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What I Did: 3 nights in Kuala Lumpur, 2 nights in the Cameron Highlands, 5 nights on Perhentian Kecil, 1 night in Penang

Malaysia

Overall: Malaysia was one of the best trips of my life. It was part of a larger, two month trip through Southeast Asia, but taken on its own we found was a fantastic mix of urban excitement, jungle adventure, and beach bliss. I was charmed by each and every stop on our itinerary and think we got a great sampler of peninsular Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur is a must for the majority of those traveling in and out of the country. We came here for a visa and while it wasn’t my favorite city of all time, we had fun times at the Menara Tower, the aquarium, and braving public transit and dodgy accommodation.

Kuala Lumpur

The Cameron Highlands were a breath of clean, cool air. We only stayed one full day but it was jam packed with waterfall swimming, tea plantation crashing and finding the largest flower on earth.

Cameron Highlands

The Perhentians were a dream. Fantastic diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and all the other oddities and surprises of a set of small islands in the gulf of Thailand.

Perhentians

Getting around: Malaysia gave me more transportation terror than any country I have ever visited, yet somehow we arrived everywhere we were meant to, more or less on time. I recommend checking and rechecking whatever ticket you have, as many cities have many bus stations and the buses make multiple stops that are not always clearly announced. In Kuala Lumpur public transportation is a challenge but a welcome one to the alternative to expensive cab rides.

Food and Drink: Western and European cuisine is much harder to come by in Malaysia than in neighboring Thailand, with the exception of the ubiquitous Mcdonalds in major cities. So spicy Malaysian food it was, with the exception of the ubiquitous beach barbecue in the Perhentians. At one roadside restaurant we were surprised to see that we were not offered utensils until we looked around and saw everyone was eating with their hands! Alcohol is available but a bit harder to come by, considering this is a Muslim country.

Malaysia Food and Drink

People: I had less encounters with locals in Malaysia that in any other country on my trip. I’m not sure why, though I would guess that the language and religion barrier had a hand in it. One exception was our amazing tour guide in the Cameron Highlands who filled us in on the history of the country, and clued us in to the fact that the numerous burka wearing women in Kuala Lumpur were likely not Malaysian but tourists from the Middle East who prefer to vacation in other Muslim countries.

Money: Travelers coming from other Southeast Asian countries will be surprised at the expense of Malaysia. In my opinion most things were worth the extra ringitts- the attractions were spectacular and the activities, like hiking and diving, were also fantastic. However in terms of food, drink, and accommodation you will be surprised how little you get for your money. The conditions we stayed in were pretty laughable at times. Just pad the budget a bit!

Malaysia Hotel Room

Safety: We had one incident on Palau Perhentian where someone tried to open our door at night while we were sleeping. Luckily, I travel with an ex marine bodyguard at all times. Unluckily, the room were staying in had a bent rusty nail as a locking device. I didn’t think much of it at the time but upon arriving home read some disturbing tales of break ins from single female travelers. I honestly felt safe my entire trip through Malaysia but I wonder if I would have felt differently traveling along.

Good to know: As I’ve mentioned a few times, Malaysia is officially a Muslim country. I knew this before arrival and moved my short shorts to the back of the backpack but I did not realize that bare shoulders were a no-no as well. Saying that now I feel a bit silly, but I plead ignorance and I smartened up quickly, finding myself much more comfortable dressed as modestly as possible. Obviously the islands are an exception, but if you are heading to Kuala Lumpur or the deeply religious East Coast I would pack accordingly. I think its always better to air on the side of caution when it comes to being respectful to local culture.

Stay tuned!

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44 Comments...
  • Peggy
    April 18 2012

    Hi! I’m a Malaysian and I came across your blog searching for information on Siem Reap.

    Glad that you like Malaysia but there’s something I feel like I need to let you know.
    You mentioned that Malaysia is a Muslim country which is right but you also mentioned that wearing bare shoulders is a no-no.
    I don’t know how you will end up with this perception but there are a lot of locals especially Chinese wearing spaghetti strap and short shorts.
    There’s really nothing wrong with it unless you’re going to a mosque.

    Also we do have a lot of western food, just maybe you didn’t come across it.
    If you have the chance to come again, I’d be glad to bring you around! 🙂

    • Alex
      April 20 2012

      Hi Peggy, Thanks for your insight! I still feel that if I returned to Malaysia, unless I was at the beach, I would refrain from tank tops. Unfortunately I think Western women are sometimes held to a different standard! And I tend to feel more comfortable dressing on the conservative end. But it’s always great to hear another perspective…

  • Zachary
    May 20 2014

    “I think its always better to air on the side of caution when it comes to being respectful to local culture. ”

    -You, maam, deserve my respect.
    Zachary recently posted..Ke Pulau Kapas (Lagi dan lagi…)

    • Alex
      May 24 2014

      Thanks, Zachary. That’s a nice reminder to reread!

