This is my suggested Malaysia itinerary based on the 2 weeks I backpacked here! You can also pick your favourite locations and make this a 7-day Malaysia itinerary, or extend it to 3 weeks if you’re keen to see all the best places Malaysia offers!
Please note that this blog post most likely contains affiliate links to products or services I use and love! If you click on the links, it means I get a little extra pocket money at no additional cost to you.
This is what keeps my website ticking over – thank you!
Malaysia was the first place I visited on my Southeast Asia trip during my first year of 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!
What struck me most about Malaysia is how varied it could be from place to place. I went from a modern city to jungle fun, beach paradise, and historic towns. Here are my tips for each place I visited and a recommended itinerary if you want to see a little bit of everything!
USEFUL INFORMATION BEFORE YOU GO:
Read my best Solo Travel Safety Tips
Want to work as you travel? Find out how to teach English online
Go eco-friendly and get 15% off a REUSABLE,
filter water bottle from Water to go 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
There are many unique things to do in Kuala Lumpur, although I didn’t realise this when I arrived in Malaysia.
Okay, I’m going to level with you; Kuala Lumpur was not the most exciting city I’ve passed through while travelling. Still, it is an excellent place to start a Malaysia itinerary. I can imagine it could be a pretty good place to live due to an amazing transport hub and easy-to-access necessities. Still, if you’re travelling on a budget like me, attractions may seem typical in most capital cities. For example, recommended attractions include aquariums, escape rooms, and rooftop bars – not the sort of stuff I could splash out on.
That said, you’ll probably have a better time if you can stretch to bars with gorgeous views of the Petronas Towers and the typical attractions. 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.
It’s an excellent 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!
Free things to do in Kuala Lumpur
Fortunately, there are some great budget-friendly places to visit in Kuala Lumpur!
Obviously, seeing the Petronas Towers is one of the biggest attractions in KL; there are some great places to see them for free. At a huge 1,483 feet tall, you’ll definitely see them just wandering around the city, but my favourite place to see them is KLCC park, a 50-acre ‘urban sanctuary’ which surrounds the 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 is a great way to spend a dinner – especially during the lightshow!
KLCC Lake Symphony Light and Sound Water Fountain times: every day at 8pm, 9pm and 10pm
Light only showtimes are everyday at 7:30pm, 8:30pm and 9:30pm.
PARKS AND GARDENS
The KL Forest 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. It’s a 9-hectare natural rainforest right in the heart of KL!
The canopy walkway is 200m long and winds through the park, with fantastic views pack over the treetops and into the city. If you don’t like heights, you can still enjoy the park by taking one of the many nature trails.
I also enjoyed Perdana Botanical Gardens. A great way to escape the crowds and cool down under the shade of the trees. The Orchid Garden and Hibiscus Garden are two of the most popular spots.
Merdeka Square is a beautiful spot! While this park is not one of the largest in the city, the surrounding building is the highlight for its unique, historic architecture.
My favourite temple in Kuala Lumpur was Thean Hou Temple. This colourful Buddhist temple was six tiers high and decorated with red lanterns hanging around it.
Batu Caves Temple is one of Malaysia’s most famous tourist attractions and a popular day trip from Kuala Lumpur. On the recommendation of other travellers, I didn’t go during my first visit to Malaysia on the recommendations of other travellers. If you go, save money by booking a taxi on the Grab app rather than paying for a tour.
However, since my first trip, the Batu Caves have been painted, it’s become one of the most sought-after and colourful photo opportunities for travellers. It is now recognised as a must-see in Kuala Lumpur. It is a little controversial, as it is sometimes regarded as ‘too touristy’ for those who are worshipping.
Visiting the Batu Caves and climbing the ‘rainbow stairs’ is free and, in my view, is now worth a look. It’s a small fee to explore the caves. Go early to avoid crowds.
Budget Food and markets
Oh, and the street food and local eateries are fantastic 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 of 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).
TAMAN NEGARA – the mainland jungle
Taman Negara is an excellent addition to a 2 week Malaysia itinerary or backpacking route!
Kind of want to go to Borneo but don’t have the funds? Or fancy adding some jungle trekking to your Malaysian holiday? A few hours by bus from Kuala Lumpur, Taman Negara is an excellent option! It’s one of the best places to visit in Malaysia if you want to do a unique adventure!
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 minibus 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 various accommodation options, plus budget shops and unique floating restaurants.
I stayed at Wild Lodge Hostel, which magically stayed bug-free, despite its jungle setting. 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 activities.
