Asia, together with Europe, is the largest piece of land on the Earth. It stretches from the Arctic Ocean to the Equator. And as every continent, it has its extremes. One of these extremes is Peninsular Malaysia- the southernmost land of continental Asia. Now, let’s travel in Peninsular Malaysia by this ultimate guide, and dive into its geography, history, and culture.
Basic facts about Peninsular Malaysia
Peninsular Malaysia is the western part of Malaysia, located on the mainland of Asia. Eastern Malaysia is located in the northern part of Borneo (Kalimantan) Island, called also Malaysian Borneo. Both parts make the country Malaysia, but they are only politically, economically and administratively united into one country. In fact, both Eastern and Western (Peninsular) Malaysia are more separated than neighboring countries like Vietnam and Laos, or Myanmar and Thailand. You can cross from Eastern to Western Malaysia only by plane (no ferries between them), and the only thing that can make you feel you go to the same country is that you don’t need another visa.
The natural geography of Peninsular Malaysia
So, the western part of Malaysia is situated on the southernmost land of Asia- Malay Peninsula. It is a compact piece of land, with several small islands on its both eastern and western sides. There is the main mountain range on its mainland, called Titiwangsa Mountains, and another smaller range on the east called Tahan Mountains. The rest of the peninsula is plain or hilly.
Peninsular Malaysia is located in the equatorial natural zone. This makes it home to the equatorial rainforest- the famous jungles rich in wildlife as those in Amazonia, Congo, and Papua. And the same jungles can be seen and explored here, in Peninsular Malaysia. The largest one of them is Taman Negara, which is considered to be one of the oldest rainforests on Earth.
The mountains of Peninsular Malaysia are not so high. The highest peak is Gunung Tanan (2187 m), located within Taman Negara. So, even the highest areas of the mountains are covered by forests- not equatorial jungles, but still deciduous forests, rich in wildlife. One of the best places to see these natural areas is the Cameron Highlands.
Concerning the seacoast- as you can suppose, it is a warm and nice seaside in „tropical paradise style”. And that’s right- there are excellent beaches with yellowish or white sand, coral reefs, crystal clear waters (if there are not seaports, industrial zones or river mouths nearby) with coconut palms and jungles behind the beach. This picture can be seen on the mainland coast, and on the surrounding islands- Tioman, Perhentian, Redang, Penang, Langkawi and other smaller pieces of land.
The human geography of Peninsular Malaysia
The capital of the whole of Malaysia- Kuala Lumpur is located in its peninsular part. Kuala Lumpur, together with Putrajaya are turned into special federal territories. The rest of the land is divided into 11 states, 9 of which have a monarch (sultan). A sultan of these states is regularly chosen to represent the whole of Malaysia, as its „Yang-di Pertuan Agong”.
Peninsular Malaysia has a rich multiethnic image. The main part of its population is Malay people. There are a lot of Chinese and Indians too, as well as various other people who have come from various parts of the world, including Europe. And there is another group of people, called Orang Asli– they are the oldest, original people of Peninsular Malaysia- the Malaysian aborigines. And this multiethnic image is a result of many centuries-long history, which has remained a lot of traces, especially in the World Heritage Sites like Melaka (Malacca) and Penang.
So, let’s dive into the history of Peninsular Malaysia because this will definitely enrich your exploring experience of this beautiful land.
History of Peninsular Malaysia
For thousands of years, many waves of people have arrived in the Malay Peninsula and remained there until today. This has formed the rich multiethnic image of this land, as I mentioned above. During all this time, many kingdoms and states, formed by all these people have emerged, declined, mixed or separated. Let’s look at the beginning of this history and what traces have it left in Peninsular Malaysia today.
Negritos era (unknown to around 2000 BC)
Thousands of years ago, nobody knows since when only a few people were living in the Malay Peninsula. They were black, with curly hair, looking like Africans or Australian Aborigines. Nobody knows where they have come from. The whole peninsula has been covered by lush equatorial rainforest. And these people, living in the jungle were nomadic hunters and gatherers.
They are called Negritos, and today they still live not only in Peninsular Malaysia, but also in some remote places in Thailand, Philippines, and the Andamans. Maybe in Papua, Melanesia, and Australia too, if the aboriginal people there are related to the Negritos.
Today, in Peninsular Malaysia, they are also called Semang (one of the three Orang Asli groups of tribes), and they are no more than 5000 people, divided into six tribes, mainly in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia- Kensiu, Kintaq, Lanoh, Jahai, Mendriq, and Batek. We have met Batek people in Taman Negara, and if you want to see them, their lifestyle and culture, Taman Negara is the easiest place to reach them.
Senoi Austroasiatic era (around 2000 BC to around 1000 BC)
Approximately around 2000 BC (or maybe even earlier), the second wave of people came to the Malay Peninsula, from the northern parts of Indochina. They were Austroasiatic, with Mongoloid features. During the next centuries, they gradually became the majority. We don’t know how the two groups of people used to live together, but we know that they have remained in Peninsular Malaysia too.
Today they have divided again into 6 tribes- Semai, Temiar, Mah Meri, Jah Hut, Semaq Beri, and Cheq Wong- in total around 60 000 people. Unlike the Negritos, they live more constantly in one place, and besides the hunting and gathering from the forest, they also do some agricultural activities. They live in remote villages, mainly in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia.
Proto-Malay era (around 1000 BC to 300 BC)
Somewhere around 1000 BC (or earlier), the third wave of people gradually settled in the Malay Peninsula. Their origin is unclear, but most probably they have been a part of the early migrations of the Austronesians, which started from Taiwan.
They mixed with the local Senoi (and sometimes Negritos) people, thus the ethnical picture of Peninsular Malaysia became more colorful. Again, we don’t know how they have lived together, but we know their lifestyle and culture now. Today, they are divided into 6 or 7 tribes- Jakun, Orang Kanaq, Orang Kuala, Orang Selatar, Semelai, Temoq, and Temuan. And they live mainly in the central and southern parts of the peninsula.
Deutero-Malay era (300 BC to 700 AD)
Around 300 BC, the fourth wave of people came to Peninsular Malaysia. They were again Austronesians, and this time they were more advanced and much more numerous. So, they pushed the first three groups of people deep into the jungles and quickly conquered their land. Soon they established many local kingdoms- some say that there have been more than 30 early Malay kingdoms in the Malay Peninsula.
These kingdoms established trade relationships with the kingdoms and empires of India and China and were strongly influenced by Hinduism. Some of these kingdoms gained control over the smaller kingdoms, and the situation gradually changed with the establishment of the Srivijaya Empire.
Srivijaya era (700 to 1300)
Srivijaya was a Buddhist empire, based in Sumatra. Its rulers controlled most of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. They didn’t destroy the local kingdoms, but just made them vassals.
