An irresistible travel itinerary

Though often overlooked by the hordes of backpackers drawn to the rest of South East Asia looking to ‘find themselves’ at a Full Moon Party (guilty), Malaysia is perhaps one of the most beautiful and diverse countries to lose yourself in. If you’re into the wild party scene, Malaysia is not for you. But if you’ve been there and done that, and are looking for a deeper cultural experience, look no further.

Like most people you’ll probably be in a rush to see as much as possible in as little time, so here’s a travel route to help you make the most of this wonderful place. 

Kuala Lumpur 1-2 days

Start with the city lights and skyscrapers of the capital city, which boats a cosmopolitan hustle and bustle amongst colonial architecture and Banyan trees. Spend an afternoon getting your bearings; if you’re a socialite in search for that backpacker atmosphere, stay at Reggae Mansion, and fill up on cheap but delicious street food in the nearby Chinatown. Head to the infamous Petronas Towers as night falls to watch the lights gleam across the 88 floors, and kick off your trip in style with a cocktail in the various sky bars and restaurants in the surrounding districts. One full day here is enough to see the main attractions; check out the KL Tower for panoramic views of the city, and spend the afternoon at the Batu Caves. It’s a bit touristy, but the golden Hindu shrine is impressive, and there are monkeys everywhere (they will steal your stuff, keep your wits about you). 

Cameron Highlands 1-2 days

Swap the city glamour for the chilly countryside, and hop on a bus from KL’s main station to the Cameron Highlands. The air is cooler here, and reminiscent of a colonial England dotted with tea rooms serving scones and misplaced but quaint Georgian houses.

The journey took us 5-6 hours, but the buses are top quality with big reclining seats, and the passing scenery is pretty beautiful. Tickets are around 35 Malaysian Ringgit (approx. £6.30). The bus will drop you in the highland town of Tanah Rata, set amongst a backdrop of rolling mountains and tea plantations. The town is small but increasingly popular, so if you want to keep things cheap, book a hostel in advance. Spend a full day roaming through the greenery, drink a lot of tea, and visit the Mossy Forrest for some of the best panoramic views.

If you’re really scrimping, make this day-trip a free one by grabbing a map and wandering on your own accord. If you’re tired, in a rush, or really not into hiking, hire a taxi to take you to the main stops - the price is set to 40 MR an hour for a minimum of 3 hours (approx. £21), making the lazier option expensive!

“ A town laid above winding roads and sprawling hills, the air is cooler here, and reminiscent of a colonial England.  ”

Penang 2-3 days

Once you’ve soaked in the cool air and enjoyed enough tea, head to Penang island; where an urban centre gives way to old-world Asia brimming with trishaws and colourful Chinese shop houses. Hunt through the streets of Georgetown in search of the unique graffiti art hidden within colourful streets.

On a clear day, take a train up to Penang Hill for RM30 (approx. £5.50), or visit the Upside-down Museum on Kimberly street on a rainy day for RM16 (£2.90) with a valid student card. Stay at Roommates Penang for around £6 a night. 

Penang is Malaysia’s unofficial food capital, so make sure to spend your evening sampling delicious (and ridiculously cheap) street food on the infamous Love Lane. Choose the longest line filled with locals, and people watch on the roadside plastic tables and chairs, if you can get a seat at all!

Langkawi 3 days

Book a one-way ferry ticket from Penang to Langkawi for RM 60 (approx. £11). The journey will take around 3 hours; ferries only run twice daily, so make sure to book the day before. Stay at Langkawi Dormotorio for around £10 per night, located near the most popular stretch of beach, Pantai Cenang. If you’re visiting from September-November, hire a car for around £14 a day (taxis are set at RM 30 per journey so a car is the better option) and explore the array of waterfalls dotted around the denser jungle areas further inland.

If the day is a clear one, climb Gunung Raya, Langkawi’s highest mountain, for insane views of the island’s lush, sprawling rainforests. If you’re visiting between August-September, the weather will be hit and miss, so don’t expect to leave with a tan. 

A world away from the over-populated and touristy Thai islands, Langkawi offers a more relaxed vibe, where locals and tourists mingle at evening beach bars as the sun sets. 

