My 1-Month Malaysia Travel Itinerary

by Audrey on May 25, 2014 · 33 comments

Over the course of my year backpacking around Southeast Asia, I went to Malaysia a total of 3 times! I think it’s fair to say that I really enjoyed my time in the country.

For anyone planning a similar trip, I wanted to share with you my 1-month Malaysia travel itinerary which included stops in 4 destinations: Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown, and the Cameron Highlands.

Top attractions in Melaka (Malacca)

Melaka / Malacca

- 9 days -

Melaka was my first destination in Malaysia and it completely took me by surprise! I came here not knowing what to expect and I found myself staying in the heart of Chinatown (the best area in my opinion!), soaking in the swaying red lanterns, burning incense, and morning call to prayer.

If you enjoy markets, I would suggest you plan your visit so that it overlaps with the Jonker Street Night Market. Friday and Saturday night draw in the crowds and it’s quite the sensory overload. While I didn’t necessarily buy any souvenirs, I really enjoyed the street food available. From durian ice cream to fried carrot cake (which is actually made with radishes and not carrots!), there were plenty of new and interesting dishes to try.

Also, if you can muster the early wake-up call, it’s really worth getting dim sum for breakfast. Located on Jalan Tukang Besi, there is a little dim sum restaurant that sits directly across from the Kampung Kling Mosque. The place opens long before the sun comes up, and I was always surprised by the number of locals up at 6 in the morning drinking tea and enjoying everything from har gow (shrimp dumplings) to char siu baau (fluffy steamed buns filled with barbecued pork).

Melaka also has a lot to offer in terms of culture seeing as the city itself is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the best ways to get an overview of the historic centre is by hiring a trishaw driver to take you around for an hour. Drivers are parked around the Dutch Square and 40 ringgits is the standard rate for a 1 hour ride. Their loop will generally take you around Stadthuys, Christ Church, Saint Paul’s Church, Porta de Santiago, and the Maritime Museum. From there they’ll swing through Chinatown with visits to Jonker StreetCheng Hoon Teng Temple, Masjid Kampung Kling (Mosque), and a few other historical buildings along the way. You’ll have time to hop off the trishaw and visit any of these spots, but do keep in mind that the clock is ticking and your driver will only take you around for 1 hour. I would recommend using the trishaw ride as a way to get a better overview of the city, and you can then revisit these places at your own leisure.

I would also suggest taking a boat tour down the Malacca River. I took the trip twice – once in the evening and then again during the daytime – and it was a nice way to see the colourful buildings that line the promenade. If you’re up for a morning stroll, you can wander this same area on foot.

And if you’re craving Indian food, you can’t miss Little India for a thali set served on a banana leaf! My go-to spot was Selvam Banana Leaf Restaurant.

Where I stayed: Kawan Kawan Guest House

This was a cute family run guesthouse in a great location in Chinatown. They had a mix of private rooms with en suite bathrooms, as well as private rooms with shared bathrooms. The latter were a more budget friendly option, but even the shared bathrooms were kept incredibly clean a tidy!

Visiting the top attractions in Kuala Lumpur, KL.

Kuala Lumpur

- 10 days -

While in retrospect I would have spent far less time in Kuala Lumpur (10 days felt a bit too long in this big urban sprawl!), I did enjoy the abundant supply of Indian restaurants in this city. I couldn’t walk more than a few meters without bumping into a little spot serving up roti canai and hot cups of spicy chai. A few favourites included Restoran Anuja (located by the Puduraya Bus Station) and Restoran Yusoof dan Zakhir (located in the Central Market). I’d also recommend checking out the hawker style food courts found along Petaling Street for a bit of a different flavour; you’ll find some cheap and tasty eats there.

When it came to sightseeing, my first order of business in Kuala Lumpur was to swing by the Petronas Towers. I first caught a glimpse of them twinkling at night, and I returned again the following day for a look at them in the daylight. Equally impressive!

I also enjoyed visiting the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, which is an enclosed free-flight aviary – this means the majority of the birds roam free in an environment that closely resembles their natural habitat. The park is home to more than 3000 birds which are represented by more than 200 species. There were hornbills, peacocks, flamingos, parrots, storks, rainbow lorikeets, and countless others whose names I do not know.