Until the 11th century, Srivijaya was strong and prosperous. It had a good relationship with China and India, particularly with the Indian Chola Empire. But then, this changed, Chola and Srivijaya became enemies. As a result, the armies of Chola invaded the Malay Peninsula and conquered temporary some of the northern Malay kingdoms. And in the 12th century, Srivijaya gradually went into decline, and its vassals started to separate from the empire. At the same time, the Siamese Sukhotai kingdom conquered part of the Malay Peninsula. Eventually, the time of Srivijaya on this was over.
Majapahit and Malacca era (1300 to 1511)
In general, during this era, the Malay Peninsula was not united under one kingdom or empire. Many local kingdoms remained independent. The Siamese were soon pushed by another power- Majapahit Empire from Java. However, its control over the peninsula remained loose.
Then, in 1402, a prince from the remains of Srivijaya, called Parameshwara arrived in what is today Melaka and established a new kingdom. But this kingdom was different. First, it adopted Islam, and its kings became Sultans. Then, it conquered the neighboring smaller states, as well as a significant part of Sumatra Island, becoming an empire. All this the Sultans of Malacca did with the help of the Chinese, with whom they established a tight relationship. Today you can see a lot of artifacts and information about the life in the Malacca Sultanate in the city of Melaka- in its History and Ethnography Museum, as well as in the Sultanate Palace Museum.
Portuguese-Johor era (1511 to 1641)
The Portuguese came in 1511, led by Afonso de Albuquerque. They conquered Malacca and it was the end of this Sultanate. And during the next years, two other Sultanates emerged- Johor and Aceh. So, the Portuguese couldn’t conquer the whole Malay Peninsula, but they were in constant rivalry with Johor and Aceh. There were also some other smaller states, of which the most significant was the Sultanate of Perak.
With the growing importance of the Strait of Malacca, both Aceh and Johor tried to conquer the city of Malacca (Melaka). But the Portuguese didn’t allow it, being in union with one Sultanate against another. It happened in 1641 when the Dutch came.
Dutch-Bugis era (1641 to 1824)
The Dutch conquered Malacca (Melaka) and pushed the Portuguese out of the Malay Peninsula. They established the East India Company, which became a trade empire. This empire controlled a significant part of the Malay Archipelago. But it didn’t fully conquer the Malay Peninsula and the islands, the Dutch left most of the Sultanates to remain, in various statuses of dependence.
During this era, Johor Sultanate fell and other states gained power over most of the Peninsula. Some of them fell under control from the Ayutthaya Empire of Thailand. It was the time of significant migration of Bugis from Sulawesi, which established many settlements at the East Coast of the Peninsula, and even a state- the Sultanate of Selangor.
British era (1824 to 1957)
Then, the British came too. Actually, they came earlier, during the Dutch era, in the 18th century, but only as traders. Later they got Penang as their trade base. And in 1824 they signed a treaty with the Dutch. According to this treaty, the Britain Empire took control over what is today Malaysia, and the Dutch- over today’s Indonesia. With this, the British era began.
The British controlled the whole Malay Peninsula, but mostly economically. They left the existing states and Sultanates in a semi-independent status, with British advisors. Only Penang and Malacca (Melaka) were in direct control by the British Empire. In the middle of the 19th century Kuala Lumpur, the future capital of Malaysia was born.
And from the end of the 19th century, with the increasing production of tin, gold, rubber and palm oil, the British colony needed more workers. So, they opened the doors for Indian and Chinese workers, and it is the next „big wave” of people’s migration to the Malay Peninsula. In the first half of the 20th century, it significantly changed the ethnic image of the land and its culture. From that period many „Chinatowns” and „Little India” emerged. However, this awake a Malayan nationalism and a growing desire for independence.
Then, during World War 2 the Peninsula was invaded by the Japanese. They occupied the land for 3 years, which was devastating for the locals. Eventually, in 1945, the Japanese lost the war and left the Malay Peninsula, but the British were already unable to restore the previous colonial system as before. This led to an intense movement for independence, which was declared on 31st August 1957.
Independent Malaysia era (1957 until now)
At first, the newly independent country was called Malaya, and it included only the Malay Peninsula. The first years of independence were not easy, with various kinds of unrest, especially caused by a struggle with the communists. Eventually, the communists lost and couldn’t get the power.
Then, 6 years later, the northern Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah joined the country, and it received its name- Malaysia. But soon later Singapore was excluded from it. Since then, Malaysia successfully passed through all the challenges of its „baby years”, and entered into a rapid economic development, which also attracted many tourists from all over the world. And finally- this is Malaysia now, particularly its Peninsular part.
Culture of Peninsular Malaysia
As we all can see, Peninsular Malaysia is a multicultural country, with various ethnic groups, having their own unique culture, traditions, and lifestyle. Don’t be surprised to see various people on the street, looking differently- some with lighter skin, some with darker skin, some with Mongoloid face features, some with European or other kinds of face features, many of them mixed.
Ethnic groups in Peninsular Malaysia
The majority of the people are Malay. They are Muslims (at least, they are obligated to be Muslims, and can’t be anything else, at least according to the current laws). In general, they are warm and hospitable people, who are not „noisy”, but at the same time know how to have fun. It is often difficult to distinguish the Malay men from the other Asians, but the women are easily recognizable since they cover their heads. Nevertheless, they are all friendly and it is easy to talk with them, including in situations when a man talks with a woman.
Concerning the other ethnic groups- most of them are Chinese and Indians. The Chinese are mostly Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, or just atheists. And the Indians are mostly Hinduists, but there are Christians among them too. They have the freedom to choose their religion and to share it with everybody but to the Malays. The Chinese have the same behavior as their fellows in China, Singapore or everywhere else. And the Indians are a bit more like westerners. In Peninsular Malaysia, there are also Europeans, Arabs, etc., but they are a small minority.
Finally, there are Orang Asli- the group of minorities, which are the oldest inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia. They live in remote villages, and they are protected by the Malaysian government. However, most of them prefer to live separated from other people. There are some Orang Asli, mainly Negritos (Semang) which still hold their nomadic lifestyle in the jungles, almost completely separated (and difficult to be accessed).
Spoken languages in Peninsular Malaysia
In general, it is very easy to spend your time in Peninsular Malaysia and to communicate with the locals. Almost everybody knows English, and since the whole society is multicultural, they usually know at least two languages. Maybe the people knowing most languages are the Chinese- they can speak and at least understand (in different levels) Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, English, and sometimes, even some Indian language.
The lifestyle in Peninsular Malaysia is modern, as many sides of daily life are the same as in the whole world. You can often see people playing on their mobile phones, spending time in cafes, restaurants, going to a picnic, parks, malls, etc. If you look for some specific tradition, which can’t be seen everywhere in the world, I would mention their habit to put off their shoes before entering someone’s home, or even some hotels, offices, etc.
So, this is, in general, the image of Peninsular Malaysia. And there are many beautiful and interesting places to travel to. Some are natural, others are historical and cultural, or just places for fun and entertainment. Let’s see the map of this land, its geography and the places worth to visit.
