It’s not often you’ll see Malaysia popping up in conversation with Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam hogging all the attention. But when drafting up a Southeast Asia itinerary, don’t make the mistake of leaving Malaysia out of the running.
Malaysia’s worthy of a visit in its own right, equally as capable of putting a smile onto your face as any other destination in Southeast Asia.
Not sure how to begin planning your first trip to Malaysia? Here are some ideas of what to do in Malaysia with this 10-day Malaysia itinerary for independent travellers.
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Figuring out what to do in Malaysia? Get started with this 10-day Malaysia itinerary.
There’s no place in Southeast Asia quite like Malaysia. And while it may lack a world wonder like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or dispense with the party-seeking thrills of Thailand, Malaysia’s pleasures are no less compelling or worthy of your time.
Whether you’re ready to be seduced by the colonial charms of George Town or the pristine beaches of the Perhentians—and just about everything in between!—I guarantee that you’ll soon connect with Malaysia at at a deep level.
Of course, in a country this wide and this diverse, you’ll never see it all in just one trip. As a beginner with only 10 days in Malaysia, your best bet is to focus on Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia).
And with good reason.
Unlike Malaysia’s wilder east (Sabah and Sarawak on untamed Borneo), travelling between destinations in West Malaysia is neither an exercise in extreme patience or will. Mainland Malaysia is fairly mainstream as far as Southeast Asian travel destinations go, eliminating many of the hassles you’d encounter in these more offbeat corners of the country.
Accommodations in Peninsular Malaysia are, for the most part, cheap and modern, public transportation is comfortable and efficient, and distances between major travel destinations are manageable. All in all, these simplicities make for a smooth ride—even if you’ve never set foot in Southeast Asia before!
Whether you’re a cosmopolitan wanderer or backwoods adventurer, Peninsular Malaysia will give you something to get excited about.
In this 10-day Malaysia itinerary, I’ve focused mainly on urban destinations. For most of you, it’ll be a good starting point in planning your trip to Malaysia.
Within each of these cities, you’ll find all the evidence you need to make this fascinating country your next favourite Southeast Asian destination, and have a chance to explore even more of it through day trips should you extend your stays a little further.
Not sure I’m covering your preferred travel style or have more time to spare? Below this 10 days in Malaysia itinerary, I’ve left you with a couple ideas to customize the trip to your liking. If you’re looking to swap a little city-slickin’ time for lazing on the beach, now’s you’re chance to do.
Without further ado, let’s get started—and enjoy Malaysia!
TIP: Malaysia’s weather can be a bit of mixed bag. Avoid getting caught unprepared and plan your trip using our guide to the best time to visit Malaysia!
Before you slap down your credit card and book that flight to KL, here’s a little curve ball: When planning your first trip to Malaysia, start it off in the riverside city of Melaka rather than Kuala Lumpur.
I’ll admit that it’s a bit of an unorthodox view considering how popular KL’s become as a gateway for travellers. But trust me: My recommendation is not without good reason. (And don’t fret! There’ll be plenty of time to explore the capital soon enough.)
While wandering around the ever-fascinating Melaka, you’ll likely question whether you’re in Southeast Asia. With a background of strong European colonial influences, Melaka is not exactly a run-of-the-mill Asian travel destination.
And that’s all part of the city’s charm.
Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists all once called Melaka home, and what you’ll find in the old colonial city doesn’t betray that history. (Let’s not forget the Malay influences, too!)
No, this old riverside town is no longer an undiscovered tourist destination. As little as you’ve likely heard about Melaka, don’t expect that you’ll be travelling alone here. It’s a favourite on the Malaysian backpacker trail, and an ever-increasing hordes of tourists pounding the pavement prove it.
Either way, what you’ll find hiding among the streets of Melaka is bound to leave an impression, and a tremendously good one at that.