And of course, no visit to Kuala Lumpur would have been complete without taking the train to the outskirts of town for a look at the Batu Caves. These impressive limestone caves which are home to a popular Hindu shrine are located 13 kilometres north of the city.  Reaching the top involves climbing 272 steps where cheeky monkeys lurk in search of food and cans of Coca-Cola – do not make eye contact and do not try to pet them! I went there early in the morning (to avoid the heat and the tour groups) and the place was virtually desolate. I watched the morning prayers take place at one of the shrines inside the cave and then came down for a bite at one of the many vegetarian restaurants located at the base of the cave.

Where I stayed: Hotel A-One

I stayed at the Hotel A-One several times when passing through KL because it was a good location - close to Chinatown, the Central Market, and nearby transportation. They key to getting an extra spacious room here is to upgrade to the Deluxe for just a couple more dollars. Also, their Wi-fi was incredibly fast, and they had an excellent restaurant serving up roti and chai right across the hotel. 

Sightseeing around Georgetown, Penang.

Georgetown

- 9 days -

One of my favourite things about Georgetown is the street art by Lithuanian born artist Ernest Zacharevic. He has transformed many a forgotten wall with murals of children playing, as well as bicycle and motorcycle installations. His work lends the city a playful feel, and it’s nice turning the corner and unexpectedly discovering his pieces.

A few of the attractions worth checking out in Georgetown include the Clan Jetties, where the Chinese community lives in stilt houses above the water; the Botanic Gardens, which offer a nice place where to cool down under the thick foliage; and the Kek Lok Si Temple (also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss), which is located just a short bus ride away in Air Itam.

Much like Melaka, you can also take a trishaw tour around town. The driver will take you around the historic attractions and give you time to hop off and explore these places a bit further. Hiring a driver for 1 hour comes to a little over $10.

And lastly, one of the reasons to come to Georgetown, Penang and linger is the food! Little India is home to two of my favourite restaurants: Restoran Kapitan and Kassim Mustafa Nasi Kandar. If you are craving some tandoori chicken and palak paneer with a side of butter garlic naan, look no further than here! I was alternating between these two places every day.

Where I stayed: Armenian Street Heritage Hotel

I loved this property! The Armenian Street Heritage Hotel was located in a historic property, and it was 5 floors of luxury at an affordable rate. It was within walking distance to the historic centre and the mall, and there were also lots of great little cafes in the area.

Visiting the Cameron Highlands, Tanah Rata.

Cameron Highlands / Tanah Rata

- 3 days -

While I only spent a few brief days in the town of Tanah Rata, I really enjoyed the laid back feel of the place. In the mornings I would walk into the town, grab a seat at one of the many little food stands set up along the main road, and order up a hot cup of spicy chai and a plate of roti canai. The air was cool, the morning fog was still lifting, and it was the perfect way to watch the town slowly come to life.

My visit to the Cameron Highlands was very low key and I was happy to hang out in the town and go on leisurely walks, but if you’re looking for a more active stay, there are plenty of tours to take. These include visits to the Mossy Forest, the Boh Tea Plantation, the Strawberry Farm, the Butterfly Garden, and if you happen to be in town at the right time of year, you can even go on a forest hike in search of the rafflesia – the largest flower in the world!

On another note, I do have to warn you that getting to Tanah Rata may make you a little queasy. It’s a long winding journey to make it up into the highlands; the roads are narrow, and sometimes it feels like you’re playing chicken with the oncoming buses. If you get motion-sickness (and even if you generally don’t!), you still may want to consider taking some Gravol before you board the bus.

Where I stayed: 

The place I stayed in was pretty dumpy, so unfortunately I can’t give a first hand recommendation for Tanah Rata.

What would I change?

