Last Updated on January 10, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Malaysia travel often involves visiting empty beaches, hiking in lush jungles and spotting rare wildlife. Here’s my Malaysia travel guide to help you plan the perfect trip to Malaysia.
Growing up in Singapore, I always thought of Malaysia as my second home. At every chance we could, we hopped across the causeway, to explore its colonial towns and feast on its cheap and amazing food.
From the colorful cities of Penang and Kuala Lumpur to the empty beaches of Terengganu and the lush jungles of Borneo Malaysia has SO much to offer to travelers. Yet the entire country has somehow slipped off the well-trodden trails across South East Asia.
In comparison with other parts of Southeast Asia, Malaysia has well-developed infrastructure that makes traveling easy especially for first-time visitors to the region. The majority of Malaysians speak some English and roads are rather well built, so is the public transport network.
This Malaysia travel guide will show you the best things to do in Malaysia, how to get around Malaysia, what to eat when visiting Malaysia.
Table of Contents
- Malaysia Travel Guide 2022
- Visa for Malaysia
- How to Travel Malaysia
- When to Travel Malaysia
- How to Get Around Malaysia
- Travel Safety in Malaysia
- Travel Malaysia Independently or on Guided Tour?
- Where to Stay in Malaysia
- What to Eat in Malaysia
- Cost of Travel in Malaysia
- Language in Malaysia
- Religion in Malaysia
- Best Things to Do in Malaysia
- Soak in the Vibrance of Kuala Lumpur
- See Orangutans in the Wild
- Climb the World’s Highest Via Ferrata
- Experience Caving in the World’s Largest Known Cave
- Trek in the Oldest Rainforest in the World
- Scuba Dive in Borneo
- Relax on the Stunning Islands off Terengganu
- Visit the Batu Caves
- Explore the Tea Plantations of the Highlands
- Immerse in Malaysian Culture in Penang
- Admire Colonial Architecture in Malacca
Malaysia Travel Guide 2022
Visa for Malaysia
Traveling to Malaysia is easy as most nationalities don’t need to apply for a tourist visa beforehand. Citizens of EU countries, US, Canada and Australia can stay in Malaysia for 90 days without a visa. Certain nationalities that require a visa can apply for an eVisa online, those include Chinese and Indian nationals.
Click here for details on Malaysia’s visa policy. Those planning a trip to Malaysia should apply for a visa at least 1 month before.
How to Travel Malaysia
The main gateway into Malaysia is the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), which is well-connected to the rest of the world. The best airlines to fly from the US to Malaysia are Emirates and Qatar Airways. They usually do stopovers in Dubai or Doha. No-frills low-cost carrier AirAsia also offers cheap airfares to many parts of the region.
From Europe, British Airways and Malaysia Airlines fly direct from London to Kuala Lumpur for around $800 return.
When to Travel Malaysia
Most part of the country experiences tropical climate, with high humidity all year round. Temperatures generally range from 89.6 ºF (32°C) in the day to about 78.8 ºF (26°C) at night.
The only time to avoid traveling Malaysia is during the north-east monsoon (October to February) that affects Borneo and the east coast and often causes flooding. The west coast (particularly Langkawi and Penang) is usually not affected. The milder south-west monsoon (April to October) reverses the pattern.
The southern parts of peninsular Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, are exposed to both. Even during the rainy season, though, the showers tend to be intense but brief.
How to Get Around Malaysia
If you’re tight on time, the best way to get around is by plane. Largely thanks to budget carrier AirAsia, Malaysia is crisscrossed by a web of cheap flights.
Besides Kuala Lumpur, there are also airports in Kota Kinabalu and Penang. Flying is the only practical option for traveling between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo.
A flight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang (1-hour journey) can be as cheap as $30 one way, while a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu (main gateway to Borneo) cost around $70 for a 2.5-hour journey.
Traveling Malaysia by car is another fast and easy way to get around the country. Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway along the West Coast from Singapore all the way to the Thai border.
You can rent a car in Kuala Lumpur for as cheap as $23 a day ($160 for one week). It’s easy to drive around Malaysia with signs in both Malay and English.
Mainland Malaysia is covered by more than 1,149 miles (1,849 kilometers) of train tracks. The main line connects Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Thailand. It’s an excellent way to travel between the three countries if you’re not in a rush for time.
