When I started planning my trip to Southeast Asia, Malaysia wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t know much about the country and everyone I talked to seemed to leave it off the list of “must visit” places. All my flight options to Bali were less expensive with a separate ticket to Kuala Lumpur, so I decided to take a couple days to explore the city. After some quick research I saw Malaysia has quite a bit to offer and excellent transportation options so I started considering making it a longer stopover – and boy am I glad that I did!
Duration: 10 days
Season: Spring (March, 2018)
- Day 1: Flight to Kuala Lumpur (land in the morning), explore KL
- Day 2: Kuala Lumpur
- Day 3: Bus to Malacca (2 hours)
- Day 4: Explore Malacca
- Day 5: Bus to KL (2 hours), bus to Cameron Highlands (Tanah Rata, 5 hours)
- Day 6: Cameron Highlands*
- Day 7: Bus to Butterworth (5 hours) and ferry to George Town (15 minutes)
- Day 8: Explore Penang
- Day 9: Explore Penang
- Day 10: Explore Penang
- Day 11: Morning flight out of Penang*
* What would I change? Spend an extra day in Cameron Highlands if you want to do a jungle trek (one day less in George Town), or fly out of Langkawi and head there on day 9!
Things to see and do
- Kuala Lumpur Forest Eco Park: Located in the center of the city is a protected rain forest complete with walking trails, a canopy walk, and monkeys! The park is a welcomed escape from the busy and loud streets of Kuala Lumpur. The highlight for me was the canopy walk – a series of suspended bridges that let you walk above the tree line with the city skyline in the background. Don’t forget to look for the monkeys!
Hours: Open daily 8am-7pm
- Kuala Lumpur Tower (Menara Kuala Lumpur): Located next to the Forest Eco Park but seen from almost anywhere in town is the iconic Kuala Lumpur Tower. The main reason to visit is to take the elevator to the sky deck where you’ll get an incredible 360-degree view of the city from 300 meters up. The sky deck also has two glass bottom sky boxes where you can feel like you’re literally suspended above the city with an incredible view of the Petronas Towers, and since it’s set on a hill you’ll actually get a higher view here than from in the Petronas Towers!
Entrance to the sky desk also gives you access to the observation deck (where you’ll be inside looking through glass). You can optionally buy a ticket that only gives you access to the observation deck, but I don’t think the views from there are worth the cost. I recommend going a little before sunset so you can get a view of the city during day time but also see the city lit up at night. Note the sky deck is open air and therefore shuts down based on weather. There was rain when I was visiting but they stamped our tickets so we could return the following night to see the city lit up (unfortunately I was leaving in the morning for Malacca!) It was expensive but was the highlight of my time in KL. There’s also a revolving restaurant at the top if you prefer your view over dinner!
Cost: 105RM (sky deck, sky boxes, observation deck), 52RM (observation deck only)
Hours: Daily from 9am-10pm
- Bukit Bintang: A popular area for restaurants, bars, and shopping, Bukit Bintang is an area you should at least stroll through. The food options are plentiful (though more expensive than some other neighborhoods) and there is a night market that has some delicious street food to offer. If you’re a woman this is a good area to find a bar offering free drinks for ladies night.
- Lake Gardens (Tun Abduk Heritage Park): Harder to get to – but still walkable! – are the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens located slightly Southwest of the city. When I visited I only came across a handful of people – it was so peaceful and relaxing! Inside the park there are a number of things to see, or you can just sit down in the shade of a tree with a book. I opted for a book in the Bamboo Playhouse where I was able to grab my own bamboo basket shaded from the sun. Other attractions include a deer park (although there were none when I was there), an orchid garden, a hibiscus garden, a butterfly park, and a bird park.
Cost: Park is free to visit; separate admission for bird park
- KLCC Park and Petronas Towers: It’s not a trip to Kuala Lumpur if you don’t see the twin towers! Although I didn’t make it to KLCC Park to see the towers up close, I saw them from above which I had to settle for based on time.
