Whether you're in Malaysia for 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks or more, this itinerary and route will have you covered. The more time you can spend in each area, the better, as there's so much cuisine to experience, so much art, culture, nature and activities. Malaysia really does have it all.
So I'm going to list all the things to do, recommendations, and routes for each area and you can decide what works for you - but first, let's start with the longest route, don't worry, we'll get to shorter alternatives 😎
- Kuala Lumpur to Malacca (and back)
- Kuala Lumpur to Taman Negara National Park
- Taman Negara to Cameron Highlands
- Cameron Highlands to Penang
- Penang to Langkawi (and back)
- Penang to The Perhentian Islands
If you're strapped for time, keep it simple and go to Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands, and Penang - less comprehensive, but still very much ticking off Malaysia from your bucket list - In fact, here's a full breakdown.
A few things here. Following the itinerary and whether it's right for you depends on what you're looking for out of your trip.
If you're a big nature and outdoors person for example, maybe you'll opt to spend more time in the Cameron Highlands, National Parks, and Beaches. So even if its a 1-2 week trip you'd opt to ignore most of KL or Penang, and that's completely doable. The itinerary above is to make sure you experience Malaysia to the fullest, and check as many boxes as possible.
We'll go over things to do in each place, and how to get to the next place, in the next section.
The capital of Malaysia with a host of things to do, see and eat. Kuala Lumpur really gives us an idea of what Malaysia is trying to become. As soon as you land in KL Airport, you're greeted with the behemoth structure where beautiful architecture that seamlessly blends in with nature - all by design. Not bad for an airport.
Things to do in Kuala Lumpur?
- Visit the Batu Caves - Amazing rainbow staircase overlooked by the worlds tallest statue of Murugan, a Hindu diety. Climb to the top and explore the caves embedded in the limestone.
- KLCC Park & Petronas Twin Towers - Lovely green park with fountains and plenty of areas to relax while in full view of the towers.
- Jalan Alor Night Food Court - Bustling food market in the middle of Bukit Bintang serving all types of Chinese, Malaysian and international cuisine for very good prices.
- Enjoy a cocktail at sunset at Heli Lounge Bar - A bar atop a helipad that has a 360 degree view of the city, absolutely stunning during the sunset. The cost to go up is one drink, well worth it.
- Fill up on delicious middle eastern food & shisha at The Roof Cafe
- Relaxing afternoon at Perdana Botanical Gardens - Huge relaxing park, perfect for running, exploring, picnics, and more. Encompasses Malaysia National Museum and The National Mosque. Two places also worth checking out.
- A day trip to Malacca - Details on Malacca and whether you should go in the next section.
Malacca is a coastal town in Malaysia and has a fair few things to do. It's known for it's Chinese architecture and night markets, it may be worth a day trip if you have the time - especially if you're into European architecture.
How to get to Malacca?
From Kuala Lumpur ➡️ Malacca - It takes 2-2.5 hours and costs $3.5-$7 one way, cheaper return.
Things to do in Malacca?
- Visit The Stadthyus - Formerly a dutch town, this place has regular history exhibits, and a museum around every corner. It also has other attractions nearby like The Dutch Square and a lot of churches/mosques.
- Have a bite to eat at Jonker Street Night Market - This place is open over the weekend and has a wide variety of food and souvenirs.
Just doing the first point will make sure you hit everything you need to as it's in the same area as most of the other historical buildings and activities available.
If you're strapped for time, Malacca, although very nice, can definitely be cut out of your itinerary.
Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara National Park is a wonder of wildlife and vegetation. Hiking through these rain forests will give any adventurer that dreams to explore Southeast Asian jungles, exactly what they're looking for.
How to get to Taman Negara National Park?
From Kuala Lumpur ➡️ Taman Negara National Park - It takes 9 hours by bus and ferry. This park isn't usually on a casual travelers list as it's hard to reach and although beautiful, there are easier options elsewhere - if you want to skip this and just do the Cameron Highlands instead, that's an option most Travelers will go for - but if you're not most, this might be up your alley. You can find tickets here and here, for about $20 USD.
Things to do in Taman Negara National Park?
But let's assume you decided to go. You're in for a treat.
- Vast tropical rain forests
- Mountains to climb
- Tigers, orangutans, birds, a range of insects and flowers
- Ropes and bridges connecting certain parts
- Traveling by river and through trekking
It's a proper jungle experience that's similar to ones you could experience in other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam or Sri Lanka. You could potentially get away with runners, but I suggest getting some good waterproof hiking boots.
Here's an Amazon link to some great, comfortable and durable hiking boots, the link is for men's but of course, they've got women's as well: https://amzn.to/2sUGayS
The Cameron Highlands offer a range of things to do and see from visiting tea plantations, to hiking, to exploring the local agriculture. It's very much going to be an outdoors leg of the trip with all the options available. So if you decided to skip the National Park, this would be a great alternative during your Malaysia trip.
How to get to the Cameron Highlands?
From Kuala Lumpur ➡️ Cameron Highlands - It takes 3-5 hours depending on which company you go with, and costs around $9-$10 one way.
Things to do in the Cameron Highlands?
- Especially if you skipped Taman Negara, go for some jungle/rain-forest trekking for some great views. Note that this google maps direction is wrong, but if you take the road leading to Arcadia Bungalow instead, you should be able to get to the Jungle Trek (3rd trail).