Train schedules and reservations are available on the KTMB website. Trains in Malaysia are generally punctual and cheap, though the economy trains can be slow.
A train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth (where you’d catch the ferry to Penang) costs about $19 each way.
Buses are a cheap and efficient way to get around Malaysia, especially to destinations not served by train. Malaysia travel is often the cheapest when traveling by bus. The major bus companies include:
- Super Nice
I recommend buying your bus ticket online and save yourself the time and energy of visiting a bus ticket counter. This also happens to be an eco-friendly of booking bus tickets and traveling anywhere since all you have to do is show the ticket on your phone and not actually travel with a physical copy of the ticket.
Travel Safety in Malaysia
Most parts of Malaysia are incredibly safe to travel in. The only exception are the islands off the coast of eastern Sabah from Kudat to Tawau, as there has been an increase in kidnappings on the coast in this region. Steering clear of that area, you should be able to have a safe and enjoyable stay in Malaysia.
In big cities like Kuala Lumpur, pickpocketing and petty theft can be a problem, so keep your belongings close. There are also tourist scams from time to time, especially on taxi cabs. Make sure the meter is on, or negotiate your fare before getting in.
Otherwise, people are friendly and helpful, and you’re unlikely to get into trouble. Here are some things to know before you go to Malaysia.
Travel Malaysia Independently or on Guided Tour?
As Malaysia is safe and easy to travel around, I recommend traveling Malaysia independently and booking day tours or interesting experiences to enhance your experience. For instance, this Sabah wildlife tour and Penang food tour are excellent ways to meet people and learn about Malaysia.
If you’re an active traveler looking for company, check out this Experience Borneo adventure trip with G Adventures. The tour allows you to go caving, trekking and diving with a group of fun-loving travelers.
Alternatively, check out this 21-day Bangkok to Singapore trip that includes Malaysia in the itinerary. G Adventures is a Canadian adventure tour operator I’ve worked with many times and can highly recommend!
Where to Stay in Malaysia
In general, hotel rates in Malaysia are very reasonable. Even the fanciest 5-star hotels cost less than $150 per night.
Kuala Lumpur: Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur
One of the best hotels in the city, Traders Hotel has rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out directly to the Petronas Towers. You can’t get better views than that. It’s also home to the rooftop Sky Bar with spectacular night views. Check the latest rates.
This was definitely my favorite hotel in Malaysia. Housed in a Chinese courtyard-style mansion, The Blue Mansion is a unique boutique hotel tastefully furnished with antique fittings. It is located in the heart of Georgetown’s UNESCO district. Check the latest rates.
Cameron Highlands: Cameron Highlands Resort
Ridiculously romantic, perfect for couples! Poised amidst tea plantations, this luxury resort is housed in a colonial building with high-end furnishings. The white-and-black exterior of the hotel contrasts with the polished wooden interior. Check the latest rates.
Kota Kinabalu: Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai
An excellent beach resort with affordable prices, Nexus is located on the beachfront, with three outdoor pools. Rooms have a tropical resort feel, with wooden floors and rattan ceilings. Excellent for families! Check the latest rates.
What to Eat in Malaysia
Malaysia is a food paradise — there’s so much variety to choose from, and each dish and platter is deeply rooted in traditions.
As a result of historical migrations and ethnic diversity, Malaysia’s culinary style in the present day is primarily a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens. This resulted in a symphony of flavors, making Malaysian cuisine highly complex and diverse
Head to Kota Bharu’s night market to eat the national dish, Nasi Lemak (coconut rice with fried fish and chili). Eat the way locals do: with your hands! Go to the colonial streets of Penang for the island’s famous Penang Laksa (spicy coconut-based soup with vermicelli).
Or head to Kuala Lumpur’s Little India for a simply yet exceedingly satisfying breakfast of Roti Canai (crispy crepe eaten with curry).
Cost of Travel in Malaysia
The currency used in Malaysia is the Ringgit (RM). Currently the exchange rate is at US$1 to RM4.
Most visitors will find Malaysia quite cheap, although it is noticeably more expensive than neighboring Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. You can stay in three-star hotels and feast on hawker food for less than $30 per day.