What to Do in Melaka
From the delights of Chinatown to its rich tapestry of European and Eastern influences, Melaka presents one of Southeast Asia’s most unique destinations, and one that will never cease to keep you busy.
Melaka isn’t a place where you’ll need to dig too deep to find what you’re looking for. The city wears many of its charms on its sleeve. Simply walking along the beautiful riverside or exploring the backstreets will keep you intrigued in this fascinating multicultural town.
And what kind of guide would I be without mentioning food?
Besides its outwardly handsome appearance, Melaka is one of the best cities in Malaysia to eat. And in a country that takes its food this seriously, that’s says a ton.
A sprinkling of Portuguese and Peranakan (Straits Chinese) influence has left Melaka with a culinary palette all to its own. While you’re pouncing around the city, spellbound by its architectural mojo, there’s no doubt that your tastebuds will fall equally in line with your other senses as you ply through food stalls and restaurants serving some of the best street food in Malaysia.
Need to fill up a couple days in Melaka? Here are few suggestions of things to do in Melaka:
Dabble in Melaka’s colonial history
While wandering through Melaka’s historic centre, you’ll immediately notice the colonial influences. With three major European powers all grasping control of this strategic city during its long history, there’s a hodgepodge of architectural styles that give Melaka an air unseen anywhere else in the world.
Start by exploring Melaka’s two most famous Portuguese colonial sites, A’Famosa Fort and St. Paul’s Church, overlooking the city from atop Bukit St. Paul (St. Paul Hill). Other than a sole gate (Porta de Santiago) and the evocative church ruins, little remains from the 16th-century former Portuguese stronghold.
Even more evocative are the city’s Dutch colonial possessions. The Stadthuys and the nearby Christ Church take centre stage in Melaka among the colonial buildings with their distinctive terracotta façades.
Roll down the river with a Melaka River Cruise
Sparing 45 minutes to drift along the Melaka River is one of the best ways to get acquainted with the city. On your jaunt you’ll float by many of Melaka’s historical sites and traditional Malay villages such as Kampung Morten.
For a more romantic experience with your significant other, try a Melaka Night River Cruise.
Snag a ride on a trishaw
The colourful trishaws in Melaka are something of traveller legend. This three-wheeled mode of transport is popular all around Southeast Asia, not just Melaka, and is one of the quickest and most scenic ways to get around the city.
If you’ve never ridden a trishaw before, Melaka could be the first place for you to do it. And don’t be too intimidated: It’s not quite as scary of a proposition as it first seems!
Experience the bustle of Melaka Chinatown
I’ve never quite understood why Chinatowns around the world are always so happenin’. Melaka’s is no exception. Chinatown’s most famous street, Jonker Street, is where some of Melaka’s coolest cultural attractions hang about.
Since Melaka is a veritable heaven for foodies, stop by Jonker Walk Night Market on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday for some delicious eats. Don’t even think of leaving without trying the chicken rice balls, the unofficial state dish of Melaka, or one of the delicious street-side ice cream pastries.
Where to Stay in Melaka
With the compact size of the city, it’s hardly a challenge to choose where to stay in Melaka. As long as you stay somewhat near the centre, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stick close to the action and explore the historic city on foot.
And, fortunately for us, snagging good hotel deals in Melaka also isn’t too difficult! Here are a couple of the best hotels in Melaka:
- Hatten Hotel Melaka: A clean and comfortable 4-star hotel close to all the action. The 12th-floor rooftop pool area is simply stunning!
- 1511 Guesthouse Melaka: On a tight budget? The clean budget-friendly rooms at this will suit you fine. It’s only a couple blocks from the river and a quick walk from many of Melaka’s most popular tourist attractions.
- Casa del Rio Melaka: The top 5-star luxury hotel in the city. Rooms include private balconies that overlook the river. End your day off cooling down in the luxurious riverside infinity pool!
