Malaysia is often overlooked in favour of its Asian and Indonesian neighbours such as Thailand or Bali. But missing out on Malaysia would be a mistake. The country has beaches to rival Thailand’s; jungles and rainforests filled with rare wildlife; rolling green tea plantations reminiscent of India or England; hundreds of incredible temples and mosques and bustling cities with epic views. All this is on offer with less tourists and for cheaper than its counterparts.
Here I share 5 places you must visit in Malaysia, with details on why you should see them, what to do there and where to stay.
1. KUALA LUMPUR
The capital of the country, Kuala Lumpur, is a bustling city with a population of 7.2 million as of 2013 and is the fastest growing Asian city by economy and population. You will most likely fly into KL so I suggest spending at least 2 days to give yourself some time to explore as there is plenty to see and do.
What To See
There is so much to see in Kuala Lumpur, but my top 3 things are: the iconic Petronas Towers are of course on every list of things to do in KL, at 452 meters there are plenty of vantage points to view them from; the Batu Caves located 20 minutes drive from the centre where you can ascend 272 steps to reach the limestone caves and visit the temples inside; the Thean Hou temple, perched atop a hill this beautiful temple offers views out over the city and is a perfect place to relax away from the busy streets.
There are many hotels in the city, but finding one with an incredible view is the most important and the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur certainly won’t disappoint! With rooms facing the Petronas Towers and floor to ceiling windows you will be able to capture the perfect picture right from your suite.
2. CAMERON HIGHLANDS
Most visitors to Malaysia head straight to the coast and miss the central part of the country. But missing out on the Cameron Highlands would be a mistake. Reminiscent of the English countryside, with mock tudor houses, afternoon teas, and lush green rolling hills its likely this area will end being the highlight of your trip to Malaysia.
What To See
There is so much to see in this area, but the most obvious one is the tea plantations which are the main reason many visitors come to the Cameron Highlands. The most famous is BOH (Best Of Highlands) which has a great viewing platform and offers factory tours and tea tasting. In addition, you should go strawberry picking (there are hundreds of choices!), take a guided nature trail through the jungle in search of he notorious Jim Thompson, who disappeared here in 1967 and of course try a Steamboat dinner! For more activities in the area see 12 Things To Do In The Cameron Highlands.
Where To Stay
The majority of places to stay are relatively basic with a few upscale guest houses to choose from. By far the most luxurious is the Cameron Highlands Resort which offers its guests a true English countryside feel, with a roaring fireplace, snug leather couches to read a book from, delicious afternoon tea and beautiful traditional and luxurious rooms.
Penang is a Malaysian state sitting in part as an island on the west coast of Malaysia. George Town, which was founded by the British in 1786, is perhaps the most famous part of Penang amongst travellers and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Kuala Lumpur you can fly direct to Penang, or take a bus. If you are heading there from the Cameron Highlands a few buses run per day, and take around 5 hours.
What To See
Penang has become famous for its street art, with some murals amassing long queues to get your picture with them. I suggest starring all of the art you want to find on Google maps (the majority are in Georgetown’s historic centre) and then get up early and reach each of them on your own walking tour of the city. Once you are done with all the street art make sure to head up to Habitat on Penang Hill for views out over the city, and then back down to see Kek Lok Si (Snake Temple). For more details read 7 Reasons To Visit Penang.
Where To Stay
Most visitors to Penang want to stay centrally located in Georgetown, depending on your travel style I would suggest for history lovers staying at Cheong Fatt Tze (or the Blue Mansion) and if you prefer a more modern hotel then the G Hotel Kelawai. The Blue Mansion, is steeped in history and offers daily tours if you just want to visit, but if you want to get your photos in front of the blue walls you will need to book a room here, they are reasonably priced starting around US $120 per night.
The G Hotel Kelawai is a luxury hotel with one of the best rooftop bars and swimming pools in the city! A stay here will start at around $80 and you will be able to say you stayed in the same place as Jimmy Choo! The hotel is also a perfect place for solo female travellers, as it is in a busy district, close to the shops, secure and safe and they have some great female traveller packages including spa treatments.
Langkawi is an archipelago made up of 99 islands situated on Malaysia’s west coast. The main island is a popular tourist destination and attracts visitors who want to lie by the turquoise sea or dive the reefs. Whilst the ocean may be the main draw the interior is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields, lush tropical jungle and in some areas stunning lagoons where you can watch the sunset.
What To See
Langkawi is known for its beautiful beaches, so its quite likely you will be heading to this island to relax and enjoy some time in the sun. In between your cocktails take the time to go up to the Sky Bridge where you get spectacular views out over Langkawi, back to the mainland and even Thailand. If you don’t enjoy gondolas this may not be for you as the gondola ride can be nail biting! Langkawi is also well known as a great dive destination, whilst some reefs were damaged by the 2004 tsunami there are still many great dive spots to enjoy.
Where To Stay
My two favourite places on the island were Temple Tree by Bon Ton and The Andaman. These are two very different resorts, that cater to different types of the travellers. Temple Tree offers rooms in antique buildings of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian origin, making for a truly unique experience. Profits from the resort go to an on-site animal shelter that rescues and currently cares for over 160 dogs and an uncountable number of cats!
The Andaman is a luxurious resort set right in a beautiful bay that is the perfect couples, families or a girls getaway. One of the main attractions of The Andaman is the on-site coral conservation projects and daily educational nature walks where you can learn about the jungle and see monkeys and rare flying lemurs!
5. PERHENTIAN ISLANDS
I visited the Perhentian Islands over ten years ago and to this day they remain one of my favourite places in the world. There are two main islands Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, the former being the quieter more isolated island and the latter more popular with backpackers. We stayed on Besar which has fewer accommodations, no roads and therefore less tourists and more wildlife!
What To See
Nature is by far the main attraction on these islands. You will be astounded by how close you will get to the wildlife within walking distance from your room. We found colourful snakes on our terrace, fruit bats at breakfast, komodos and monitor lizards stalking the shores at dusk and black tip reef sharks, turtles and a variety of fish within meters from the shore. But these islands are also known for their beautiful beaches that easily rival those of Thailand and have far fewer tourists on them, in fact you will probably find yourself the only one on most of them. Grab a kayak and start paddling around the island in search of your own secluded bay!
Where To Stay
When I visited there were a handful of places to stay and we rented a beach hut at Coral View Resort. Now Coral View and the other resorts have become more developed and there are a more options to choose from. The most luxurious remaining the Perhentian Island Resort, which faces straight onto one of the most beautiful beaches we found on the island.
I hope this post has inspired you to visit Malaysia. Please share you own tips for the country with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > Coral Conservation At The Andaman Langkawi and 10 Tips For Budget Travel In South East Asia.