Food is generally very cheap here. A meal at a hawker centre (large food court local style) can be as cheap as $2. However, there are high taxes on alcohol here, so drinking is much more expensive here in other parts of Southeast Asia.
Language in Malaysia
The official language of Malaysia is Malay. English is widely spoken as well, though, so it’s easy enough to get by without knowing how to speak Malay. That’s what makes traveling Malaysia so easy for visitors.
It definitely helps if you pick up some basic Malaysian words. Phrases like “Terima kasih” (thank you), “bagus” (good or tasty) or “makan” (eat) will go a long way in Malaysia.
Religion in Malaysia
Malaysia is a Muslim country. While Malaysians are generally less conservative than other Muslim countries, it is important to respect local traditions and customs at all times. Be aware of your actions to avoid offending their culture or religious beliefs.
It is acceptable to dress in singlets and dresses, but you should still be mindful of local cultural practices and beliefs. Cover up when in rural areas and entering religious sites. Attitudes are more liberal in bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur.
In particular, take extra caution during religious festivals. During Ramadan, it’s not polite to eat and drink on the street during daylight hours, while most are abstaining.
Best Things to Do in Malaysia
Soak in the Vibrance of Kuala Lumpur
Most travelers start their journey the capital Kuala Lumpur — for good reasons. It’s vibrant, colorful and rich in flavors and traditions. You’ll find sprawling markets, upmarket shopping malls, skyscrapers and a melange of Buddhist temples, mosques, and Hindu temples. It is a great place and there is nothing you won’t be able to find in this melting pot of cultures.
The city’s modern skyline is dominated by the 451m-tall Petronas Twin Towers, a pair of glass-and-steel-clad skyscrapers with Islamic motifs. The towers also offer a public skybridge and observation deck. Book your skip-the-line tickets here!
The city is also home to British colonial-era landmarks such as the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
Book Your Tickets:
See Orangutans in the Wild
There are only two places in the world to see wild orangutans and one of them is Malaysia!
Malaysian Borneo is where you’ll be able to see orangutans in their natural habitats. Rehabilitation centres usually adopt and train the orphaned and young so they can return to the jungle.
Sepilok Rehabilitation, located approximately 16.2 miles (26 km) west of Sandakan in East Sabah is probably the number one place to see orangutans in Malaysia. The reserve houses between 60 and 80 of which approximately 25 are babies living in the nursery.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve, 17.4 miles (28 kilometres) from Kuching in Sarawak, has been an active rehabilitation centre for more than 20 years. Young or orphaned primates who are either rescued or brought to the centre are taken care of until they learn jungle survival skills. Visit during feeding between 9:00am and 10:00am and again from 3:00pm to 4:00pm.
Climb the World’s Highest Via Ferrata
It comes as a surprise to many that the world’s highest via ferrata is found on Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Malaysia at 13,438 ft (4,096 m) above sea level.
For the uninitiated, a via ferrata (Italian for “iron road”) is a protected climbing route that comes with steel cables and harnesses. If you are afraid of heights then this adventure may not be for you as you will be walking on vertical surfaces as well as crossing valleys on cable lines.
The Kinabalu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. There are 6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified. Check out this post on what to do in Kota Kinabalu.
Book Your Tour here:
Experience Caving in the World’s Largest Known Cave
Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak is Malaysia’s adventure capital and it’s here where you can find the largest known cave chamber in the world. It’s 700 meters long, 400 meters wide and at least 70 meters high and was only discovered in 1981.
Other notable caves in this area are the Benarat Cavern, the Wind Cave, and the Clearwater Cave. The latter contains parts of one of the world’s largest underground river systems and is also believed to be one of the largest caves in the world.
Choose to mountain-bike around Mulu, swim or raft the rivers, climb the ‘Pinnacles’ or Mount Mulu. You could even hike the once feared ‘Head hunter’s trail’, burrow deeply in adventure caves or search out wildlife. Or choose to do it all at a leisurely pace.
Trek in the Oldest Rainforest in the World
Malaysia’s Taman Negara, literally translated to mean “National Park”, has a reputation as the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. It is estimated to be more than 130 million years old and accommodates a lot of very rare animals.
Taman Negara is home to many species of monkeys, elephants and also a very critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros. It is one of the last places on Earth to find the Asian rhino, whose numbers are estimated at only around 200 animals left.