Places to travel in Peninsular Malaysia
Peninsular Malaysia is a relatively small land. The places to travel represent its equatorial geographical zone- at the seaside, in the lowlands, and the mountains. And the human places of interest represent its history, ethnic culture and modern lifestyle. So, let’s travel around Peninsular Malaysia, starting from the capital Kuala Lumpur.
This is the official capital of Malaysia and the largest city in the country. It is one of the two federal territories in the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur is a new city, with no more than 160 years of history, and it represents the most essential of Malaysian culture and lifestyle. So, if you want to explore Malaysia, particularly its Western (Peninsular) part, you must start, or at least visit Kuala Lumpur.
Places to visit in Kuala Lumpur
There are many places in Kuala Lumpur, which are worth to visit. They can be found in four main areas. Some of them are so famous, that they have become a popular landmark in the whole country.
The historical center of Kuala Lumpur
In this area is the birthplace of Kuala Lumpur, in the confluence of Klang and Gombak rivers. And many landmarks are presenting various moments of the city’s history- Masjid Jamek, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Merdeka Square, Selangor Royal Club, St. Mary Cathedral and the building of the Textile Museum. There is also the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery- a small museum with a good presentation of the city.
In the southern part of the Historical Center, you can also find Masjid Negara- the largest mosque in Malaysia, built in modern style, the Old Railway Station, and the old Royal Palace. Finally, a must-visit place is the National Museum, where you can be educated in the history of Malaysia.
And in the eastern part of the Historical Center, you can find Chinatown with its Petaling Street. This is an open market area, a place with a colorful Chinese style of life.
The modern center of Kuala Lumpur
This part of Kuala Lumpur is located east of the Historical Center, and there you can find its two most popular landmarks- Petronas Twin Towers, and KL Tower. Besides, this is part of the city with the best places for shopping and nightlife.
Parks and gardens of Kuala Lumpur
The largest park in Kuala Lumpur is Perdana Botanical Gardens, located west of the Historical Center. It is a beautiful place with various spots like ponds, specific gardens, butterfly and other sanctuaries, and other attractions. There is also the Tugu Negara Monument (The Monument of Malaysian Heroes).
The other two popular parks are KL Eco Park and KLCC Park, both located in the Modern Center. KL Forest Eco Park is on a hill, with KL Tower on its top, and there you can find a little piece of original equatorial rainforest in the heart of the city. And KLCC is the best place to observe Petronas Twin Towers from aside.
The suburbs of Kuala Lumpur
The suburbs, surrounding the center of Kuala Lumpur consist of residential areas, more parks, villages, and some agricultural areas. And there are also some interesting places to visit. I would mention four of them.
- Kampung Baru. This is the closest located village to the Modern Center of Kuala Lumpur- a nice and quiet place with a stunning contrast between the village houses, and the Petronas Towers rising behind them.
- Tianhou (Thean Hou) Temple. This is the largest Chinese temple in Kuala Lumpur.
- National Palace (Istana Negara). This is the residential palace of the Malaysian monarch- Yang-di Pertuan Agong- a popular tourist attraction.
- Batu Caves. This is one of the most famous and iconic landmarks of Kuala Lumpur. There is a small karst hills area with a system of caves and a complex of Hindu temples.
Putrajaya is the second Federal Teritorry in Peninsular Malaysia, which along with Kuala Lumpur and parts of Selangor state, is a part of the so-called Greater Kuala Lumpur. Now, this is the actual settlement for most of the Malaysian government departments.
This is a modern place, with glamorous buildings- government residences, palaces, and an iconic mosque. There you can also enjoy some beautiful gardens, as well as luxury hotels and nightlife.
Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya are special territories. They are small in size, but since they present the Malaysian capital, they are of great importance. From here, let’s explore the nine states of Peninsular Malaysia, starting from those located at the Western Coast of the peninsula, in northwestern direction. The first of them is Selangor.
This is the most developed sultanate-state in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya are located within it. So it can be seen as something like a „central province” of Malaysia. On the west is the coast of the Strait of Malacca, and on the east is the Titiwangsa Mountain range. In the middle, most of the land is plane or slightly hilly. So, most of the natural places to visit in Selangor are located on the sea coast, and in the mountains.
The history and culture of Selangor are in general the same as in the capital Kuala Lumpur. And it is presented in some places of interest too. Some of these places are historical, while others are mostly parks or entertainment spots. Due to the closeness to the capital, all these spots are well connected by convenient transportation. Let’s see some of the most important of them.
Places to see in Selangor
Let’s start first with the human places to visit. Most of them are located in the capital of Selangor- Shah Alam. Among them, I would mention the Shah Alam Gallery, Selangor State Library, and Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque. They all represent the history and culture of Selangor. And if you are looking for something more fun or modern, you can visit i-City, a place with thousands of LED decorations, and Setia Alam food street market.
East of Shah Alam is Petaling Jaya. It is a relatively modern place, located right beside Kuala Lumpur. And the most attractive place there is Sunway Lagoon- the largest theme park in Malaysia.
The neighboring urban area on the west of Shah Alam is Klang. There are two important cultural sites in Klang- Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery, and Alam Shah Palace. Then, Klang reaches the sea coast of Peninsular Malaysia, so, there we can enjoy some nice and beautiful places- beaches and islands.
Klang River, the islands and the seacoast
Klang River flows into the sea in a large estuary with several islands- Carey, Ketam, Tengah, Che Mat Zin, Indah, and some smaller islands. They are mostly covered by mangrove forests. The most interesting of them is Carey Island, which is the largest one, because it is the home of Mah Meri- Senoi Austroasiatic people, one of Orang Asli tribes. Now they live like their Malay neighbors, but you still can see their customs, dances and other folk performances, as well as their unique carvings.
Some of the best beaches are located south of Klang. Of them, I can mention Morib, Batu Laut and Sepang Golden Coast. However, although the coast north of Klang River in Selangor is much longer, there are almost no beaches there.
Finally, let’s look at the mountains and forests. The eastern border of Selangor passes on the summit of Titiwangsa Mountains, and there you can visit some of the most popular mountain resorts- Genting Highlands and Fraser Hill’s Village. But these are too touristy. If you are looking at something more pristine and natural, you can visit Selangor State Park, Bukit Lagong Forest, Kanching Forest, and the seaside Kuala Selangor Nature Park.
Fields near the western coast of the Malay PeninsulaNow let’s proceed further northwest on the coast of Peninsular Malaysia, to the next state- Perak.
Perak is the second largest state in Peninsular Malaysia. Its capital is Ipoh. Again, on the west it borders the Strait of Malacca, on the east, it reaches the northern part of Titiwangsa Mountain range, and in the middle, there are plains and lower mountains. There are also come karst hills. So again, you can expect to find equatorial rainforests and nice beaches.
It has a specific local history, being the territory of Perak Sultanate, which often had different fate from the other neighboring Sultanates. And there are some interesting human places to visit, presenting its history, culture and its modern life.
Places to visit in Perak
There are two cities in Perak, in which most of the human places to visit can are located. They are Ipoh, the capital of Perak, and Kuala Kangsar, which is the capital of the Sultanate.
