July 22, 2024

The ultimate backpacking guide to Malaysia

Malaysia is the fiercely underrated, cultural melting pot of South East Asia. A heady combination of Malay, Indian, Chinese and European influences, result in a distinct culture unlike any other in the region.

Malaysia is equally diverse in landscapes as it is in culture. Visitors can enjoy anything from charming heritage towns and historical cities to tropical rain forests and pristine beaches. It is also a country where you can experience world-class diving, encounter endangered orangutans, and sample an amalgamation of cuisines.

With vibrant culture, rich history, delicious food, budget-friendly prices, and endless opportunity for adventure, Malaysia should be on every backpacker’s bucket list. So, to make the most of your trip, we have put together this ultimate guide to backpacking Malaysia.

Jump straight to:

  1. The best time to visit Malaysia
  2. Malaysia visa
  3. Travelling around Malaysia
  4. Backpacking Malaysia budget
  5. Where to go in Malaysia
  6. Malaysia itinerary
  7. Accommodation Malaysia
  8. Malaysian food
  9. Malaysia travel advice
  10. Malaysian culture

backpacking Malaysia - coloured building - two girls

The best time to visit Malaysia

Malaysia weather tends to be hot and humid all year round; however, the best time to visit will depend on what you are looking to do. The seasons vary drastically on the east and west coasts; therefore, you will want to plan your trip accordingly.

The best time to visit Kuala Lumpur and other areas located on the west coast of the Malaysian peninsular, is between November and August. Although temperatures rarely fluctuate from the 30-degree mark, you will avoid the worst of the monsoon season during this time. Some rain is expected all year round – particularly in the capital where thunderstorms occur regularly. On the other hand, Penang weather is generally cooler and there’s less rain.

The best time to visit Langkawi and other islands on the West Coast is between November and April. The weather is dry and calm during these months, making it the perfect time to enjoy the abundance of outdoor activities on offer.

Conversely, to take advantage of the world-class diving opportunities along the East Coast, you should plan your trip between March and September. This is also the best time to visit the tropical rainforests in Borneo where you can encounter the endangered orangutan and other fascinating wildlife.

It’s well worth planning your trip to coincide with one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year. For example, Malaysia is one of the best countries in the world to celebrate Chinese New Year. Spanning across 15 days throughout January & February you can expect to see the country in a whole new light. Streets, malls, and temples are decorated in red lanterns, while traditional celebrations take place around the cities. It is a wonderful experience; however, prepare for the country to become increasingly busy during this time.

Another exciting and slightly unusual event, is the Tamil festival of Thaipusam. Held annually at the Batu Caves – during the full moon period of late January – early February, Thaipusam is renowned to be somewhat gruesome. The festival involves devotees piercing parts of their body, cheek, and tongue; therefore, it is recommended that visitors research before attending.

Other significant festivals include Wesak Day AKA Buddhas Birthday in May, Deepavali (the ‘Festival of Light’) in November, and the Penang Dragon Boat Festival in December.

backpacking Malaysia - best time to visit Malaysia - woman on bridge

Malaysia Visa

Malaysia Visa requirements

Malaysia has a very laid-back policy when it comes to tourist visas. Many nationalities including all European, United States, Australian and South African citizens are granted visa-free entry into the country for 90 days.

For more information regarding visa requirements for your country, please check with the Immigration Department of Malaysia ahead of travel.

Malaysia work visa

Boasting a low cost of living, tropical climate, and a mix of vibrant cultures; working and living in Malaysia is an attractive prospect for many foreigners. As a result, despite the many opportunities for skilled workers, it can be difficult to secure a job among the soaring competition.

First of all, to be granted a work permit for Malaysia, you must first secure a job. Sounds easy enough; however, for any organisation to offer you a position, they must then prove that a Malaysian national is unable to fulfil the role. If this is successful and you have a job offer, it is then up to the company to apply to the Immigration Department of Malaysia for a work permit.  If accepted, you could be offered one of 3 options: An employment pass; a professional visit pass; and a temporary employment pass. It’s then up to you to submit the necessary information required to move forward.

Read this article on securing a job in Malaysia.

Travelling around Malaysia

1. Public transport in Malaysia

In our experience, the easiest way to explore the big cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang is to take advantage of the bus and rail networks.  As well as being extremely reliable, they are also super cheap.

The metro system in Kuala Lumpur puts the London Underground to shame with comfortable, air-conditioned carriages and boasting routes to all the must-see spots across the city. There are even ladies-only carriages for female travellers who may feel uncomfortable in the mixed carriages.

2. Taxis in Malaysia

Grab Taxi operate around the country and are a safer, cheaper alternative to hailing down a local taxi. If you do take a local taxi, be sure they use the meter, or agree on the fare in advance to avoid being ripped off.

3. Travelling across the country in Malaysia

By Bus – After covering most of Peninsular Malaysia on a budget, we found the easiest way to travel from place to place was by tourist bus. Granted that it isn’t exactly the quickest way, however, the buses are comfortable and you’ll get to see some pretty epic scenery along the way.

It is worth noting that the road conditions are generally very good in the tourist regions of the west, but once you start travelling east to Borneo, they become more treacherous. We recommend avoiding bus travel in these areas as there is a history of accidents on the roads.

By Train – There is also a cross country rail network, although the prices tend to be more expensive.

By Air – If you are on a tight time frame and money isn’t too much of an issue, you can also travel via domestic flight to most parts of the country.

4. How to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi

By Air – The most efficient way to reach Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur is to fly, although, this is generally the most expensive option.

By Bus/Ferry – If time permits, it is possible to reach Langkawi Island by bus and ferry at a very reasonable price. First, you take a bus from Kuala Lumpur (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan) to Kuala Perlis. From there, you can take the ferry to Langkawi Island. The journey takes you on a scenic route of beautiful green landscapes and is around 9 hours in total.

5. How to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Pangkor Island

By Bus/Ferry – The quickest and cheapest way to reach Pangkor Island from the capital is by bus and ferry. First, you take a bus from Kuala Lumpur (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan) to Terminal Lumut which takes approximately 4 1/2 hours. From there, you can take the 20-minute ferry ride to Pangkor Island.

6. How to travel from Penang to Langkawi

By Air – Domestic flights between Penang & Langkawi are generally pretty cheap, although, once you have considered travel time to and from the airport, it may not be the quickest option.

By High-Speed Ferry – An easy, yet relatively expensive option is to take the high-speed ferry boat from Georgetown. The total journey time is around 3 hours but can be a little bumpy, so it may not be the best option if you are prone to sea-sickness.

