Malaysia – 2 week itinerary. Backpacking route and budget tips

This Malaysia 2 week itinerary can easily be extended to 1 or 3 week itinerary. 3 weeks if you visit EVERYWHERE and one week if you just pick two places to enjoy.

This Malaysia backpacking route is based on the amazing trip I took here. It was the first place I visited in Southeast Asia during my first year solo travelling and I learned a lot. This itinerary is perfect for backpackers as I give budget tips, but the beautiful places listed are a must-see for any traveller. Along with backpacking Java, it’s my favourite Southeast Asia route out of everywhere I’ve been!

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What struck me most about Malaysia is how varied it could be from place to place. I found myself going from modern city to jungle fun to beach paradise to old town. Here’s my tips for each of the places I visited and a recommended itinerary if you want to see a little bit of everything!

USEFUL INFORMATION BEFORE YOU GO:

My Southeast Asia Packing List

Read my best Solo Travel Safety Tips

Tips for Solo Travel as an Introvert and my Traveller’s Mental Health Guide

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Go eco-friendly and get 15% off a REUSABLE,
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using discount code HAG15.

2 week Malaysia itinerary:
  • Kuala Lumpur – the modern city
  • Taman Negara – mainland jungle
  • Perhentian Islands – the paradise
  • Georgetown – vibrant culture
  • Optional – Langkawi
  • Cameron Highlands – relaxing nature

KUALA LUMPUR – the modern city

Okay, I’m gonna level with you, KL is not the most interesting city I’ve passed through while travelling, but it is a good place to start a Malaysia itinerary. I can imagine it could be a pretty good place to live (amazing transport hub and easy to access necessities) but if you’re travelling on a budget like me, attractions seem to be typical of any capital – aquariums, escape rooms, etc – and not the sort of stuff I could splash out on.

If you can stretch to bars with gorgeous views of the Petronas Towers and the typical attractions, you’ll probably have a better time. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend staying more than a day or so if you’re on a backpacker’s budget, but feel free to stretch this out a little longer if your funds are more flexible. There are also many hostels and hotels with infinity pool views over the tower… However, you might skip this if you’re on a super strict budget like I did. I stayed in Paper Plane Hostel in the heart of the city which was nice and clean.

An Introvert’s Survival Guide to Hostels

It’s a good stop to pick up on necessities, either from the cheap markets or shopping malls (since my phone had been stolen in Korea this came in handy for me). Wandering around the centre via air-conditioned walkways wasn’t too bad either!

Saying this, other people LOVE Kuala Lumpur!

My favourite free activities in KL:

It’s definitely worth walking round KLCC park which surrounds the Petronas Towers. You can also catch the free light show there in the evening. Sitting with a street food dinner in the park and looking up at the towers was pretty cool, especially during the light show.

The KL Eco Park was also pretty cool and I enjoyed the Canopy Walkway there – a great way to get out of the buzz of the city. Other free things to do in Kuala Lumpur include visiting Thean Hou Temple, historical Merdeka Square and the Perdana Botanical Gardens. There are also many free art galleries and museums.

Budget Food and markets:

Oh, and the street food and local eateries are awesome and cheap! Perfect for budget travellers. For breakfast in Kuala Lumpur, I ate banana roti for RM2.50 (0.47GBP).

I hated Jalan Alor – apologies. If you can’t find good local food (many places like Jalan Alor are tourist traps and honestly the food was terrible there – I also found the atmosphere very uncomfortable for reasons I don’t feel like writing haha), try heading to one the food courts in the malls! They cater to locals and have loads of variety. Pretty cheap too and great vegan/veggie options.

Need to buy clothes? While the malls have many modern shops such as H&M, if you need to pick up some cheap clothes for the heat, head to Chinatown. I got some shorts here for RM15 (2.80GBP).

Is the day trip to Batu Caves worth it?

Batu Caves is the most famous daytrip from KL but on the recommendation of other travellers I didn’t go. Some people love it but it’s rare that I’m not told I didn’t miss out on anything.

Update 2020: since the Batu Caves have been painted, it’s become one of the most sought after and colourful photo opportunities for travellers and is now recognised as a must-see in Kuala Lumpur. It is a little controversial, as is sometimes regarded now as ‘too touristy’ for those who are worshipping. Visiting this year? Let me know what it’s like. Visiting the Batu Caves and climbing the ‘rainbow stairs’ is free and in my opinion now worth a look. It’s a small fee to explore inside the caves. Go early to avoid crowds. 

malaysia TAMAN NEGARA

TAMAN NEGARA – the mainland jungle

Taman Negara is a great addition to a 2 week Malaysia itinerary or backpacking route!

