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Things to do in Malaysia

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Think of budget travel and an incredible variation of activities, and Malaysia should easily pop into your mind. One of the easiest countries to travel through, thanks to the fact that English is widely spoken here, Malaysia should be at the top of every travelers’ must-see places in South East Asia. Things to do in Malaysia include lounging on tropical beaches, trekking through national parks, having a 3-course meal for around USD 5*, and reliving some of history’s most fascinating times. There are tons of good reasons to visit Malaysia. Here are our top thirteen:

1. Climb up the Petronas Towers

Malaysia’s most iconic sight is probably Kuala Lumpur’s famous Petronas Towers. Located in the country’s capital, the towers’ impressive architecture is a display of the country’s Islamic beliefs and cutting-edge innovation. Highlights include the domed roofs, spires reminiscent of mosque minarets, and the steel and glass building design.

At 451.9 meters high, these commercial buildings have claimed the title of tallest twin skyscrapers in the world. Setting another record is the 170-meter high sky bridge (the tallest two-story bridge) where visitors can walk the space between the two buildings and take some great pictures. After stopping off at the sky bridge, visitors can continue on to the observation desk on the 86th floor to glimpse the best panoramas in the city. Hope you’re not afraid of heights!

  • Opening hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00 – 21:00. Last admission is at 8:30pm. Closed between 13:00 – 14:30 every Friday. Closed every Monday.
  • Good to know: Tickets for the sky bridge is available in limited number every day. We recommend you buy them online in advance. If you want to take your chances on purchasing same-day tickets, the office opens at 8:30. It’s advised to get there up to 2 hours early to get a spot in line as it is first-come first-served. Ticket costs USD 22 for adults, USD 9* for children under 12, and free for up to 3 years old.

2. Embrace Kota Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia
Climbing Mount Kinabalu is one of the most popular activities in Kota Kinabalu

Endearingly known as KK, Kota Kinabalu is the base for everything in Sabah, the Malaysian state of Borneo. Whether you want to head off to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, or do the popular activities like kayaking, snorkelling, diving, wildlife watching, and trekking Mount Kinabalu, KK is the destination. However, when here, don't just be immersed in touristic affairs. Blend in with the locals; watch its many stunning sunsets, enjoy the rich culinary scene, experience the local market, and simply embrace the city's old-charm mixed and its 21st century flamboyance. 

  • Best time to visit: August – September sees the best weather. However, Kota Kinabalu is a year round destination.
  • Good to know: Do some shopping on Gaya Street at the Sunday market as well as the Handicraft Market that runs along the waterfront.

3. Glimpse a piece of paradise

Perhentian beach in Malaysia
A visit to the Perhentian islands is like visiting paradise

The Perhentian islands off the northeast coast of Malaysia are two tropical paradises that are an absolute must-see. Pulau Besar and Pulau Kecil (big island and small island, respectively) are two little sun-soaked jewels offering long sandy beaches, simple beach bars, and super laid-back vibes.

Kecil is the more party-hardy island, attracting backpackers with late night beach parties and budget accommodation. Besar is more quiet, peaceful, and family-oriented with more upscale resorts. Both islands offer incredible scuba diving for some of the cheapest prices in the world. And if you visit in the beginning or end of monsoon season, you’ll even be able to catch a few small waves on Kecil’s popular Long Beach.

  • Best time to visit: Mid-March through mid-October is high season. Mid-October through February (monsoon), the islands experience stormy weather and almost the entire island completely shuts down except for the local village.
  • Good to know: There’s an awesome viewpoint on Kecil with the most stunning panoramas. The hiking trail starts behind Bubu’s resort on Long Beach and lasts roughly 30-minutes.

4. Explore the Batu Caves

Batu Caves in Malaysia
The statue of Lord Murugan at the foot of the cliff
Batu Caves in Malaysia
Cathedral cave is the most impressive of all Batu caves

Fifteen kilometers from Kuala Lumpur’s center, exploring the Batu caves is a fun day trip from the city and one of the top things to do in Malaysia. The massive limestone cliff houses a collection of caves and Hindu shrines. Displayed at the foot of the cliff is a dominating, 140-foot golden statue of Lord Murugan, the God of war.

There are three main caves composing the Batu caves, however the most famous sits perched 272 steps atop the cliff — Cathedral cave. It is the most impressive cavern in the cave series, the interior of which is decorated with ornate Hindu shrines and features a large opening at the top where the sunlight streams through.

  • Opening times: The Batu caves are open every day 7:00 – 20:00. Entrance is free. Morning is the best time to avoid the hot afternoon sun.
  • Good to know: The KTM Komuter rail runs from KL Sentral straight to Batu caves. The journey is roughly 30 minutes.

5. Eat your way through Penang

Penang Malaysia
The mixture of Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian culture is what makes Penang so unique.
Penang street food in Malaysia
A food stall in Georgetown

Although delicious street food is available in many places in Malaysia, Penang is the undisputed champion in this field. Georgetown, located on the northeastern part of Penang Island, is an absolute foodie paradise. The mixture of Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian culture is what makes Penang and its cuisine so unique.

