It’s no secret, Malaysia is probably not on your top 10 travel list. It’s ok, it certainly wasn’t on ours. The country is often overlooked for its much visited neighbors, Thailand and Bali. But this country is one of the most travel friendly in the world, and has the complete package to whet anyone’s appetite for a taste of Asia.
We spent three weeks in January and February exploring the Malay Peninsula, which is the focus of this post. The country is nearly hassle free for foreigners, which is a notable difference from other countries on the continent. There are no touts on the streets and merchants are honest with little to no haggling. Communication is easy with most locals speaking English well. We found people to be humble and gracious, and to routinely go above and beyond for visitors, expecting nothing in return.
Reliable and comfortable transport options are plentiful, allowing simple movement in and between cities. Any trouble with directions can be quickly resolved by asking anyone nearby, who will certainly be willing to help. Malaysia is, in fact, one of the easiest places to visit outside of major developed nations. This is also one of the cleanest and calmest countries we have been in Asia. Crews can often be seen collecting trash and tidying the surroundings. Traffic is predictable and polite, where drivers rarely use horns.
All of these are features typically found in high cost areas, but Malaysia is very affordable. Mid-range hotels are available for less than 100 MYR ($25 USD), local meals are plentiful for 5-10 MYR ($1.25-$2.50) and long distance coach transport is available for 20-30 MYR ($5.00-$7.50). With amazing people, simplistic travel, a clean environment and affordable prices, this country offers one of the best values available. Add these to the list below, and you have all the reasons needed to put Malaysia on your travel list.
The best part of Malaysia? Undoubtedly the food. There is an amazing amount available around every turn. Options are plentiful and bare outside influences from China and Thailand, amongst others. Street vendors and hawker stalls can be found everywhere serving up noodles, soups, fresh juices and sweets. A trip to the country could be solely spent sampling all of the delectable treats available. With prices that could please every budget, there is no need to limit this culinary experience. As with many countries in the region, tap water is not advisable for consumption. That said, water and ice served is typically filtered for locals and tourists alike, so there is little cause for concern.
Traveling in Asia is a special experience for Western travelers because of the differing cultural roots, and Malaysia is no exception. The architectural and artistic representations of this foreign experience are best felt in temples throughout the country. Some expansive, colorful and incredibly intricate ones are accessible throughout Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang. The limestone cliffs are home to cave temples, pagodas and giant Buddha statues, all waiting to be explored.
The Malaysian landscape is filled with hilly terrain. The most famous region, Cameron Highlands, boasts the largest tea growing region in Malaysia, and is surrounded by ancient mossy cloud forests. A visit to this area offers a refreshingly cool climate, and numerous options for hiking and nature activities. The hilltops are covered by hundreds of acres of tea, which can be explored and sampled at many of the local farms. A trip to the Highlands wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the cloud forests (locally referred to as mossy forests) where the guide will point out wide varieties of plants including orchids and carnivorous pitchers.
Malaysia includes almost 900 lush tropical islands. Some of the more famous and accessible to the peninsula, like Penang and Langkawi, are located off the west coast. Many of the ones off of the east coast are more remote and subject to seasonal monsoon closure between October and March. People may visit Penang for the food culture or Langkawi for luxury resorts, while others may favor the clear water surrounding eastern islands for diving and snorkeling. Regardless of your vacation style, there is an island suitable for every visitor.
The country is home to a vast expanses of rainforest. The most famous is within Taman Negara National Park, said to be around 130 million years old. This densely forested jungle is home to Malayan tigers, sun bears and Asian elephants, amongst others. Far from city lights, the night sky is packed with bright stars and humming with the sounds from millions of animals and insects. Numerous activities are available including jungle treks, river rafting, caving and night safaris. The park is also home to one of the world’s longest canopy walkways, where swinging bridges span some 650 meters throughout the treetops. With a very reasonable park entrance fee of 1 MYR ($0.25), a stop in this rainforest is a must.
The streets in Ipoh and Penang are dotted with creative art just waiting to be discovered. For those that are challenge averse, maps are available to help locate many of the pieces. But what better way is there to discover a city than to wander around alleys in search of hidden paintings?
Bonus – Singapore!
If that’s not enough, how about proximity to Singapore? The pristine metropolis of South East Asia is renown for it’s safety and cleanliness (and possibly even the high cost of living). The country is a leader in environmental sustainability and contains one of the highest greenery densities of any city in the world. Numerous transport options connect the two countries and both border crossings are quick and efficient. With world class food, amazing gardens and mind blowing architecture, Singapore should be a certain addition to any Malaysian peninsula trip.
Which country is at the top of your travel list? Share some inspiration with our community of explorers, we are always looking for new destinations to uncover! And make sure to share this post with a friend who wants to visit South East Asia.
You can read about other amazing places from our recent trips including Trekking in Nepal, African Safaris and the Great Ocean Road, Australia. Also take a look at our Planning Page, where you will find essential information to help plan your own world trip, including minimalist packing, long term travel planning and travel insurance amongst others!