Cost: Park is free; admission fee to go up the towers
- Batu Caves: The Batu Caves sit about 10km north of Kuala Lumpur but are easily accessible by public transportation. The main attraction is the large golden 140 foot tall statue that sits at the bottom of 272 steps leading up to the main cave.
Lining the ways are dozens of monkeys so you’ll have a good excuse to stop and take some pictures! Remember the monkeys are wild animals so take care with your belongings and avoid getting scratched – no one wants to get rabies shots.
Once you reach the top you’ll be at the cave entrance where you can go in further to explore before making your way back down. If you’re looking for a more intense cave experience you can also visit the dark cave (separate admission cost) where you’ll be taken on a 45 minute guided tour of a separate cavern, or you can pay to visit the Ramayana Cave.
Cost: Free; separate admission price for Dark Cave and Ramayana Cave
Getting here: In February 2018 public transportation directions changed. Catch a free shuttle bus to “Sentul” station on the “KTM Komuter” red line from either “KL Sentral” or “Sentul” on the green/yellow line. From here you can continue the 4 stops to Batu Caves at the end of the line.
Kuala Lumpur is easily walkable if you’re willing to walk (and sweat) a bit. If walking isn’t your thing there are other convenient options. The metro system is clean and affordable, and if you’re planning on taking it multiple times I recommend getting a reloadable card so you don’t need to worry about getting a token for the exact fare for your destination. You can get one from any ticket counter (rather than using the machine). Grab is also available and is less expensive than a taxi.
Things to see and do:
- The Water Front: The river through town is lined with cafes, restaurants, flowers boxes, and murals. Take a stroll here during the day, stop for a beer, or pop in for a dinner as the sun sets.
- Christ Church, St. Paul’s Church, and A Famosa: The main attractions in the old part of town are all within easy walking distance. The first stop after you cross the river will be the bright pink (and hard to miss) Christ Church. Be aware there will most likely be a long line of interestingly decorated tricycles (think Hello Kitty and Frozen) lined up hoping to drive you around town!
Continue on and climb up the hill to visit St. Paul’s Church. It was built in 1521 which makes it the oldest church in Southeast Asia. You can explore around it and walk around inside as well.
Finally head around back and down the steps to check out A Famosa, which was a Portuguese fortress.
- Jonker Street Night Market: Only held on Friday and Saturday night, this night market is one that will not disappoint! The small city comes to life as vendors set up their shops. Food stalls offer everything from traditional Malaysian dinners and snacks to hipster charcoal ice cream. If you’re in the mood for some souvenir shopping you can head to the stalls with jewelry and knick-knacks, or you can continue walking down to find some kitchen gadgets on display as if it were a home shopping channel! Be sure not to miss the sea of plastic chairs where anyone is able to get up on stage for some karaoke.
- Huskitory: If you’re missing your pets while you’re away, head over to the Huskitory for some puppy loving where you’ll get the chance to hang out with huskies for a couple hours! There’s no food or drinks available (it’s not a cafe) but you can purchase treats for the dogs. Reservations are not required but are recommended, and visits operate on 2-hour time slots.
Cost: 20MR entry, 2MR bag of treats
- Malacca Straight Floating Mosque: A 30 minute bike ride outside of town is the Floating Mosque – a beautiful Mosque built on stilts over the water. It’s most popular at sunset (for obvious reasons!)
- Klebang Beach and the Original Klebang Coconut Shake: The beach is nothing special – and most people there were fully covered so I’m not sure how accepted swimming or sunbathing even is. There are a number of stalls selling food, kites, and other items. I am happy I made the detour though because I was able to get a coconut shake that was amazing after a day of biking around in the hot Malaysian sun. I went to the most popular stand (Original Klebang Coconut Shake) and opted for the “special” which meant they included a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My only regret is not getting a second one to go.