  • HelenCC
    June 30 2014

    Hi,

    Another Malaysian here ^^
    I stay at Penang =)
    came across your blog while searching for information of Thailand.
    Agree with the transportation. But then my thought is same as peggy, Malaysia actually is an open minded country.
    There are plenty of good food provided as well.. Western food, Thai Food, Chinese food, Malay food, Indian Food, street hawker stall.
    Maybe next time you can visit Penang ^^ A lot of good hawker food available at Gurney Drive. Then Gurney & Gurney Paragon got a lot of nice restaurant.
    HelenCC recently posted..Brew Thirty Two Coffee House @ Green Hall, Penang

    • Alex
      July 2 2014

      I definitely hope to return to Malaysia some day — you have a beautiful country! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • M
    December 3 2014

    Hello Alex! I’m a Malaysian myself here too and I’m from the east coast of Malaysia(Perhentian Island is few hours away from my hometown which is also located in the state of Terengganu – border to Pahang state) now residing in KL as I work here. Glad that you had a great time here but the next time you’re here make sure to try out all kinds of different cuisine we have here! There’s too much of varieties in chinese foods, malay foods and indian foods respectively and there’s no way you can try all of them in a week. And the durian feast – a must try!

    Well, I was looking up on Phnom Penh info and found your site! It’s my 6th time(probably, I lost count!) there and I really wanted to try something different so I’m going to experience The Flicks! Can’t wait! I will be staying at Riverside area, any other things you can recommend to do?

    • Alex
      December 4 2014

      Hey M! Glad you found me! I would love to return to Malaysia again someday 🙂 I have actually just gotten back from another trip to Phnom Penh and will be writing about it soon — stay tuned. I definitely recommend one of the river cruises as well though. They are cheap, you can bring your own food and drink, and the views are fantastic!

  • M
    December 4 2014

    I went on that river cruise before! And always wanted to do it again and it’s in my plan this time. I just arrives Phnom Penh an hour ago though 😀 Can’t wait for your post!

    • Alex
      December 10 2014

      Awesome, enjoy your time in Phnom Penh, M!

  • Amy
    February 24 2015

    Hi Alex,

    I’m obsessed with your blog and, as an aspiring travel blogger myself, feel so inspired everytime I stop by for a read!

    I’m an Aussie girl living and working in Penang for the next three years. I’ve been here for six months and travel through other parts of Asia every month. But to be honest some of the places you visited in Malaysia haven’t been at the top of my list – until now! So thanks for that 🙂

    I think it’s awesome that you are so considerate about the way you dress in more conservative countries. Personally, though, I find Malaysians (I can only really speak to those In KL and Penang) to be so open minded and friendly. I’ve never had an issue when wearing singlets/shorts/dresses (not saying you did). Visiting religious temples/sites is obviously a different story. I just wanted to point that out so that other travellers can appreciate just how open and understanding the locals in Malaysia are.

    If you are ever back in Penang send me an email! You’d be more than welcome to stay with me (I have a great apartment) and I could show you some hidden gems and maybe learn a thing or two off you! I also sometimes kinda wanna be your bff after reading some of your posts…. Ok this stalker is done now.

    Amy xx

    • Alex
      February 25 2015

      Thank you for the offer Amy, that’s very sweet! I might take you up on it someday 🙂 Thanks for the additional insight into Malaysia as someone who has spent far more time there than I did!

    • Daphne
      May 3 2015

      Hi Amy,
      I’m a solo french female traveller heading to Malaysia mid-Septermber 2015. I’m planning on arriving in Penang via train from Thailand. Would love to get your contact info if your offer to show people around extends to other travellers 😉

      Thanks !
      Daphné
      (you can check out my instagram : @daphsch)

      • Alex
        May 3 2015

        Enjoy your trip, Daphne! Best of luck 🙂

      • FH
        June 25 2015

        KL actually often being overlooked and underappreciated by traveler who interested with her more famous neighbor, Singapore and Thai. But, being Malaysian myself, KL actually offer plenty of attraction from urban city to reserve forest complete with breathtaking waterfall. And, if you come from Penang, you should try consider to base yourself at Georgetown and set yourself walking through the city on top of food hunting. We, Malaysian, consider Penang as a Malaysian top street culinary scene. And, please check out Langkawi Island before you heading to KL. More than happy to help you if you need more info about Malaysia

  • Velysia Zhang
    May 20 2015

    Hello,

    I’m planning to visit Perhentian Island, aw, lucky nothing’s missing. Anw, any good recommendation where to stay in Perhentian? Thanks

    • Alex
      May 20 2015

      Hey Velysia, unfortunately it’s been years since I visited the Perhentian Islands and I can’t recall the name of where I stayed. Best of luck!

