So many people when travelling through Southeast Asia tell you to skip Malaysia. They tell you there's nothing there. Why? We have no idea! It's an incredible country with so much to offer.
Over the last ten years, we've visited Malaysia a few times and we've had so many bucket list worthy experiences. Want to swim with turtles, see the largest flower in the world (which is also carnivorous) and sip tea whilst overlooking the plantation it was made on? You can do all this and more in Malaysia.
If you fancy treating yourself, it is also home to some of the cheapest 5 star hotels in the world at (and they're genuine branded 5 stars). It's almost rude not to.
We've kept this list to Peninsula Malaysia, as although we love Borneo, we wanted to focus on what this underrated part of Southeast Asia has to offer.
The best things to do in Malaysia
1. Street art and street eats, Penang
The two things Penang is famous for, and it does both really well. There are so many night markets selling food reasonably priced enough that you can treat yourself to a variety of dishes. All are cooked to order in front of you. Try the laksa (spicy noodle fish soup), and be warned the coconut pancakes (along guan) were highly addictive. The Indian food in Penang was also the best we've had outside of India.
2. Take a hike Penang National Park
If you are a regular follower of this blog you have probably spotted that we are pretty keen on hiking. Whilst the opportunities to hike in Asia are amazing they often require a guide. We were thrilled to find that in Penang National Park there are marked hiking trails where no guide is required, you can also get there on public bus from the city.
There are a couple of trails to choose from, ranging from 1.2 to 7km. Our choice took a couple of hours at a leisurely pace. The scenery is beautiful with a mixture of jungle and beach and it's great to be out in the wilds sans guide.
3. Hunt for the world’s largest flower, Cameron Highlands
Seeing a rafflesia flower in the wild was on my travel bucket list for a long time. Not only because it is the world's biggest flower but because it is also carnivorous, now that's a freaky flower that has to be seen to be believed.
They don't bloom for long so spotting them is the luck of the draw. Guides will report back when the flowers have been seen in bloom and if you're lucky it will still be so when you arrive. The hike to get there depends entirely on where they have been spotted.
Ours took around an hour and a half through dense and sometimes slippery jungle terrain but it was worth every moment. As well as many dead and rotting rafflesias we saw a huge one alive and blooming.
They stink and are swarming in flies and are every bit as fascinating as I had imagined. Don't miss this trip if flowers are blooming when you are in the highlands.
4. Sip a fresh brew, Boh tea plantation, Cameron Highlands
There are so many tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands but we couldn't go past Boh. The terrace alone is reason to visit. You can take your tea overlooking rows and rows of vivid green tea bushes. After you've sampled a few of the local brews you can take a tour around the tea factory with a guide.
5. Drinks at a sky bar, KL
KL is a great city and it's particularly photogenic by night. We'd recommend heading to one of the many sky bars and nabbing a window seat. We chose the aptly named Sky bar at Traders hotel and had an amazing view of the famous Petronas towers, great value if you also time your trip with happy hour - that shouldn't be too difficult as it runs until 9pm : )
If you're looking for something a bit more active around KL, then check out the beautiful Kanching Falls, which is just a 25 minute drive from the city centre. If you have a bit more time, check out these free things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
6. Swim with turtles, Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands have the best snorkelling we have done yet. Not only is the sea crystal clear and warm as bath water but it has turtles. Lots of turtles. So many turtles we didn't know where to look next. If swimming with them is on your bucket list, make a beeline for these islands.
7. Enjoy a beach bbq, Perhentian Islands
Laid back by day and incredibly atmospheric by night. There's nothing like eating amazing seafood with the sand between your toes. Many of the restaurants have a nighly BBQ right on the beach with everything from steak to lobster tail. Even on a backpacker budget we just couldn't resist a little splurge. Lobster tails came in at 25 ringetts. Bargain.
8. Take the jungle train, Kota Bharu to KL
If you're looking for something a little bit different on your trip to Malaysia we'd recommend taking the jungle train. The line runs from Kota Bharu to KL and combines perfectly with a trip to the Perhentian Islands (the public boats depart from KB). The scenery is gorgeous and you'll likely be the only tourists on the train so it's a great place to chat to the locals. We decided to break our journey part way at a little jungle town, Dabong.
9. Get off the beaten track, Dabong
Stopping in this little village was a bit of a wild card for us, we weren't quite sure what it would be like or whether there would be anywhere for us to stay. Luckily for us we quickly stumbled upon a little guesthouse, Rose House, which was an absolute treat. The family cooked us an incredible dinner for a fraction of the price of local restaurants. As well as just exploring the little village on foot there is a cave (fish cave) nearby and a huge waterfall (Jelawang Waterfall, Gunung Stong State Park).
The cave was a little slippery so we didn't venture too far in but the waterfall was spectacular and we heard the calls of wild gibbons as we walked. Sometimes it pays to venture a little further from the beaten track.
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Planning a trip to Malaysia? Think we've missed anything? Let us know in the comments below.