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Where to go in Malaysia

Visiting Malaysia
Many may be asking this question on where to go in Malaysia for 2016? You may be a first timer or a repeat visitor to Malaysia and this could be the question in your head.

Well, as I have been traveling all over the country in the last year (2015), I have generally come up with my personal recommendations on where you can visit in Malaysia for 2016.

Before I continue, I would like to highlight that Malaysia is one of the few countries in this region where almost 90% of the population speaks good or decent English, so traveling around here is very easy in terms of communication.

Where to go in Malaysia

While most of the visitors will arrive in Malaysia via flights, you will be landing at KLIA or KLIA2 which is in Sepang, Selangor. From here, you will then continue your journey via bus, train or connecting flights to your desired destination.

Our transportation infrastructure is considered one of the best in the region in terms of connectivity therefore, it would be highly recommended you book ahead to get good deals, especially from the airlines.

This article was also created to highlight some of the recommended places to visit in Malaysia, but I, the writer would like to highlight that the list below has been narrowed down to four main states in Malaysia simply due to the popularity over the last two to three years.

It is also based purely on what the tourist want, and with the Malaysian Ringgit being very low, foreigners can take advantage of this and maximize your visit to Malaysia.

1. Penang Island

Pulau Pinang
View from the Penang Hill
Penang is currently one of the very popular places to visit due to the rapid development of the island where tourism attractions have been increasing over the last couple of years.

Not only that, international brands like CNN and New York Times have listed Penang as one of the places to visit due to heritage and food reasons too.

Therefore you can expect the Pearl of the Orient to be one of the much talked about places in Malaysia to explore. Penang was also once the starting point of the British empire here in Malaysia.

Overall, Penang is an island which is surrounded by old world charm, hence the UNESCO heritage city status.

It is recommended that you explore both George Town, the capital and also Batu Feringgi, the beach area of Penang in the north east of the island. The island also has the smallest national park in the world for those seeking some easy adventures.

Penang Nasi Kandar
Nasi Kandar Penang, one of the most popular foods here
Getting to Penang: Penang has two bridges connecting the island to the main land therefore driving into the island is easy, just avoid peak hours and weekends. From Kuala Lumpur, it takes about 4-5 hours drive one way to Penang.

Flights: There are multiple flights connecting KL and some other cities to Penang airport. AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, FireFly and Malindo Air all fly direct there.

Trains: The train runs from KL to Butterworth, on the main land and you can take a taxi or ferry across to the island.

Buses: There are also a number of bus companies that go to Penang from KL or other cities around Malaysia. These buses drive directly into the island.

What to expect in Penang: Expect pre-war buildings, lots of food, lots of heritage and culture. Georgetown is the main city where the UNESCO site is located. Batu Feringghi is the beach side of Penang and located about 30-45 minutes from George Town. You can find lots of temples and churches all around Penang.

What to eat in Penang: This is the main highlight here as eating is the biggest thing to do in Penang for many decades now. Penang is also world renown for the stunning hawker food which is found all over the island. Must tries are the Fried Koay Teow, Penang Prawn Mee, Penang Asam Laksa, Pasembor and Nasi Kandar. Of course, there are many other amazing foods to be explored here.

More from Penang Tourism.

2. Sabah
Borneo Sabah
A jetty at one of the islands off Kota Kinabalu
Known as North Borneo, Sabah is one of the most popular places in Malaysia for tourism, all because of the wide variety of tourism offered throughout the state here, and also the positive and negative world media promotions over the years.

Many people head here for a well balanced experience where you get the best of culture, adventure, ecotourism, wildlife and island getaways, all in one destination. Kota Kinabalu is the capital and the main gateway here and most first time visitors to Sabah will start here too.

KK in short, offers the ultimate balance where everything is located within a two hour drive - Mount Kinabalu, Padas or Kuilu White Water Rafting, Mangrove River Cruises, Sunbathing, snorkeling and diving, museums, galleries and markets, and one of course, the wide variety of seafood and local cuisines.

