TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING MALAYSIAAfter travelling through Peninsular Malaysia, we found we enjoyed some parts more than others. The following are our travel tips, with a couple of top picks, things to be wary of and a few ideas for potential itineraries.
TOP PICKS FOR…Accommodation: Father’s Guesthouse in the Cameron Highlands was awesome. There was a great social atmosphere. We met heaps of other travellers who could give us some great advice on places to stay, things to do and what to look out for. They guesthouse also offers great services, suggestions and advice for both local area and throughout Malaysia. It’s worth booking, we saw so many people turned away later in the day, as they were full already.
Food: I think Malacca overall had the best food. Nonya Laksa, the banana leaf spread and satay from Capitol Satay were among my favourites. The combination of new and exciting dishes really fired up my taste buds. The high quality of food continued throughout Malaysia, with a perfect send off in Penang with a Laksa Asam.
Activities: Hands down the most enjoyable activities for us were in the Cameron Highlands. Both the Cameron Secrets tour and the trek up trail one we thought were highlights of Malaysia. We really enjoyed our stay here, in hindsight we should have stayed a bit longer and explored the area more extensively.
BE WARY OF…Malaysia is a beautiful country and I find the people and their culture both intriguing and inviting. As with any country, there are a few things to be a bit wary of before you travel to Malaysia. The following are a few things we wish we had known prior to our travel, and in some cases a few lessons we learnt the hard way.
- The Haze: Every year in September Indonesia burns the palm oil plantations as a cheap and easy way of clearing the land for re-planting. Consequently, Malaysia is blanketed in a haze that varies in intensity. There are some reports that state 100,000 people die each year from secondary health issues directly linked to the haze. We travelled for over two weeks through Malaysia without seeing blue sky as the haze was so heavy and cut out trip short to try and get out of it. When the haze was heaviest, with both noticed our health suffered and we both developed a cough (which lasted weeks after we left Malaysia), headaches, nausea and some drowsiness. While locals told us this was the worst year to date, I would avoid travelling through Malaysia at this time and we would have arranged our trip differently had we been aware.
- Monsoon season: In Malaysia this is November through to March. While we knew we would catch the start of the monsoons, we didn’t realise how much they affect the east coast islands. We had been really keen to travel to Pulau Perhentian and thought we would be able to head across to the island in late October. Unfortunately, the island starts to shut down mid to late October, ceasing food deliveries and other services on the island wind down as they close through the rainy season. Lesson learnt, Pulau Perhentian remains on the ‘to visit’ list!
- Taxi drivers: We got ripped off (majorly) by one guy in Kuala Lumpur. Hot, tired and disorientated, we knew we were close to our hotel and chose to take a taxi. Not only was the original fare at least three times what it should be, the driver further ripped us off by saying he didn’t have change for us! Rookie mistake! The maps.me app is a life saver, it’s a really handy offline map which we have found is actually better than Google maps. It’s helpful to know how far away your destination is when bartering a taxi fare. Another tip is to keep hold of the money until they have the change ready for you. If they claim to have the wrong change, head into somewhere close by to break the note yourself.
- The monkeys: Even though they look harmless, there are some that will rip into bags in search of food. Even some sugary drinks they will tear out of people’s hands and open the lid and tip on the ground to drink!
- The heat: Especially around midday, the heat can be pretty unbearable. We would always carry plenty of water and tried to go out in the morning and later in the afternoon to avoid being stuck out in the middle of the day. A good tip is to scout out local malls that have air-conditioning. Most often we didn’t buy anything, just seized the opportunity to get out of the sun and cool down with the air-con!
- The train network in KL: It can be quite confusing! There are multiple different lines that somehow seem to link together to form an extensive network. We found the easiest way to keep track of where we were was to take a photo of the map of the network.
- The beaches: Along the west coast most of the beaches are heavily polluted. Some parts of Penang (in the national park) are much nicer but not the place to go if you are after a beach holiday.
IF YOU LIKE…We are all different and we all want different things out of a trip to another country. The towns and cities in Malaysia have something to offer everyone, there are, however, some that have certain attractions that will suit some more than others. The following is a selection of a few of the things Malaysia has to offer, and the best places to find them (in my opinion).