  • More beach time! When I was first planning my month in Malaysia, I had grand plans to make it over to the Perhentian Islands, which are located just off of the northeastern side of the mainland. However, in the end, my travels ended up concentrating on the west side of the mainland and getting all the way across felt like a bit of a hassle. I wish I had paid for a flight, but at that time I was still in backpacker mode thinking I couldn’t splurge on domestic flights…I missed out on some of Malaysia’s most pristine beaches. Womp, womp.
  • Not making time for the Taman Negara! What was I thinking not making time to go to the jungle?! Again, at the time it seemed like too long of a journey (2-3 hours each way) to go just for the day, and I thought there would be plenty of other opportunities to visit the jungle…so I put it off.
  • Not having enough time to visit Malaysian Borneo. While I would have loved to visit Malaysian Borneo, I thought hopping over would have been a bit rushed. If I come back to Malaysia again, this one is a high priority!
  • Less time in Kuala Lumpur. Yes, Kuala Lumpur has plenty to offer in terms of attractions, however, I think I overstayed in the city by spending 10 days there. In retrospect, 5 would have been plenty. If you’re not a big city person, I think it’s worth swapping a few days out of KL for more time in a quiet town like Tanah Rata or even beach time in Langkawi or the Perhentians.

Have you been to Malaysia?
What destinations would you recommend and why?

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Kilee May 26, 2014 at 1:08 am

This post brings me back!

I also went to Restoran Kapitan and Kassim Mustafa Nasi Kandar and ohhh man, it was SO amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever had (or ever will) have better Indian food… garlic naan, mango lassi and butter chicken was unreal, I was literally licking the plate! Did you manage to get to Mustafa for their rumoured midnight lamb roast?

Next time I’ll for sure have to make it to Melaka & the Cameron Highlands/Tana Rata – places I missed while in Malaysia. We did make it to the Perhentian Islands and to Taman Negara but I have to say they weren’t as budget friendly as I’d hoped and I desperately missed the delicious cheap food from KL & Georgetown while I was there.

Malaysia really surprised me by how much I enjoyed myself, it really is such a beautiful place (and it was probably my #1 favourite country in terms of delicious food!). Thanks for sharing :)
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Rachel of Hippie in Heels May 26, 2014 at 1:34 am

I haven’t been but even so, I bet I would agree with what you said about 5 days in the city only. I’m never into the biggest cities and usually enjoy jungle/desert/beach (anything else!) lol
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Drew | The Hungry Partier May 26, 2014 at 7:08 am

Great read! I just got back from KL and I loved it.. Next time though, I want to go to Penang!

Let me know if you ever make it out to Korea! :)
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Alana - Paper Planes May 26, 2014 at 8:16 am

I like how you added a ‘What I would Change’ section – often hearing what people do wrong, or what they’d do differently, is just as helpful planning a trip as advice or recommendations on what to do!
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Naomi May 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

Just come back from Malaysia and you realise how much there still to see, do and most importantly, eat! I loved Georgetown especially Little India although we always went to a Thali place called NR Sweets I think where we would get burfi for pudding or there was an amazing dosa place called Krishna something too.
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Ivana May 26, 2014 at 11:29 am

Lovely :) We made it this year only to Malaysian Borneo, which I highly recommend to all who are into wildlife. We spent three weeks in Sabah and enjoyed it, although it’s a bit pricy there compared to Thailand or the Philippines.
ps: checked out your post about Mt. Batur recently… getting ready for climbing tomorrow! Thanks for info, we didn’t know you need to have your own torch, so at least we made sure they’ll provide some.
Cheers!

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Jade May 26, 2014 at 11:50 am

Great post… All similar highlights to my own experience of those destinations. I totally agree with you about KL… I have been there many times to visit family and enjoy the food, but Malaysia has so many other great places worth using your time to visit. I went to Taman Negara, the Perhentians and Tioman island too during my 4 months travelling in Malaysia last year. All worth a visit but really I found Borneo the absolute highlight… And so different to Peninsular Malaysia. If your interested here’s a short summary of my time in Malaysia: http://www.tiggerbird.com/2014/01/malaysia-roundup-so-much-variety.html
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Sam May 26, 2014 at 2:45 pm

This is super useful! I went to Malaysia in 2009, but only spent about two weeks there in total. I visited all these places, except the Cameroon Highlands, and hopefully, if things go to plan, my partner and I will be heading to Malaysia by the end of this year or the beginning of next. Exciting!
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Richelle Gamlam May 26, 2014 at 5:21 pm

I only went to Malaysia for a few days and it was not enough time! I saw Kuala Lumpur and took a day trip to Melaka. I wish I would have spent more time there! One day was definitely not enough. I know I’ll be going back to Malaysia. There’s so much more to see.