Ipoh and kuala kangsar
In Ipoh, you can find many beautiful buildings and squares, remained from the British colonial times. Of them, I would mention Birch Memorial Clocktower, which is the main historical landmark of the city. Other places are the Railway Station, the Town Hall, and Perak State Museum. There are also many Chinese cultural sites, such as Kong Heng Square, Concubine Lane, Han Chin Pet Soo, and many Buddhist and Taoist temples. There is a karst hill system near the city with many caves, so some of the temples are built in the caves. Finally, Ipoh is popular for its street mural art, and its delicious food.
Kuala Kangsar is the center of the Sultanate of Perak, and the places there are more Malay themed. There are several iconic buildings like Iskandariah Palace, Pavilion Square Tower, and Ubudiah Mosque. Worth to visit are also the Perak Royal Museum and Sultan Azian Shah Gallery. Outside of these two cities, there are also some human sites like Pasir Salak Historical Complex, Kellie’s Castle, Taiping Lake Gardens, the Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan, and Maxwell Hill (Bukit Laruk).
Now, let’s look at the coastline of Perak. A large part of it is covered by mangrove forests and some erosion affected areas. But there are some beaches and islands worth visiting. Pangkor Island is the largest one in Perak, with some nice villages, forests, and Dutch historical buildings. Another beautiful small island is Rumbia. If you are looking for beaches, you can find almost empty, not very developed strips of sand north of Lumut, such as Pasir Panjang and Teluk Senangin. There are some small resorts on these beaches, but most of the area is an empty countryside.
The forests, and the mountains, to the border with Thailand
Then, let’s penetrate deep inside the land of Perak. As I mentioned above, there are some beautiful karst hills areas with many caves. The most beautiful of them is not far from Ipoh and is called Tempurung Cave. There are also many areas with relatively low mountains and hills, covered by beautiful equatorial rainforest. Some of these areas are turned into natural parks- Hutar Lipur Sungai Salu, Papan Recreational Forest Reserve, Ulu Kinta Forest Reserve, as well as Gunung Budu Mountains.
But the most beautiful and outstanding natural areas are located at the borders with Pahang, Kelantan states, and with Thailand. Two of them are the most significant. The first one is near Thailand, around a large lake with extremely complicated shape, called Temenggor, with its artificial Banding Island. North of the lake is the Royal Belum Perak State Park- a mountain area with jungles, waterfalls, valleys, and some Orang Asli settlements. And the second place is the iconic Cameron Highlands, but its main part is in Pahang, so let’s look at it later. Now let’s proceed to the next state- Penang.
Penang is a special state, which along with Melaka is different than other states, with a different history and different heritage. Its territory includes Penang Island, as well as a part of the mainland which is closest to the island. The capital of Penang is Georgetown, located on the island- a city full of history and culture, now turned into a World Heritage Site. The rest of the island consists of mountains, hills, forests, nice beaches, resorts, smaller towns, and villages. And the mainland part of Penang is plain land, consisting of several cities, of which the largest one is Butterworth.
Places to visit in Penang
Undoubtedly, the most important part of Penang is the island, especially Georgetown. The Old Center of Georgetown is a place that every traveler in Penang and the whole Peninsular Malaysia must visit. It is a typical „old town”, and this one presents a mixture of the main ethnic cultures in this part of the world- Malay, Chinese and Indian. There are a lot of museums and other spots in this area, like Peranakan Mansion, Kapitan Keling Mosque, Little India, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and many others. A special local attraction is the street art, of which a wall image of two children riding a bicycle has become iconic.
Then, most historical spots are on the sea coast. Don’t skip Fort Cornwallis and Queen Victoria Clocktower. Another worth to see the area is Clan Jetty- a small village on wooden pillars, established over the sea. There are also a lot of modern attractions, thematic museums, as well as some temples which have become iconic too. And this is only in Georgetown.
Further in Penang Island
If you stay longer time in Penang, it is worth to proceed exploring the island. Its northern coast consists of more modern residential areas, as well as its most famous resort- Batu Ferringhi. But if you are looking for more natural and pristine beaches, go to the northwestern coast. There is the Penang National Park, covered by equatorial rainforests, and there you can find Monkey Beach and Pantai Keracut. Other beaches include Pantai Pasir Panjang and Pantai Beach. And the interior of the island is also worth exploring. There is Penang Hill, with stunning panorama to Georgetown. And there are a lot of hiking opportunities, and some worth to visit thematic gardens.
The mainland part of Penang is not so attractive, but it is a good area for shopping. There are only one more significant Chinese temple and some golf playgrounds, and in general, that’s all. But only Penang Island is enough worth to be mandatorily included in your Peninsular Malaysia itinerary.
Now, let’s proceed further to the northwest. The next state is Kedah.
This is the next state and Sultanate in our journey. And like Penang, it has a mainland part and an island part. The mainland part is relatively flat, with exception of Mount Bintang at the border with Perak, and there is its capital Alor Setar, as well as the royal seat Anak Bukit. But its island part is much more popular and attractive. It is Langkawi Archipelago, one of the most beautiful tropical islands in Southeast Asia, so it remains the main and most important place to visit in Kedah.
Places to visit in Kedah
Let’s start first from the mainland. Like the other state, Kedah has a rich historical inheritance, which can be seen again mainly in the capital Alor Setar and its neighboring suburb Anak Bukit. The main area of interest there is Alor Setar Heritage District. There is even a traditional tourist trail, called „Alor Setar Heritage Trail”, visiting all the important buildings and other sites in the area- Kedah State Gallery, the Royal Museum, Nobat Tower, Alor Setar Shrine (Tugu Alor Setar), and several others. And finally, one of the most iconic places of the modern Alor Setar is its Alor Setar TV Tower, one of the highest in Southeast Asia. There are also many temples and mosques in the area, among which Wat Nikrodharam (a Buddhist Temple in Thai style) is the largest one.
Outside of Alor Setar, there are not too many interesting places, but you can find some nice rainforest parks. Among them, I would mention Tupah Recreational Forest and Hutan Lipur Bukit Wang. There is also a more adventurous place, called Ulu Muda Eco Park, a jungle near the border with Thailand. Another attractive place with a canopy walk bridge in the forest is called „The Three Top Walk” The waterfall lovers can reach Lata Bayu Falls, but a more adventurous place is Mount Bintang, at the border with Perak. Not far from this area you can meet with some Orang Asli people- Negritos from the Semang group. These are the tribes of Kensiu and Kintaq, in a few villages near the border with Thailand.
Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah
Now, let’s focus on „the Jewel of Kedah”- Langkawi. It is an archipelago of 99 islands, of which there are two large pieces of land- Pulau Langkawi and Pulau Dayang Bunting. The rest are small islands, islets or just reefs, some of them appear only during low tide. The islands are hilly, covered by lush tropical rainforest. You can enjoy a lot of trails, and several beautiful waterfalls. The highest mountain in Langkawi is Gunung Raya, and the most beautiful waterfalls are Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells), Temurun and Durian Perangin Falls. An interesting natural area is Kilim Geoforest Park. Now there is a Skybridge Cable Car in the west part of the main island, from where you can enjoy stunning views to the whole area.