Shopping: Kuala Lumpur is most likely going to have everything you could ever want. From the Chinatown Markets and sari shops in Little India, through to the overwhelming KLCC you are bound to find everything you could ever want.
Physical Activities: The Cameron Highlands with the incredible mossy forest is the place to go. With multiple hikes of varying length and difficulty you should be entertained here. From what I have heard, Pulau Perhentian is a good place to go diving and boasts some of the cheapest dive schools in Southeast Asia.
Heritage: The UNESCO Heritage area in Malacca is an incredible place to wander the riverbanks and absorb the incredible heritage that exists in the town. Just be wary, if you arrived by bus you get dropped a fair way from the central area. We were a bit shocked by the dusty town when we arrived but it didn’t take long to be charmed by the town. Penang also has some great heritage areas, including the Clan Jetties, which have also been listed as UNESCO heritage areas.
Beaches: Head to the islands. While we didn’t go to any on this trip (mainly because we were headed to the Koh Samui islands in Thailand), the other beaches on the mainland are quite polluted (from what I have seen of the west coast beaches).
IF WE WERE TO GO BACK…Number one on my list of places to go would be Pulau Perhentian. As it was entering monsoon season, the island was closing just as we arrived in Malaysia. It sounds like an incredible setting and a great place to travel. Sticking with the island theme, I would love to go to Pulau Tioman in the south. I am always drawn to the beaches and I think we would enjoy this island. Taman Negara is a highly rated national park north of KL. Due to the haze, we opted not to go, trying to get as far north as quickly as possible (within reason). I would definitely go to Taman Negara on a return trip. Lastly, I would love to travel to Sarawak, possibly even climb Mount Kinabalu.
ITINERARIESWe travelled up the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, departing from Singapore and travelling to Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands and Penang. From what we have seen, the following would be my picks for itineraries.
- One week: You have to decide what your interests are and go from there. Penang would be a good starting point, maybe for 2-3 days. From there, head to the Cameron Highlands for 3-4 days before heading to Kuala Lumpur for a day before flying home. If you enjoy shopping, maybe a bit longer in Kuala Lumpur would be a good way to finish off the week. An alternative to the Cameron Highlands would be Pulau Perhentian. While we couldn’t make it there, it would be a great place to soak up the sun. The only thing to be wary of is getting to and from the island. It’s a very long (7+ hours) bus trip from Penang followed by a boat trip (35mins) to get to the island. That would chew up a fair bit of your time in travel if you only have a week.
- Two weeks: The extra week opens up a few extra options. You could follow a similar route to what we took, flying into Singapore and spending a day or so before travelling to Malacca for 2-3 days. From Malacca take a bus to Kuala Lumpur for another 2-3 days (unless you fancy shopping and big cities) before heading to the Cameron Highlands. If you enjoy hiking, tea plantations and a cooler climate you could easily spend 4 or even 5 days here before travelling to Penang. Three days is perfect for Penang, but you could spend an extra day exploring the island on a scooter before flying home. Alternatively, catch the ferry to Langkawi (I have never been but have been told it is full of resorts and beautiful beaches) for 2 days for some beach time and spend 2 days in Penang.
- Two weeks: Alternatively, if you are keen on Pulau Perhentian, you could fly into Penang and spend 3 days there before heading to the island for up to a week. You could then head to the Cameron Highlands for 3 days before travelling to Kuala Lumpur to fly home.
- Three – four weeks: This is an ideal amount of time to travel Malaysia (in my opinion). Either travel from the south, starting in Singapore, or the north, starting in Penang. I would go to Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands and Penang to start with. I would definitely add in at least one of the islands, probably either Pulau Perhentian or Pulau Tioman (even though I haven’t been to them). The other place I would add is Taman Negara, another place I haven’t been. It great for hiking and the scenery looks and sounds amazing.
We really enjoyed our time in Malaysia and will most likely return at some stage (we will be avoiding monsoon season and the haze next time). Please leave a comment below if you have any questions and I will do my best to help. For the different costs of things, have a look at our Malaysia Travel Guide, and for more information on the various towns check out the relative blog posts for Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands and Penang.