By Bus/Ferry – If you are on a budget, this will be your cheapest option. First, take the ferry from Georgetown to Butterworth, where you can catch a bus to Kuala Perlis. From there you can take the 1-hour ferry to Langkawi.

7. How to book transport in Malaysia

Easybook is a reliable website who make it super easy to organise transport not just across Malaysia, but most of SE Asia. It may be cheaper to turn up at the station without a ticket; however, on popular routes, you run the risk of the seats being sold out.

Domestic flights within Malaysia tend to be cheapest using Air Asia, but it’s always worth checking on SkyScanner to ensure you are getting the best deal.

backpacking Malaysia - deserted beach

Backpacking Malaysia budget

Travelling West Malaysia is suitable for a wide range of budgets, and if you are sensible with your cash you can comfortably live on £20/25$ a day. Decent hostels can be found for as little as £5/7$ and often include breakfast, while budget private rooms are available for £10-20/15-25$.

Food in Malaysia can also be very cheap. Noodles or fried rice can be picked up at hawker stalls for as little as 5 MYR, while a good meal at a food court will set you back 10-15 MYR. If you want to dine at restaurants, expect to pay between 30-50MYR for a meal.

Entry prices for attractions will heavily depend on your interests. Most of the mosques/temples, museums, and nature areas, are very cheap if not free to enter. But if you wanted to experience the view from the KL Tower, for example, it would set you back around £15/$20.

Alcohol in Malaysia can be almost prohibitively expensive for budget-conscious backpackers.  It’s best to limit your consumption if you want to keep your daily spends down.

If you are thinking of heading east to Borneo, you should consider that your daily spend will double if not triple, if you want to make the most of the attractions in the region.

Malaysia currency

The currency in Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit denoted as MYR. At the time of writing 5 Ringgit is equal to £0.93/1.23$.

Where to go in Malaysia

The best places to visit in Malaysia will highly depend on your interests; however, with as equally diverse landscapes as there is culture, you can be sure there is something for everybody. If you are hoping for an educational or cultural experience, you should consider heading to Penang and Malacca. If adventure or nature is your thing, perhaps Borneo and the Cameron Highlands would be more suited. Or for quality beach time and world-class diving, you won’t want to miss the pristine islands. Here are some of the best places to visit in Malaysia along with the top things to do there.

1. Kuala Lumpur

Your Malaysian adventure will inevitably begin in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, and here you are immediately welcomed by the enthralling hotbed of culture and ethnicity. The nation’s capital has vivacious energy, encouraged by striking architecture, creative street art, bustling markets, and verdant nature. In short, walking the streets of the bustling metropolis is a show-stopping delight. Below is a list of our favourite things to do in the city.

Top things to do in Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves – If you are only going to have a short time in Kuala Lumpur, we highly recommend making the Batu Caves a priority on your list of things to do. The mystical caves are a whopping 400 million years old, and are built among a colossal limestone cliff – they are truly magnificent. As well as a popular tourist attraction, the caves are a significant religious landmark, housing numerous Hindu temples and shrines.

In 2018 the entire complex was reconditioned, and the striking, rainbow design has made the attraction even more enticing to visit. We recommend arriving early, as the grounds fill up quickly after the 7am opening time.

backpacking Malaysia - things to do Kuala Lumpur - Golden statue

Petronas Towers – The Petronas Towers stand proudly as the landmark of the city, and at a soaring 450m high are the tallest twin towers in the world. It pays to see the towers in both day and night; yet, at night, when the buildings are illuminated, is when they appear most impressive.

For around £15/$20 you can walk the sky bridge between the 2 towers positioned at 175m.  It makes for a great view of the city, but the price is a little steep. If you are keen to get a good view of the capital, we recommend checking out the KL Tower Sky Deck for the same price.

backpacking Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur - Petronas Towers

Eco Forest & Botanical Gardens – If you crave a touch of nature among the hustle and bustle of big cities, you will be pleased to learn that Kuala Lumpur hosts several stunning nature parks.

We recommend the Botanical Gardens, which host a serene lake and beautiful gardens.  Also, the Eco Forest, where you can venture across the canopy walkway through the city’s preserved forest.

Merdeka Square – Probably the most historically significant spot in the city, Merdeka Square is where Malaysia declared their independence in 1957. You can find awe-inspiring architecture surrounding the square, including the spectacular Sultan Abdul Samad Building. These heritage buildings are a stark contrast to the contemporary architecture seen throughout the rest of the capital.

Mosques and Temples – As expected from such an ethnically diverse nation, mosques and temples can be found in abundance throughout the capital city. In addition to the mystical Batu Caves, no trip to Kuala Lumpur is complete without a visit to the striking Thean Hou Buddhist Temple and the grand Federal Territory Mosque.

Although Kuala Lumpur is generally quite relaxed regarding dress code, you must ensure that your shoulders and legs are covered when visiting any religious monuments. At the mosques, be prepared to wear robes and a headdress which will be provided free of charge.

backpacking malaysia - kuala lumpur - temple by water - reflection

Shopping – If you like to shop till you drop on your vacay, then you will be in your element in KL. Luxury shopping malls to budget thrift stores are overflowing in the city, as well as a choice of lively markets.

Cafes – The weather in Kuala Lumpur can, at times, be unpredictable.  One minute you will be sweltering in the blazing sunshine, and the next you will be dodging lightning bolts (slight exaggeration)! Either way, you will often find yourself on the lookout for a good cafe to either cool down or shelter from the storm.

Luckily there are plenty of good cafes around the city. As well as popular chains such as Starbucks and Coffee Bean, you can also find a number of chic, privately owned cafes. Some of our favourites include Lucy in the Sky, ETC, and Merchants Lane.

Where to eat in Kuala Lumpur

Any city you visit in Malaysia is a foodie paradise, and Kuala Lumpur is no exception. This is the city where you can eat for $1 or $100 depending on your budget. Either way, you can almost guarantee that the food is going to be good.

We are big foodies on a small budget, meaning we are always on the lookout for the best affordable food in the area. For a cheap yet delicious sit-down meal, we recommend heading to the food courts in Little India or China Town. Or for delectable street food, you cannot miss Jalan Alor Street.

For those a little shy of sampling the local cuisine, you don’t need to worry. Although slightly more expensive than the local food, many restaurants offer tasty western options. You can also find many of the popular fast food chains here.

Nightlife in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a nocturnal hub for party seeking travellers, and you’ll find countless bars, nightclubs and rooftop establishments dotted around the city. Although we usually try to avoid partying in Malaysia due to the hefty price of alcohol, we can certainly recommend some cool places worth checking out.