Exploring out of Kota Kinabalu takers you to popular cities and towns like Sandakan, Tawau, Lahad Datu and Semporna where you continue to stunning Eco tourism and wildlife destinations including the world famous Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and The Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

You can also visit some of the world class islands for holidays or for some beginner or serious scuba diving. Sandakan and Tawau are gateways to the Kinabatangan River and Danum Valley while Semporna is your port before heading the the many beautiful islands or Sipadan, Mataking and Mabul.

KK Gaya Sunday Market
Souvenirs being sold at the famous Gaya Sunday Market in Kota Kinabalu
Getting to Sabah: Most local airlines fly to Kota Kinabalu and other towns around Sabah. From Kuala Lumpur, you can only fly there. Flights are around two to three hours from KLIA.

Once in Sabah, you can self drive by renting a car or engage a tour company service to move around. To get to other cities like Tawau, Lahad Datu or Sandakan, you can either take a domestic flight of one hour or travel by bus overland for about 5-7 hours.

What to expect in Sabah: A whole world of eco tourism awaits those who love the outdoors and nature. Scuba divers will find Sabah to be one of the best diving spots in Southeast Asia.

Cultural lovers will find some amazing cultures spread all over Sabah but going to Mari Mari Cultural Village makes it easy to see and experience five of the main ethnic peoples of Sabah Borneo. Take a nostalgic old steam train ride on the only train service in Borneo, called The North Borneo Railway.

What to eat in Sabah: Seafood and more seafood, Sabah is well known as a seafood paradise offering some of the best Southeast Asian styled seafood dishes.

The best part - you can experience this from local outdoor hawkers to proper seafood restaurants, all for a fraction of price you pay in large cities. The quality and taste and superior, when at the right places too. My recommendation is to also explore the ethnic foods which are very unique and hard to find.

More from Sabah Tourism Board

3. Sarawak
People of Sarawak
The colorful and stunning Sarawak people
The largest state in Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Sarawak offers one of the best ecotourism experiences in terms of rich culture and stunning rainforests.

This land, once ruled by the White Raja's offers visitors a completely different view of what Malaysia is. If you have been to Kuala Lumpur and the Peninsular Malaysia, then let me share with you that Sarawak is something so unique that you would not feel like you are in Malaysia.

Places of recommendations are to start in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak where you will find rich culture of the Brook dynasty, one of the best museums in the world and a city that is laid back with surprises for cultural and food tourism.

For some quick nature experiences, visit the Bako National Park, two hours from Kuching and can be done in a day trip.

Next, head to Sibu in central Sarawak for an even more local experience for food and cultural visits to the many longhouses.

Next stop Miri, the resort city in the north of Sarawak next to Brunei offers outdoor lovers a fantastic time, especially at Mulu National Park, Bario and Bakelalan which are the unique highland towns connected only via small planes. For first timers, here is a list of what to do in Kuching, Sarawak.

Sarawak Mulu Park
Exploring the Mulu National Park in Sarawak
Getting to Sarawak: The only way to reach Sarawak is via local airlines. Flights are around two hours from Kuala Lumpur while traveling internally can be done with flights or overland.

Moving around Kuching can be done on foot but to move out of Kuching, you need to engage a tour company service or self drive by renting a car. From Kuching to Miri, it takes one hour by flight and almost 12 hours overland by car or bus.

What to expect in Sarawak: If you are looking for city tourism, this is not the place. Sarawak moves at a pace of Malaysia should have been, taking its time to slowly develop. You will not find mighty skyscrapers and congested highways in a concrete jungle, but a laid back life where walking around is still the best way of exploring the cities here.

The Sarawak Cultural Village, one hour from Kuching, is the best place to see the many ethnic cultures, homes and lifestyle of the these unique people. Kuching's old charm is best seen at the Kuching Waterfront where you can explore this place on foot and best done in the mornings till late afternoons.

What to eat in Sarawak: Totally different from Peninsular Malaysia, the local food here is something worth exploring. Try the Sarawak Laksa, Belachan Bee Hoon, Kolo Mee and Three Layer Tea. For the more adventurous, you should explore the local ethnic food like Iban, Kelabit and Kayan cuisines.

Eating local food in Kuching is something highly recommended for first timers to Sarawak, especially the Umai which is a very acquired taste.