 

Pelau Perhentian 5 days+

If you’re wondering what paradise looks like, the 12-hour overnight journey from Langkawi to Perhentian Kecil is worth the sleeplessness. At RM190 (approx. £35), the price will make you balk a little, but I promise the splurge is worth every penny. This is one of two tiny islands surrounded by electric blue waters of the South China Sea. No transport is available, save for fisherman’s boats, which will take you to the untamed coves and deserted beaches for a few ringgits. Time stands still in this secluded corner of the world; it would be easy to watch weeks go by without any inclination to leave again.  

“ Enjoy sky roof showers and private white sand coves frequented by sea turtles and glowing plankton.  ”

Head to Mira beach or Romantic beach if you crave picturesque seclusion, or walk through the rainforest to Long Beach for an evening of fire shows and cocktails in the sand. Accommodation is sparse here, especially during July and August, and therefore a little pricey; book in advance if you’re not willing to rough it. 

For the most authentic island experience, do away with electricity and civilisation and stay at Rainforest Camping. At £5 a night for a 2-person tent, it’s also your cheapest option. Offering sky roof showers overlooking the ocean, communal dinners and a private white sand cove frequented by sea turtles and glowing plankton, it doesn’t get more desert island than this. Diving and snorkelling is cheap on the island, and you’ll almost certainly see a turtle or two.

Borneo 6 days

No traveller should visit Malaysia without indulging in the jungles of Borneo; cheap, untamed and wild around the edges, there is so much adventure. Get a boat from the Perhentian islands to Kota Bharu, and take a taxi to the airport for around £7. A one-way flight to Kuching, Borneo’s most sophisticated city in the state of Sarawak, will set you back around £30. Stay at Borneo Seahare Guesthouse for dorm-rooms priced at £3.60 night; this is by far the most sociable place we stayed, and all tours and day trips can be easily booked or organised from reception.

“  A trip to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre for the awe-inspiring chance to see Orangutans in their natural habitat, is an absolute must.  ”

Bako National Park should be top of your to-do-list; stay overnight (book this in advance), and spend a day hiking across the knotted tree roots and dense undergrowth through to the rugged island coastline and untouched natural beaches. If you’re not too hiked-out, take a local bus to Kubah National park and trek through the vines to natural waterfalls. Spend the evening recovering at the quirky Carpenter Street for a laid back beer, or four. 

Borneo is one of only two places in the world where Orangutans still roam in the wild. A trip to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre for the awe-inspiring chance to see them in their natural habitat, is an absolute must. The Orangutans seen here are semi-wild, and are fed twice daily between 9-10am and 3-3:30pm. While sightings are not guaranteed, 27 Orangutans are free to roam within a 740-hectare forest reserve. Take the chance and you’ll likely be rewarded!

Singapore – 3 days

Finally, since you’re already in the area, jump on a plane (Air Asia one way flights can be as cheap as £30 if you keep a look out) and enjoy the skyscrapers of Singapore. Dress up for an early evening cocktail at the swanky Marina Bay Sands Hotel, before heading to the Gardens by the Bay for the most magical (and free) light show you’ll probably ever witness. If you’re not completely broke at this point, an original Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at the fancy Raffles hotel, is a rite of passage. Sip it slowly (because nothing is cheap in Singapore) and discard your broken peanut shells on the floor (yes, really), for its the only place in the city where ‘littering’ is permitted. 

Blow the remainder of your cash in the array of stunning Asian boutiques and wander around the pristine Botanical gardens. Stay in and around Kampong Glam, an ethnically diverse and vibrant area reminiscent of London’s Camden Town, boasting a thriving cultural scene with quirky coffee parlours, tattoo parlours vintage shops. 

If you revel in destinations placed off the tourist track, you’ll find the diversity of Malaysia almost impossible to resist and impossible to forget. UK residents receive a free 90-day visa on arrival (and 30 days for Sarawak), so no need to plan anything in advance. Malaysia is possibly the easiest and most chilled place to travel; it’s safe and its transport systems are seamless, clean and well-priced. So many visitors to South East Asia dismiss Malaysia; if you’re asking me, it’s the biggest travel mistake you’ll ever make. 

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Emily Jones Emily Jones, 11 months ago