Getting to Melaka
By air: If you’re starting from Europe or North America, your best bet for starting your Malaysia itinerary in Melaka is to fly into Singapore and continue by bus. Airfares to Singapore will be vastly cheaper than those to Malacca International Airport (Batu Berendam Airport). Several airlines fly into Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) from international departure points including Singapore Airlines.
I’d recommend checking out the insanely cheap airfares on Justfly.com. Not only will you find some awesome flight deals there, they are currently offering $20 off of select flights including international departures to Asia!
By bus: From Singapore to Melaka, you’re on banking on a 2.5- to 3-hour bus ride. And then, of course, there’s the adding bonus of spending a couple days in Singapore!
A good option, if you choose this route, is Golden Coach Express. They run up to three buses per day between Singapore and Melaka, a journey lasting just over 3 hours.
Sticking strictly to this 10-day Malaysia itinerary, you could save time by flying into Malacca International Airport (Batu Berendam Airport). It’ll certainly cost you more than the flight/bus route from Singapore, but will save you a day if you’re tight for time.
On the surface, Kuala Lumpur is much like any other big modern Asian city: loud, sprawling, and skyscraping. But the unique melange of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures give KL an attitude all on its own.
There’s really no place quite like Kuala Lumpur. Walking the streets among Victorian buildings, colourful temples, restaurants tempting you with roti canai or laksa, and gravity-defying glass towers, it won’t take you long to realize there’s something magnetic about Malaysia’s capital and biggest city.
What to Do in Kuala Lumpur
Not everyone instantly falls in love while travelling in Malaysia’s capital. It’s at times brash, loud, and a little overwhelming. But we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Unlike a beautiful big Asian city like Kyoto, you won’t find the charms jumping out at you during your first 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur; many of the city’s most compelling moments unfold once you get over the initial shock of wandering around such an outwardly chaotic place.
Slip into a traditional market in Little India or dig your spoon into a laksa and soon you’ll see why so many travellers clamber for more time in KL rather than escape at that first opportunity.
Like any worthy urban Asian tourist destination, there’s a ton of things to do in Kuala Lumpur. And with even only 2-3 days at hand you can seize many of the KL basics. Start off with a couple of these ideas:
Soar high above KL at the Petronas Towers
Home to the massive state-owned petroleum company, Petronas, this oversized pair of buildings might be the most famous architectural twins in the world. For six years, until Taipei 101 swiped the crown, the Petronas Towers were the two biggest towers in the world. And if even if the title’s been long conceded, these architectural marvels are an absolute must-see while in Kuala Lumpur!
The best way to experience the Petronas Tower isn’t just gawking at them from below. Embrace your vertigo by trekking between the buildings on the 170-metre high Skybridge to catch a glimpse of KL from above.
Be sure to get there early in the morning (before 8:30am) to snag one of the limited free tickets! (The towers are closed on Mondays.)
Wander through Kuala Lumpur’s colonial past
While the colonial legacy in KL isn’t as impressive as in Melaka or Georgetown, a walk through colonial KL is a great way to better understand the country’s British past. The colonial district isn’t large, occupying but a small swath of land wedged between the city’s two rivers, the Gombak and Klang.
At its centre is Merdeka Square, one of the most important places to visit in Malaysia. Although the British yoke was strung around this district, it was here that Malaysia’s first president, Tunku Abdul Rahman, shook off British rule to usher in the country’s independence.
Of all the buildings in colonial KL, none is more impressive than the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Once home to the British colonial administration, this stunning building features a bricked façade fringed by colonnades and arched windows & doors that spell out its unique Moorish influences.
Experience a little slice of Bollywood in Little India
From colonial KL, it’s a short jaunt to Little India, also known as Brickfields. Little India is perhaps the most colourful corner of Kuala Lumpur and truly worthy of the name.
The streets here ring with the sound of Indian music and the air is awash with the lingering aroma of curries and masalas. It’s a like a little slice of Chennai in the more easily-digestible city of KL!