More from Sarawak Tourism Board.

Melaka or Malacca 

Melaka Tourist site
Melaka's most popular area for tourist
The oldest tourism destination in Malaysia, Malacca has been thriving with activity since the 1500's with trade ships passing through this important port and now, filled with loads of history dating back to those times.

Known as the original melting pot of the region, you can find a very rich history of Dutch, Portuguese and the inter-marriage clans in this state.

Traditional Chinese clogs from Melaka
Melaka traditional Chinese clogs
Many people head here for the historical and culinary experience as the city of Melaka is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage City offering visitors a fantastic experience by just walking around here.

There are many antique shops, restaurants of all sorts and an amazing river cruise to experience here. The best way to explore Melaka is also on foot, in the core city area. One of the must-do activities around here is to try the Melaka River Cruise.

Getting to Melaka: Melaka is only about 90 minutes drive one way from Kuala Lumpur and is a great place for historical values and the local food.

There are taxis and buses from KL which are relatively cheap or you can self drive by renting a car. An easy way is to engage a tour company day trip tour here. There is no train service here.

What to expect in Melaka: Lots of history around Melaka city which dates back to the 1500's. A great place to explore would be around the main UNESCO site here. Jonker Street is the most popular place and is best avoided on weekends as it gets too crowded.

What to eat in Melaka: Food and more glorious food, especially the Peranakan cuisines which originate here and is something very unique. Other foods include the local Malay and Chinese hawker dishes which is mainly found in the core area.

Try the Satay Celup, Cendol, Nyonya Nasi Lemak, the famous grilled fish and seafood and of course, Melaka's unique Chicken Rice Balls which can be found at Jonker Street.

Island Resort in Malaysia
One of the beautiful resorts in Malaysia
For the first timers to Malaysia, you should take note on some of the places to visit as my best recommendation is to visit a few places and not try to do it all in one go.

Example is when you arrive, you can explore one, two or three states and spending around 3-5 days doing so. That way, you get to see and experience more, compared to rushing your trip.

Some travelers even make two trips to Malaysia, one just to explore the peninsular and another trip just to explore Malaysia Borneo, the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

How long to spend in Malaysia?

Below is a breakdown of how many days estimated that you will need at the places above;

Penang: 1-3 days - Based on going around the island and to the general tourist spots. To fully experience Penang, you need one week on the island, and this is without rushing your trip.

For the long stay visitor, Penang is one of the best places in Malaysia to do this. They have a great variety of guesthouses and boutique hotels that offer long stay packages.

Sabah: 3-7 days - Three days is just nice for Kota Kinabalu city, but when you want to explore around Sabah, you need a full week to do so.

And that is a minimum time as seven days will get you the basics only. For the long-stay travelers, 2 weeks is just nice around Sabah.

Sarawak: 3-7 days - Same as Sabah, but 2-3 days in Kuching is recommended, and if you want to explore the Orangutans or the ethnic longhouses around Kuching, you need at least 4-5 days here.

Kuching and Miri with the national parks included, you will need around 7-10 days. Ultimately, you need two weeks to fully enjoy Sarawak.

Melaka: 1-2 days usually, but most people do it in a day trip, meaning they arrive in the morning and leave after dinner. However, to fully experience what Melaka has to offer, a two day one night trip is just nice. For those wanting to further explore, three days is more than enough here.


Just so you know, this article has nothing to do with Tourism Malaysia as I am an independent writer, based in Malaysia and this is part of my own initiative to promote my country for Visit Malaysia to anyone interested to come and visit this beautiful country.

Malaysia has many places to visit, but again, depending on what you like, this list was created based on what we see trending in Malaysia since the last coupe of years.

If you have any questions on the above, please leave me a comment below here and I will help reply you to my best and I hope you got some good tips and pointers on where to go in Malaysia. Hope you have a great time here. 


Vicna Vinesh said...

Great piece Jr. Love the recommendations. Penang is my favourite.

Malaysia Asia said...

Thank you very much Vinesh. Hope you make it back to explore the many other beautiful places in Malaysia with your family.

David Jr