The best spot for sunset is undoubtedly the HeliPad Bar. The drinks are expensive, and you will need to arrive early to reserve a spot, but for the views, it’s worth it. Another trendy and unique venue is Attic Bar. The only one of its kind in Kuala Lumpur, this intriguing cocktail bar is hidden on the rooftop of one of the capital’s hippest hostels. Finally, if you are looking to party through until the early hours, you may want to check out clubs such as Zion and Play Club at the Roof.

2. Penang

If you are even slightly interested in Malaysian history and culture, you should make Penang a priority on your itinerary. The city is located along the coast and once served as a major trading hub; however, it is the beautiful colonial district of George Town, which attracts most visitors to the city.

Renowned for its fascinating heritage houses, vibrant street art murals, and unrivalled street food, George Town is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. There are a number of attractions to cover in Penang, so let’s get right to it.

Top things to do in Penang

George Town Street Art – One of the key elements that attracts visitors to Penang is the creative and vibrant street art of Georgetown. Surprisingly, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was only commissioned in 2012; however, the revamp has, without doubt, injected a new lease of character into the city.

With an array of iconic murals hidden throughout a labyrinth of lanes and alleyways, finding them becomes an explorer’s treasure hunt. Some of our favourites include the famous ‘Brother and Sister on Swing’, ‘Kids on a Bike’ and ‘Stealing Baos’.

backpacking malaysia - Penang - street art - motor bike

Tour the Heritage Houses -The pre-war heritage houses which can be found all around Georgetown are a true reflection of the city’s rich history. Oozing charm and authenticity, it almost feels like you have stepped back in time to another era. As well as admiring the dilapidated houses, you can also visit more affluent properties such as the Pinang Peranakan Mansion – once home to a 19th-century Chinese tycoon.

Penang Hill -Penang Hill has been heavily developed at an attempt to attract travellers. Along with outstanding panoramic views over Georgetown and the surrounding ocean, there are numerous attractions to keep you entertained.

With the area covered in rainforest, nature walks are a popular activity here. You can also find a myriad of temples, heritage buildings, bars, restaurants, and even Penang’s own version of the Love Lock bridge. To reach the peak, visitors can choose to take the cable car or hike the strenuous climb.

*For more pristine nature opportunities in Penang, you shouldn’t miss the Entopia sanctuary and the Botanical Gardens.

backpacking malaysia - penang hill


backpacking malaysia - love lock bridge

Kek Lok Si Temple – Kek Lok Si or “Temple of Happiness” is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It is also a significant pilgrimage centre for Buddhists across South East Asia. Even if you are not an avid temple lover, the grandeur and intricate design of the temple complex make it well worth the day trip from Georgetown.

If temples are your jam, then there are many others that you can enjoy closer to Georgetown.  Some of the most impressive include Wat Chaiyamangalaran Temple, Khoo Kongsi Temple, and for something a little bit different, the Snake Temple!

China House Georgetown – Said to be the longest cafe in the country, China House is a charming establishment serving some of the best cakes in South East Asia. This place is fiercely popular so be prepared to wait for a table; but, we can assure you it is more than worth it.

*Georgetown, in recent years, has become quite the hipster spot. As a result, there has been a surge of chic coffee shops popping up throughout the town. Head to Love Lane for your pick of quirky venues.

Celebrate Chinese New Year – If you have carefully planned your trip around Chinese New Year, or just so happen to be in the country for the festivities, then Penang is where you should be to immerse yourself in the celebrations. From the enchanting red lanterns that adorn Georgetown, to the wild street parties and lively atmosphere, it is a truly wonderful time to be in the city. Be sure to visit Kek Lok Si after dark at this time of the year. For 33 nights, tens of thousands of lights illuminate the enchanting temple complex.

backpacking Malaysia - Chinatown - Chinese lanterns

Beaches – If you are looking for the best beaches in Malaysia, then Penang probably isn’t your best option.  That being said, the city does host some attractive beachside locations. Batu Ferringhi hosts powdery golden sands and is conveniently located just 30 minutes from Georgetown.

Where to eat in Penang

Known as the street food capital of the country, you are never short of mouth-watering food options in Penang. Hawker stalls can be found everywhere in the city, but for a sprawling choice of options under one roof, head to the New World Park or Red Garden food courts.

Gurney Drive, located a little outside of George Town, is a popular spot for street food, while China Town bursts into life with its bustling night markets. Finally, if you are seeking delicious Indian food, you can try out any of the restaurants located in Little India.

Nightlife in penang

While there is a vibrant nightlife scene in Penang, it tends to sway more towards a laidback rather than an all-night party kind of vibe. Some of the top things to do of an evening usually include something to do with food; however, you can also take part in a sunset boat tour, watch a live band play at China House, or enjoy a drink at one of the many bars and pubs.

3. Malacca city (otherwise known as melaka)

In the years before Georgetown prospered, Malacca City served as the historical hub of Malaysia. This UNESCO heritage, riverside town, is oozing with culture and charm, yet many travellers erroneously miss it off their itinerary.

From ambling the colonial streets and cruising along the river; to visiting museums and sampling the local cuisine; Malacca City offers the perfect blend of serene and educational activities.  Here are our favourite things to do in the city…

Top things to do in Malacca

Take a river cruise – One of the best ways to take in the sights of this picturesque city is to enjoy a peaceful cruise along the river. The river is the focal point of the city, and on the cruise, you can enjoy the multitude of beauty that Malacca has to offer.  Look out for the vibrant street art that adorns many of the buildings, as well as popular landmarks such as the Clock Tower and Ghost Bridge.

backpacking Malaysia - Malacca - River

Immerse yourself in the rich history – The diverse history of Malacca is present throughout the heritage city, and walking the streets will transport you back in time. Along with numerous museums, history buffs will relish the European influence present in the colonial architecture. You will also learn more about the extraordinary Peranakan culture that prevails in the city.

For those who want to learn more about Malacca’s rich history, you should visit the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, the Malacca Sultanate Palace, and the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum.

Jonker Street Night Market – Located in the heart of China Town, Jonker Street is the cultural hub of Malacca.  Most days, you can meander amid the historical buildings and local boutique stores. Although, at the weekends, Jonker Street bursts into life when it hosts its atmospheric night market. Expect a mosaic of delicious food stalls, along with local goods and entertainment.

backpacking Malaysia - Malacca - Jonker Street - Chinese lanterns

Take a Trishaw ride – Malaysia is a country obsessed with ‘Hello Kitty’ and it doesn’t get any more obvious than in Malacca. As well as a Hello Kitty hotel, many of the Trishaws are elaborately decorated in the theme, making this an entertaining way to explore the city. As well as Hello Kitty, you can expect Pokemon, Disney, and other flamboyant Trishaw designs.