Kind of want to go to a Borneo but don’t have the funds? Or fancy adding some jungle trekking to your Malaysian holiday? Just a few hours by bus from Kuala Lumpur, Taman Negara is a great option and possibly the most unique part of this Malaysia itinerary.

Taman Negara is 4323 square kilometres of jungle which equates to 7x the size of Singapore! The buses will drop you at Tanah Rata, a small ‘village’ with accommodation, restaurants and small shops. From here, the entrance to the national park is just across the river.

How to get to Taman Negara:

3.5 hours by bus and 3 hours by boat from Kuala Lumpur by Han Travel costs about 85rm or £19. It’s easily accessed by mini bus from any popular area. See online for updated timetables or ask your accommodation to help. https://www.busonlineticket.com/booking/kuala-lumpur-to-taman-negara-bus-tickets

Where to stay in Taman Negara:

Kuala Tahan is directly opposite the park opening and has a variety of accommodation options, plus budget shops and cool floating restaurants. I stayed at Wild Lodge which magically stayed bug free. You can book activities when you get here (directly with Wild Lodge) or extend nights if you don’t like to plan in advance. I’d definitely recommend this for budget backpackers. Wild Lodge was MR25 (4.70 GBP) for a 6 bed dorm.

PLEASE NOTE: There’s no atm here! Get extra cash out before you go in case you get tempted by any of the activities.

Animals: in the jungle

The jungle is home to rhinos, elephants, tigers and flying squirrels! Don’t expect to see these though. On the boat ride in we saw our first animals – bufallos chilling on the side of the river! We also saw a large group of macaques in the forest after we did the canopy walk which was very cool. You can pay for a guide to take you into the jungle for your best chance to see the animals.

And hey, if not there’s always giant bugs. Woohoo. Insects thrive in the jungle and if you’re not too scared, book a ‘Night Walk’ to see the most mysterious of them hanging out.

Food:

The floating restaurants sell a variety of mostly Asian food but plenty of Western foods if you’re really craving a burger. They open early so you can get toast, pancakes, roti etc for breakfast. Prices for a veggie meal were 6 – 12rm or from 4rm for breakfast. Usually I ate vegetable noodles for MR6 (1.12GBP).

They also sold soft drinks including fresh juices and lassis. I didn’t see alcohol other than at the accommodation which is normal for Malaysia.

taman Negara
Free activities in Taman Negara:

Crossing the river always costs a teeny MR1 (0.18GBP) each way – you always need to cross the river from your accommodation to get to the main activities.

A camera permit is an additional MR5 (0.94GBP) making it barely over one British pound altogether!

The hike up to Bukit Teserak viewpoint is free and is a nice way to see some jungle views – just follow the signs to Bukit Teresak once you’ve crossed the river and you can’t go wrong. It was very hot when I went but worth it to get a real sense of the jungle.

Walking through the jungle, you are always stepping on to a boardwalk. This means you can’t get lost or damage the ecosystem.

bukit teresek taman negara malaysia

The canopy walkway is only MR5 (0.94 GBP) – alongside the hike, this makes for a great day of activities in Taman Negara. The canopy walkway is 520m long and up to 40m high.

You don’t need to pay for a guide to do these activities, but some people like to learn about the plants and creatures in the jungle. I believe this was around MR40.

Paid activities: 

From the ‘pricier’ 2 day treks that take you deep into the jungle, to relaxing boat rides or night walks, the prices are generally very reasonable. My friend did the 2 day trek where you stay overnight in a cave and said it felt like a real adventure – she loved it! The guides cooked amazing food for them and although it was hard work in the heat, everyone felt as if it was worth it.

I chose to take a boat trip to a secluded area of the river which you can swim in. It was so refreshing and undoubtedly the highlight of my stay. Swimming in a secluded jungle river when it’s over 30 degrees Celsius is very dreamy. It cost MR50 each and was definitely a highlight of my Malaysia itinerary.

jungle river taman negara malaysia
Mosquitos and health advice:

Look for OFF! mosquito spray before you get to the jungle if you’ve got no deet. They sell it at 7/11 in Malaysia and I saw it in most stores. Don’t go without it!