There are several towns in Langkawi, as well as many villages and resorts. In Kuah, you can visit one of the landmarks of the islands- the Eagle Square with its huge eagle statue. Other interesting places are the art and ethnic villages with traditional houses and art, such as Ayer Hangat and Atma Alam Batik Art Village.
For those who love beaches- yes, there are many beaches in Langkawi. But although their landscape from outside is beautiful, the water is not so clean and pure. Anyway, the best one of them is Tanjung Rhu Beach in the north. There are also some mangrove forests, and many small islands, completely uninhabited and pristine. All of this variety of features and places to visit offers a lot of things that you can do in Langkawi, for at least several days.
Now, let’s look at the smallest state of Peninsular Malaysia- Perlis.
Heading to the extreme northwest of Peninsular Malaysia, there is the last small piece of land, beyond which is only Thailand. This is Perlis, a state smaller than the Greater Kuala Lumpur. Its capital is Kangar, and the royal seat- Arau. Another important city is Kuala Perlis, located at the sea coast, which is the main pier for reaching Langkawi of Kedah. Most of its territory is flat, but there are some mountains at the border with Thailand, as well as a small karst hills area. It is a small Sultanate, with some unique local history.
Places to visit in Perlis
Perlis is very small, and there are not too many places to visit. The most visited places in the state are Kuala Perlis, and Gua Kelam, a beautiful cave in the karst hills area. Of the karst hills, the most significant one is Bukit Keteri. But if you like caves, there is a more interesting one, called Wang Burma, near the border with Thailand. And don’t forget to visit the Sunday market at the border itself, in Wang Kelian. All this is a part of Perlis State Park
Kuala Perlis itself is a pleasant city with nice markets and restaurants. There is an interesting museum, called Kota Kayang, and another attraction is the newly built Floating Mosque.
In general, that’s all from Perlis. Now, let’s leave the northern part of the Western Coast of Peninsular Malaysia and head to the East. The first and northernmost state on the East is Kelantan.
Kelantan is a bit different than all other states of Peninsular Malaysia. Geographically, it is much more separated from the rest of the peninsula. As a result, its history and culture are also different, more related to neighboring Thailand. On the west, it is surrounded by the northern parts of Titiwangsa Mountains, and on the south is Taman Negara, the largest equatorial rainforest in the Peninsular Malaysia with its mountain Gunung Tahan. In the middle, it is relatively flat with the Kelantan River curving through its rural fields. And on the east- northeast is the South China Sea. There is also its capital- Kota Bharu, which is also its royal seat.
This state is more conservative than the other states of Malaysia. It is the only state ruled by the Islamist Party of Malaysia, so Islam here is stricter. For example, here travelers have to be more aware of their clothes, to the point that they may have some problems if expose too much from their bodies, especially women.
Places to visit in Kelantan
Let’s start from the capital Kota Bharu. It is an interesting city with some beautiful traditional buildings and other sites worth visiting. There are many museums in the city, although most of them everything is written only in Malay. Of them, the most educational is the Kelantan State Museum. Of the religious sites, besides the mosques, there are many Buddhist temples nearby.
But maybe the most beautiful natural places around Kota Bharu are the beaches like Pantai Mek Mas, Pantai Cahaya Bulan, the so-called „Melody Beach”. And there is an especially nice place, called Rumah Api Pantai Senok, at the estuary of Peng Datu River. The coast of Kota Bharu and the whole Kelantan State is plain, directly exposed to the wave of South China Sea, so it is a surfing kind of beaches, with not so clear water, but sometimes with big waves.
The interior of Kelantan
Now, let’s penetrate deep inside Kelantan. Part of it is a rural agricultural area, but there are a lot of mountains, covered by equatorial rainforests, and there you can find some breathtaking and wild places to visit.
At the border with Perak, there is a wild mountain, with a national park, called Gunung Stong. It is covered by wild jungle, but the most significant spot there is Stong Waterfall, knows as the highest waterfall in Southeast Asia.
Another beautiful area is Dabong. You can travel to Kuala Krai by bus, then take a 2-hour cruise on Galas River to Dabong. There you can enjoy another jungle, Jelawang Waterfall and Gua Ikan Cave.
The wildest parts of Kelantan
If you want to proceed further inside the mainland, the area along the border with Perak is quite wild. There is nothing else but jungles and remote villages. Some of the villages belong to Orang Asli people, mainly the Negritos Jahai and the Senoi people Temiar. From there, if you are adventurous, you can hike Mount Yong Belar in Titiwangsa Range, from where eventually you can reach the Cameron Highlands.
But the wildest part of Kelantan (and the whole Peninsular Malaysia) is Taman Negara- a large national park with one of the oldest rainforests on the Earth. Taman Negara is shared by three states- Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang, and only its northern part is on the territory of Kelantan. Actually, the northern part of Taman Negara is not very popular, thus it is wilder than the south part in Pahang. And the starting points from Kelantan are Gua Musang and Kuala Koh.
Now, let’s proceed eastward and southward to the next state- Terengganu.
This state is mainly related to the South China Sea. It has not only a long coastline but also several stunning island groups like Perhentian, Redang, Bidong and other smaller islets. Its capital and royal seat are in Kuala Terengganu. And again, the beaches are long and directly exposed to the waves of the South China Sea, almost without any bays, promontories or peninsulas. Further inland, there are plains along the sea coast, and behind them, there are mountains, covered by equatorial rainforests. Terengganu has a rich history and culture, but with the least Chinese and Indian influence, compared with the other states.
Places to visit in Terengganu
Let’s start again from the capital Kuala Terengganu. It is a nice city to walk and relax. The city is established at the estuary of the Terengganu River, and its main attractions are around the southeastern bank. As always, I would recommend the educational center of the Terengganu State Museum. Then, you can proceed along the river bank, enjoying some picturesque parks and spots, such as the Taman Monumen, The Water Front, the Chinatown, and Duyong Island. Kuala Terengganu is also located on the sea coast, so you can find some nice beaches. In the north of the city you can enjoy Pantai Teluk Ketapang, and in the south- Pantai Batu Buruk.
The coastline of Terengganu
Some of the most popular places to visit in Terengganu are Perhentian and Redang islands. They attract most of the tourists, who miss some stunning long beaches on the mainland coast. If you follow the coastline to the north, you will see some gorgeous strips of sand, such as Marang beach, Penarik Beach, the long and narrow, the lagoons of Boardwalk Setiu with its beach, Pantai Air Tawar, and Pantai Beitung Lintang. And if you head to the south, don’t skip Pantai Kuala Ibai, Peranginan Kelulut, Pulau Ranggut, Pantai Rantau Abang, and especially Pantai Kemasik, with its rocky island. And if you anyway want to leave the mainland, let’s take a look at the islands of Terengganu.