Weaving in and out of the shops along Jalan Tun Sambanthan and allowing the chaotic atmosphere of and around Jalan Masjid India to engulf you is the best way to experience KL’s Little India. There’s even a handful of religious buildings to check out here, none more arousing than Sri Kandaswamy Temple, beautifully constructed in typical South Indian Tamil architectural style.
And, of course, no visit to Little India is complete without tasting the food. From banana leaf curries to tandoori chicken with naan, the fiery and savoury cuisines of South India and Sri Lanaka come to life on the streets of Little India. Follow your nose to one of the area’s many restaurants for a KL eating experience you won’t forget.
Explore the shops and temples of Chinatown
As you’d probably expect, Chinatown is one of the best places to wander around and taste culinary gold in Kuala Lumpur. Compared to other Chinatowns around the world, KL’s isn’t big, stretching across only a handful of streets and alleyways southeast across the Klang River from Merdeka Square.
By day, Chinatown is the perfect place to admire temples and dodge in and out of colourful shops selling everything from knock-off fashions to cheap souvenirs. By night, though, Chinatown transforms into a completely different place.
Be sure to make time in the evening to pop into Jalan Petaling, the main street in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, to soak in a full-on Malaysian night market experience. Eating delicious food is, after all, one of the biggest reasons to visit Malaysia! Search out KL Chinatown favourites like Hokkien mee, Hainese chicken rice, roasted duck, and even Malay laksa to tickle your tastebuds on Jalan Petaling.
Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Thankfully, Kuala Lumpur isn’t Tokyo, Singapore or Hong Kong! Choosing among the best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur is a blessing for anyone used to the sky-high prices elsewhere on the continent.
For the high quality of accommodations, Kuala Lumpur hotels are surprisingly light on the wallet. Here are a few ideas to start your search:
- Paper Plane Hostel: Decked out with a unique artistic vibe, this lovely hostel one of the best budget choices in KL. All rooms features a private terrace.
- Verdant Hill Hotel Kuala Lumpur: A super-central 4-star hotel located in Bukit Bintang. Features large comfortable rooms and a beautiful infinity pool with views onto the city for a price that will only set you back as much as a run-of-the-mill Interstate-side Holiday Inn would in the US!
- Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral: An ultra-stylish hypermodern hotel conveniently located next to the KL Sentral train station. If the funkily decorated rooms doesn’t sell you on this hotel, the glorious infinity pool will!
- Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur: A grand & luxurious 5-star hotel near KLCC. Rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows with epic views of the city including the iconic Petronas Towers.
Getting to Kuala Lumpur
By bus: From Melaka to Kuala Lumpur, budget about a 2.5 to 3 hours by bus. Most buses leaving from Melaka Sentral end up at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) rather than KL Sentral. Arriving at TBS, you’ll need to grab a ride on the MRT to get to central KL.
If you absolutely need to arrive in central Kuala Lumpur, Nice Executive Coaches operates a direct route one to two times a day between central stations. Expect to pay about 2 to 3 times more for the extra comfort and convenience. At prices starting from about RM36 (about $9), it’s still a steal!
Time to steal some peace and quiet. After paying your first-timer Malaysian travel dues in KL, beeline for the relaxing Cameron Highlands. Set among tea plantations and rolling greenery, Cameron Highlands is a hiker’s dream. It’s the perfect escape from the big Malaysian city bustle you’ll have experienced so far.
In Cameron Highlands you’ll finally find some respite from the heat and humidity of the lowlands. If you’d like to spend your days tramping among the hills, the cooler temperatures will be a blessing!
What to Do in Cameron Highlands
The relaxed pace here means there are fewer things to do in Cameron Highlands than elsewhere in Malaysia. Still, you’ll manage to fill up a couple solid days easily. Try to fit in the following:
Visit a tea plantation
Coming to Cameron Highlands without visiting a tea plantation would be like visiting Amsterdam without seeing a canal. The history of tea in the area is surprisingly short, only starting in the 20th-century interwar period. The oldest, and most famous, tea planation to visit is Sungai Palas Tea Estate.
