When you research about backpacking in budget-friendly countries, the first region of the world that pops up is Southeast Asia. And fairly so! Countries like Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are super affordable and the people are among the kindest and friendliest on the planet. Additionally, there is a well established tourist infrastructure involving these countries – better known as the banana pancake trail. This makes it easy for newbie solo travelers to take their first trip, starting from the traditional Bangkok hub. So, why visit Malaysia?
Personally, after traveling there solo for 2 weeks, I came to the conclusion that it’s the most underrated country in the region. Many backpackers skip it altogether in favor of the big names, and it’s really their loss! Here’s why I think this country should be in any Southeast Asia itinerary. Plus, read on for some tips on how to travel to Malaysia.
Malaysia is so underrated
In Malaysia you’ll find a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences. Personally I loved the diversity of this cultural pot, but some people find it too different from what they’ve come to associate Southeast Asian countries with.
There are some misconceptions about Malaysia:
- “Since Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country, it’s not as much fun as its neighboring Buddhist countries.”
Well, it depends on your definition of fun and the reasons you travel. You can drink alcohol in Malaysia and there are many amazing activities that cater to every taste – from museums and cultural attractions to beaches and snorkeling and jungle hiking. But if you want to get drunk and party on a beach all night long, you’re better off in Thailand and the Full moon party.
- “Malaysia is more expensive than the other countries in Southeast Asia.”
Lets see, for my 2 week solo trip I spent around 700 dollars. Including the return flight from Bangkok. My accommodation was 20-25 dollars per night, in modern hostels or guest-houses. Transportation costs are reasonable, I took bus and boat in 3 different regions I visited. Admittedly, it may cost you more to visit the islands or Borneo, but all in all Malaysia isn’t much more expensive than its neighboring countries. If you stick to eating local food and not taking internal flights from one place to another, you can enjoy your time without going off budget.
As the slogan goes:
Malaysia, Truly Asia!
Why visit Malaysia?
The top reasons why someone should travel to Malaysia include:
- Amazing tropical islands and beaches, such as Langkawi, Redang, Tioman and the stunning Perhentian islands. Great destinations for diving and snorkeling, with crystal clear waters and coral reefs full of color.
- Awesome tropical weather all year round. It’s generally hot and humid with the casual rain showers. The weather on the east coast is opposite than the west coast, so you can go for an ideal beach vacation whenever you happen to visit. The weather in Malaysia is hot and humid year round, interspersed with tropical rain showers. Find more information about the best time to visit Malaysia here.
- The food! Among my personal favorites was Char Kway teow, which means “stir-fried rice-cake strips” and it’s a noodle dish, national favorite in Malaysia and Singapore. And of course you should try Nasi lemak, the national dish of Malaysia served on banana leaves.
Nasi lemak, the national dish of Malaysia. Pleasant attack of different flavors on my taste buds! It's served with anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, lamb curry or chicken, cucumber, and chili paste. This fragrant rice dish is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf, and traditionally served on banana leaves; disappointed mine was served in a plate! Oh well, next visit 😊
- I’m a history buff and I love visiting interesting architectural structures and cultural monuments. The cities in Malaysia definitely deliver on that aspect! From colonial buildings in Kuala Lumpur and big skyscrapers, such as the iconic, 451 m-tall Petronas Twin Towers, to temples of various religions in towns like Melacca.
"The desire to reach for the sky runs deep in our human psyche" ~ Cesar Pelli A symbol of Malaysia's progress and achievements in the past few years, the Twin Towers are rising majestically against Kuala Lumpur's skyline. With a height of 452 metres and 88 floors in total, this masterpiece of modern architecture combines Eastern with Western characteristics in design.
- And last but not least, the people! I found them friendly and kind wherever I went, eager to help out. Most of the locals spoke English well, wherever I visited. And it was entertaining to see the reaction of some Malay women when I mentioned I was traveling alone. “Without a husband or boyfriend?” *gasp!* 🙂
** Stay tuned for Part 2 to read about my experiences in Melacca, Taman Negara, the Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur and tips on traveling there! **
How to Travel to Malaysia
I was living in Bangkok when I decided to take a 2 week trip to Malaysia, so I flew out of Don Mueang airport in Bangkok. Taxis in Bangkok are fairly reasonable (always check if the meter is on when you enter one), and a ride from the Sukhumvit area to the airport should cost you around 300 to 400 Thai baht.
A direct flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur takes about 2 hours. There are 8 airlines providing direct flights and the most popular between them is AirAsia. This is a well known budget airline flying all over the continent of Asia, so keep in mind that only your carry-on luggage is free. You will get charged for taking additional luggage with you.
I had no problem fitting my stuff for this trip into a carry-on bag though, and it was very convenient to lug around since I covered many destinations in these 2 weeks. You don’t need much when traveling in Southeast Asia anyways, since you can get by on summer clothes and sandals or flip-flops!
How much for a return ticket?
A final note about the cost of getting to Malaysia from Thailand: I traveled in May which is low season for the western parts of the country, and a return ticket cost me about 4000 baht (or 100 $).
You could also enter the country by flying from Bangkok to Penang. In this case, a flight with AirAsia is slightly more expensive than flying to the capital of Kuala Lumpur (around 140 $ for May).
Hope you enjoyed reading about Malaysia – stay tuned for post #2! Have you ever been to this beautiful country? What was your experience like? Would you add it in your Southeast Asia itinerary? Let me know in the comments below!