Visit The Huskitory – Not an attraction you would expect in a historical city like Malacca, the Huskitory is a cafe swarming with Siberian Huskies. While you enjoy a coffee or beverage, the dogs roam free around the cafe, allowing you to stroke, play, and even feed them.

Dog lovers will not want to miss the opportunity to interact with this beautiful breed, but you should book in advance to avoid disappointment.

backpacking Malaysia - Malacca - The Huskitory - huskeys

Where to eat in Malacca

While you can expect the same diversity in food as other parts of the country, you cannot leave Malacca without sampling the traditional local cuisine. Peranakan AKA Nyonya, is a delightful combination of Chinese and Malay flavours, resulting in delicious dishes. Although there are many restaurants specialising in Nyonya cuisine, some of the local favourites include Nancy’s Kitchen and Amy’s Heritage.

Nightlife in Malacca

Malacca has a limited nightlife scene relative to other cities in Malaysia, yet you can still expect a fun-filled evening here. Head to the nocturnal hub of Melaka Raya for a pick of pubs, bars, nightclubs, and karaoke.

4. Langkawi

Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands located off the west coast of Malaysia. Famous for its endless natural landscapes, the main island hosts some of the best beaches in Malaysia. In 2007, Langkawi was declared a UNESCO World Geo Park for its pristine beaches, majestic waterfalls, mysterious caves, lush rain forests and verdant mangroves.

One of the things that attracts visitors to Langkawi is the harmonious combination of relaxation and adventure. So, without further ado, here are the top things to do in Langkawi…

Top things to do in Langkawi

Beaches – As previously mentioned, Langkawi has some of the best beaches in Malaysia, so naturally this is the number 1 thing to do here. With many incredible beaches to choose from it is worth renting a scooter for a day and discovering which one you like best.

The most popular beach on the island is Pantai Cenang. Positioned amid the tourist hub of the island, here you will find the island’s top shops, bars, and restaurants.  If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, you should check out Tanjang Rhu or Pantai Tengah.

backpacking Malaysia - Langkawi - beach

Waterfalls – There are a number of waterfalls to be found on Langkawi; however, Telaga Tujuh is arguably the most beautiful. The name, meaning ‘Seven Wells Waterfall’, refers to the seven connected natural pools fed by seven separate waterfalls in the mountain. Adventurers can climb to the peak of the waterfall where magical views support the local legend that the area is home to fairies.

Other notable waterfalls on the island include Air Terjun Temurun and Durian Perangin. Though be aware that the best time to see the waterfalls in all their glory is during the rainy season.  During the dry season, you may find that there is no water at all.

Mangrove Tours – Mangrove Tours are a fiercely popular attraction in Langkawi which allow visitors up close and personal to some of the islands most extraordinary nature. As well as lush mangrove forests, you can expect to see plenty of wildlife. You can either opt for a boat tour through the mangroves or if you are feeling more adventurous, why not try kayaking instead.

backpacking Malaysia - Mangrove Tours - girl kayaking

Skytrex Adventure – One for the intrepid travellers, Sky Trex Adventure is an adrenaline pumping assault course in the heart of the Langkawi Rainforest. With a choice of circuits depending on your capabilities, brave participants are faced with a number of challenging obstacles and zip lines.  Don’t look down!

backpacking Malaysia - Skytrex Adventure

Island Hopping – Being part of an archipelago of 99 islands, it is no wonder that island hopping tours are popular in Langkawi. Most of the surrounding islands are uninhabited and extremely picturesque.  You can opt for a boat tour, or to make things more interesting, a guided jet ski tour.

Duty-Free Shopping – Yes, you read that right, Langkawi is a duty-free island, meaning you can pick up cheap as chips booze, tobacco and confectionary. Just be aware that there is a limit to how much you can buy, and you will need to present your passport if you want to make a purchase.

Where to eat in Langkawi

Langkawi is as equally diverse in its culture and cuisine as the big cities. Here, you can enjoy a variety of night market treats – although be sure to check the location as it changes each day. Or for affordable yet delicious Indian food, ‘Tomato 24’ has a cult following on the island. Finally, for a delicious sunset dinner where you can bring your own (duty-free) alcohol head to Nest Rooftop Bar.

Nightlife in Langkawi

Evenings in Langkawi generally consist of laid-back sunset drinks, good food, and a trip to the night market. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t party on if you wanted to.  Lively beachfront bars such as Yellow Bar and D’Reef stay open past midnight, and there are also a select few nightclubs on the island.

backpacking Malaysia - Langkawi - sandy beach resort - sunset

5. Pangkor Island

Positioned further South, Pangkor Island is a quieter alternative to favoured Langkawi. Although only small, the island sports beautiful beaches and stunning natural landscapes, where visitors can snorkel, hike, and kayak. This island is a winning choice for anybody looking to get off the grid and completely unwind.

6. The Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands is a picturesque region in the West of Malaysia. Hosting verdant nature, scenic views, and a bunch of adventure opportunities, nature lovers and intrepid travellers shouldn’t miss it.

Historically, the highlands were discovered by an English colonialist, resulting in a significant British influence throughout the region. Along with traditional cream teas and strawberry picking, ironically the weather is colder here too! Let’s look at some of the top things to do.

Top things to do in the Cameron Highlands

Tour Boh Tea Plantation – In keeping with its British influence, the highlands are famous for the lush green tea terraces that sweep the region. As well as beholding the breathtaking views, you will learn how one of the most popular teas in Malaysia is grown and harvested.

Jungle Treks – With one of the world’s oldest rainforests located nearby, jungle trekking is a popular activity here. Tours range from half a day to 7 days plus, so there are suitable options for all capabilities. From the tour, you can expect to see some of the incredible scenery the highlands are famous for, as well as learning about the region’s nature.

backpacking Malaysia - things to do Cameron Highlands - green landscape

Hunt for the Rafflesia Flower – The Rafflesia flower is known to be one of the largest flowers in the world, and Malaysia is one of few countries where you can find it. Growing up to 3ft in diameter, the extraordinary specimen is also known as the corpse-flower, thanks to its pungent odour.

*Your best chance of a seeing the Rafflesia flower is during the rainy season and with the assistance of an experienced guide.

Orang Asli Villages – Orang Asli, meaning ‘original people’ in Malay, refers to the indigenous groups living in Malaysia. The Cameron Highlands is one of few places in Malaysia where you can visit traditional villages. While these tours provide insight into a fascinating side of Malay culture, it is imperative to always be respectful.

