Is backpacking Malaysia in your travel bucket list? You should know that Malaysia is one of the easiest countries for backpacking in Southeast Asia. It’s one of the most developed countries in Southeast Asia. Also prices are higher than in the other countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
Malaysia has two separate parts, West Malaysia and East Malaysia. Today we’ll go through a guide in traveling West Malaysia. I will write about my experience in East Malaysia soon. (Hopefully real soon. Let me know if that’s your way now, so I can write about it ;))
Malaysia is a multicultural country where you can find Malayan, Chinese and Indian communities. When you can find these different communities of people together, you are sure to find various types of food.
Malaysia is a Muslim country. Around 60% of the population are following this religion. You can find mosques everywhere. But, you can also find temples too. Around 20 % of the population are Buddhist. Malayan is the language of the country and it’s easy to learn a few words. A basic knowleadge of the language is helpful for backpacking Malaysia.
Before backpacking Malaysia
The local currency is Malaysian Ringgit. The exchange is 1 USD= 4.25 Ringgits. You know exchange rates can change. If you want to know the exact rate, check here. If you are bringing a debit card, you will find ATMs while backpacking Malaysia very often. Malayan Bank isn’t charging commission for foreign cards. If you are bringing cash for backpacking Malaysia, you will find exchange office and banks everywhere too. Just make sure that you can get the best rate for your money.
You don’t need any special vaccination for backpacking Malaysia. Just the routinary vaccines like Hepatitis and Typhoid. They usually recommend vaccines for Malaria, Japanese Encephalitis and Yellow Fever. Check here to make sure that you don’t need any vaccinations before visiting Malaysia.
Backpacking Malaysia is very safe. I’ve been backpacking Malaysia a few times, and I didn’t have any problem. As I usually say, I feel safer in Malaysia than in my own country. It’s like the most of the countries in Southeast Asia. I met people backpacking Malaysia, and nobody had a problem during their trip.
How to get there
If you want to get by plane, there are many cheap flights companies coming from the countries around Southeast Asia. Air Asia offers good deals, especially flying to Kuala Lumpur. Check Skyscanner to make sure that you get the best fare if you are coming by plane.
You can get to Malaysia overland from Thailand and Singapore. From Thailand you can get there by train, bus or hitchhiking. If you are coming from Singapore, it’ll be very tricky to hitchhike near the border. It is technically not allowed to cross the border by walking, so you would either have to ride a bus to cross the border, or find a free ride a little far from the border, but will cross going to Malaysia. I was walking to the border when police officers stopped me, and ordered me to take the bus. It’s not very expensive though, around half a dollar a ride.
Securing a visa for backpacking Malaysia isn’t going to be an issue. Most of the countries have free visa for 90 days to visit Malaysia. You just need to hold a passport with at least 6 months before expiry, and you should get your stamp for three months. Check here to see full details of countries that are not required to get visa for traveling in Malaysia.
The best time for backpacking Malaysia is.. who knows when? haha! In Peninsular Malaysia, there’s a chance for rain any time of the year. The wet season lasts from November to March. The driest season from April to October. Perhaps dry season is the best for visiting Malaysia. Based in my own experience backpacking Malaysia, there would be many days that it could rain, and I had been in Malaysia in different times of the year.
How to get wifi in Malaysia
Getting wifi in Malaysia is easy. You will find wifi almost everywhere. There are many places like malls, shops and bars where you will find wifi. And the connection is really good compared to a lot of countries on Southeast Asia.
If you are backpacking Malaysia, you are lucky. Accommodation is very cheap in Malaysia. There are a lot of hostels where you can pay $4-5 for sleeping in a dorm. There are cottages by the beach for less than $10. You can rent a room for $10. If you are traveling in a low budget, you can try to get free accommodation using websites like Couchsurfing. There are many hosts using Couchsurfing around Malaysia. It’s not only for getting free accommodation (no more accusations of that here, ok? ;)), but also meeting local friends and to have a more local experience. If you want to know more about how to sleep for free while traveling, check here. There are 28 creative ways to sleep for free while traveling included in that link.
If you are in the middle of your hitchhiking day, you can pitch the tent everywhere when backpacking Malaysia. Just make sure that you aren’t pitching your tent in a private property. Ask people to make sure you don’t encounter any issues when pitching your tent in Malaysia. Gas stations are a good place to sleep in, if you are in the middle of your hitchhiking day and you couldn’t reach your final destination. You can find food and water there, and sometimes even decent showers. And next day, you will be easier to catch a ride around that area.
