur with kids is a great choice.
Kuala Lumpur was our first stop when we left Australia back in 2013 and we enjoyed it, it was good to be in a modern city for a while and we loved being able to access authentic Indian food.
We visited Kuala Lumpur again in 2017, 2019, and early in 2020 and always stay at one of our favourite places in the world, Back Home Kuala Lumpur. It’s a solid base in the city with all kinds of accommodation from dorms to family rooms. There’s great food nearby, particularly Indian, and always a warm welcome.
Take a look at Back Home here. It’s also within walking distance of the free KL buses and KL’s ” green lung” KL Forest Eco Park.
Things to do in KL include visiting many museums, the Botanic Gardens, Zoo, Aquarium, Petronas Towers, Chinatown, Little India, and Batu Caves. KL is also famous for extravagant shopping malls with indoor rollercoasters. There are many malls in KL to see.
Malacca, an easy bus journey to the south of KL has some beautiful and well-preserved buildings in the old town. It has it all, Chinese, Indian and Dutch colonial, a remnant of this town’s massive importance in the sea trade routes.
The old town has something of a museum or theme park feel to it and becomes packed with tourists, mostly local, browsing the shops and large night market.
At night there are tacky cycle rickshaws blaring modern pop as locals and tourists explore the night markets and walking streets.
In the historic part of Malacca we enjoyed learning about birds’ nest soup production at a swiftlet nesting house.
Outside the old town is another modern city with modern conveniences. The famous boat-shaped spice trade museum is here too.
Ipoh is north of Kuala Lumpur, inland, but on the bus route we took from KL to Penang. We really enjoyed Ipoh and will be back.
Ipoh is a world-famous food destination with visitors arriving for Ipoh white coffee, pandan pastries, tofu, and many other dishes.
Ipoh is also home to The Lost World of Tambun water park. We really enjoyed our day there and it’s suitable for young families and water-slide loving adults.
If you have the time, there are dozens of temples, caves, and historic monuments to explore and the Ipoh waterfront walk is very pleasant indeed. Read all about Ipoh Malaysia and things to do in Ipoh in our dedicated post.
Penang comprises Penang Island, with its beachside resorts as well as a section of the mainland. A bridge connects the two.
On the island, you will find historic George Town, famous for street art, yet more colonial architecture and food. There are a number of tourist attractions in Penang, it’s a huge tourist draw.
The resort area of Batu Ferringhi is one of our least favourite places in Malaysia, as with Langkawi, this island is packed with man-made tourist attractions and has limited genuine charm.
We were robbed twice on Penang. That said, in 2017 we had a great stay in Little India, Georgetown and enjoyed Indian food and the famous Snake Temple. We can recommend Heritage 16 ( click to see it here) a modern, family-friendly hostel with large family rooms. One of the most famous Chinese restaurants in Penang is right next door.
- Things to Do on Penang for Families There is loads to keep you busy on Penang. The snake temple, Kek Lok Si, butterfly and bug parks, historic sites of Georgetown, modern shopping malls, and a National Park. There are beaches and more and more tourist attractions open all the time. A modern bus system will get you around the island or we found that Uber was good here. We were robbed on a bus, so beware of pickpockets.
- Where to Eat Out in Batu Ferringhi Penang ( for backpackers) There is McDonalds, the famous food courts, and plenty of upmarket restaurants. Our favourite was an Indian restaurant/food court.
- Penang Kek Lok Si Temple This is a lovely Chinese-style temple, well worth a visit and the kids had a ball.
- Penang Huge Spiders, Photo of the Week We took the kids along to Penang’s butterfly and bug park. The boys loved holding a giant millipede. This will be great for you if you’re new to the tropics.
- Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown, Penang With Kids An interesting historic fort in Penang. Worth a look and great for the kids to have a run-around.
Legoland Malaysia (Near Johor Bahru)
Superb Legoland Malaysia is our favourite global Legoland park by far, we highly recommend a visit and genuinely loved it. It’s far to the south, almost on the Singapore border. We travelled by comfortable bus to Johor Baru then less-comfortable bus to the Legoland location where we stayed for 3 nights. It doesn’t make sense to stay in Johor Baru, it’s too far away.
Water Parks in Malaysia
There are a lot of water parks in Malaysia and on our last trip we made a point of visiting as many as possible. Our favourite by far was The Lost World of Tambun in Ipoh Malaysia. This one isn’t too far from KL and we thought it was much better than Sunworld in KL itself. It had a nice blend of rides and attractions making it very family-friendly. We have a full post on Water Parks in Malaysia here.