7. Malaysian Borneo

Borneo, the world’s 3rd largest island, is divided among 3 countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Hosting pristine rainforest, world-class dive sites, towering mountain ranges, and some of our planet’s most unique wildlife, it is a destination that screams adventure.

While 73% of the island is dominated by Indonesian territory, Malaysian Borneo (otherwise known as East Malaysia) comprises of 2 states – Sawarak and Sabah.  To experience all the wild attractions that Borneo has to offer, you will want to spend time in both.  Here are some of the top things to do in Malaysian Borneo:

Top things to do in Malaysian Borneo

Encounter Wild Orangutans – There are only two places in the world where you can encounter endangered orangutans. The first is Borneo, and the other is Sumatra. Sadly, with deforestation for palm oil plantations proving catastrophic to the orangutan population, it is uncertain how much longer the species will survive.

There are centres throughout Borneo working to protect the future of the species. While visiting one of these centres gives you the best chance of a sighting, but you can also take your chances of seeing them in the wild. Trekking through the rainforest or a river cruise on Kinabatangan River both come with a good chance of spotting the orangutans.

backpacking Malaysia - things to do in Malaysian Borneo - wild orangutans

Scuba Diving – Encompassed by some of the most pristine ocean in the region, Sabah boasts some exceptional diving opportunities. Despite the high demand, only a limited number of dive permits are issued each day to help protect the fragile ecosystem. Although diving here is relatively expensive, the rare opportunity to encounter the flourishing coral reef, several species of sharks, turtles, and other tropical marine life, make it worth the money.

Climb Mount Kinabalu – At 4095m, Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Malaysia. To do this climb will require both mental and physical strength, not to mention money to spare. The cost of a permit alone is £85/$110 and you will need to hire a guide. A relaxing alternative to the strenuous climb is to spend the day at Kinabalu Park. Kinabalu Park boasts jungle trails, beautiful plants, and views of the prodigious mountain.

Spot Wildlife on the Kinabatangan River – Considered a highlight when visiting Borneo, river cruises along the Kinabatangan River allow visitors the rare opportunity to spot a variety of wildlife. These include the endangered proboscis monkeys, orangutans, crocodiles, pythons and elephants.

Rainforest Trekking – The national parks in Sarawak provide unbeatable trekking opportunities, and with camping available in most places, avid adventurers could get lost for days amid the wilderness. Some parks require a hired guide, therefore be sure to do your research before you head out.

8. Perhentian Islands

Located off the East Coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are famous for their pristine beaches, azure waters, and spectacular diving conditions. The largest island, Perhentian Besar, is the quieter and less crowded island. While Perhentian Kecil is livelier and more popular with backpackers. Other than diving and snorkelling, there isn’t much else to do on the islands other than to immerse yourself in the tranquillity – heaven!

backpacking Malaysia - Perhentian Islands - beach - turquoise sea

Malaysia itinerary

Now we have covered the best places to visit in Malaysia, here are some tailor-made Malaysia itineraries to help plan your travels.

10 day itinerary – The cultural tour

Day 1 – Arrive into Kuala Lumpur and spend your  time adapting to the culture. Mooch around the various markets in the city and enjoy the fusion of cuisines.

Day 2 – Wake early and take a Grab to the Batu Caves ahead of the 7 am opening time. Enjoy the vibrant temple located at the entrance and witness the early morning rituals of the brahmins. At 7 am, walk the 272 rainbow stairs into the cave temple, but be aware of the pesky monkeys!

Next, take the direct train to Kuala Lumpur Railway station and visit the National Mosque. Spend some admiring the majestic architecture before heading to Merdeka Square.

Once you are done marvelling over the heritage buildings in the square, it should be time to grab some lunch. The Central Market is located nearby hosting a variety of hawker stalls. Otherwise, the insta-famous Merchants Lane Cafe is a great spot for relaxing refreshments.

Once fed and watered, you are likely to be feeling weary from your early morning start. Take the afternoon to have a relaxing stroll in the Botanical Gardens, or for something educational, the National Museum.

In the evening, head to Jalan Alor Street, to round off the day with a delicious meal.

Day 3 – Start your day at the vibrant Thean Hou Temple – one of the largest and oldest Buddhist temples in South East Asia.

Next, head to China Town. Check out the various temples and heritage buildings in the area, before doing a spot of shopping on Petaling street. Get your haggling head on in order to snag yourself a bargain.

For lunch, find a hawker stand or head to one of the many cafes in the area. Then in the afternoon, go street art hunting in Bukit Bintang and take to the skies at the Eco-Forest Park.

Finally, head to the Petronas Towers an hour before sundown. This will give you the opportunity to see the iconic towers in both day and night.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysia itinerary - temple - two girls

Day 4 – To continue your cultural tour of Malaysia, take a bus in the morning to the UNESCO city of Malacca. You won’t be on the road for long – around 2-3 hours – so when you arrive, enjoy a relaxing trishaw tour of the city. End the day by sampling some traditional Nyonya cuisine.

Day 5 – For a tranquil start to your day, begin with a gentle boat cruise along the river. Along the route, look out for the city’s significant landmarks and vibrant street art.

After the revitalising journey, spend the rest of the morning meandering the museums and learning about the city’s heritage.

Once you are refreshed from lunch, take the afternoon to explore the city. Visit Christ Church, one of the most beautiful and significant buildings in Malacca. Then head to Jonker Street for some shopping.

If you are in the city on a Friday or Saturday, enjoy the food at the Jonker Street night market. If not, head to Jalan Kee Ann for a choice of restaurants.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysia itinerary - Christ Church building pink


Day 6 – Your 6th day in Malaysia is going to be dominated by travel as you make your way to the Cameron Highlands. The journey is around 6 hours, enjoy the picturesque landscapes that you will pass along the way.

Day 7 – Spend your 7th day enjoying the lush nature and traditional culture of the Cameron Highlands. Start by visiting the Boh Tea Plantation, where they harvest one of the most famous teas in Malaysia, followed by strawberry picking at Raajus Hill Strawberry Farm.

After a traditional English cream tea at Jim Thompsons Tea House, take a tour of the Orang Asli Villages. Here, you will get an insight into the lives of the indigenous groups who reside in the area.

Finally, head to the night market for dinner and spend 1 more night in the Cameron Highlands.

Day 8 – With the cultural highlights of the Cameron Highlands covered, take a morning bus to Penang. All going well, you will arrive in around 3-4 hours and consequently make the most of the afternoon. Spend this time to mooch around charming George Town on the lookout for iconic heritage buildings. You can eat at one of the many hawker food stalls.