If you are backpacking Malaysia, the best way to go around is by bus and hitchhiking. The road from Kuala Lumpur until North Malaysia is very easy to hitchhike. I only took buses to go around the cities and to go outside the cities to get to the point where I need to begin hitchhiking on a particular day. If you want to know more about hitchhiking, check here, and you will know how to hitchhike, step by step.
Transportation prices for backpacking Malaysia are little bit higher than in the other countries in Southeast Asia. Forgetting about prices quality is really good in Malaysia for transportation.
If you want to hitchhike in Malaysia. I will tell you some advice:
- I hitchhiked the road from Kuala Lumpur to Penang a couple of times. And hitchhiking was working really good. I didn’t try in the other routes. Maybe, it’s little bit more difficult because there is little traffic.
- If you want to leave Kuala Lumpur hitchhiking, check hitchwiki.org or just ask locals where would be a good place to begin your hitchhiking. Once you leave Kuala Lumpur and found a good spot to ask for a ride, the most difficult part of the journey is done. There are good roads in Malaysia. So, your hitchhiking day should be relatively easy and fast.
- Hitchhiking by the toll road is easy. But you might not love it. 😉 (The editor is saying so.) When you are driven until the toll road, and you have to go the other way, while the cars are stopped and processing the ticket payment, you can cross to the next side, and immediately get a ride. Like from the exit side, crossing to the entrance side. And yes, I have done this so many times, so I know how fast the cars from the other side will let you in to hitch a ride.
While you are hitchhiking in Malaysia, communication is easy with people. Almost all of them speak English. So, even if they don’t understand what hitchhiking is, they will finally drive you to your destination.
When you go for hitchhiking in Malaysia, just be mindful of the hot weather and try to ask for a ride in the shade. Make sure that you are bringing water, so you can always stay hydrated. You might think it’s not the most important task, but really, you wouldn’t want to be worried about feeling exhausted and dehydrated in the middle of a really hot weather. It’s not good for you and your body.
While I was hitchhiking in Malaysia many of the rides were from coming girls driving. They were very friendly. Sometimes, they drove me until my destination even it wasn’t in their route. Waiting time to get a ride hitchhiking Malaysia was around 15 minutes. And in hitchhiking language, that’s super fast.
When you ask for a ride while backpacking Malaysia, don’t use your thumb (like don’t use a thumbs up). Try to move your arms up and down to make the cars stop. They will understand this gesture better than the regular thumbs up. If you find it difficult to get a ride, you can make a sign with your final destination written on it. People should be able to better understand what are you doing.
Travel itinerary (my exact route) from North Malaysia to South Malaysia (5 weeks)
From the North coming from Thailand, I visited Langkawi. After Langkawi, I went to Penang. From Penang, I went to Pehertian Islands. From Pehertian Islands, I headed to Cameron Highlands. After visiting Cameron Highlands, I went to Taman Neagara. Fron Taman Negara, I went to Kuala Lumpur and Malacca finally on the way to Singapore. And going back again to Kuala Lumpur, stopping in Ipoh, Penang and Sungai Petani before going back to Thailand.
Places to visit backpacking Malaysia
You can spend 2-3 days backpacking Malaysia in Cameron Highlands. You can relax in Tanah rata which is full of backpacker places for accommodation. In the morning, you can go hiking and you can go visit tea plantations. You will get great views on the top of the mountain if you go for a hike in Cameron Highlands. The weather is a little bit cold at night. Make sure that you are bringing a jumper when visiting Cameron Highland as it’s cold at night.
Georgetown was an old British colony. It’s the paradise for Malaysian cuisine. When you are backpacking Malaysia and you visit Penang, you will enjoy the food in the local markets. You can go for a day trip to Batu Ferringhi by bus (30 minutes ride), and enjoying the beach too during the day or spending a couple of days there.
Where to sleep in Georgetown? For a budget stay in Georgetown, another good recommendation is Hotel Mingood. The location was great, just a few minutes walking distance from the touristic points of the city. At the same time, it’s also located in a quiet area. The rooms are spacious, clean and with a balcony to enjoy the sunrise. Internet works well, so it’s easy for you to do your work in case you are working online. There are tons of information and maps in the reception especially if you need to book tours and buses for your next destination. They offer breakfast in a nice terrace and everything is clean, simple and well made. The hotel is also a few minutes walk from Armenian Street, and other popular areas of Georgetown. You definitely wouldn’t have a problem going around for the local food and scenery.