The Wildlife of Taman Negara
The jungle is home to rhinos, elephants, tigers and flying squirrels! Don’t expect to see these on your trip, but it’s still cool knowing they’re nearby!
On the boat ride in, we saw our first animals – buffalos chilling on the side of the river! We also saw a large group of macaques in the forest after the very cool canopy walk. 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 are 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.
Where to eat in Taman Negara
The floating restaurants sell a variety of primarily 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.
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 an excellent 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 constantly stepping onto a boardwalk. This means you can’t get lost or damage the ecosystem.
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 in Taman Negara
The prices are generally very reasonable, from the ‘pricier’ 2-day treks that take you deep into the jungle to relaxing boat rides or night walks.
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 delicious food for them, and although it was challenging hiking in the heat, everyone felt it was worth it.
I chose to take a boat trip to a secluded area of the river where you can swim. 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. The boat trip and private river swim cost MR50 each and was a highlight of my Malaysia itinerary.
Mosquitos and health advice
Look for OFF! mosquito spray before you get to the jungle if you’ve got no deet. They sell it in 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 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 regular travel medical kit should have everything you need for basic requirements. If you don’t have them, I’d also advise antihistamines 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 after something less touristy. (All islands offer diving and PADI courses too.)
This Malaysia itinerary includes only advice on Perhentian Kecil.
ACCOMMODATION IN PERHENTIAN KECIL
The majority of accommodation options are on Long Beach. These options are also close to the majority of restaurants, bars and tour vendors. Most water activities kick off from Long Beach!
Accommodation note – many of the hostels on Kecil have rats and sand flies and are notoriously dirty so consider finding a group and staying in a beach hut.
Edit: literally, while writing this, I’ve seen an instastory by a girl currently doing her PADI on a combined accommodation deal with Panorama Divers. She is posting photos to express how bad the hostel is. She’s not an Instagrammer trying to be dramatic, just an ordinary girl who’s grossed out. Maybe it’s okay with you but do check out accommodations before you pay if you don’t want your Malaysia itinerary to include rat babies. 🙂
Check out the hostel before booking your room or read reviews carefully.
If you are after a calmer vibe, consider staying on Coral Bay! This beautiful bay is a little further away from the main tourist restaurants and activities, but this more secluded feel makes it more peaceful.
Or simply get your own beach hut. My stay at in a shared beach hut on Long Beach was basic but 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! 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 choose packages which include the PADI and accommodation if they are looking to dive, usually on Long Beach. The only one I heard had better accommodation was Ombak Dive Centre on Coral Bay.
WHERE TO EAT ON PERHENTIAL KECIL
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 from 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.
ACTIVITIES ON PERHENTIAN KECIL
SNORKELLING AND DIVING
A must-do for anyone backpacking Perhentian Kecil. It’s known as one of the cheapest places in the world to get your scuba diving PADI!
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 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 anxious. (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 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 not only of my Malaysia itinerary and my travels as a whole.
There are island viewpoints marked on Google Maps, which you can walk to for coastal views. Check with your accommodation beforehand, so you don’t get lost!
One of the coolest hikes on Perhentian Kecil is the windmill walk! It’s a great way to get away from the crowds and get some real jungle views from the island. After trekking straight from Long Beach through the rainforest, you’ll reach windmill point with impressive views over the coastline. You can walk further down to an old jetty, although much of the stairwell is now worn away, so it’s probably best to enjoy the views from the top!
It’s mostly just Long Beach and Coral Bay. Both are beautiful; white, soft sand and gorgeous blue sea. I didn’t think it was too overcrowded when I was there as many people were 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.
You could play volleyball, take a dip, or enjoy the nightly fire shows.
GETTING TO PERHENTIAN KECIL
You’ll probably be taking a boat from Kuala Besut. Most likely, whatever place you are staying in before Perhentian’s, book your transport 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 excellent UNESCO world heritage site and must-see addition to 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, 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, 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!
THINGS TO DO IN PENANG
ATTRACTIONS IN PENANG
Penang has some great tourist attractions and sightseeing! In the wider area, you can visit Kok Lek Si temple (said to be Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple), built between 1890 and 1930. It is also known as the ‘temple of supreme bliss’.
I recommend visiting the Penang Botanic Garden and then heading 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. Just beware of all the local monkeys and don’t eat snacks around them! 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 since 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. 🙂 Penang is also one of the best travel destinations for vegans!
Picking up roadside snacks such as red bean-filled pasties cost only MR1 (0.18GBP). Pohpiah – filled, paper-then crepes – cost MR1 (0.37GBP) each.