Day 9 – Start your day on a treasure hunt for the prolific street art in George Town. Most hostels will provide a map, but it’s more fun to lose yourself amid the labyrinth of lanes and alleyways. Take your camera and snap as many murals as you can find.

For refreshments head towards Love Lane. Here you can immerse yourself in the hipster culture at one of the chic cafes. Otherwise, head to the famous China House Cafe for some of the best cake in all of South East Asia.

In the afternoon visit the fascinating Chow Jetty waterfront village, before boarding a boat for the sunset cruise. End the day with a delicious Indian meal in vibrant Little India.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysia Itinerary - Duishan lee jetty

Day 10 – On your final day, wake early to visit the awe-inspiring Kek Lok Si Temple.  Then, if there is time, take the cable car to the peak of Penang Hill. To conclude your time in Malaysia, enjoy the astonishing views over George Town and the surrounding ocean. Leave Penang Airport feeling educated and revitalised.

2 week itinerary – For the nature lovers

Day 1 – Fly into Kuala Lumpur and spend some time adapting to the culture. Mooch around the various markets in the city  and enjoy the fusion of delightful cuisine.

Day 2 – Explore the city’s nature spots. The serene Botanical Gardens offer a perfect escape from the bustling metropolis. As well as a number of verdant gardens, you will find a peaceful lake, a butterfly farm, and a bird park.

Next, take to the skies at the Eco-Forest Park and stroll the canopy walks atop the cities preserved rainforest. Finally, end your day with an astonishing view of the city at either the KL Tower or Helipad Bar.

Day 3 – For a taste of culture and nature combined, wake early and visit the 400 million-year-old Batu Caves. Then in the afternoon, take the 4-5 hour bus journey to the Cameron Highlands.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysia Itinerary - coloured steps


Day 4 – Spend your 4th day enjoying the lush nature and traditional culture of the Cameron Highlands. Start by visiting the Boh Tea Plantation, where they harvest one of the most famous teas in Malaysia, followed by strawberry picking at Raajus Hill Strawberry Farm.

After traditional English cream tea at Jim Thompsons Tea House, take a tour of the Orang Asli Villages. Here, you will get an insight into the lives of the indigenous groups who reside in the area.

Day 5 & 6 – The Cameron Highlands is the perfect spot for nature lovers, and with a multitude of trekking experiences to choose from, you will want to spend at least 2 full days on this activity. If it is the right time of year, hire a guide and go in search of the Rafflesia Flower – known to be the largest flower in the world. The search will take you through the depths of the jungle where you will also encounter the abundance of flora and fauna in the area.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysia Itinerary - jungle

Day 7 – With the highlights of the Cameron Highlands covered, take a morning bus to Penang. All going well, you will arrive in around 3-4 hours and consequently make the most of the afternoon. Spend this time to mooch around charming George Town on a lookout for iconic heritage buildings and street art. You may also want to try out many of the hawker food stalls.

Day 8 – To begin your 7th day, take the bus to picturesque Penang Hill. If you enjoy hiking you can choose to walk to the peak (around 3 hours) or otherwise, take the cable car.

After enjoying lunch with a view on Penang Hill, take a Grab to Malaysia’s largest butterfly farm – Eutopia. A tropical indoor ‘natureland’, Eutopia has lush gardens, artificial waterfalls, fluttering butterflies, and awesome reptiles.

In the evening, if you have time, enjoy a relaxing sunset cruise before a delicious dinner at one of the food courts.

Day 9 – On the 9th day travel from Penang to Langkawi Island. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon and head to Yellow Bar for sunset cocktails.

Day 10-13 – Langkawi is a nature lover’s paradise. Oozing in natural landscapes, you can spend the last days of your holiday relaxing on pristine beaches, discovering waterfalls, kayaking through mangroves, and so much more.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysia Itinerary - sunset over beach


Day 14 – Return home feeling revitalised.

* If you find yourself with extra time, head to the Perhentian Islands for some of the best beaches in Malaysia and epic diving spots.

2 week itinerary – Intrepid adventures

Day 1 – Fly into Kuala Lumpur and spend some time adapting to the culture. Mooch around the various markets in the city and enjoy the fusion of delightful cuisine.

Day 2 – Spend a day exploring the city’s more adventurous highlights. Visit the Batu Caves, the Eco Forest and the Petronas Towers. End the day with sunset drinks at the Helipad Bar.

Day 3 – Fly from Kuala Lumpur to Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu and go sightseeing in the city. The majestic City Mosque is worth a visit, as are the picturesque Botanical gardens. Finally, end your day with dinner and drinks on the waterfront.

Day 4 – If you haven’t pre-organised to climb Mount Kinabalu, you may wish to enjoy some world-class diving instead. Sipadan Island is famous for its underwater ecosystem; however, limited permits are issued each day, so you will need to organise in advance. A good alternative is Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, located just a 20-minute speed boat ride from Kinabalu.

Day 5-8 – Spend 2-3 nights alongside the Kinabatangan River. You can opt for a live-aboard river cruise, or otherwise stay in lodges at the riverside village of Sukau. Spend your days wildlife spotting and soaking in the serene nature.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysia Itinerary - orangutan


Day 9 – Make your way back to Kota Kinabalu and rest up for the night.

Day 10 – Fly to Kuching in Sawarak and take the afternoon to explore the city.

Day 11-13 – Spend these days exploring Sawaraks national parks. Bako is the most popular where you can enjoy hiking trails in the rainforest, boat tours through the mangroves and a variety of endemic wildlife.

Day 14 – Return home exhausted, ready for another holiday!

Accommodation in Malaysia

The best hostels in Kuala Lumpur

Paper Plane Hostel – Sporting quirky wall art and a chic modern design throughout, it’s no wonder that Paper Plane hostel is a consistent favourite among backpackers.  Along with a choice of comfortable dorms or private rooms, guests can enjoy socialising on the rooftop and the common glass room. Hungry? The hostel is located within walking distance of Bukit Bintang, Chinatown and the Central Market.

Tuxedo KL – If you’re not on too much of a budget, you should consider Tuxedo KL for an unforgettable stay in Kuala Lumpur. The highlight of this award-winning hostel is undoubtedly the rooftop infinity pool, where guests can enjoy breathtaking views over the cityscape. Furthermore, you can take advantage of the gym, steam room, and 5* amenities.

Step Inn Hostel & Guesthouse – On the other end of the scale, Step Inn is an affordable yet highly rated hostel in the city. Guests love the friendly and sociable atmosphere, as well as the excellent location just minutes away from China Town. The cheap private rooms make it a great option for couples, while the working space & high-speed WIFI makes it the perfect choice for digital nomads. Not to mention the  free breakfast included in the unbeatable price!