Backpacking Malaysia, you will enjoy visiting Taman Negara National Park. You can walk in the forest next to the river. And you can go back down the river with a canoe. Make sure that you are bringing your antimosquito spray when you are visiting Taman Negara. Make sure that you are also bringing cash. When I was visiting Taman Negara, there was no ATM at that time. Make sure that you are bringing cash and from there, you can find an exchange office.
If you have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Malacca while backpacking Malaysia, do it. It’s an old and colonial town under Portuguese influence. You will find churches in different style than the usual that you would see in Malaysia. It’s totally different than the other places in Malaysia.
Where to sleep in Malacca? We stayed at Mori Residence in Jonker area. Our room was very clean and the staff very friendly and willing to give you maps and all information that you need for visiting the city. The wifi was working well and allowed us to catch up with a lot of our work. If you sleep in Mori Residence, you will have the chance to rent for free a bicycle in Layang Layang Guesthouse. You can relax in their common areas where you can enjoy free coffee, tea, cold water and cookies during the whole day.
You can eat an amazing vegetarian dinner at Mori Vegetarian Tea House where you will enjoy delicious food, a quiet place to stay, and friendly staff. Our choices were mushroom soup, a huge omelette and salad plus the popular Chinese tea, Oolong. Definitely an experience you will remember, and out of all the luxury stays we visited this trip, Mori is actually a place that gave left a very good impression on us. Highly recommended.
The capital of Malaysia, and the largest city. My favorite places in Kuala Lumpur are Chinatown and Little India where you can go to try local food while backpacking Malaysia. Central Market looks very touristic but it’s good to take a look. I live visiting Twin Towers, especially at night with the lights. You can visit Batu Caves an Indu temple outside the city. There are many malls in Kuala Lumpur. I’m not usually visiting malls, but, it’s a good chance to get wifi, or for getting shade from the rain and waiting it out til it stops. Kuala Lumpur is the best place to visit, when going out in the weekends. I recommend you to spend a week in Kuala Lumpur, so you can enjoy the weekend. You will definitely enjoy the city and the people!
Traveling in Kuala Lumpur business areas? If you have more time to travel in the city, then it’s highly suggested that you really explore a lot of it’s hidden gems. For us, we were able to visit a new area of Kuala Lumpur – Cheras. It’s a business or industrialized area. It was actually fun to visit Cheras for a day, as we’ve seen so many local places to eat. Food is definitely a great way to explore a new place! There also many bars so if you are into parties, this is a good place to stay at. A recommended place of stay is the modern Ibis Styles KL Cheras While we are here, we were able to catch up on some much needed work time, especially since their wifi connection is really good. If you’re in the road a lot, you’ll find that scheduling days when you can just get a good internet connection is very important.
If you plan to explore Cheras area, you’ll have to make sure you give yourself ample time especially if you are catching a flight after your stay here. For us, since we traveled by public transportation to KLIA, we had to get a bus (and wait for the bus to come, which can get up to 1 hour, depending on the bus code), to go to the train station, which took us to KLCC. From there, you can ride another bus to the airport, which is another hour of travel. We did have a great time being in Cheras, as KL is something we’ve seen a couple of times. Really nice to discover a new area. We send our mornings in Ibis, since they have a good and simple morning breakfast buffet. Interesting find is the Nasi Kerabu (or Malay blue rice) – you should try it!
It’s the third largest city in Malaysia. You will enjoy visiting markets around Ipoh. It’s a good place, definitely off beat for backpacking Malaysia and a great place to meet local people. If you want to know more about spending a weekend in Ipoh.
Where to sleep in Ipoh? One recommendation if you are traveling to Ipoh, Malaysia is to stay with Cititel Express Ipoh. We have personally stayed in this hotel, and we loved how you can easily get access to the points of attraction in Ipoh through their free shuttle service, with schedules distributed throughout the day. The rooms are clean and simple, with comfortable beds. Good internet connection if you’re staying in your room and needed to be connected to the internet. One additional perk! There is unlimited cold and hot water (with dispensers just outside yoru hotel room) plus ironing areas in the hotel where you can keep your those cleaned and ironed ready for a day out in the city. The hotel also offers a simple breakfast to keep you energized and ready for the day.
Langkawi is the perfect place for relaxing that you can’t miss it when backpacking Malaysia. It’s a cheap place to buy alcohol and devices. And if you think about the usual party places of Thailand, Langkawi is not one of them. It’s a place for you to enjoy the beach during the day, and the quiet at night. The best plan when backpacking Malaysia in Langkawi is riding a bicycle or a motorcycle to explore the island.