You need to wear factor 30 or above sunscreen at all times! It was 34/35 celcius during the most of the day when I was there.

Malaria is not prevalent in Taman Negara at the time of writing. Check for updated information on Malaria and to see what jabs you need before you go.

Your normal travel medical kit should have everything you need for basic requirements. If you don’t have them, I’d also advise anti-histamines for bug bites if your skin is sensitive to them.

PERHENTIAN ISLANDS – the tropical paradise

WHICH PERHENTIAN ISLAND IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

There are two choices for the Perhentians – Kecil or Besar. Kecil has a backpacker-bubble vibe (it seemed to be JUST young backpackers when I was there along with the locals working in tourism). I found this vibe a little odd, and would have loved to check out Besar which attracts more varied travellers, be that families, backpackers or… Well, anyone. It is also worth looking into the Tioman Islands if you’re after something less touristy. (All islands offer diving and PADI courses too.)

This Malaysia itinerary includes only advice on Perhentian Kecil.

ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation note – many of the hostels on Kecil have rats, sand flies and are notoriously dirty so consider finding a group and staying in a beach hut. I met travellers who were on a ‘budget’ and spending money getting drunk every night to get through their hostel… Tried to explain this ended up more expensive than the beach hut and have never felt older heheh. That said, there’s a lot of great people around so you’re sure to have a good time.

Edit: literally while writing this I’ve seen an instastory by a girl currently doing her PADI on a combined accommodation deal with Panarama Divers. She is posting photos to express how bad the hostel is. She’s not an instagrammer trying to dramatic, just a normal girl who’s grossed out. Maybe it’s fine with you but do check out accommodations before you pay if you don’t want your Malaysia itinerary to include rat babies. 🙂

EVEN IF YOU ARE ON A BUDGET, CONSIDER A BEACH HUT..

If you are after a calmer vibe consider staying on Coral Bay or simply getting your own beach hut. My stay at Cocohuts on Long Beach was great – the staff were attentive, the room was really nice and cleaned daily and it included a buffet breakfast. The bathroom was not amazing if you’re after something fancy but all the facilities worked well… Including the air con! It was even worth having to share a bed with some dude called Jason who we’d just met on the bus. (Thanks Kiki, Celine and Jason for an awesome stay!) This cost £12.26 / RM65 per night each. Yelp. There are lots of beach huts available and you can turn up and ask to check them before making any decisions. There are also a few options on airbnb.

Many people chose packages which include the PADI and accommodation if they are looking to dive, usually on Long Beach. The only one which I heard had better accommodation was Ombak Dive Centre on Coral Bay. Please note this was the only time in 4 months that I didn’t stay in a hostel – my standards are not super high. Just ask to see the room first and check you’re happy – I’m sure there are nice ones but I didn’t find them, unfortunately. There is a reason why they offer these packages!

FOOD

The food on the main beach (Long Beach) is pretty much 4 restaurants selling the same thing – a mix of kinda plain Western food or standard Malay options. Do venture further to Evan’s Cafe or other spots if you’re after something more varied or tasty.

There are also numerous bars and daily fire shows in the evening.

CONVENIENCE STORES ON PERHENTIAN KECIL

There are also little shops on the island where you can get essentials but NO ATM.

So make sure you get cash out in advance. When I went only one ATM in the local town was working and I had to borrow money off Jason-who-I-met-on-the-bus because the driver said I had no time to wait in the super huge queue.

You can buy simple snacks and basic toiletries there (no tampons obvz) along with flip-flops, goggles and simple beach clothes.

SNORKELLING + DIVING

A must-do for anyone backpacking Perhentian Kecil!

There are so many snorkelling packages and ‘discovery dives’ available that you’re spoilt for choice – discovery dives are dives you can do without a PADI. The friends I went with chose to snorkel and their day trip took them to 3 spots which they absolutely loved.

I chose TURTLE BAY DIVERS because their reviews were absolutely glowing. I also saw huuuge groups being taught at once by some of the hostel dive schools which put me off because I get anxiety. (I’m actually super happy in the water but have a complex about being incompetent at everything haha). At Turtle Bay you are guaranteed a small group size and I even ended up being taught one-on-one! (For the same cost of course.)

I really had an AMAZING experience with my instructor who was really determined that I would pass in 3 days no matter what. This was such a wonderful thing and a highlight of not only my Malaysia itinerary but my travels as a whole.