Cost: 2.70MR for special coconut shake
Coming from Kuala Lumpur you can catch a bus from the main bus terminal, TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan). There’s no need to book your ticket in advance, you can just book the next departing bus from the ticket counter. Check out http://www.easybook.com to see the available buses for the day – company and costs will vary. The trip is about 2 hours and will drop you at the Malacca bus station where you can catch a Grab or an Uber to your accommodations.
Cost: 10-12MYR each way
Depending on where your accommodations are Malacca is very walkable! It is also a great city to rent a bike and cycle around, or Grab is also available.
The Cameron Highlands, located halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, is best known for its green sea of tea bushes. The two main towns, Tanah Rata and Brinchang, are located only a few kilometers apart and there is one main road that acts as the central artery of the highlands. The higher elevation and cooler climate provides a nice escape from the sweltering heat of the rest of the country. As the highlands have become a popular tourist destination, other “activities” have popped up that for many take away the appeal of the highlands and add in a tacky tourist feel. This includes strawberry farms, butterfly gardens, cactus stands, lavender gardens, and bee farms. These are easy to avoid and, in my opinion, shouldn’t deter you from visiting!
Things to see and do
- Sungai Palas BOH Tea Factory: There are two BOH Tea Plantations in the area, and this one to the North is the more popular one to visit. The facilities are modern and there is a cafe, shop, gallery, and factory. The gallery provides some information on the tea making process as well as the history of BOH tea (did you know they are the number 1 tea producer in Malaysia and produce approximately 4 million kilograms of tea a year which is equal to 5.5 million cups a day?!) After reading about it you can wander through their factory and see the process in action before heading back into the shop to get a free sample. I found the cafe reasonably priced but due to the long lines I decided to skip buying anything here. I did take in the views from the seating area and then wandered down some paths to snap some pictures!
Cost: Free. Food, drinks, and tea for purchase
- Cameron Valley Tea House 1 & 2: Right off of the main road when heading South is the Cameron Valley Tea House, which has two separate locations only a half mile apart. Tea House 2, which is the closer of the two to town, has a large (and busy) café with a beautiful overlook of the tea fields. I had a cup of masala chai and a brownie sundae and it was the perfect way to pass a quick rain shower! Once you’re done you can walk down into the tea fields but you’ll be kept to a concrete pathway.
Tea House 1, which is a half mile South, has a smaller café but allows you to walk through the tea bushes. A small man made waterfall and seating area is nestled in the base of hills and you are free to wander.
Cost: 2RM to access the tea fields (will get you a wristband for access to both sites). Food, drinks, and tea for purchase
- Mossy Forest: Located on Mount Brinchang is the Mossy Forest where nature lovers can walk along the wooden boardwalk and admire… the mossy forest. Due to the weather (it was raining most of the day and very foggy) I decided to skip visiting. Getting here without an organized tour is also difficult since scooters are not allowed up the main road (I’m not sure the logic behind this, but I was told I would lose my 150RM deposit if I violated it), and hiking Mt Brinchang is currently closed due to the risk of landslides.
- Jungle Treks: There are a number of paths in the area free to hike along. Your accommodations should have an updated map and you can purchase a hiking map in the town. Due to time and weather I didn’t do any treks, but I’ve heard trail heads can be hard to find, and signage is minimal. Make sure you bring a map (or have one on your phone!) Also make sure to be prepared for all types of weather (especially rain). You can also hire a guide for a reasonable price who will make sure you don’t get lost and will also provide information about the area.
I read traffic was bad and it was not an exaggeration! Plan extra time into your schedule to get anywhere you need to go.
- Organized Tour: The most popular way to see the sites is to book an organized tour at one of the many “tourist information” booths or through your accommodations. Tours are either half day or full day (usually starting around 8:45am) and are a reasonable 50RM for a half day tour. As with any organized tour be prepared to get bused around between the main touristy sites (tea plantation, mossy forest, butterfly garden, etc.).