Mingle @Chinatown – If you are keen to ‘mingle’ and get involved in group activities, then you will not be disappointed at Mingle @Chinatown. There is something going on every day of the week, including street food tours and days out in the city. In addition, you are sure to love the 1920’s colonial building, incorporating rustic modern interior for a truly chic yet traditional feel.

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The best hostels in Penang

The 80’s Guesthouse – A popular choice for travellers seeking an authentic experience in the city, The 80’s Guesthouse is housed within a 100-year-old shophouse. Located in the heart of George Town, the hostel has managed to integrate modernity, while still preserving the charm of the original building.  Guests can expect comfortable dorms or private rooms, amazing facilities, and a laidback atmosphere here.

House of Journey – Set within the walls of a 150-year-old heritage building, House of Journey is located near the ever-popular Love Lane. You are sure to love the quirky decor and comfortable rooms, not to mention the yummy free breakfast!

Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel – Yep, you guessed it, this hostel is the top choice for all of you party animals out there. But this isn’t your typical party hostel. You can still look forward to a good night’s rest in the comfortable A/C dorms. Plus, when you wake up a little jaded from the night before, there is a free buffet breakfast and swimming pool to help pull you around.

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Other hostels in Malaysia

Tubotel – Langkawi – With only a few hostels to choose from on Langkawi, Tubotel is without a doubt the number one choice on the island. As well as a perfect beachfront location, their innovative pod-style rooms resemble giant drainage pipes. Alternatively, there are cheaper dorm rooms available.

backpacking Malaysia - Accommodation in Malaysia - Tubotel

Ringos Foyer GuesthouseMallaca – One of only few hostels in Malacca, Ringos is the perfect place to stay when exploring the heritage city. They offer a variety of rooms, all including free breakfast, plus you are sure to enjoy the group activities and laidback atmosphere.

Hikers Sleep PortCameron Highlands – In this rural part of the country, Hikers Sleep Port is the perfect combination of comfort and affordability.  The convenient location means you can easily enjoy the attractions in the area, and the delicious free breakfast will help fuel your adventures.

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backpacking Malaysia - Accommodation in Malaysia - Hikers sleep port


Malaysian food

Malaysia is a country obsessed with food, and they have every right to be. This multi-ethnic society has created one of the most diverse and exciting cuisines in all of Asia. The endless dishes of Malay cuisine mean you can try something different every day for a month. Here is a list of foods that you MUST try when travelling in Malaysia.

Traditional Malaysian food

Nasi Lemak – You could say that Nasi Lemak is the ‘national’ dish of Malaysia.  Traditionally, the dish is served with coconut rice, dried anchovies, a boiled egg, cucumber slices, and a spicy sambal sauce. Sounds interesting, but the combination of strong flavours creates a mouth-watering delight.

Hokkien Mee – Hokkien Mee is the staple noodle dish of Malaysia. Combining soy glaze noodles alongside squid, pork, and cabbage, it can be a heavy dish rich in flavour. If this sounds a bit much for you, you can also request a vegetarian option. Rather than the meat, the noodles are served with a delicious mix of fresh veggies instead.

Laksa – Laksa is an adored dish throughout Malaysia; however, it can be transformative depending on the region. This delicious noodle soup can be served coconut based, in a curry sauce, or with a light, hot and spicy broth.

Banana Leaf Rice – A dish inspired by South Indian cuisine, this celebrated rice dish is served on top of a green banana leaf. Traditionally, the rice will be accompanied by a selection of vegetarian curries, poppadom, and a spicy sambal sauce. The local way of eating this meal is with your hands, so don’t be afraid to give it a try.

Roti Canai – A simple yet delicious dish in Malaysia, is the iconic Roti Canai. A light, crispy, flatbread is served alongside a selection of spicy sauces or a curry.

Malaysian street food

Satay – Satay is arguably the most popular Malaysian street food, and stalls containing a selection of meat skewers can be found everywhere. Skewered on a bamboo stick, the chicken, beef, or lamb, is seasoned then grilled for a delicious BBQ taste.

Rojak – Rojak is quite the mystery dish, and by that, I mean you never quite know what’s going to be in it. The base is consistently a fruit and vegetable salad; however, it is always a lucky dip with what else you’re going to find in there. Squid, dough balls, and shrimp paste are all possible accompaniments.

Lok Lok – One of the more unique ways of eating street food is at Lok Lok stalls. First, you choose a selection of skewered meat or vegetables, and then you cook them yourself in a pot of boiling water. Lok Lok is traditionally enjoyed alongside a mix of delicious sauces, including spicy and peanut.

Apom Balik – This roadside delicacy consists of a rice flour pancake stuffed with creamed sweet corn. The corn is added to the batter mix, cooked until crispy, and finally folded to resemble a taco. Simple, but delicious!

Noodle/Rice Dishes – For a cheap, delicious meal, rice and noodle dishes are prolific in the street food realm. Roast chicken & rice, or Char Kuay Teow (stir-fried noodles) are simple, yet tasty. Or for something slightly more experimental, try the Koay Chiap (duck and noodle soup) or Koay Teow Th’ng (noodle soup with fish balls.)

Malaysian desserts

Cendol – A favourite among locals and tourists, Cendol is the perfect way to cool down after a spicy meal. The dish contains ice cold coconut milk mixed with sugar syrup, then topped with green jelly noodles, kidney beans, and other condiments.

Ais Kacang – Not too dissimilar from Cendol, but instead of the coconut milk, the ingredients are combined with a mountain of shaved ice. The ice is laced with sugar syrup and added food colourants give it a vibrant appearance.

Apom Balik – After a heavy meal, Apom Balik makes for a light and delicious dessert. As well as creamed sweet corn, you can find the pancakes stuffed with caramelised peanuts, coconut, or other sweet treats.

Durian – Crowned the King of Malaysian fruits, durian is slightly controversial in the sense that it rises very mixed opinions. The thing about durian is that it smells bad – as in banned from hotels and public transport bad – and while it tastes better than it smells, it isn’t for everybody. Malaysians love it though, and you will find anything from durian flavoured coffee and ice cream to the actual fruit itself. It’s kind of a bucket list item to try while you’re here, so pinch your nose and go for it!

Malaysian vegetarian food

As a rule, Malaysian food isn’t particularly vegetarian-friendly. Although meat and fish are staple ingredients in most signature dishes, it is usually possible to ask for a vegetarian option. It may prove more difficult at street food stalls; however, certainly at restaurants, they are generally very accommodating. In big cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang, you’ll have no trouble at all finding dedicated vegetarian restaurants.