THE BEACHES

It’s mostly just Long Beach and Coral Bay. Both are beautiful; white, soft sand and really gorgeous blue sea. I didn’t think it was too overcrowded when I was there as many people are out snorkelling or sleeping during the day, but the island itself is a huge tourist hub as mentioned above so I can imagine it could get busy.

OTHER ACTIVITIES?

You could play volleyball, watch the fire shows, go on night dives or take walks around the island. One travel friend said she took a walk to a viewpoint while I was out diving so ask your accommodation (or even just look at your maps app) – the island is not that big so you’re unlikely to get lost.

GETTING TO THE ISLAND

You’ll probably be taking a boat from Kuala Besut. Most likely, whatever place you are staying in before Perhentian’s and book your transport to here along with a return ticket to the islands. If you arrive last on the boat like I did and have to sit at the front with choppy waters… Enjoy your slow death 🙂 The speedboat cost me RM75 / £14 for a return.

GEORGETOWN – the street food, street art spectacular

Georgetown is an awesome UNESCO world heritage site and must-see addition on any 2 weeks Malaysia holiday. It was the first British settlement in Southeast Asia, established by the British East India Company in 1786. George Town is now part of Penang, which is technically an island, but connected to the mainland by road.

Although there are some great things to do in and around Penang (the island on which Georgetown is based) for a truly unique experience I would choose to stay in Georgetown itself, especially if you have limited time. Not only is it the street food capital of Malaysia, but it is also a bloomin’ playground, with interactive street art on every other corner – and it’s equally as fun to hunt for these masterpieces as it is to take photos with them!

In the wider area, you can visit Kok Lek Si temple (which is said to be Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple) and was built between 1890 and 1930. It is also known as the ‘temple of supreme bliss’.

I recommend visiting the Penang Botanic Garden and then head to Penang Hills on your way back to Georgetown – it’s got a beautiful view and you can hike up or take the cable car. If you have an extra day, consider checking out the nearby national park. I also visited the floating village.

Red Garden Food Paradise was my favourite spot for street food but you’re really spoilt for choice. This spot is famous after Anthony Bourdain came here and loved the food. I ate vegetable biryani (MR8 / 2.07 GBP) and indian spiced tofu. Eating everything in Georgetown has to be added to your Malaysia itinerary, honestly. 🙂 Penang is also one of the best travel destinations for vegans!

Picking up snacks on the road such as red bean filled pasties costed only MR1 (0.18GBP). Pohpiah – filled, paper-then crepes – cost MR1 (0.37GBP) each.

The Street Art of George Town:

I stayed at House of Journey hostel where the host gave us a colour-coded map and noted down ALL the street art so it was easy for us to find! For example ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ is on Armenia Street, ‘Boy on a Bike’ is on Ah Quee Street.

In 2012 Penang’s council hired Lithanian artist Ernest Zacharevic to design the street art.

POTENTIAL STOP: LANGKAWI – more blissful beaches

Want more beaches included in your 2 or 3 week Malaysia itinerary? Langkawi is a good stop if you want an island paradise with a bit more to it than the Perentians. I ended up cutting my time short here because I travelled in rainy season and boyyy did we have some crazy torrential rain here. I basically just ended up dancing in an ice cream shop to stay out of the storm because we weren’t buying ice cream but the owner said we could stay if we danced. And yup, he danced too!

If you have a little budget left over for this, it’s also a great place to treat yourself.

In Langkawi you can visit gorgeous beaches, visit waterfalls and mangroves, and take the amazing sky bridge cable car.

CAMERON HIGHLANDS – the green plantations

Although I had to miss out this spot I have got some information from my friend Kiki, who I travelled with for a week in Malaysia! It’s not so far from KL and looks truly stunning.

Here’s what Kiki has to say:

First up, she loved the Cameron Highlands. It’s a bit cooler than the rest of Malaysia due to being higher in the mountains. You can do a lot of walking and the plantations are amazing. On the downside, she described it as very touristy. BUDGET TIP: She managed to avoid it by walking in the forest herself (without a group or guide). You can get a list of walks and the paths you can take alone are: 4, 6 and 10.

She also walked herself from Tanah Rata (where you would most likely stay) to the three ‘smaller’ plantations.

She admitted that she heard great things about the tours, which are very easy to book on to, but preferred saving money and not having to follow a schedule.

Thanks Kiki for the tips and photos!