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john May 26, 2014 at 10:29 pm

We are about to embark on a year long trip and I have been struggling to find an itinerary for Malaysia. Your post is extremely useful. Plan to stay at a couple of the places you recommend. I have just started to blog and did not realise how time consuming it can be!
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Justine May 27, 2014 at 12:27 am

Ah, I absolutely loved Malaysia. I didn’t know much about it before I went but I ended up going to the same places you did and I fell in love with each city and town I visited (even KL!). I completely agree that missing out on the Perhentian Islands is one of my great regrets. I’ve heard it’s absolute paradise … Next time!
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Heather May 27, 2014 at 2:59 am

If you’re traveling overland from Thailand,
1. Start with Penang, go over to Langkawi if you like.
2. Then take the intercity train to Ipoh, see Gua Tempurung. Do Cameron Highlands.
3. Bus or train to KL for a couple of days.
4. Bus to Melaka.
5. Bus to the KLIA2 airport* to take a domestic flight to Kuala Terengganu. Go to the islands.
6. Bus or train to Kelantan for the culture.
7. Flight out to KL.

*Or, flight to Borneo or any other places. If you book early, AirAsia or Tiger Airways can be quite cheap.

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Agness May 27, 2014 at 7:39 am

10 days in KL? I’m not surprised as the city has so much to offer to budget travelers. I can’t wait to make it there in 2015! Great plan!
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Craig May 27, 2014 at 11:16 am

Nice itinerary! Malaysia is a great place to visit, especially for budget travelers. I agree with your opinion of KL: fascinating city with lots to see and do (check out the Islamic Arts Museum — vastly underrated), but 5 days is plenty. I’d suggest cutting a few days from the time you allow for Melaka and Penang, too. With the extra days, you could easily visit Ipoh, Redang, or — as you mentioned — Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands. Ipoh is just south of Penang and Kota Bharu, the gateway to the islands, is a few hours to the east.
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Shelley May 27, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Totally agree with you about 10 days being too long in KL. We spent a week the first time we went, because our impression was that it was very cosmopolitan (based on the Petronas). I’d say 3 or 4 days is plenty. If you do make it to Malaysian Borneo, I really recommend Paganakan Dii. It’s an amazing place in the middle of the jungle, not too far from the Orangutang Sanctuary. It’s one of the most unique, beautiful and affordable places we’ve stayed in the whole world. :) And also to book in advance for the trip to Palau Selingaan for the Turtle Sanctuary. Only about 50 people are allowed to stay overnight on the island and watch the mother turtle laying her eggs. Well worth it.
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Corinne May 27, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Well, Don’t worry Audrey. I didn’t make time for Melaka. This is a great list of things to do and see. I love Malaysia, too!
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Tracey - Life Changing Year May 27, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I mostly visit KL in 3-4 day bursts now as I find I get bored pretty quickly. But I’ve been there a dozen times or so and really I’m just visiting to eat my favourite foods! We hang out in Batu Ferringhi in Penang for most of the year. It’s easy to visit tonnes of other places when we get itchy feet and we are close to the beach, and again, all that amazing food! Thanks for the roundup – I’ll have to add Tanah Rata to my list of places to visit next!
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Karyn @ Not Done Travelling May 28, 2014 at 6:17 am

I’m definitely more of a beach person or a forest person than a city person (in terms of travel). I think a city has to have enough things for me to do, or to be unique enough, for me to not get bored with it.
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Rebel May 28, 2014 at 3:27 pm

What don’t I love about Malaysia – love KL and don’t think 10 days is too much. Love Borneo and could spend a whole month there. My parents love Melacca… So it’s on the to do list as is Cameron Highlands. Perhentians is amazing and we’re going back for 9 nights in August… Can’t wait. As we live in Australia flights to KL in their big sales that happen about twice are year are the cheapest overseas destinations for us. They were about $300 return from Sydney to KL for our upcoming trip.

