Drifter’s Guide to Malaysia
One of the main central hubs of South East Asia and yet quite the underrated touristic destination (which is definitely a plus in my opinion), Malaysia is one of the largest and most developed nations in the region. From cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur with its mega airport KLIA, home of the budget airline Air Asia connecting all corners of the continent, to the dense lush jungles of Borneo, the pristine beaches of the Perhentian Islands, and the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s an incredibly diverse place. A combination of eco-systems, placed in a manageable and easy to get around setting.
But the country’s greatest resourse is most definitely its human one. Malaysians are an extremely polite and friendly lot and they’re always ready to help in any way they can, add to that of course that most of them are able to communicate very well in English, so you should have smooth sailing around this interesting place. It’s a unique travel experience that is much different from all its neighbors.
The trail and what to explore
Get up close and personal with Kuala Lumpur – Take advantage of the extensive public transport system to get around and visit the entire city. Start your day by hunting down knock-offs and exploring Chinatown with its many street stalls and shops selling absolutely everything. At noon, make your way to Little India for some traditional Indian roti and curry. After that, head to the Golden triangle and visit the Traders Hotel in the afternoon for a nice view of the Petronas with the sunset in the background, and early on in the evening go up the twin towers for an outstanding view of the city and its lights. end the day at the lively bar street of Bukit Bintang for some dinner and drinks.
–Petronas Towers & the Golden Triangle Area
-Batu Caves (Free)
-Islamic Arts Museum
-China Town & Merdeka Square (free)
-National Mosque (Free)
-Sri Mahamariamman & Sze Ya Temples (Free)
-Old KL Train Station
Places to stay:
Travel back in time in Melaka – A colonial town a few hours south of Kuala Lumpur that was founded by a Hindu prince, and has a unique mix of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial influence and architecture. Now that’s something you don’t see every day, right? This is a colorful little area which can be easily explored in a day. Start your tour in Chinatown and make your way to Dutch Square.
-The Town Square
-Saint Paul’s Church (Bukit St Paul)
-Porta de Santiago: An old port and fortress built by Portuguese settlers
Chill out in artsy and historic Georgetown, Penang – This is one of my personal favorite highlights of Malaysia and definitely my favorite city there. This place is absolutely buzzing with culture and has an alternative art scene that is so far unmatched anywhere else in Asia. It also has some great British colonial architecture. The city is dotted with some fantastic street art, each with its own story to tell, which gives life to every corner. It’s also renowned for its excellent food culture and the amazing alternative cafés and restaurants scene. Start your day by exploring the art trail all around the city which will eventually take you through picturesque “Armenian Street”. Choose any one of the delicious eateries there, before having a coffee break and continuing your hunt. At night head to Love Lane for an evening out in one of the cool live music bars.
-Street Art Hunting
-Air Itam Temple
-Kuan Yin Teng (Temple of the goddess of Mercy)
Places to Eat
-The Salad Bowl
-The Awesome Canteen
Places to Stay
Cool off at the Cameron Highlands – Around 5 hours north of KL are the Cameron Highlands, which as the name suggests, are lands mostly owned by Scottish families. It’s the highest region in the mainland and the perfect escape from the coastal Malaysian heat. You’ll be surrounded by serene green hills, mossy forests, strawberry farms and tea plantations. Take a full day trip to visit some main farms and plantations, and plan another day for trekking in the forest. Evenings are quiet here, so it would be the perfect place to relax in the cool weather and catch up on some reading.
– Tea Plantations
-The mossy forest
-Strawberry and butterfly farms
-Sam Poh Temple
Places to stay:
Enjoy some sea & sun at Palau Langkawi – Located at the northern tip of the Malaysian mainland, this is the main island to visit if you’re looking to chill and get a nice tan, with several good beaches to choose from. It’s also a duty free island, probably due to its proximity to the Thai border, so could be the perfect stop for some shopping. Keep in mind that Public transport is non-existent so you better get yourself a scooter to start exploring the island. The main beach strip is called Pantai Chenang, which is where you’ll find most of the beach bars and restaurants. Don’t expect anything too crazy though, this is a very chilled island and the only place to have a crazy night out is at “The Sunba” bar. I would definitely recommend a visit to the less touristy northern beaches, as they’re quieter and much prettier than the central ones.
– Pasir Tengkorak & Tanjung rhu Beaches (northern beaches)
-The Sky Train for a panoramic view of the island
-Seven Wells Waterfall
The Perhentian Islands – Although not quite as touristic and crazy as the islands of Thailand, they are excellent diving and snorkeling sites, offering crystal clear waters and some amazing, colorful underwater life. You’ll get the chance to spot a wide variety of fish, coral, sea-turtles and even some types of shark.
Mount Kinabalu National Park – Located on the island of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu National Park is a very popular place for visitors who’d like to immerse themselves in nature and dense forests. This is where you’ll also find Mount Kota Kinabula, Malaysia’s tallest mountain and the fourth tallest in Southeast Asia. The perfect place to spend a few days doing some world class hiking.
Taman Negara National Park – This one’s for all the adventurous souls out there. This is one of the oldest rainforests in the world and the largest in Malaysia. There’s no shortage of activities here, from canopy walks, to cave diving and zip lining.
Tips and what to expect:
People: Malaysians are very polite, friendly and generally seem to be honest, so you shouldn’t have any issues dealing with them.
Bargaining: Bargaining is always an option here, especially in traditional outdoor markets such as Chinatown.
Cash: ATMs and money exchange outlets are available everywhere so you won’t have any issues finding local Malaysian Ringgits.
Transportation: Generally speaking and apart from remote locations and islands, Malaysia has a pretty good and affordable public transportation system.
Essentials: Make sure to pack a hat, possibly even an umbrella or water-proof poncho, a mosquito repellent and lots of sun screen…