I have competed in Ironman Malaysia on the island of Langkawi. It is my least favourite race of the international Ironman races I’ve competed in. You can read my Ironman Malaysia race report here, along with two posts on Ironman training for this race here and here.
Visiting Malaysia for an event such as this, you should grab the opportunity to visit more of Malaysia. This post should help you plan your own travel itinerary for Malaysia.
The Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands lie off Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast.They comprise two main islands, Perhentian Besar or Big Perhentian, and Perhentian Kecil or Small Perhentian.
Kecil normally has larger volumes of tourists because of greater accommodation options and better prices. There are a few smaller, uninhabited islands, all within the Perhentian Marine Park.
Tourism to the Perhentian Islands is highly seasonal, as we discovered to our cost, the eastern monsoon causing rough seas and murky waters, you really need to visit between March, maybe April, and October. We were there too early in the year, February, this isn’t a good time to visit. Boats run to the Perhentian Islands from the mainland departing Kuala Besut. The speed boat ride should be 30 to 40 mins.
We have visited Cameron Highlands. This area isn’t too far by road from Kuala Lumpur with the drive taking under 3 hours. This area became popular because its elevation offers cooler temperatures, it is a typical tropical hill-station.
This better weather makes the Cameron Highlands famous for tea plantations, strawberry farms, roses, orchards, waterfalls, and forests. Expect big hotels, high rises, and much commercial activity here.
We did find one very nice Chinese temple to visit along with a good Chinese vegetarian restaurant. I wouldn’t say this was a must-visit in Malaysia, but if you have the time it’s worth a look.
Malay Borneo – Don’t Miss Sarawak!
Borneo and Sarawak are where Malaysia totally won us round. We were blown away by how lovely the city of Kuching is and had wonderful experiences trekking in the jungle, staying in an Iban village longhouse and seeing orangutans and proboscis monkeys, along with the super-sized blooming Rafflesia flower.
You can do all of these things from Kuching. Be sure to visit the Sarawak Cultural Park, it’s an Uber ride from Kuching and you could easily spend half to a full day exploring the traditional homes and longhouses recreated at the park. This is one of the best attractions we’ve visited in the world.
If the people on Peninsular Malaysia are nice, the good folk of Kuching blow niceness out of the water. I’m not Kuching is also where we learned to enjoy Malaysian food, why? We finally found good vegetarian and vegan Malay dishes, now they are good!
Kota Kinabalu – Sabah Borneo
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, like Sarawak, Malay Borneo. This is where you need to come for Kinabalu National Park, Mount Kinabalu and the White Sandy Beaches Kota Kinabalu.
We have been to Sabah and didn’t enjoy it. It was so bad we left early. It was really disappointing after enjoying Sarawak so much. Read about Sabah Malaysia, here.
We have been to Langkawi twice and both times found it a bit underwhelming. It is undoubtedly a very beautiful island with picture-postcard beaches and many and varied tourist attractions.
We had bad experiences with even “top end” hotels being of a very low standard and hugely expensive for what they offer. We were visiting for Ironman Malaysia and we had a lot of problems finding good food for an Ironman competitor. I know other competitors at other hotels had the same problem.
I’ll warn you that our kids had bad experiences with tiny jellyfish here, in Australia we call them sea lice and kids feel them far more than adults. Stinger season is dependent on time of year in Australia, it may be here too.
Try the Ultimate Guide to Langkawi by Wagoner’s Abroad, they talk about family-friendly attractions, tours and watersports in Langkawi as sponsored by Tourism Langkawi.
Planning Travel in Malaysia Tips and Information
How to Book Hotels and Find the Best Accommodation Deals in Malaysia
Agoda are the leading online booking engine for Asia, they are Asia-based and as such have the biggest selection of hotels, resorts, guest houses and hostels, they can also often source the best deals. We recommend you always check Agoda for Asia and certainly for travel to Malaysia.
If you’re looking for a refundable reservation try Booking.com.
Be warned that you don’t get so much for your money in Malaysia. Standards in hotels are lower and prices higher relative to destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam. The new tourist tax makes Malaysia more expensive again. A 10% AND 6% tax was payable to the hotel on arrival. The 10% seems to cover tips. You should probably read up on this before you go, it may have changed again.
Best Time of Year to Visit Malaysia
Malaysia is as tropical as you can possibly get. Actually, we should call this climate Equatorial. Temperatures and humidity remain high all year round.
Expect to see daytime temperatures in excess of 30º C at any time of year. All expect short, heavy, tropical downpours in the afternoons.
