My first journey to Southeast Asia took me firstly to Singapore, then up through peninsular Malaysia and back again. I really don’t know why I chose to visit these two countries. I think it was a series of photographs I found on Instagram and then some seriously cheap flights from the Gold Coast to Singapore made me just book the trip. Anyway, to be honest, I won’t be rushing back to Malaysia anytime soon as I have so much more of the world to see, but it was a great starting point for me to see what Southeast Asia has to hold!
It may not be the most popular place to travel in Asia, but it surely should not be missed if you’re in the area.
Two weeks is an ideal amount of time to scratch the surface and get a feel for this wonderful and multicultural country. What you’ll find is that Malaysia is not only diverse in its people, but its landscapes, nature and food, too! I went from a searing hot and humid day in Melaka to a freezing and rainy night in the Cameron highlands. I explored cities that were UNESCO World Heritage Sites filled with culture and Chinese New Year decorations as well as staying in a remote village in the mountains before visiting a little island where the beaches are lovely. I didn’t even get over to Borneo Malaysia; there is just so much ground to cover over on the Peninsular side!
Here is how I recommend spending 2 weeks in peninsular Malaysia:
Day 1 + 2: Malacca
A sleepy little colonial town that I must say was probably my favourite stop of all.
After travelling and settling in, spend your time wandering around Dutch Square and Jonker Street before cooling off in Kaya Kaya Cafe or Loca Hauz.
Wake up early on day two to beat the heat. Head up to St. Paul’s Church for views over the city before boarding a boat to cruise along the Melaka River. Wander the streets for long enough and you’ll find some interesting street art and shops while cafe hopping to cool down. Get in a taxi in the afternoon and journey to Masjid Selat. The sunset over this floating mosque while listening to the call to prayer is soothing to the senses – don’t miss this!
Getting there: If you’re travelling from Singapore, a quick 3 hour bus ride is your best bet as it’s cheap and Malacca does not have an airport. If you’re flying in to KL, the bus trip is about 2 hours. Then, take a 15 minute taxi to your accommodation in the heart of Malacca.
Where to stay: Don’t look past the Wayfarer Guest House that can be booked through Airbnb here. This is by far one of the best Airbnbs I have stayed in and it’s super cheap too. Just look at the view from the balcony and you will be sold.
Read my extensive guide to Malacca here: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Malacca, Malaysia
Day 3 + 4: Kuala Lumpur
Only two days in Malaysia’s capital? To be honest, two days is more than enough. After one night, I wanted to get out of there; not going to lie to you. But, having said that, Kuala Lumpur is one of those places many travellers will most likely visit, whether it be for a layover or a vaction when visiting Southeast Asia.
I cannot really recommend many things to do here aside from the main tourist attractions. Obviously, the Petronas Twin Towers are spectacular both during the day and at night, so make sure you set aside time to see them in both lights. Head to the Batu Caves early in the morning to beat the crowds and admire the cheeky monkeys. Continue the day with some shopping in the aircon you will most likely be craving after walking in the humidity. Then, hunt down Lepaq Lepaq cafe for a ‘rainy day coffee’.
Spend a day on the Hop on Hop off bus, as you’ll find it is one of the easiest ways to see the city and stop off at many attractions along the way. Note: don’t bother with the Bird Park. The best way to end your last night in KL would be sipping on a cheap cocktail on top of a helipad at the HeliLounge (if it’s not raining that is!)
Getting there: From Malacca, take a 2 hour RM11 bus ride (about $3!) to Terminal Bersepadu Station and from there you can get a train/subway to your accommodation.
Where to stay: While I wasn’t the biggest fan of KL, the accommodation I chose was amazing. Rent this Airbnb apartment that is stylish, huge and allows you to access one of the most amazing infinity pools I have ever laid eyes on. Just look at that skyline at night.
Check out my guide to Kuala Lumpur here!
Lepaq Lepaq ‘Rainy Day Coffee’
Day 5, 6, 7: Taman Negara
Okay, so I didn’t make it to Taman Negara, the world’s oldest rainforst… and, YES, I am kicking myself for spending too much time in Singapore and not reserving enough to see this wonderful slice of mother nature. Hindsight, hey? Well, since you most likely have two weeks in Malaysia unlike myself, escape the city life and get yourself to this 130 million year-old tropical rainforest.
Explore the vast array of flora and fauna in this rainforest paradise residing in the centre of peninsular Malaysia. If you’re into jungle trekking, wildlife, mountain climbing, fishing, camping and just beautiful destinations, then Taman Negara is the place for you.
Depending on your budget and travel style, you can explore the rainforest yourself or book a guided tour. You’ll find an array of tours here. Have a look and see which one is for you.
Getting there: I would reserve half a day to travel to and from Taman Negara. You can book a shuttle service that takes about 4 hours from KL here on the official website, which seems to be the easiest way. Other than that, you can take a train or public transport, though this may be a little more complicated! Your tour might even include travel from KL – bonus!
Where to stay: There are three kinds of accommodation in Taman Negara: Mutiara Taman Negara Resort, a local village Resort or a local village. It depends on what kind of experience your looking for, your budget and whether or not you have booked a tour that might have accommodation included!
