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.
Table of Contents
- 10-Day Malaysia Itinerary: An Overview
- Kuala Lumpur
- Cameron Highlands
- 10-Day Malaysia Itinerary Tweaks
10-Day Malaysia Itinerary: An Overview
With only ten days at your disposal, your best bet is to focus your trip 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. Public transportation in Malaysia is comfortable and efficient, and the distances between major travel destinations are manageable.
Whether you’re a cosmopolitan wanderer or adventurer, Peninsular Malaysia will give you something to get excited about. In this 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. Below this 10-day Malaysia itinerary, I’ve left you a couple ideas for tweaks to customize the trip to your liking. Enjoy!
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.
While wandering around Melaka, you’ll likely question whether you’re in Southeast Asia. With a background of strong colonial influences, Melaka 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!)
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No, the old riverside town is no longer an undiscovered tourist destination. As little as you’ve likely heard about Melaka, you won’t be alone when travelling here. But what you’ll find is bound to leave an impression.
What to Do in Melaka
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 influence. Famous Portuguese colonial sites like A’Famosa Fort and St. Paul’s Church, and Dutch colonial building like Christ Church and Stadthuys, take centre stage here.
- 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. If you’ve never ridden a trishaw before, Melaka could be the first place for you to do it!
- 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.
Where to Stay in Melaka
On a tighter budget? The clean budget-friendly rooms at 1511 Guesthouse Melaka 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.
Getting to Melaka
If you’re starting from Europe or North America, your best bet for starting your Malaysia itinerary in Melaka is flying into Singapore and continuing 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!
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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
Like any worthy urban Asian tourist destination, there’s a ton of things to do in Kuala Lumpur. Even with only 2-3 days at hand you can seize the KL basics. Start off with these ideas:
- Soar high above KL at the Petronas Towers: This oversized pair of building might be the most famous architectural twins in the world. Embrace vertigo by trekking between the buildings on the 170-metre high Skybridge to catch KL from above. Be sure to get there early in the morning (before 8:30am) to snag one of the limited free tickets.
- 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. History-buffs will especially dig the National History Museum at Merdeka Square.
- Experience a little slice of Bollywood in Little India: From colonial KL, it’s a short jaunt to Little India, perhaps the most colourful corner of Kuala Lumpur. The heart of Little India is truly worthy of the name. The streets ring with the sound of Indian music and the air is awash with the lingering aroma of curries and masalas. Grab a street-side snack along Jalan Masjid India to replenish your energy for the rest of your day.
- Explore the shops and temples of Chinatown: As you’d expect, Chinatown is one of the best places to wander around and taste culinary gold in Kuala Lumpur. By day, you can admire the colourful shops and temples. Be sure to make time to pop into Jalan Petaling in the evening to soak in a full-on Malaysian night market experience. Eating delicious food is, after all, one of the biggest reasons to visit Malaysia!
Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Thankfully, Kuala Lumpur isn’t Tokyo or Hong Kong! For the high quality, Kuala Lumpur hotels are light on the wallet. A 5-star, super-central place like Hotel Maya or the 4-star Metro 360 Hotel Kuala Lumpur in Bukit Bintang will only set you back as much as a run-of-the-mill Interstate-side Holiday Inn would in the US!
Getting to Kuala Lumpur
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.
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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 in Cameron Highlands centred around Tanah Rata, you’ll find it difficult to choose. The inventory of high quality mid-range options here isn’t as high as in Kuala Lumpur. The best bang for your buck is probably the CH Green Stay Resort Apartment . It’s about a 5-minute drive from the centre of Tanah Rata, but the views are fantastic!
Getting to Cameron Highlands
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 Penang.
Feeling almost like a Chinese enclave on the Malay Peninsula, Penang is sure to spice up your Malaysia itinerary. Quite literally.
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!)
- 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 in Penang, I’d recommend staying in George Town. (If not check out other accommodations in Penang here ). There’s a good selection of hotels in George Town , offering superb value if you dig a little. Here are two options: Betel Nut Lodge and Carnavon House . Both are close to awesome George Town attractions, clean, comfortable—and popular, so book well ahead of time!
Getting to Penang
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.
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, or 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 to visit Langkawi.