Chulia Street, which intersects the famous Love Lane, is a great place to start for traditional Malay and Chinese street foods. Just around the corner from Chulia Street is Penang’s famous Red Garden Food Court, serving loads of different cuisine for cheap. Try Laksa, a spicy Malay soup traditionally made with fish.

  • Best time to visit: Usually street food starts in the late afternoon and goes until about 22:00. This is prime time, so it will be busy, but it’s also when you’ll have the most options. It’s totally worth fighting the crowds!
  • Good to know: Within walking distance from Chulia Street is Little India — you don’t want to miss the best chicken tandoori and lentil dishes in the city!

6. Escape the city in Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands
The lush tea plantations of Cameron Highlands

Travel three and a half hours north of Kuala Lumpur and you’ll find the endless rolling hills and lush greenery of the Cameron Highlands. You are amidst Malaysia’s primary tea supply!

The Cameron Highlands is unique because its climate and terrain is unlike any other in Malaysia. This is why British explorers chose to develop it into tea plantations in the early 1900s. Paying homage to the past, British fare like scones with fresh cream and beef Wellington are usual on the menu. When you are done sipping on tea and eating strawberries, you might also want to embark on a hike or two in this area.

  • Best time to visit: Traffic can be down-right mental on the weekends. If possible, avoid public and school holidays, and plan your visit during the week.
  • Good to know: The weather is typically cooler than other places in Malaysia and rain is common year-round. Days can be warm, but the temperatures drop at night. Bring a jacket, sweater, and waterproof attire! 

7. Get lost in Kuala Lumpur’s China Town

Petaling Street (Jalan Petaling) is the vibrant heart and soul of the Chinese-Malay culture in Malaysia. Typically getting under way mid-morning, this street is a bargain shopper’s dream, with stall after stall of souvenirs, t-shirts, bangles, hats, bags, and imitation designer garb. Don’t feel shy about haggling down the prices.

Between souvenir shopping, make sure you save some time to sample the many stalls serving up piping hot street food, fresh cut exotic fruits, and cold drinks. This is definitely one of the best places in Kuala Lumpur to get cheap eats and taste some authentic Chinese-Malay style food.

  • Best time to visit: Late morning for shopping (too early and some shops/stalls won’t be open) and evening time for dinner! Most places start to shut down around 21:30, although it depends on the specific vendor.
  • Good to know: Various options of budget/guesthouse/hostel accommodation surround China Town. Backpackers like this area because of the lively atmosphere and cheap food. You’re sure to meet some new friends if you stay nearby!

8. Meet the Orangutans in Sepilok

Sepilok in Malaysia
A baby Orangutan in Sepilok enjoys few berries from the tree

Sepilok draws travelers with its prime tourist attraction — the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Located in Malaysian Borneo, it was the first of its kind in the world when it opened in 1964. Its main purpose is to rescue orphaned orangutans and teach them how to survive on their own. Currently, it’s home to 60 – 80 orangutans.

Visitors can walk along the manmade path through the jungle to the main feeding area. At scheduled times, the orangutans are fed in a large area with platforms built around the trees (like tables!) It’s a perfect set-up for viewing and photographing these magnificent animals.

  • Best time to visit: There are two feedings a day — 10:00 and 15:00. Arriving an hour before is advisable so there’s time to purchase your ticket and make your way to the feeding area. Tickets cost USD 7.50* and can be used to view both feedings if you want.
  • Good to know: There are several trails for light trekking inside the reserve forest.

9. Indulge in activities on Langkawi

Langkawi beach in Malaysia
Langkawi Island is the perfect beach getaway

As one of the biggest islands in Malaysia, this island is more than just a beach getaway. It is a hub of activities; from exciting water sports, adventurous off-roading, or nature tours —Langkawi’s got you covered. Cenang Beach, a 2 kilometer stretch of sand, is the most popular with tourists. Here you’ll find windsurfing, parasailing, jet skiing, and sea kayaking. Away from the beach, mangrove boat tours on the Kilim River thrill nature-lover with a chance to spot eagles, otters, dolphins, and a bizarre land-walking fish! There’s also a 2,220-meter high cable car ride rising over 700-meters from sea level offering great view of the bays and inlets below.

Did you want anything else?

  • Best time to visit: January – March is the best time for dry, hot weather but even the shoulder months of November/December and April are a good bet, too.
  • Good to know: Declared a duty-free zone in 1986, Langkawi is a cheap place to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, fancy chocolates, and more!