The duration of these downpours increases in the wettest months, September-October on the West Coast, including Langkawi and towards Sabah and November to February (the North East Monsoon) on the East Coast. The East Coast has more of a cooling breeze than the West.
April-October is the wet season for Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and the Cameron Highlands, but really, this makes little difference. The best time to visit is generally considered to be between March and October.
Be aware of seasonal air pollution intensification. Burning off crops causes copious smoke to drift over from Indonesia, the effects can be extremely severe.
What to Wear in Malaysia
Interestingly, there is not much pressure to cover up in Malaysia. I was surprised to find young girls with bare shoulders and short shorts.
I prefer to cover up, I think it shows respect. You will see a lot of exposed skin, far more than I expected, due to the mix of cultures here.
To visit mosques or other religious or sacred sites, you will need to be properly dressed. We were given correct clothing when visiting the mosques of Kuala Lumpur, men in shorts were able to wear borrowed sarongs, women were given robes.
Travel Costs in Malaysia
We find Malaysia is more expensive than other countries in South East Asia (excluding Singapore) and that you get less for your dollar. Sarawak, Malay Borneo, seems to us significantly cheaper than the mainland. The extra tourist tax in restaurants and hotels doesn’t help this. So while Malaysia is a cheap country on a global scale, it’s quite expensive compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. Singapore is significantly more expensive than Malaysia, but of course, it depends which parts of Malaysia you’re planning to visit.
In 2017 we were seeing lower accommodation costs in Asia generally, it was noticeably cheaper than 2 years previously. On our last visit in 2020, we still though prices were quite high.
Buses in Malaysia were good value and often nice, modern buses. It depends which bus company you pick though, we’ve had a couple of bad ones too.
You can catch a bus into Singapore from Kuala Lumpur or from the south.
Some food in Malaysia is ultra-cheap, street food, low-cost Indian restaurants, and so on will cost you cents, elsewhere you’ll pay a lot. Food can be as cheap or as expensive as you’d like it to be in Malaysia. If you are a budget traveller watch out for heavy use of palm oil and sugar. Also drink prices can vary immensely, always shop around.
Beer is very expensive but available in many shops. We’re not the sort to keep detailed records of our spending, but these guys do. Travel Costs in Malaysia by Or Big Fat Travel Adventure(couple).
When working out your costs for a Malaysia trip, always factor in your travel insurance and other health essentials. Visa, vaccine, and COVID 19 test requirements are fluctuating too fast for me to include them right now.
We have backpacked Malaysia as a family with kids but if you’re looking for information on Backpacking in Malaysia geared towards young singles or couples, try Backpacking Malaysia by Gamin Traveler
Scuba Diving in Malaysia
Yes, Malaysia is a destination for scuba divers, we are divers, but with kids it’s hard to find time, check out Scuba Diving in Malaysia : Tioman, by Phenomenal Globe. Very soon we’ll be getting the scuba diving sites of Malay Borneo on the Malaysia travel itinerary, they’re high on our bucket list.
Food in Malaysia
You will find excellent Indian food, particularly southern Indian. We’re big fans of Indian food and as soon as we arrive in Malaysia, our first port of call will be an authentic Indian restaurant for some idli, vada, idiyappam, or dosa.
We’ve never been disappointed. If the town you’re in has a Little India, and most do, you’ll probably be best off looking there.
Nyonya cuisine is worth checking out and they say the Chinese is good but in our experience (admittedly limited) all the Chinese we’ve ordered has been not so great.
We finally started to love Malay food once we found vegetarian and vegan versions of popular dishes such as nasi lamak and roti canai. The usual chicken parts and dried fish ingredients didn’t float our boat.
The coffee situation is particularly bad in Malaysia with premix containing powdered milk and sugar being a regular feature. These days you can easily find a Starbucks or any number of other coffee chains. This is one country where I would certainly take emergency backup coffee or even something like an Aeropress. (travel coffee makers)
Malaysia Guide Book
Malaysia Travel – What’s Next
Our Malaysia travel guide is constantly evolving and growing to help you plan your Malaysia trip. We’re arriving in Langkawi and travelling further in Malaysian Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia soon, so a lot more Malaysia content to come. I don’t want to come across as negative about Malaysia, if we hated it we wouldn’t keep going back to explore more areas. Malaysia does have bags of charm and I always enjoy visiting Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, we have had a lot of bad luck in Malaysia, but is it luck? We’ve never been robbed anywhere else in 5 years. We’ve never been on a ferry that’s broken down anywhere else and we never normally struggle to find good food. The people of Malaysia, the women particularly, have been super kind and friendly so I feel bad leaving less than glowing reviews, but as always, I’m honest.