- Check out the Big Red Strawberry Farm - Enjoy some drinks at the cafe and explore the strawberry patch.
- Explore the Golden Hills Weekend Night Market - plenty of food, and local produce like strawberries and tea. Will definitely get crowded over the weekend.
- Go to BOH Tea Centre - Endless rows of tea in this plantation, try the tea, try the cakes and make sure to come in early to avoid the crowds.
- Check out a wide array of Cacti at Cactus Point - Lots of other plants and an eatery nearby as well.
Penang | George Town
This is my favorite place in Malaysia. The food culture, the relaxed atmosphere, the art and community aspect - you could very much spend your entire time in Malaysia right in the heart of George Town and use it as a base to explore the whole island. Here's an article dedicated to Penang and it's hidden gems.
How to get to Penang?
From Cameron Highlands ➡️ Penang - It takes 4.5 hours and costs around $9-$10, you'll arrive in Butterworth and from there you can take a ferry from Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Pier over to George Town (Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda Pier) for next to nothing.
From Kuala Lumpur ➡️ Penang - It takes 4.5 hours to 7 hours and costs $9-$13, you'll arrive at Terminal Bus Sungai Nibong and from there you can either take the 102 Bus to George Town which would cost a dollar and take 30 minutes, or you can take a 10 minute cab for $8-$9.
Things to do in Penang?
- Find all the famous street art by exploring the back streets in George Town. Kids on bicycle, brother and sister on a swing, boy on chair, and more.
- Explore ChinaHouse and try the many home-made cakes and sweets while browsing the art work displayed all around.
- Chulia Street Night Hawker Stalls - Absolutely phenomenal range of street food, both Malaysian and more than a few stalls serving burgers, falafel wraps, and more. There's nothing you can eat on this street that will not be delicious.
- Go to one of many outdoor food courts setup for dinner, with stall upon stall of everything you could imagine - Red Garden, The Jetty, Medan Selera Padang Brown, New World Park.
- Go for a 15-20 minute hike up Penang Hill where you'll get a fantastic view of the island.
- Find the hidden bar's all scattered across Penang - you can start by going to ROOM 495 and Hidden Bar.
Langkawi is quite a popular island in Malaysia. It's got some nice beaches, great view points, and hiking. However, it's not the be all end all when it comes to islands. So if you're going to head to some Thai Islands after your Malaysia trip, you could potentially skip it - that being said, there's plenty to experience if you go.
So keep that in mind and have a good idea of what you want to do before going. It's a developed island and definitely has activities worth your while, see if anything appeals in the "Things to do" section.
How to get to Langkawi?
From Penang/George Town ➡️ Langkawi - You can take a ferry directly from Penang ferry terminal (George Town) to Kuah Jetty (Langkawi) which will cost $21 and take around 3 hours.
Things to do on Langkawi?
- Explore the island by scooter by hiring one from the many lessors on the streets.
- Walk across the the famous Sky Bridge for some amazing views, and vertigo educing experiences.
- Check out the crocodile farm, yes you read that correctly.
- Go adventuring through Hua Kelawar, a limestone cave filled with sleeping bats, and monkey's that will try to steal things from you - be careful on this one.
- Go experience the Langkawi Wildlife Park, especially if you like feeding and petting animals, it's quite interactive.
- Explore different beaches like Pantai Kok, Pasir Tengkorak and Tanjung Rhu.
The Perhentian Islands
The islands are known for their beautiful light blue water and white sand shores. The cover picture of this article at the very beginning is actually a beach on one of the islands. The two islands you're concerned with are Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil. You'll land on Besar first and that's where the adventure will begin.
Most people come to the Perhentian's for either drinking cocktails on the beach, or more likely so, doing a diving course. And there's plenty of diving schools to pick from - we'll talk more about this in a minute.
How to get to the Perhentian Islands?
From Penang/George Town ➡️ The Perhentian Islands - You'll need to take 2 ferries and a bus over 9-10 hours to reach the destination which will cost around $20-$25. Full journey here. A hot tip for this one would be to do it over night, this way you can save on accommodation as well.
Hot Tip: If you're going to take the night bus, there's 3 essential items you should have to make sure you sleep well. Items and links to Amazon below.
- Travel neck pillow - https://amzn.to/2RveMRT
- High quality earplugs - https://amzn.to/2E0SeAz
- Sleeping mask/blindfold - https://amzn.to/2thCbMt
Things to do on the Perhentian Islands?
- Do a diving course, or go snorkeling at the many hot spots around the island.
- Checkout Coral Bay, a great beach with a great view.
- Go snorkeling with fishes and small sharks around Shark Point and Fish Point - it's deep water so make sure you're comfortable with floating before doing this- Go to Teluk Keke for more shallow but beautiful scenic snorkeling.
- And just relax. These islands are meant for doing a combination of diving, snorkeling and nothing. A whole lot of relaxing. You'll find many beaches around the island with many bars ready to make you a cocktail 🍸😎
There you have it, some of the best routes to take you around Malaysia. If you're planning on some more SE Asia travel, here's an Ultimate Guide on traveling on a budget/for free, also be sure to download these apps before doing any SE Asia travel.