STREET ART IN GEORGETOWN
In 2012 Penang’s council hired Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic to design the street art! However, over time, more local artists have added their own illustrations to the walls of Penang, so you’ll see a large variety of styles that only grow over time.
Today, these vibrant murals bring the streets to life; you never know what exciting artwork lies around the next corner. However, over time, more local artists have added their own illustrations to the walls of Penang, so you’ll see a large variety of styles that only grow over time.
The Georgetown street art illustrates daily life in the city, often allowing you to interact with the art by utilising real-life objects such as swing sets, bikes, and basketball hoops. I stayed at the 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!
Street art to look out for includes:
Boy on a Chair by Ernest Zacharevic (bottom right photo)
Kungfu Girl by Ernest Zacharevic – Muntri Street
Ah Quee Street:
Old Motorcycle by Ernest Zacharevic
A side street off Gat Lebuh Chulia:
Brother and Sister on a Swing by Louis Gan (top middle photo)
Children Playing Basketball by Louis Gan (bottom middle photo)
Kids on a Bicycle by Ernest Zacharevic – Armenia Street
Children Behind Window Bar by Julia Volchkova – Armenia Street (top right photo)
Skippy for Penang by Ernest Zacharevic – Armenia Street (top left photo)
No Animal Discrimination Please by Ernest Zacharevic – Armenia Street (bottom left photo)
Skippy for Penang and No Animal Discrimination Please are part of the 101 Lost Kittens mural collection – 12 murals focused on protecting stray animals.
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 Perhentians. I ended up cutting my time short here because I travelled in the rainy season, and boyyy did we have some crazy torrential rain here. I 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!
Things to do in Langkawi
Perhaps the best attraction in Langkawi is the Langkawi Cable Car! The 15-minute journey takes you on a sweeping ride over the rainforest, with aerial views of the island’s best natural scenery and the beautiful Andaman Sea. The cable car reaches a height of 708 meters, from which you can enjoy an observation deck at the summit for panoramic views.
From the summit of the cable car, take a walk along the Langkawi Sky Bridge! It stretches 125 meters and has unbeatable viewing platforms from which you can see waterfalls and more stunning mountain scenery.
For more natural scenery, take a mangrove tour at Kilim Geopark. From your boat, you’ll see beautiful cliffs over the bright blue waters alongside the mangrove swamps. You could also take an island-hopping boat tour to discover more of Langkawi’s 104 islands.
To explore Langkawi on foot, check out the local hikes. One of the most popular is the 881m peak of Gunung Raya. While challenging, it’s a great way to get up close to the rainforest. Look out for monkeys and hornbills! You could also hike to one of Langkawi’s waterfalls, such as Durian Perangin Waterfall or the stunning Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls.
For relaxation, visit the hot springs at Air Hangat Village or one of Langkawi’s best beaches! Unmissable beaches include Pantai Cenang Beach – which is very popular for watersports, or visit the nearby Pantai Kok Beach for fewer crowds. The incredibly scenic Tanjung Rhu Beach is another excellent option, though you can’t go wrong for beaches in Langkawi.
More tourist attractions on your Langkawi itinerary include:
– See the Eagle Statue in Eagle Square, located in the main town. It’s a great little spot to visit on your way to one of the local restaurants or cafes.
– Visit interesting museums and galleries, such as Galeria Perdana, Art in Paradise 3D Museum, or Mahsuri Tomb and Museum.
– The MARDI Langkawi Agro Technology Park is a great outdoor activity which educates visitors on the sustainable farming of exotic fruits. Similarly, the Laman Padi Rice Garden is another attraction offering an inside look at local farming.
– Enjoy incredible wildlife at the Langkawi Wildlife Park or Underwater World Langkawi.
CAMERON HIGHLANDS – the green plantations
Although I had to miss out on this spot, I got some information from my friend Kiki, whom 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 about things to do in the Cameron Highlands:
First up, she loved the Cameron Highlands. The climate is 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 beautiful. On the downside, she described it as very touristy.
BUDGET TIP: Kiki managed to avoid tour fees (and the crowds!) by walking in the forest herself (without a group or guide). You can get a list of walks from your accommodations; the paths you can take alone are 4, 6 and 10.
She also walked 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, but she preferred saving money and not having to follow a schedule.
MORE BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN MALAYSIA
If you have longer than 7 days to spend in Malaysia, the backpacker route options are endless! While I truly loved my own itinerary, I would love to go back and visit the following places:
MALACCA – another UNESCO heritage site in Malaysia, Malacca (also spelt Melaka) is famous for its 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. Ipoh has impressive cave temples, historical sites and limestone 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 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 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 worth a trip.
What else would you add to a Malaysia itinerary?