Perhentian Islands is an archipelago of two main islands- Kecil and Besar, and several smaller islets and reefs. It is a great place for backpackers, beach, snorkeling and scuba diving lovers. The waters around the islands, especially in the places covered from the currents from the South China Sea are pure and crystal clear. And the coral reefs are fantastic.
Redang Island is another piece of land in shape like a butterfly, with similar features like Perhentian- pristine beaches, crystal clear water, coral reefs, and tropical rainforest. The difference is that Redang is more luxurious and expensive. And there are several other, smaller islands like Lang Tengah, Bidong, Kapas, and Tenggol. Kapas is known for its Longsha Campsite, and Tenggol- for the best scuba diving opportunities in the whole Peninsular Malaysia.
The mountains in the interior of Terengganu
Now, let’s back to the mainland, and enter deeper inside the Terengganu State. In general, the natural landscape in the interior is similar to the rest of Peninsular Malaysia. In the northern part of the state, you can visit Lata Tembakah- a natural reserve with waterfalls and a nice pond for swimming. Other similar areas with jungle and small waterfalls are Lata Belatan, Lata Cangkah, and Lata Payung. But if you love waterfalls, a higher waterfall you can find in Hutan Lipur Sekayu Park, Tasik Puteri, and Forest Chemerong, in the southern part of the state.
But the wildest and most beautiful rainforest areas can be found in the western part of Terengganu. There is the large Kenyir Lake- an artificial lake with a very complicated shape and stunning landscapes. There you can visit the Elephant Conservation Village, where you can see the endangered local elephants. And finally, southwest of the lake, is the Terengganu part of Taman Negara, the wildest place in the Malay Peninsula.
Let’s move on to the next state- Pahang.
Pahang is the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia. Its capital is Kuantan, and the royal seat is in Pekan. In general, its territory had diverse geography. On the north, west and partially on the south, it is surrounded by mountains. In the middle, there are mainly lowlands. And its South China Sea coast is of the same type as in Terengganu and Kelantan. In the sea, there is Tioman Island and several smaller islands nearby.
Although Pahang also has a long history, there are not too many historical and cultural sites. But it is best presented by its nature. A large part of it is covered by an equatorial rainforest. The rest of its land consists mainly of palm plantations. Most of its coastline has again long beaches, and the waters around Tioman Island are crystal clear, with coral reefs around the islands. So, almost all places to visit are natural, and some of them are some of the most beautiful and famous destinations in Southeast Asia.
Places to visit in Pahang
Let’s start from Kuantan. There is not too much to see in the city itself, but outside of it, you can find stunning natural spots. If you head to northwest, not far from Kuantan you will reach Sungai Lembing- an old tin mine, now closed, but with an interesting museum and some attractions like canopy bridge. There is also Sungai Pandan Waterfall and Panching Caves in the area. But the most beautiful waterfall in Pahang is a bit further- Berkelah Falls.
On your way to the northwest (of course, if you want to explore everything in detail), you can visit many local jungles and other natural spots. One of them is Gua Kota Gelanggi- another cave system near Jerantut. But the wildest part of Pahang is a bit further- this is the most popular part of Taman Negara– the southern part of the national park. There is Kuala Tahan, the starting point, and from there- wild jungle, rivers, mountains, Orang Asli villages, caves and other natural wonders, full of wildlife. In Taman Negara, on the border with Kelantan is the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia- Gunung Tahan.
Proceed further westward, to the border with Perak. You will reach the Titiwangsa Mountains, and there is one of the most popular highlands in Southeast Asia- Cameron Highlands. This area is famous for its tea plantations, arranged to create stunning landscapes. There are many other farms and attractions in Cameron Highlands, but if you are looking for something more natural, you can visit the Mossy Forest on the summit of the mountain. But in general, this place is full of things to do, so, plan well your Cameron Highlands attractions and tours experience!
Other mountains and lowlands
Now, let’s turn southward, along the border with Perak and Selangor. There are two other highlands- Fraser’s Hill and Genting Highlands. Both are popular mountain resorts, due to their closeness to Kuala Lumpur. But there is a place near Genting, called Janda Baik- a stunning mountain jungle with a lot of valleys, waterfalls, and peaks. Another wild jungle is Krau Wildlife Reserve, one of the richest wildlife areas in Malaysia.
Let’s back to the lowlands, in the middle of Pahang. There are many rivers and wetlands in this area, as well as two beautiful lakes- Chini and Bera. Surrounded by jungle and marches, the local landscape, created by this combination is really gorgeous. In the southern part of Pahang, everything is as always natural, with some palm plantations and more rainforest, to the border of Johor State, where is Endau-Rompin Natural Park.
The coastline of Pahang
Finally, let’s get to the seacoast again. It is still the same type of seacoast, with long beaches exposed to the South China Sea. North of Kuantan, at the border with Terengganu, is one of the best Pahang beaches- Cherating. Two more beaches in the area are Batu Hitam and Beserah. Then, south of Kuantan, you can find more beaches- long, like endless, narrow, and in general, empty. One of the best is Rompin Beach. And that’s the most essential of Pahang’s mainland territory. But there is another gem- Tioman.
Tioman Island is once considered as the most beautiful island on the Earth. It has some similarities with Perhentian and Redang in Terengganu, but it presents something more. First, like Perhentian, it is not so luxurious. There are higher mountains and famous rock formations. The whole island is covered by wild equatorial rainforest, and there are some waterfalls hidden in the forest. And again, you can enjoy coral reefs in crystal clear water, and surfing beaches with big waves.
Before proceeding further south, let’s back to the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, this time south of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. There is the next state- Negeri Sembilan.
It is one of the smallest states in Malaysia, with capital Seremban, and royal seat Seri Menanti. The state is located between Selangor with Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, both some of the most popular travel destinations. Most of it is relatively plain or hilly, only in the middle is the southernmost branches of Titiwangsa Mountains. Its coast is at the Strait of Malacca, with Port Dickson as the largest city.
Although its location is in an area with a rich and long history, the state is not too rich in places to visit. Its nature is beautiful but is yet far from the stunning natural spots of Pahang, Terengganu, and Kelantan. Anyway, there are still some interesting spots worth visiting.
Places to visit in Negeri Sembilan
Let’s start from the state’s capital Seremban. There is not too much to see in this city, but the State Museum is worth visiting for some education. Another nice place in Seremban is a small Art Handicraft Complex & Minangkabau House. A better place to visit is the Palace Museum in Seri Menanti, where is the royal seat of the state. Another historic spot is Gemencheh Bridge Memorial, related to the events from WW2. Then, if you go closer to the sea coast, in Likut you can visit the Likut Fort and Museum, containing artifacts from the history of the place from the 19th century.
Thus, we reach the Strait of Malacca coast and Port Dickson. The coastline of Negeri Sembilan is not very long, and there are not too many good beaches or diving spots. But Port Dickson Beach is still nice and worth to enjoy.