  • aliff
    October 6 2015

    Should check out Sabah as well. Diving+Local cuisine is exquisite!

    Im a diver myself, i found out that Sabah has alot to offer, keep on posting a good stuff!

    Cheers!

    • Alex
      October 8 2015

      I’d love to head to Sabah someday. Still so much to see here in Southeast Asia!

  • Apple1
    October 9 2015

    Hi Alex! Pls go to Penang, Malaysia one more time and stay with us here at Apple1 Hotel, our hotel is safe 🙂 we will take care of you and guide you through going around to and from the beach, and we would be glad to make you try different cuisines here.Hope to hear from you soon! 🙂

    • Alex
      October 9 2015

      I’ll keep that in mind if I make my way back to Malaysia! Thank you for the invitation 🙂

  • Elaine O Mahoney
    November 30 2015

    Hi Alex!!
    first time traveller heading off in february. Everytime I research about my travels your blog is the one that sticks out. Only today I was contemplating heading to Malaysia over Laos and after reading your blog im excited to visit Malaysia. Great read 🙂
    Thanks

    • Alex
      December 1 2015

      Hey Elaine! Thanks for the kind words! I do love both Malaysia and Laos. Hope you have an amazing trip, and keep checking back to Alex in Wanderland!

  • Michael
    December 10 2015

    I came across your website while searching for travel bloggers. Alex in wonderland not alice in wonderland made me click on it and read.

    Welcome back to Malaysia if you come again. If you love food, Malaysia has plenty of them. Call me out i love food too.
    Thanks for understanding and being appropriate of clothing. I also love to respect other people’s culture when i travel out of Malaysia.
    most importantly is whether we enjoy each other’s accompany and the joy of the trip.

    Cheers
    Michael Ng

  • Izwan
    December 10 2015

    Dear Alex, I came across your website while looking for travel bloggers. Please do let us know when you’re coming back to Malaysia. You should consider visiting the Borneo states like Sabah and Sarawak. It will blow your mind.

    • Alex
      December 10 2015

      I absolutely plan to return to Malaysia someday, Izwan. I can’t wait to visit Borneo!

  • Ariana
    February 12 2016

    Hey! Love the write up! You should totally try east malaysia,i mean the borneo island.its really spectacular if u are into ecotourism…i love the beaches in sabah especially and the people in sarawak was way more laid back!

    • Alex
      February 16 2016

      Borneo is absolutely on my bucket list! Can’t wait to make it happen one of these days!

  • ichan
    February 13 2016

    nice!

    • Alex
      February 16 2016

      Thanks for reading!

  • Kath
    March 10 2016

    Hi I’m kath and I want to goto Malaysia 4days stay in hotel what will I do

    • Alex
      March 12 2016

      Hey Kath! I recommend Agoda, which is my favorite booking site for hotels in Southeast Asia. Enjoy!

  • Chulia Court
    March 17 2016

    Dear Alex,

    Great write-up about our homeland.

    If you ever come to Penang again, Chulia Court The Tavern is one of the best adaptations of a heritage shop-house for a restaurant, music bar and boutique guesthouse in the heart of Unesco World Heritage City of Georgetown Penang.

    We have 12 guest rooms with ensuite bathrooms as well as a mixed dormitory with 21 beds are tastefully furnished and affordable.

    Please have a look at our website, and we would love to have you with us in your next visit to Georgetown..

    Thank you, and God bless.

    • Alex
      March 21 2016

      I might just take you up on that someday 🙂 Thanks for the offer!

  • Jenny
    August 22 2016

    I came across your web while searching for travel in google. Alex in wonderland not alice in wonderland made me click on it and read.

    Welcome back to Malaysia if you come again. If you love food, Malaysia has plenty of them. Call me out i love food too.

    best regards,
    jenny

    • Alex
      August 24 2016

      Now that I’m a little less picky of an eater, I’d love to return to Malaysia and try a bit more of the loacl fare 🙂 I’m sure I’ll be back someday soon!

  • barang diskon
    January 20 2017

    omg i love your blog

    • Alex
      January 31 2017

      Ha, thank you! 🙂

  • Ellenor Davis
    March 9 2017

    I was searching for Malaysia and I found your blog I love it. I want to visit Kuala Lumpur too. I see that is a magical place. Very good photos. Thank you!

    • Alex
      March 20 2017

      Thank you for reading! Enjoy Kuala Lumpur!

  • fir
    July 11 2017

    Next u should try pulau redang, pulau tioman, and pulau mabul. Among of the beautiful island in malaysia.

    • Alex
      July 11 2017

      Hey Fir! Did you see my recent posts on Penang? Was great to get back to Malaysia this year!

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