Day 8 + 9: Cameron Highlands
Don’t make my mistake – stay in the Cameron Highlands for more than one night, I beg of you. Firstly, it is just breathtaking, and secondly, you may hit a ridiculous rainstorm that spans over two days and one night and miss the Cameron Highlands COMPLETELY. This was the place I was most excited to go, and I cannot believe I thought one night would be substantial. I couldn’t even get a shot of the tea plantations, merely a glance out the taxi window. Moral of my story: you must take in to consideration travel times and the fact that things cannot always go as planned. Anyway, back to the Highlands:
As much as you may love summer and the heat, you will be pining for some cool weather in Malaysia. The humidity is brutal, even to someone who has lived in Australia their whole lives. Head up into the mountains to the Cameron Highlands where you will feel the temperature decline dramatically, witness endless bright green tea plantations that don’t even look real and taste some of Malaysia’s freshest produce.
I know I said that I won’t be returning to Malaysia anytime soon, but when I do, the Cameron Highlands will be where I head first! I just will not be going back in Chinese New Year, that’s for sure.
Getting there: What is supposed to be an easy 4 or 5 hour bus ride from KL turned in to a 12 hour journey involving trains, buses and an expensive taxi over Chinese New Year in a storm. If you’re coming from Taman Negara, you most likely won’t encounter this problem. Plus, it is located quite close to the Highlands!
Where to stay: I’m torn when it comes to recommending this crazy cool and beautiful Airbnb. While it is amazing, the location is not so much. You’ll find the strawberry farm down the road and some markets, but in regards to the main attractions you’ve come here for, you are far far away. There are many hotels and homestays in the main area of Tanah Rata.
Day 10, 11, 12: Penang
One of my other favourite cities, which I loved for its street art and Chinese New Year decorations and celebrations. If you were visiting just one city in Malaysia, I would tell you to come here. You will sample some delicious Malay, Indian and Chinese food, immerse yourself in the interactive street art and enjoy some beautiful architecture.
Start your morning off at the Mugshot Cafe with a good coffee and freshly baked bagel. Spend your first day doing what everyone comes to George Town to do, hunt for street art! You can download a map or use Google Maps to find the popular ones. For lunch and dinner (you will want to come back for more), try the traditional Malay food in Jawi House.
A great way to spend the rest of your two days is to buy the Hop on Hop off bus pass for 48 hours. This will take you through the city and beach routes, one for each day. You’ll find you can get on and off with ease at the main attractions. My favourites were the Blue Mansion, Little India and the Tropical Spice Garden! Speaking of Little India, don’t skip out on trying some cheap curries for dinner at the Restoran Kapitan restaurant.
Getting there: From the Tanah Rata bus terminal, you can board a bus that will take about 5 hours to travel to George Town, Penang. Alternatively, if you’re coming from another city, you can either fly or take the ferry.
Where to stay: I chose the Armenian Street Heritage Hotel and it was in a prime location. It’s quite cheap, especially if you split the price with two people, is spacious and has a nice chilly aircon. Just steer clear of the tourist desk in the lobby – they will for sure try and rip you off.
Read more about Penang here: Chinese New Year & Street Art in George Town, Penang
Day 13 + 14: Langkawi
Spend your first day on the island wandering down Cenang beach. You’ll find many great restaurants along the main street for lunch. Have a swim and relax in the sun before sitting at the Yellow Cafe to watch the sunrise with a beer.
Book an island hopping tour for RM35 the day before and then head off in the morning to see the white sand beach, Pregnant Maiden Island and then a large freshwater lake. Get a taxi ride to take you up to the world’s highest cable car and then over to the Skybridge for some breathtaking views over Langkawi.
Getting there: Catch the 2 hour and 45 minute ferry from Penang’s terminal to Langkawi’s. From here you can get a taxi to your accommodation.
Where to stay: You’ll find many luxurious resorts on the island as well as hostels through the main street. I chose a local farm homestay that was just a five minute drive from the town centre and is peaceful and quiet. You can find it here and I highly recommend it.
See my full guide to Langkawi here: A Guide to Langkawi, Malaysia in a Weekend
Obviously, this itinerary isn’t going to be ideal for everyone! You could easily swap some cities for these ones, or if you’re planning on staying for longer, add them to your itinerary!
Ipoh: A little British Colonial city where it’s old charm meets new. If you’re a foodie and nature lover, than Ipoh is definitely a place you will love. You’ll find many stalls dishing up local cuisine as well as beautiful lime stone caves and temples to wander through.
Perhentian Islands: Located off the northeastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia is where you will find the two main Perhentian Islands of Kecil and Besar. They boast teal waters and white sandy beaches that bring in many tourists, though. The islands are closed to tourists during monsoon season (November til February), so make sure you’re in Malaysia at the right time!
Pulau Tioman: You’ll find waterfalls, translucent waters, jungles and many water activities to keep you occupied on this beautiful island. Snorkelling and diving here is some of the best in Malaysia. It is less touristy in comparison to the Perhentian Islands and still remains quite unspoiled. If Langkawi is too busy for you, then Pulau Tioman is more your style.