Finally, there are the southernmost mountain branches of Titiwangsa. There are some pleasant hikes that you can try, to some of the mountain peaks- Datuk, Angsi, and Telapak Buruk. The mountains are covered by rainforest, so it would be a jungle hike, but not too difficult. And in general, that’s the most essential from Negeri Sembilan. South of this state is Melaka- the most historical area of Peninsular Malaysia.
Melaka (Malacca) is different than the other states of Malaysia. Its only „brother” is Penang- the other state with similar status and quite a similar face. This is the historical center of the whole country. It is not a sultanate, but a state with a governor and Melaka City is its capital. In size it is small, one of the smallest states in the peninsula, established on a hilly plain at the coastline of the Strait of Malacca. There is not too much to see as natural spots, but its historical significance and sites are enough important to make the city and the whole state a mandatory place to visit for every explorer in Peninsular Malaysia.
Places to visit in Melaka (Malacca)
When you want to identify and explore the places to visit in Melaka, first you have to think about history and culture. The first and most important area to begin your tour is the Historical Center of Melaka, divided into two parts by the beautiful Melaka River.
The Historical Center of Melaka
The place you have to start, is Dutch Square, with the Christ Church, and Stadthuys Building- one of the most iconic places in the whole of Malaysia. Then, enter the Stadthuys Building and explore the complex of museums in this and the neighboring buildings. Ascend to the small hill behind the museums- to the ruins of St.Paul’s Church- one of the oldest churches in Southeast Asia. Then descend to A Famosa, the remained gate of the first fortress, built by the Europeans in this part of the world, and visit the Sultanate Palace, representing the life of the Malacca Sultanate. After that, don’t skip the St.Francis Xavier Church, and the area southwest of Dutch Square.
Then cross the Melaka River, and explore the other half of the Historical Center. Visit Peranakan Mansion- the museum presenting Baba & Nyonya people’s culture. Walk on Jonker Street and the other beautiful „old town” streets in the area. Walk on the coast of the curving Melaka River, or take a Melaka River Cruise! Then visit Kampung Morten Village, with its calm streets and traditional Malay houses.
Other places in Melaka
Besides the Historical Center, there are several other places of interest, in some remote locations that are worth exploring. They are the Floating Straits of Malacca Mosque- an iconic landmark on the sea coast, the Portuguese Village, Bukit Cina Cemetery (the Chinese Cemetery), and Perigi Hang Tuah Well, related with some historic legends.
Ayer Keroh, and some natural spots
Another area to visit in Melaka State is a cluster of tourist destinations in Ayer Keroh. There is the Melaka Zoo, a Crocodile Farm, Bee Museum, and several others, but two of the places have a good educational value- Taman Mini Malaysia @ ASEAN Park, presenting houses and traditions from every state in Malaysia, and every Southeast Asian country (currently a bit neglected place), and Orang Asli Museum.
And finally, if you are looking for something more natural anyway, you can visit Bukit Batu Recreational Forest in the northern part of the state. Or just head to the seaside- there are some nice beaches northwest of Melaka City- Tanjung Kling, Pantai Kundur and Tanjung Bidara. There are some small islands, also worth to explore- Upeh and Besar.
Now, let’s finish our journey around Peninsular Malaysia with the last and southernmost state- Johor.
Johor is the southernmost piece of land of the whole of the Eurasian continent. Its capital is Johor Bahru, which is also the southernmost city of the mainland continent, and its royal seat is in Muar. Most of the Johor’s territory is flat, but there are some not too high mountains and hills, most of them separated from each other, considered as a part of Titiwangsa Range. The state has a long coastline- on the west is the Strait of Malacca, on the south- the strait of Johor, and on the east- South China Sea. And a large part of Johor is covered by equatorial rainforests.
The state has been a center of a strong Sultanate- the Sultanate of Johor, which had a significant influence on the historical course of Peninsular Malaysia. And today, there are some places to visit with historical, cultural and educational value, mainly in the capital Johor Bahru
Places to visit in Johor
Although we follow the direction from north to south, let’s again start from the capital Johor Bahru, which is in the south of Johor. There are some local landmarks, related mostly to the history of the state. The most significant of them is the Grand Palace. Other iconic buildings are Istana Bukit Serene and Sultan Ibrahim Building. The city is religiously rich too- there are a lot of religious buildings- mosques, Buddhist and Hinduist temples, churches, many of them turned into tourist attractions. You can find some squares, parks, and memorials too. And of course- the museums, like the Chinese Heritage Museum, the Art Gallery and others.
The mountains in Johor
Outside of Johor Bahru, you enter into the natural part of the state, with smaller cities and villages around it. Again, there are some beautiful jungles on the hills and mountains, like Gunung Pulai Recreational Forest, Gunung Panti, Air Terjun Gunung Ledang near the border with Melaka, and Gunung Arong near Mersing. But the best and the wildest equatorial forest in Johor is Endau-Rompin National Park, at the border with Pahang. It is a deep mountainous jungle with some waterfalls, valleys, and rich wildlife.
The seacoast, and the southernmost point of continental Eurasia
Let’s look at the seacoast. The east coast of Johor is much more interesting, especially the area around Mersing. North of Mersing is one of the best beaches on the mainland, at Tanjung Resang. Mersing is the main starting point for visiting Tioman Island, which belongs to Pahang, but there are several other smaller islands within Johor State, which provide breathtaking tropical scenery with coral reefs, great for diving. The best of them are Rawa and Sibu islands.
The eastern seacoast proceeds further south and reaches its end at the Strait of Johor, east of Singapore. There are Desaru Beach and Pengerang area. At the western end of the Strait of Johor, west of Singapore is Kukup, with its Kukup Island- the second largest mangrove island on the Earth. And finally, let’s finish our journey as geographical explorers at Johor Tanjung Piai, south of Kukup. This is the southernmost point of mainland Eurasia, at 1,2658 degrees north latitude.
How to plan your Peninsular Malaysia itinerary
As you can see, Peninsular Malaysia has a variety of natural and human areas and places to visit. Different people have different styles of travel. Some prefer just to relax in a luxury beach resort. Then, they should focus on the eastern coast of the peninsula, at the states of Terengganu and Pahang, and especially the islands of Redang, Perhentian, and Tioman. Others prefer modern life- they should look at the capital Kuala Lumpur. Some people are interested in culture and history- they should travel to Penang or Melaka (or both). Some prefer adventures in the jungle- Taman Negara is the best for them.
And of course, many people just would like to try everything. And their itinerary would depend on how many days they have to spend in Peninsular Malaysia (and their budget too). From our experience, we would advise you to plan at least 15 to 20 days there, to visit at least the most essential and iconic places.
Our 18 days Peninsular Malaysia itinerary
We planned our trip in Peninsular Malaysia as an 18 days itinerary. During that time, we chose the most important destinations. We identified 6 places, and we wanted to spend at least 2-3 days in each of them.
The first was Kuala Lumpur because it is the capital and the center of modern life in Malaysia. Then we chose Melaka and Penang because they are the two most important historical and cultural centers of the country. For the tropical beaches, coral reefs, diving, and surfing we chose Tioman Island, because it has all of this, and it considered the most beautiful of all islands of Malaysia.