If you’ve never seen the intricacies of tea culture, you’ll learn a lot at Sungai Palas. Top off your learning experience by sipping on tea among the most famous views in the Cameron Highlands.
Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails
Are you an active traveller? Plan to spend most of your time in Cameron Highlands ambling among the hiking trails. In the area you’ll find over a dozen official trails. Not all the trails, however, are well-marked, and the conditions vary.
If planning a longer or more offbeat trek, I would recommend hiring an official guide at the recommendation your hotel/guesthouse.
Where to Stay in Cameron Highlands
With the huge cluster of hotels centred around Tanah Rata, you might find it difficult to choose what’ll be best for your trip. The inventory of high quality mid-range accommodations & hotels in Cameron Highlands isn’t as high as in Kuala Lumpur. Here are a couple of the best:
- Arundina Cameron Highlands: A delightful guesthouse set among lush scenery less than a 5-minute walk from the centre of Tanah Rata. Views from the terrace are arresting.
- CH Green Stay Resort Apartment: Probably the best bang for your buck in Cameron Highlands. It’s about a 5-minute drive from the centre of Tanah Rata, but the views are fantastic!
- The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant Cameron Highlands: A warm and cozy guesthouse sprinkled with European colonial flair. It’s quiet location between Tanah Rata and Brinchang is both relaxing and convenient for sightseeing and hiking.
Getting to Cameron Highlands
By bus: About five buses a day ply the route from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands. The journey with Alisan Golden Coach takes about 3.5 hours and costs RM35 to RM55.
One of the biggest reasons to visit Malaysia is its cultural diversity. And nowhere is this more obvious than on the spectacular island of Penang.
Feeling almost like a Chinese enclave on the Malay Peninsula, Penang is sure to spice up this 10-day Malaysia itinerary.
Colonial George Town, Penang’s main city, is a bonafide Asian foodie destination. Besides marvelling at the colourful mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and colonial architecture styles, you’ll spend a chunk of your time exploring Penang’s food scene. A history of diverse culinary influences creates a palate unlike any other. You’ll never go hungry in Penang!
What to Do in Penang
Of all the reasons to visit Penang, none is more compelling than the variety of activities stuffed onto such a compact island. For those who feel crammed in bustling George Town, the “other” Penang offers quieter moments that can be had with little hassle.
Even with just a couple days, exploring the island won’t be much trouble. Here are a few ideas of things to do in Penang to get you started:
Explore the colonial centre of George Town
If you’re short on time, you’ll probably focus much of it wandering around the bustling streets of George Town. Like Melaka, Georgetown is a hotbed of remarkable architecture. The difference here is the overwhelming Chinese influence.
Spend at least one day in George Town soaking up the temples, mansions, mosques and galleries on a walking tour. Top it off with char koay teow (stir-fried noodles) or Hokkien mee (Hokkien noodles) from a food stall at New Lane Hawker Centre.
Tramp through Penang National Park
Even though it’s the smallest national park in Malaysia, Penang National Park packs in many activities. There are two decent-sized hiking trails slithering through the jungle if you want to sweat.
The two most popular activities in Penang National Park are the canopy walkway and the Penang Turtle Sanctuary. (If you’re travelling with kids, they’ll love it!)
Want some company while exploring Penang National Park? Hop onto the Penang National Park Half-Day Trek! Includes hotel pick-up and drop-off and 20-minute mangrove boat tour.
Soak up the rays at Batu Ferringhi
As far as beaches go, Batu Ferringhi can’t compete with Langkawi or Pulau Perhentian. But for sun-worshippers visiting Penang, the next best thing is to claim a spot here.