Check out this top-rated Cameron Highlands day tour from Kuala Lumpur

BEAUTIFUL PLACES to add to a 3 or 4 week MALAYSIA BACKPACKING ROUTE:

MALACCA – another UNESCO heritage site in Malaysia, Malacca (also spelt Melaka) is famous for historical sites. Plus, like George Town, enjoy the colourful buildings and street food. It is a 2 hour bus ride from here to Kuala Lumpur

IPOH – a great stop if travelling directly from Cameron Highlands to Penang (George Town). I really wanted to add this highly-recommended, slightly less touristy city to my route but sadly was coming from the wrong direction. It has great cave temples, historical sites and limestones cliffs.

TIOMAN ISLAND – a more relaxed version of the Perhentian Islands, which was quite touristy. Tioman Island is the number one place I’d add to my 2 week Malaysia itinerary if I could do it over. I would LOVE to go diving here!

BORNEO – I was a newbie backpacker when I headed to Malaysia. Next time, I’d be a bit more adventurous and head out to Malaysian Borneo! Here you can take part in mountain treks, amazing dive spots and see wild orangutans.

GO SOUTH TO SINGAPORE – Since both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are great transport hubs with international airports, you can certainly head to Singapore on your way out.

GO NORTH TO KOH LANTA, THAILAND – After my Malaysia itinerary, I took a boat from Langkawi to the Koh Lipe, a tranquil Thai Island. Despite being so tiny and tranquil, there are still many things to do in Koh Lipe, which also had the bonus of a tiny immigration office (ah-hem, wooden shack) next to a mango stall. My favourite island in Thailand is Koh Lanta, which is definitely worth a trip.

What else would you add to a Malaysia itinerary?

27 Comments

  1. I’m from Singapore and I go over to Malaysia because it’s pretty much what Canada is to the US – and I really enjoyed your coverage! What was your favourite state in Malaysia? 🥰

  2. Malaysia is on my bucket list for the next time I visit Southeast Asia. This is an amazing itinerary Cassie and I’m totally keeping it handy for when I go. 🙂

  3. I was meant to fly to Malaysia in April!! I’ll be saving this post for when I can finally go! I’d love to go back to Thailand as well!

  4. Malaysia has been a country I’ve been wanting to visit for such a long time! Hoping to go next year. I’ll definitely be saving this itinerary for when I start planning.

  5. It was so interesting to read Cassie! I hope I will have the opportunity to visit Malaysia one day! Thank you for all the tips!

  6. What a great itinerary! I traveled across Malaysia for two weeks last summer and got to see Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, and Melaka. I wish I could have seen Perhentian Islands as well!

    1. Oh that sounds brilliant! Yes there is so much to do in Malaysia. I would definitely go back and do an alternative itinerary one day!

  7. Malaysia looks incredible and I’m glad I’ve read your blog. There’s so much valuable information 🙂 I’m saving it for my future trip! 🙂

  8. There’s so much more to Malaysia than Kuala Lumpur, but that is the only place I have been. I had no idea there was so much natural beauty in this country!

  9. This post has EVERYTHING! Thank you for all this detailed info! My bucket list is growing long these days….definitely add these places!

  10. Swimming in a secluded river does sound dreamy! Each of the locations sound so beautiful, especially Kuala Lumpur. It has been on the top of my list of places to visit in Malaysia. Pinning this for my future trip!

    1. Thanks so much Ciara! I remember finding the river experience so dreamy – I think it was my first time ever swimming in nature 🙂

  11. Great tips! I’d love to get here one day – my grandparents taught in Kuala Lumpur for 15 years as English and Geography professors back in the early 2000s – my mom and brother were able to visit but I never got there! What a beautiful country. Eek- thanks for the tip on the hostels re: Prehentian Islands. Pass! I’d need to really narrow down a route because I’d probably be able to do only two weeks. Can’t wait to visit!

    1. Oh Sarah, that must be fascinating. Definitely recommend if you can – yes on the Perhentians, I am happy to be super budget most of the time but there are limits to my mental health haha 🙂 Hope you make it and 2 weeks is enough time to see many of Malyasia’s beautiful places still 🙂

  12. Malaysia was only list for 2020 before I had to cancel everything and come back home. I’m glad that I haven’t started planning it in details yet 🙂 Thanks for this post, it will be very useful when it’s safe to travel and I try again to explore Asia. Jungle treks and those streets with cool street art now on my list!

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