10. Explore Mulu National Park

Pinnacles in Mulu National Park
Pinnacles, the spiky limestones, seen from air
Mulu Caves in Malaysia
Sarawak Chamber is big enough to accommodate 40 aircrafts

Easily one of the most impressive and diverse national parks in South Asia, let alone Malaysia, Mulu National Park in Borneo is a must-visit for any adventure enthusiast. Featuring world’s largest cave chamber — Sarawak Chamber, two beautiful peaks — Gunung Mulu and Gunung Api, spiky limestone phenomenon — the Pinnacles, the world’s longest (at 480m) tree-based sky canopy — Mulu Canopy Skywalk, many rivers, gorges, and fascinating flora and fauna, Mulu National Park offers its visitors unique experiences that will stay with you forever.

  • Best time to visit: High season is May – September and offers the warmest and driest months.
  • Good to know: There is no road access to Mulu National Park. You can enter via a guided trek on The Headhunter Trail or book a short flight (available daily) from Miri, Kutching or Kota Kinabalu (both running four times a week).

11. Scuba Dive in Sipadan

Semporna in Malaysia
Semporna makes for a wonderful base for diving trips in Sipadan
Mabul in Malaysia
Mabul makes for a fabulous alternative diving site, if Sipadan is not possible

This is one activity in Malaysia that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Surrounded by the Celebes sea, Sipadan Island offers the best dive sites in the world; 13 to be exact, and mind-blowing marine life. A dive into any of its sites opens you to living corals, thousands of sea turtles, sharks, Manta Rays, and hundreds of thousands of macro-lives. Perhaps the most brilliant and thrilling dive amongst them is the Drop Off, a vertical drop to over 600m into the bed of the ocean. Do you dare?

  • Best time to visit: May – September typically sees the best diving conditions with good visibility and the best chance to see large pelagics.
  • Good to know:
    • Only 120 dive permits are issued every day for Sipadan across dive operators and resorts. So, don’t expect to go diving the same day that you arrive, unless you book with an operator in advance.
    • The cheapest accommodation is on the mainland of Semporna. Dive operators run day trips from here using their speedboats to transport divers to the dive sites. Alternatively, you can also stay and dive in nearby islands of Mabul and Kapatai.

12. Trek to Monkey beach

Also known as Teluk Duyung, Monkey beach in the Penang National Park (also known as Taman Negara), is a rugged beauty that’s totally worth the effort it takes to reach its sandy shores. There’s no road access to this beach, so visitors have two options — trek or by boat.

A 7km round trip jungle trek through the national park is the more enjoyable and rewarding way to get to Monkey Beach. The path twists and winds its way around the coast, offering glimpses of the pretty coastline as well as cutting through the dense jungle. Depending on your speed and how often you stop to snap pictures, a one-way trek should take roughly 1 – 2 hours.

Upon arrival, visitors are treated to a long, pristine beach surrounded by thick jungle, towering palm trees and very little development. The aptly named beach is, of course, populated by a large number of native Macaque monkeys. These guys aren’t shy, so make sure you hold onto your belongings if you spot any of them nearby. They’ve been known to make off with visitors’ personal belongings like hats, bags, and food!

  • Best time to visit: November – April are the best months for the most pleasant weather, sun, and warm temperatures. If you’re seeking perfect beach weather, avoid May – October, the wettest time of the year.
  • Good to know:
    • A bus runs from the center of Penang to just outside the National Park entrance (the last stop). Entrance to the park is free!
    • Boats leave from the entrance of the National Park, next to the Teluk Bahang fishing village, and takes approximately 15-20 minutes to reach Monkey Beach. Boat ride costs roughly USD 5 – 7* for the round trip.

13. Buff up on Malaysian history in Malacca

Malacca in Malaysia
The waterfront neighborhood of Malacca

Charming city streets and loads of Malaysian history await two hours south of the country’s capital in Malacca. “The Historic State” has seen a huge transformation since its days as a small fishing village. Present-day Malacca has been influenced by multiple cultures as a result of a string of colonial activities — the proof of which can still be seen today in its ancient forts, churches and palaces.

The plethora of museums and galleries are some of the other main attractions. Highlights include Christ Church, A’Famosa Fort, and Melaka Sultanate Palace. After touring these three attractions (all within walking distance of one another), you’ll have likely worked up an appetite. Hop across the Malacca Coastal Bridge and check out Jonker Street’s electric street market for cheap eats and tons of hustle-bustle.

  • Best time to visit: Visit in driest months of April, May, or October in order to take full advantage of this walkable city. Part of the fun is wandering around and admiring all the fascinating architecture.
  • Good to know: There’s a free Old Melaka Heritage Walking Tour sponsored by the Malacca State Government. Daily tours start at 9:30 in the morning, from Tourism Malaysia’s office in Dutch Square, and last roughly 2.5 hours.

Malaysia is a versatile country offering visitors secluded beaches, fantastic scuba diving, abundant nature, exotic foods, and an exclusive peek at a rich and intertwined culture. With all these places to see and things to do in Malaysia, it’s common for travelers to leave wanting more and vowing to return.

*Note: Prices are as of 2018.

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