Of all the countries that span across South East Asia, I feel that sometimes Malaysia is overlooked and often goes under the radar of ‘must-see countries’. This is because it doesn’t have a snappy nickname like Thailand’s “Country Of Smiles” or the non-stop hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s hectic city life in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.
However, I believe this relatively small country has some remarkable and unmissable hidden gems to keep your wanderlust thoroughly satisfied!
Here’s my list of 10 things to do while backpacking Malaysia:
1. Stay Gold at the Batu Caves.
Ever wanted to feed monkeys, eat great food, experience the local culture and admire natural limestone caves, ALL while standing at the foot of a towering golden statue? This massive monument is the world’s most giant statue of the Hindu deity, Murugan, towering a whopping 140-feet high.
Climb the stairs up to the caves, and on your way, interact with the curious and notoriously mischievous monkeys that will approach you the entire way from top to bottom! Once at the top, you’ll be greeted by the wide-open limestone caves that often host tours and performances. However, these are not every day, so be sure to check to do your research if you want to get involved!
2. Weekend madness in Malacca
Malacca is a small and quaint town just shy of a 2-hour bus journey south from Kuala Lumpur. Widely known as ‘The Historic State,’ it relies heavily on its historical heritage and local traditions. As a result, most of the attractions located around the city are old and unusually designed monuments.
For example, the A’famosa Fort, built in 1511 and still very well preserved, the Melaka Sultanate Palace, made entirely from would using traditional construction techniques and the St. Paul’s Church. But perhaps the most significant attraction the city has to offer happens every weekend.
The Jonker Street Market is a highly anticipated event for tourists and locals alike, the best place in the town to buy unique handmade items and delicious street food. The otherwise lifeless city streets come to life with vibrant colours, music and hundreds of people all there for one thing: shopping!
3. Relax on Perhentian Island.
The Perhentian Islands are located off the coast of North-Eastern Malaysia; an excellent way to get yourself there would be to fly or catch a bus to Kota Bharu. From there, you can see a bus or taxi to Kuala Besut and finally take a ride on the boat to the islands.
Choose your island wisely, as there are tales of different vibes depending on whether you choose Pulau Perhentian Kecil (The Small Island) or Pulau Perhentian Besar ( The Large Island). That being said, it’s going to be whatever you make it; you’ll have a great time wherever you go!
As for activities, there’s Jungle Trekking, Scuba Diving and Snorkelling, massage shops and of course at night time; there’s beach parties, fire dancers and lots of alcohol! You can quickly cure any sore heads in the morning by swinging in a hammock on the oceanfront and taking it easy.
As for diving companies, I highly recommend Spicy Divers. The instructors are super chilled out and LOVE the ocean environment. Find them on Facebook here.
4. Get high in Langkawi.
Another Malaysian island, this time on the opposite side of the country, is located near Penang. The Island of Langkawi is famously known for its vast cable car ride with the most incredible 360-degree panoramic view, not for those with a fear of heights, but I suggest you give it a try! This would be a fantastic way to conquer those fears!
Once you’ve come back down to an average altitude, you should take a wander across the dazzling Sky Bridge. Yet another chance to capture those must-have travel photos, especially on a clear day, you will not be disappointed!
Other activities around the island include Jet Ski hire, boat tours and like everywhere else in Malaysia: FOOD. So indulge in the local cuisine and give your tastebuds a treat!
5. Lose yourself in the award-winning food capital: Penang.
When in South-East Malaysia, one of the highlights you will experience will be the food, so why not venture to Penang and immerse yourself in the ultimate food culture. Known the world over, the small area of George Town is bursting at the seams with exquisite and unique restaurants, street foods and food courts.
And the best thing about it is that it won’t break your budget; Malaysia is a great place for cheap and yummy food! I recommend that you try dishes like Cendol, Mee Goreng, Nasi Kandar and Curry Mee. There’s a reason this place was awarded the title of the best food destination in the world.
6. Explore the capital: Kuala Lumpur.
If there’s one thing that is instantly obvious when you arrive in Kuala Lumpur, it’s that the city is growing as one of the up and coming cities in South East Asia, new buildings, parks, and shopping areas pop up left, right, and centre! Which in turn creates whole heaps of activities to fill your days with.
Visit the Petronas Towers, the iconic symbol of the city and the world’s tallest twin towers! You can take the lift to the top and gaze out of the windows at the entire city below or take a self-guided walking tour around the parks on the ground floor. If skyscrapers are your thing, the Kuala Lumpur Tower offers more panoramic views of the city yet.
Other activities include the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, Museums and Mosques, The Butterfly Park and Berjaya Time’s Square Theme Park.
And for all your shopping needs, Bukit Bintang, The Pavilion and Suria KLCC will have you covered!
7. Become one with nature in Taman Negara.
Taman Negara is one of the most talked-about places to visit in Malaysia, and rightly so! This beautiful national park is over 130 million years old and will change your life for the better. Canopy walkways, bush walks, jungle trekking and river rafting will help you get as close to nature as you could get as you adventure through the tropical rainforest.
The national park is also a natural habitat for many wildlife and plant life like Tigers, Macaque monkeys, tropical birds and giant eye-catching flowers. This is the number one place in Malaysia for all you nature lovers!
8. Visit the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands.
If you’re thinking about heading to the northern area of Malaysia to visit the Cameron Highlands be sure to pack a jumper or three! The mountainous region has unexpected temperature drops to around 8 or 10 degrees in the nighttime.
If you have just gotten the long and bumpy bus journey from Kuala Lumpur, wearing nothing but your shorts and tee’s, you’ll be wanting to add some layers pretty fast. That being said, you’ll keep yourself warm when you’re hiking amongst the famous tea plantations.
Be sure to check out Cameron Secrets for any tours and day trips! They do everything from Tea Plantation Tours, Bush Walking and trips to the Mozzy Forest, and the tour guys are enjoyable! The plantations themselves are extremely impressive, spanning for acres; they smell great and even offer free tours of the factories!
9. Life’s a beach on Tioman Island.
Of all the Malaysian island getaways, Tioman is by far the most picturesque. There are tropical rainforests, never-ending waterfalls, golden beaches met by crystal blue waters, vibrant coral reefs, and twin volcanic peaks. This island has it all! So put on your sunnies and your flippy floppies and relax on one of the many beaches before cooling off in the surrounding waters, either by scuba diving or snorkelling.
10. Experience new culture at Kek Lok Si.
As you are probably aware, Malaysia is mainly a Buddhist country. With Buddhism come large and extravagant temples and religious buildings that you can explore and experience the local culture.
Kek Lok Si is THE place to visit if you want to be blown away by stunning architecture. The grounds are impressively large and filled with back-to-back temple buildings, glorious gardens, happy locals, and even has its bundle of cats wandering around and relaxing.
Take the long walk to the top of the highest temple building and feast your eyes on the views. You will see a city in front of you in the distance and behind you the forests, hills and even the giant Buddha on the mountain! If you wish, you can make a small donation by buying some handmade jewellery or clothing made by the locals.
So there we are, a shortlist of the top things to do and see when visiting Malaysia. So go out and explore and figure out what your favourite things to do are!