Often overshadowed by its more popular neighbors, Malaysia is one of the most surprising travel destinations in Southeast Asia. While many travelers flock to other countries in the region, the allure of the Malay Peninsula remains undiscovered by many visitors. Yet, skipping Malaysia might be the ultimate travel oversight.
Boasting a rich tapestry of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures, Malaysia offers an unparalleled fusion of food, architecture, and traditions. This cultural diversity, combined with breathtaking landscapes, beautiful beaches, and vibrant cities & towns, makes Malaysia a must-visit for anyone passing through Asia.
Start by exploring the modern wonders of Kuala Lumpur. Dig into big Malaysian city life as you eat delicious street food in the shadows of skyscrapers. Dive further into Malaysia’s food scene in Georgetown, the urban center of the island of Penang. In the UNESCO-listed colonial center of Georgetown, you’ll discover some of the country’s finest food, from laksa to char kway teow.
Once you’ve dabbled into its soul food, it’s time to uncover Malaysia’s stunning landscapes. Head into the lush Cameron Highlands for emerald tea plantations and cool retreats. Or get bronzed under the tropical sun amid the azure waters and pristine sands on the beaches of Langkawi or Tioman Island.
Ready to explore this fascinating Southeast Asia country? Discover where to go, what to see & do, and when to visit with this quick & easy Malaysia travel guide!
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Where to go in Malaysia
Most travelers start their Malaysia trip in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s enticing capital city. While not as famous as other urban destinations in Southeast Asia, KL offers a variety of fun travel experiences that make it an ideal stop on your itinerary—whether you only have 10 days in Malaysia or a month.
Food lovers will cherish the chance to eat their way through Kuala Lumpur. With street food stalls, restaurants, eateries, and markets strewn through the entire city, KL is one of the world’s truly most underrated foodie destinations. Let your taste buds explore familiar Chinese delights, fiery Indian curries, and savory & spicy Malay goodies.
Besides exploring Kuala Lumpur’s food scene, there’s plenty for history buffs and culture lovers, too. Start your morning with a view of the city at the world-famous Petronas Towers. Keep your eyes peeled for British colonial architecture around Merdeka Square, the heart of the modern city. Browse the markets of Jalan Petaling, the main street in KL’s Chinatown, and explore the city’s rich Indian heritage in Brickfields (Little India). Round out the cultural journey with a stop in Kampung Baru, an overgrown Malay village in the heart of the city.
At the end of the day, relax at one of the many rooftop bars scattered around Kuala Lumpur. Sip cocktails as the sounds of the city droning below.
Not sure where to start? Check out these Kuala Lumpur travel planning resources:
- One Day in Kuala Lumpur: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur
- Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Even if KL provides a great quick introduction to Malaysia, the country truly starts to shine in Penang. There’s a little of everything in this northeastern state, from the old-world colonial charms of its capital, George Town, to the tranquil greenery of Penang National Park.
If your taste buds screamed for more in Kuala Lumpur, you’re in for an even bigger surprise in Penang. George Town tops out most lists of the top food destinations in Malaysia. You can expect everything your stomach desires here, whether it’s a tangy laksa in a Malay hawker center or char kway teow in George Town’s Chinatown.
To get the most out of your island adventure, spend some time exploring Penang’s nature destinations. Traipse the hiking trails of Penang National Park through its lush canopy to discover pristine beaches. Earn beautiful views over the island with a strenous morning hike up Penang Hill. (Or just take the famous tram to the top to save the quad-burning exercise.)
Not sure where to start? Check out these Penang travel planning resources:
- Three Days in Penang: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Penang
- 5 Reasons Why You Absolutely Need to Visit Penang Now
- Where to Stay in Penang: The Best Hotels & Areas
If you’re coming to Malaysia by land from Singapore, there’s a good chance that your first stop will be Melaka. A long history precedes what you’ll find in this charming riverside city. Three major European colonial powers—the Portuguese, Dutch, and British—all called Melaka home over the past several centuries.
Where Melaka truly shines is in its architecture. The UNESCO-listed historical center is a bastion of colonial architecture. Explore the Portuguese legacy with a visit to the ruins of the Church of Saint Paul and the A Famosa fortress. See how the Dutch transformed the cityscape at the Stadthuys, the former brick-red Dutch city hall and the neighboring (now Anglican) Christ Church Melaka.
Melaka also hosts one of the nation’s top night markets: Jonker Walk Night Market. Let your tastebuds traverse its goodies, from Chinese street food favorites to local Nyonya dishes that are distinctly Melakan.
Not sure where to start? Check out these Melaka travel planning resources:
What to eat in Malaysia
In fact, the food scene in Malaysia is among the most diverse in the region, fusing Southeast Asia styles with Chinese and Indian influences. The flavors are exotic and the smells are fragrant. There’s
Not sure what to eat in Malaysia? Here are a few ideas:
- Laksa: A delicious Malay soup split up over a number of varieties from spicy to sour. Laksa usually includes ingredients like fish and prawn.
- Hokkien mee: A famous dish consisting of thick noodles brushed with a dark-soy-based sauce and mixed with ingredients like pork belly, fish cakes, and squid.
- Nasi lemak: Quite possibly the country’s most ubiquitous food, this side dish consists of rice “marinated” in coconut cream for a sweet aroma and taste. Nasi lemak is often served in a banana leaf and paired with sambal (spicy sauce), dried anchovies, and roasted peanuts, along with meats like beef rendang, chicken, or squid.
- Satay: A simple Malaysian street food delight of meat skewers (chicken, beef, or pork) cooked up to perfection and served with various dipping sauces, most famously, savory peanut sauce.
- Char kway teow: This popular Chinese-influenced dish features flat rice noodles fried up with dark and light soy sauce, chilis, and pork lard. The noodles are tossed with ingredients like bean sprouts, green onions, prawns & eggs.
When to visit
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for the best time to go to Malaysia. With its wide-ranging climate, weather in Malaysia can be complicated for unsuspecting travelers.
Although Malaysia is packed onto a relatively small peninsula (and Borneo, one of the world’s most famously-wild islands), the country experiences a mixed bag of weather. While one coast might be experiencing its driest days of the year, the other might be getting pounded with its wettest.
Peninsular destinations like KL, Melaka, and Cameron Highlands are at their driest between June and August. And, of course, with the dry weather, they’re also in their high tourism season at this time of year.
Along the east coast, April and May reign supreme. On the other hand, west coast destinations like Penang and Langkawi see their best weather days between January and February.
Whenever you choose to visit Malaysia, expect hot & humid temperatures.
Malaysia’s main international gateway is Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), with Kota Kinabalu (BKI) and Penang (PEN) as a distant second and third. Several major airlines call KUL home, including Air Asia, Air Asia X, and Malaysia Airlines.
The most popular overland route into Malaysia is by bus from Singapore. Buses between Singapore and KL leave several times a day. The journey time is approximately 5 to 6 hours, depending on traffic and delays at the border.
Slightly quicker is the bus between Singapore and Melaka, taking about 4 hours.
With over 1,800 kilometers of track in Peninsular Malaysia, there are a number of train services to whisk you between destinations. One of the most convenient train routes for travelers is KL to Ipoh, taking just 2 hours.
In most cases, buses will be quicker and more convenient than trains for traveling in Malaysia. Paying a little extra for “luxury” buses is often worth it. They’re generally quite a bit more comfortable than regular long-distance buses with better safety records. Some important bus routes in Malaysia for travelers include Melaka to KL (2 hours) and KL to Penang (5 hours).