For those looking for short treks, head to Sarawak’s Gunung Gading where you can also see the world’s largest flower, the elusive Rafflesia. Another rainforest worth visiting is the Similajau National Park, with over 7,064 hectares of virgin forest along the South China Sea.
Scuba Dive in Borneo
Scuba-diving in Malaysian Borneo is extremely rewarding and relatively cheap. Whether your interest lies in macro diving or coral reefs, the range of dive sites sprinkled around the country will impress even the most experienced divers.
The best dive sites in Malaysia can be found in the southeastern region of Sabah (on the island of Borneo). The most accessible dive sites are along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. This region is, though, prone to the yearly monsoon season between October and March.
Sipadan is known as one of top scuba diving destinations in the world. During our dives, we spotted black finned sharks, hawksbill turtles and baracudas just to mention a few different aquatic species. The island can only be reached by boat and is under heavy environmental protection.
Relax on the Stunning Islands off Terengganu
Thailand isn’t the only country in Southeast Asia with pristine beaches. Malaysia has dozens of tiny islands on both the east and west coasts to rival them. Beaches in Malaysia have the added advantage of being relatively unknown (read: cheaper, less crowded, more unspoiled).
Terengganu on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia is dotted with small, pristine islands and is home to some of the best beaches in Southeast Asia. Redang Island is very famous among the locals, while Perhentian Islands just north of Redang are quieter and perfect for budget travelers.
Prices for a PADI certification course here are very affordable, so it’s a great place to earn your license. But as mentioned, these islands cannot be visited between October and March because of monsoon.
Visit the Batu Caves
Consisting of three huge limestone caves, this area is actually a cave temple. There are 272 steps to get up to the temple, but most people will agree that the sights are worth it.
If you’re in Malaysia for the Hindu Thaipusam celebration, you can glimpse thousands of devotees carrying offerings to the temple. They recently painted the steps of the Batu Caves, making it even more popular than ever.
If you want to get photos of the place, we recommend going really early in the morning so it isn’t too crowded. Alternatively, you can also check out this Batu Caves half-day tour which is super convenient. Or combine it with a visit to Genting Highlands.
Book Your Visit here:
Explore the Tea Plantations of the Highlands
The highlands of Malaysia are such a unique part of the region that you’ll have to visit to see for yourself. Because of its high location, Cameron Highlands is cooler than the rest of Malaysia with temperature dipping down to 68°F or 20°C.
The highlands are named after William Cameron, a British expedition leader. He discovered the location during an expedition in 1885. English colonists settled at the Cameron Highlands mainly because the climate resembled the English climate better.
Because of this, hotels around Cameron Highlands often have colonial characteristics. They soon discovered the area was great for cultivating tea, which is why tea plantations dominate the scenery. It is also home to the very rare mountain Peacock-Pheasant.
Immerse in Malaysian Culture in Penang
You can’t visit Malaysia without spending some time in vibrant and colorful Penang. This island is the best place to go to learn more about Malaysia’s culture and traditions, taste its amazing food and experience the old and new of Malaysia.
George Town is the energetic, multicultural capital of the Malaysian island of Penang. Once an important Straits of Malacca trading hub, the city is known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses and mosques.
Foodies will also be happy to hear that Penang is the food capital of Malaysia. Join a food tour to go under the surface and learn about their culinary culture.
Beyond the old town, George Town is a modern city with skyscrapers and shopping malls. Verdant Penang Hill, with hiking and a funicular railway, overlooks it all. A
Book a Tour:
Admire Colonial Architecture in Malacca
Because of its long colonial history, Malaysia is dotted with small little colonial towns that still display hints of its past.Malacca is a little pearl located along the Strait of Malacca. It was under occupation ever since 1509, first by Portugese settlers and then later by Dutch, French and British.
Every occupant ended up contributing a little bit into what Malacca is known for today: a colourful and vibrant place, full of cultural heritage that has even been recognized by UNESCO in 2003. Its colonial architecture is what put the label on this former fishing village.
The Dutch Square or the Christ Church are the centers of attention of many visiting tourists from all over the world. Don’t miss out on a walk along the Malacca River just as soon as the sun begins to set!
Are you excited about your trip to Malaysia? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments field below!
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