The equatorial rainforest? Yes, it is an important feature of Peninsular Malaysia, and the best place to explore it is Taman Negara. We also wanted to meet the Orang Asli people, and again, Taman Negara is the best place for that. Finally, thinking about the high mountains- we chose the Cameron Highlands. So, our route was Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Tioman Island (via Mersing), then Taman Negara (via Kuantan), Cameron Highlands, Penang, and back to Kuala Lumpur.
The duration of 18 days was exactly perfect to explore each destination in detail, and to have enough time to enjoy it. If we had a longer time, we would add Langkawi for 2-3 more days, before visiting Penang. After Tioman Island, we would add Terengganu and Kelantan with Perhentian Islands, for at least additional 6 days, before head on to Taman Negara. And after Melaka, we would add another 2-3 days for Johor, the southern point of Asia and Endau-Rompin National Park, before proceeding to Mersing and Tioman Island. Genting Highlands and Fraser’s Hill would be another worth visiting places if we had more 2-3 days in Kuala Lumpur.
Routes are easy to plan on the map, but of course, we have to consider two important things- transportation and accommodation.
Transportation in Peninsular Malaysia
The transportation in Peninsular Malaysia is well-arranged. It is a compact piece of land, with well-connected cities and other destinations. It is convenient within the cities too, although there are some specific things that you need to have in mind.
Reaching Peninsular Malaysia
You can reach Malaysia by airplane to the international airports of Kuala Lumpur and the other big cities. The other ways are by bus or car from Singapore or Thailand, and by ferry from Indonesia. If you arrive in Kuala Lumpur, have in mind that its airport is in Selangor State, almost at the border with Negeri Sembilan. From there, you can reach Kuala Lumpur by shuttle bus for an hour, or by express train.
Transportation in Kuala Lumpur
Once you arrive in Kuala Lumpur, you have many transport options- slow train, LRT, and Monorail are good ways of moving around the city. There are public buses, but usually, they are too rare. There are many taxis too, but one of the best ways is Grab. I strongly recommend you download this app- it is cheaper than the taxis, safe, and transparent. And you can use it in every bigger city.
Transportation around the country
The main way to travel around the country is by bus or by rental car. There are a lot of buses every day, traveling between the most popular destinations. The buses, traveling between Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang are in every 10-15 mins. However, the buses between some smaller cities are rare, including buses between destinations like Malaka and Mersing, or Kuantan and Jerantut. And since there are many travelers on these routes, it is advisable to buy online tickets in advance from 12GO or Bus Online Ticket. Also, there are some destinations like Taman Negara, to which only expensive travel buses or vans can be used.
There are trains in Malaysia too, but they are more rare and inconvenient for most of the destinations. You can rent a car too, it is not expensive, just have in mind that the traffic is on the left, like in the UK. Finally, there are ferries to the nearby islands, usually traveling from more than one port.
Accommodation in Peninsular Malaysia
It is the other important thing to consider. Again, there are plenty of accommodation options- from luxury to budget. There are many hostels, which are great places to meet other travelers and as usual, always provide a nice journey and adventurous atmosphere. And its easy to find all these kinds of accommodation in Booking or Agoda.
The only specific thing that you have to consider is that there is a tourism tax of 10 RM for foreigners per night per room. But it is only for the properties with more than 5 rooms. So, if you use an apartment or a room by Airbnb, there is not such a tax. There are also some good campsites where you can spend the night, and in general, these campsites are safe. In some of them, you can rent a tent.
Peninsular Malaysia is a paradise for travel food lovers. You can imagine- so many local ethnic cultures and influences have created various kinds of cuisine. There are many kinds of dishes which you can enjoy in many restaurants, but not all the traditional meals are expensive. You will find everywhere various versions of chicken with rice- its basic and simplest version is „nasi lemak”- chicken, rice, with spicy jam or other spicy ingredients, and fish. Look for more Peninsular Malaysian dishes here!
Besides this, there are many Chinese and Indian restaurants with their traditional food. So, you have a lot of choices, and although MacDonald and KFC are pretty cheap, you don’t need to skip the opportunity to enjoy the local food, which can actually be cheaper. There are also a lot of supermarkets with everything you need.
Peninsular Malaysia is a safe place. Also, things like money, mobile cards, etc. are also easy to arrange.
Prepare your “special packing list”
If you want to explore something more than the cities and famous landmarks, you need to add some “special” things to your luggage- your “special packing list”. It consist of things that would allow you to penetrate, explore and enjoy without problems the natural beauty of the country. You need some gear to hike in the rainforests or the high mountains. Also, you need more gear to dive in the crystal clear waters at the seaside and observe the underwater world. See more in our “Special packing list for explorers in Peninsular Malaysia” post.
The official currency is Ringgit (MYR or just RM), and currently 1 MYR = 0,23 USD, or 0,21 EUR. There are money changers in every big city, although they are not too many. Also, there are enough ATM’s and in many places, you can pay by credit card. However, of the important destinations, there are no banks, money changers or ATMs in places like Kuala Tahan (in Taman Negara), so prepare your money in advance.
Mobile cards and internet
The Internet in Malaysia is good. There are no blocked sites, so you don’t need a VPN. Almost every hotel has Wifi, although sometimes it is not so perfect. Concerning the mobile SIM cards, there are four mobile operations in Malaysia- Maxis, Cellcom, Digi, and U Mobile, offering various options. In our trip, we used a 2-week card from Digi (we got it in the airport of Kuala Lumpur), for 40 RM, with 25 GB internet traffic. It was more than enough for our 18 days itinerary. And it could be still used in the last 2 days, although with some limits. But you can check here for more choices and options.
The whole of Malaysia is safe and good for travel. There is no more danger than just a normal protecting yourself from pickpocketing and other kinds of theft, which is common everywhere in the world. Be careful when you hike in the jungle- the wildlife is rich, and there are some animals like snakes, which could be dangerous. But even this is rare too.
The citizens of most of the countries don’t need a visa to travel to Malaysia for less than 90 days. For some countries like Russia, Mexico, Kenya, Thailand, Vietnam, etc., the limit is only 30 days. And for Iran and Libya- only 14 days. Citizens from countries like China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka need to apply for e-Visa. It is easy, but sometimes it is possible to be rejected. Many countries in Africa need a visa in advance, also Colombia and Afghanistan.
The only country’s citizens, who are almost unable to enter Malaysia, are Israelis, due to some nasty and groundless anti-Semitism from the government (which we all hope will stop- Israel hasn’t done anything wrong to Malaysia). So, we personally wish the Israelis can freely travel in this beautiful country just like everybody else, and we know that it will happen soon.
We made our trip in Peninsular Malaysia, and after it finished, we remained richly impressed by everything that we saw, tried and tasted there. The culture, the jungles, the stunning sea, the people- all of this made us enjoy, during our short time in our life, in this amazing part of the Earth.
Get some impression about Malaysia- both Peninsular and Eastern!
Check out some travel books about Malaysia!
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