Perhentian Islands is paradise. It’s a place for relaxing, sunbathing, diving, and snorkling in the beaches and islands. At night, it is very quiet. Don’t expect for a backpacking Malaysia trip to be full of parties at night, like with what you usually find in Thailand. The atmosphere is totally different.
Eating and Drinking
Malaysian gastronomy is really tasty. What I found good about it is the mix of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese influence, which is very evident with the food taste. Food prices are good (meaning they are very cheap, usually around a dollar), and there are a lot of local night markets for you to visit.
The most famous breakfast in Malaysia. It’s rice cooked with coconut milk and it’s served with anchovies, sambal, egg and peanuts. Prices are less than 1 USD.
Flat bread served with different sauces. The best ones that I tried was in Little India in Kuala Lumpur. This meal is great if you are going in a low budget. Prices are less than 1 USD.
Milo and Nescafe Ice (Not a promotion. ha!)
My favorite is Milo served with ice inside a plastic bag with a straw. Don’t forget to try Milo when backpacking Malaysia. You can get your refreshment for less than 1 USD.
You can find Satay when it is getting dark, pretty much anywhere, in your backpacking Malaysia trip. It’s barbecue meat or chicken, and it’s served with sauce. My favorite one is with peanuts. Prices are starting from 2 USD.
Spicy fried noodles with vegetables or chicken. As a Chinese influence, you can find this food in Malaysia very often. It’s one of my favorite food in Malaysia. Prices are starting from 1 USD.
The most famous dessert in Malaysia. It’s made of coconut milk and jelly. They add beans too. You can find in all the night markets and while walking around the city.
Fried rice. My favorite one is with vegetables.
(Editor’s note: Why is this rice served on paper?!)
It is a little bit expensive to have alcohol in Malaysia. As they are a Muslim country, alcohol has high taxes and sometimes it’s difficult to find beer or strong liquors.
Must see in Malaysia
Muslim and Mosque
Malaysia is a Muslim country where you can find hundred of mosques. Try to go inside one and meet local people. Putrajaya is a nice place to check where you can find beautiful mosques.
Coach for ladies only
In Kuala Lumpur, you can find for-ladies-only coaches. It was strange to see it in a developed country such as Malaysia. I didn’t expect it!
You must try Durian when backpacking Malaysia. It’s the most famous fruit — smelly and tasty. Be careful when you eat with your hands. Your fingers will smell Durian-ish for a while. Some people don’t like the taste, but I loved it!
The national sport in Malaysia is similar to volleyball. But they can’t use their hand to touch the ball. They are only allowed to pass the ball with their knees, feet, head and their body, everything except their hands. When you are backpacking Malaysia, you will see people playing this game very often in the streets. Try to join them!
Deepavali or Diwali festival. This festival is significant for Hindus. There are open houses where you can meet local people and try food. It’s celebrated in November.
Hari Raya is the culmination of Ramadan, after a whole month of fasting. Muslims open their houses for families and friends and they enjoy chatting and eating with them.
Chinese New Year is celebrated by the Chinese people. They decorate their houses with traditional decorations for a couple of weeks. They meet their family and friends cooking food, having tea and spending time together.
Enjoying sunset in the beaches and taking hundred of pictures. This is one of my favorite things to do in Malaysia. Enjoying the sunset with a beer or a juice before dinner.
Editor’s Note: It’s Ruben’s favorite thing to do – laying down by the beach, watching the beautiful sunset. Practically any beach, anywhere.
You must learn Malay while backpacking Malaysia. Malayan is easy to read and learn, I mean the essentials of the language. It’s going to be a big help for backpacking Malaysia, especially if you continue traveling to Indonesia next. They use the same language, and you can keep improving.
Visiting Pasar Malan (“night market” in Malaysian language). You will find the best local food and affordable prices. It’s great to enjoy the street food in the night market. They are always busy.
Eat using banana leaves
Eating street food wrapped in a banana leaf is very normal when backpacking Malaysia. You will feel like a local.
Enjoy meeting locals backpacking Malaysia. Malaysian people are very friendly. It’s a good thing that they can speak English.
If you are going to visit Malaysia, you can get more information in this travel guide. If you want to read more guides from Southeast Asia, you can take a look here for Myanmar or Thailand. You will find great information about travel in a low budget.
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