Pros: Don’t have to deal with transportation, guide will be able to provide information about the area and the sites, reasonably priced
Cons: On a set schedule, will sit in lots of traffic on the bus, visits to touristy places of no interest (butterfly garden, strawberry fields)
- Scooter rental: My preferred method of exploring an area is by scooter, and although I had read little information on renting a scooter here I was determined to make it happen. I found C&S Travel & Tours that offered automatic scooter rentals for 30RM half day (4 hours) or 60RM full day (8 hours). This was by far the most expensive scooter I’ve rented in Asia, but I decided it was worth it. Petrol was relatively cheap (~2.2RM/L) and navigation was easy since there was only one main road! Traffic was horrendous but being on a scooter meant I could scoot by all the sitting cars which I was thankful for. Roads are winding but well maintained and I felt very safe. I was less happy when it started to rain on me though – make sure you pack a rain jacket or poncho! Note you will need to bring your drivers license, passport, and a cash deposit to rent the scooter, and they drive on the left side of the road!
Pros: On your own schedule, well maintained roads and easy navigation, quicker and able to avoid traffic jams
Cons: Expensive, lots of cars on the road, can rain at any minute!
- Walking: I saw a handful of people walking to the Cameron Valley Tea Houses from Tanah Rata so it is possible if you’re up for it! Be prepared for lots of hills and walking on the shoulder of a busy road. It is also possible to walk between Brinchang and Tanah Rata, and many hiking trails are easily accessible by walking.
- Local Bus, Grab, Uber, Taxi: I was told you could take the local bus between towns as well as to the BOH Tea Plantation, but I didn’t bother with the logistics of this. If you have the time and patience it will definitely save you some money. There’s also Grab and Uber available, as well as public taxis (where you can also hire a driver hourly or for the entire day).
Getting Here and Away:
The bus station for the Cameron Highlands is located centrally in Tanah Rata. If you book your accommodations in Tanah Rata you should be able to easily walk.
- Kuala Lumper: Approximately 5 hours (from TBS station – Terminal Bersepadu Selatan), 35RM
- Penang: Approximately 5 hours to Buttersworth (catch the ferry across to George Town), 32RM
Things to see and do
- George Town Street Art: If you can brave the heat, one of the best things to do to appreciate George Town is to wander the streets of this cute, funky town. On almost every block is a piece of street art (from murals, to metal sculptures, to live street art!) My personal favorites were the murals and the pieces of art that incorporated every day objects. Don’t want to miss any of the highlights? Pick up a free copy of the updated street art map at your accommodations.
- Penang Hill: If you want to get an appreciation for the size of Penang, head to Penang Hill where you can get a view of the city from above. At the top of the hill are restaurants, cafes, and other attractions where you can easily pass your day. To get to Penang Hill you can either hike or take the funicular to the top. We decided to hike up and take the funicular down – and it was steep and we were sweaty! Make sure you have a proper map as there are tons of trails and it’s easy to get chatting and take the wrong one (this happened to us a number of times… oops!) Once you make it to the top you can also opt to buy a one way ticket down. We started our hike from the Moon Gate (near the Penang Botanical Gardens.)
Cost: 11RM Grab from city center to Moon Gate, 10RM Grab from funicular to city center, 15RM funicular ticket 1-way
- Chew Jetty: For being located on an island George Town doesn’t really have any nearby beaches, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the waterfront! There are a number of Jetty’s you can explore and enjoy a drink sitting on the edge of the pier. We opted for the popular Chew Jetty – lined with shops and food and drink vendors.
George Town is very walkable – which is great for finding cute alleys and unique street art! Grab is also available for affordable and quick transportation, and public buses can be used to get around the island as well.
Getting Here and Away:
- Land: Coming by land you’ll most likely take a bus to Butterworth (MYR32 from Cameron Highlands) where you can easily jump on the ferry to George Town (MYR1.20). Catching the ferry is very easy and there is a free shuttle to bring you from where the bus drops you off to the ferry pickup (you buy your ticket at the ferry)
- Air: Penang International airport is only a 45 minute Grab from downtown George Town (MYR22)
- Boat: Boats are available to Langkawi