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Andy May 28, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Sounds like a good itinerary. I am glad to see that Malaysia has so much to offer. I didn’t realize that it had such an influence of Chinese culture.
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Patti (The Travel Sisters) May 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Love your pics! Have not been to Malaysia yet but think will be going in the next few years. Will definitely refer to this post when planning my trip.
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Ryan May 30, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Looks like a realllllly exciting trip. I need to finally get over to Malaysia at some point. Maybe for Southeast Asia round two =) Have fun!!!
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Daryl May 31, 2014 at 12:42 am

Wow! This is super in-depth! Malaysia sounds like an absolutely incredible place.

<3 Daryl
Unlost
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Rachel G May 31, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I’ve never been to Melaka, but someday I hope to make it. Penang has some pretty amazing beaches, though. You have to go to the Penang National Park–there’s a “fishing village” at the entrance of the park, and you can either hike out a couple miles or hire a boat for a group of people. Turtle Beach and Monkey Beach are the most famous ones but they’re still secluded enough to not be crazy busy. Also, the Tanjung Bungah night market has the best Char Koay Teow in Penang. I lived there for almost 5 years so I can get a little crazy waxing eloquent over the joys of Penang. :)
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Where in the World is Nina June 1, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Hey don’t be TOO bummed about missing the Perhentians. I went to Kecil, “the backpacker-y one” and it was unfortunately nothing too impressive to me. Other absolutely love it, I find the people who did, weren’t avid travelers like you and I, and hadn’t seen some of the spectacular beaches elsewhere like in Thailand or Indo. The beaches were OK. There was quite a bit of rubbish around, which was the biggest downfall.

The one thing that saved the Perhentians for me was the snorkel trip. It was some of the best snorkeling I have done in SE Asia to date apart from the Gili’s and a few Thai islands :) I got to swim above some black-tip reef sharks… So cool!!! (PS- They were tiny sharks, otherwise this might have been moved to the complaint category, any bigger and I would have lost it!lol)
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Han June 2, 2014 at 8:31 am

I love your post about Malaysia! I’m actually from KL and I couldnt agree more about staying there for 10 days is more than enough. Other places I would recommend are fishing villages around Kuala Selangor or Pangkor island. They have some pretty good seafood dishes and it’s not really the typical touristy beach people usually like but it gives you a lot of culture. Other places you can consider visiting is Taiping. It’s a modest town rich in history. Thank you for visiting and I hope you’re coming back soon!
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Stephen June 5, 2014 at 5:08 am

I just spent a month in Malaysia, doing a lot of the same places. I loved it there. Redung Island was also amazing! One of the best beaches I’ve ever been to.

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Shing June 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Ahhh you just made me miss my other home in Melacca! I haven’t been for ages but I wish I could stroll along Jonker street tonight. I also love looking up at the architecture on nearby Heeren Street.

This is a fabulous itinerary, but I agree with you about less time KL, and finding time for Malaysian Borneo, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world I’ve ever been to.
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Ashley June 15, 2014 at 11:58 am

I spent my life in Malaysia. And its amazing to read how others are passionate and excited about where I’m based. Feeling slightly shameful myself that I haven’t even go to Cameron myself.. all because I really afraid of the whinny roads up the hill. Erm for beaches, I truly recommend kapalai and semporna in sabah, we call it Malaysia’s Maldives. Heaven. I went to perhentian kecil myself, I do agree it’s a little bit dirty. But you really have to do the island hopping and snorkeling !! It’s very backpacker friendly and all you need to do is enjoy yourself. I absolutely love melaka and penang. Both rich in culture and really good food. If you end up yourself at Kuala Lumpur, and willing to splurge a little, I recommend the restaurants at the troika, a building next to KLCC. You get to enjoy quality food with klcc view. Have fun and hope you guys have a great time in Malaysia!!

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Samantha July 10, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Ahh so glad I found this – we just booked our tickets to Malaysia and I’m lost on what to do and where to stay. This is so helpful! Can’t wait to go!
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Escape Hunter July 22, 2014 at 9:56 am

Lovely places, wonderful Malaysia!
I miss Malaysia – would love to visit it more thoroughly in the future :)

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Jocelyn July 23, 2014 at 11:55 am

I don’t know if i can convey how much I appreciate your experience, knowledge and insight. In a few months I’ll be headed to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka; reading your experiences are such a great positive addition to my confidence. Much love and thanks, girlfriend.

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