Malaysia travel advice

1. Is Malaysia safe?

One of the most common questions we get asked about our experiences in Malaysia is “is Malaysia safe to travel”? There is some media stigma attached to Malaysia and other Islam countries; however, I am here to tell you that YES, Malaysia IS safe to travel.

That is not to say that crimes against foreigners doesn’t ever happen. Particularly in the capital of Kuala Lumpur, petty theft offences such as pickpocketing and purse snatching aren’t uncommon. It is therefore a good idea to adopt extra care and vigilance when you are out enjoying the country.

*We recommend checking the foreign commonwealth website ahead of travel to any country, to check the current situation is stable and safe to visit.

2. Is Malaysia safe for women?

As two females travelling throughout Malaysia, we personally never felt unsafe. We would advise respecting the Islam tradition of covering knees and shoulders to avoid unwanted attention; however, in tourist hotspots such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang, the dress code is generally very relaxed. Furthermore, if you are a solo female traveller, we would recommend avoiding isolated areas and travelling alone at night.

3. LGBTQ in Malaysia

There are laws applying to LGBTQ travellers in Malaysia that are important to be aware of. With the predominant religion of the country being Islam, LGBTQ is still very much a taboo subject. In short, acts of homosexuality are still illegal.

Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community have little political or social support, and there is little hope of change in the near future. That being said, there is an active gay scene in cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

In conclusion, LGBTQ travellers should not be deterred from visiting Malaysia; however, it’s important to be conscious of your behaviour in public.

4. What to pack for Malaysia

Generally, Malaysia is a hot and humid country, so you are going to want to pack plenty of cool clothing. At the same time, bear in mind that it is a Muslim country, and in many places, it will be respectful, if not required, that you cover up.

You can also expect to encounter some rain, no matter what time of the year you visit, and it often hits unexpectedly. It is therefore recommended you carry a lightweight rain jacket and waterproof cover for your bags at all times.

If you plan to visit the Cameron Highlands or areas of the rainforest, you should also bring some warmer clothes in preparation for colder evenings.

5. Vaccinations for Malaysia

You should always consult with your healthcare practitioner at least 6-8 weeks ahead of travel, as the vaccinations required will be dependent on the individual. As a guide, here is a list of the recommended immunisations for Malaysia.

  • MMR
  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis B (optional)
  • Rabies (optional)
  • Japanese Encephalitis (optional)

6. Internet in Malaysia

WIFI is extremely reliable in the big cities of Malaysia, and can generally be found in all hostels, cafes, and restaurants. In the more rural areas, you should be prepared for there to be no internet at all.

If you rely on the internet for work or other means, it is worth purchasing a tourist sim card. We use U Mobile and experienced good signal throughout West Malaysia.

7. Tap water in Malaysia

There seems to be some inconsistency on whether the tap water in Malaysia is safe to drink, so we advise not to take the chance.

8. Single use plastic

It is no secret that single-use plastic is causing irreversible damage to our ecosystems. Akin to other countries in Asia, it is prolific when purchasing local goods in Malaysia. There are, however, many ways you can avoid contributing to the problem.  For one, don’t buy single-use plastic water bottles if it can be avoided – find a hostel that provides a refill station. For two, do not accept plastic bags when doing your shopping – always have a reusable bag handy. And lastly, ask for your drink without a straw – if you need one, carry a reusable bamboo or metal one with you.


Malaysian culture

Malaysia is a land of cultural diversity. In fact, it is one of the things we loved most about the country. From the Islamic architecture and mystical Chinese traditions; to the tantalising Indian aromas and esoteric tales of the indigenous; the plethora of influences create an intoxicating cultural melting pot.

Malay, Chinese, Indian and many other ethnic groups, have lived together harmoniously in the region for generations. The first indigenous tribes arrived during the 13th century and were closely followed by the Malays. Later, the significant Chinese and Indian population settled during the British colonisation in the 1800’s.

Historically, the Malay peninsula was colonised first by the Portuguese, closely followed by the Dutch, and finally the British from the 15th to 19th century. As a result, European influence is significant throughout much of the country’s architecture.

While the official religion in Malaysia is Islam, you will find that the majority of religions are practised here to some extent. In fact, it is one of few places where you will see an amalgamation of religious temples located along the same street. Not only is this heart-warming to see, but it serves as a reflection of how these distinctive cultures have unified.

Food plays a huge part in the Malay culture and any conversation you have with a local will inevitably end up on the topic. Malay people are very passionate about food, and while there is generally some crossover in this multi-cultural society, cuisines tend to remain divided.

Particularly in rural areas, folklore is another notable aspect of the Malay culture. The enchanting fables involving animals, humans, and mythical creatures, usually relate to one of the country’s natural wonders.

backpacking Malaysia - Malaysian culture - wooden signs


Malaysian language

Malay or Bahasa Melayu is the national language of Malaysia. While the majority of the population speak English, it is always beneficial for learning some key phrases in the local language. Not only will you gain respect from the locals, but it will also enhance your travel experience. Here are some key Malay phrases to help get you started.

Selamat Pagi (s’la-mat pag-ee) – Good Morning

Selamat Tengah hari (s’la-mat teen-gah har-ee) – Good Afternoon

Selemat Petang (s’la-mat puh-tong) – Good Afternoon/Evening

Selemat Malam (s’la-mat mah-lahm) – Good Night

Selamat jalan (s’la-mat zha-lan) – Goodbye

Terima kasih (te-ree-mah ka-seh) – Thank you

Tolong (toh-long) – Please

Ya (yah) / Tidak (tee-dak) – Yes / No

Sama-sama (saa-ma saa-ma) – You’re welcome

Saya Tak Faham (saa-yah tak faa-haam) – I don’t understand

Di mana tandas (dee ma-na tan-das) – Where is the bathroom?

Berapa (be-raa-paa) – How much?

Mahal (maa-hal) – Expensive

Satu (saa-too) – 1

Dua (doo-aa) – 2

Tiga (tee-gaa) – 3

Cantik (chan-tek) – Beautiful

Keep reading ?

? Best hostels in Kuala Lumpur ?

? Things to do in Kuala Lumpur ?

? Best experiences in Southeast Asia ?



Our Taste For Life documents the story of Charlotte & Natalie – A British lesbian couple chasing their dreams around the world on a shoe-string budget. They share a passion for adventure, writing & photography and spend majority of their time bickering over what their next meal will be. Their next travel destination will be the incredible India, so to follow their journey be sure check out their blog and Instagram 

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