The further you move west of George Town, the cleaner and quieter you’ll find the beaches. If you happen to catch yourself here in the evening, make a trip to the Batu Ferringhi Night Market for some Malaysian street eats.
Where to Stay in Penang
For first-timers trying to decide where to stay in Penang, I’d recommend narrowing your search to George Town. Not only is this where much of the island’s action revolves, there’s a good selection of hotels in George Town that offer superb value if you dig a little. Here are a couple great options:
- B Street Hotel: A contemporary budget hotel situated in the UNESCO Culture Heritage centre of George Town. Slide up to the rooftop bar in the evening for ridiculously fine views over the colonial district.
- Betel Nut Lodge: A fantastic boutique guesthouse occupying a 19th-century heritage building in the old colonial centre of George Town. Within close walking distance to plenty of awesome George Town attractions.
- Cheong Fatt Tze (The Blue Mansion): Set in a old Chinese merchant mansion, this colourful piece of Penang history is the city’s most unique boutique hotel. The brights colours and intricate details will leave you in absolute awe every time you retire back to your room.
- Eastern & Oriental Hotel: A 5-star seaside hotel that’s among the most luxurious places to stay in Penang. The spacious suites feature contemporary furnishings and colonial twists that hint at the building’s 19th-century past. The oceanside pool and promenade is simply stunning.
Getting to Penang
By bus: With little in the way of direct buses, getting from Cameron Highlands to Penang can be a bit tricker than whizzing between other Malaysian destinations.
The best (and quickest) option is to take a bus from Cameron Highlands to Ipoh (just over an hour) followed by a bus from Ipoh to Penang. These routes between Ipoh and Penang can take anywhere from 2 hours and 10 minutes to over 4 hours. When booking your ticket, be sure to inquire about travel times to find the quickest option.
Alternatively, you can catch a bus or train to Butterworth from Cameron Highlands or Ipoh and hop onto the ferry to Penang from here. It might be the quickest option if the direct Penang buses aren’t departing for awhile.
Want to switch it up? Apply these 10-day Malaysia itinerary tweaks.
Depending on the Malaysian travel experience you’re looking for, you might want to change up the itinerary to better suit your needs. Here are a couple suggestions:
- Are you a foodie? Skip out on Cameron Highlands. If delectable food is high on your travel wishlist, plan your Malaysia itinerary with more time in Melaka, KL, and, perhaps best of all, Penang. All of these Malaysian destinations are pure perfection for tastebuds craving new and exciting flavours.
- Need more quiet time? Spend more time in Cameron Highlands. Steal some time away from one of the cities, and get into tea-drinking and hiking mode.
- Need more Vitamin D and relaxation? Ditch Melaka and throw Langkawi onto the end of your itinerary. Start your trip in KL instead of Melaka and allot a couple extra days at the end to move on from Penang to visit Langkawi.
- Rather get off-the-beaten path? High-tail it to the wilderness of Sarawak on Borneo. You’ll need a little more than 10 days in Malaysia if you want to split your time between Sarawak and the mainland. Covering ground on Borneo is never so easy; taking it slow here is always recommended.
Finished your 10 days in Malaysia? Here where to go next…
- Singapore: Before or after your trip to Malaysia, any visit to this Asian city-state with leave you with a full belly and a whole lot of amazing memories.
- Indonesia: Visiting this vast archipelago is like pushing through an entire continent on its own. From the spiritual bliss of a Bali itinerary to the volcanoes and temples of Java, Indonesia might be the most memorable destination you’ll ever encounter.
- Thailand: Southeast Asia’s most famous destination sits steps away. Although just to the north of peninsular Malaysia, getting to the best places to visit in Thailand is best done with a short plane ride. Find your way over to the Thai capital of Bangkok to launch an epic Thailand itinerary of your own.
- Philippines: You’ll never run out of things to do in the Philippines. Zoom over the South China Sea to Manila and fire up a Philippines itinerary full of fun in the sun.