Malaysia is right on our doorstep, but it’s a big place, and where and when to go are frequently asked questions. Before you head off, it’s a good idea to know some of the do’s and don’ts, along with info about visas, money, weather and more. A visit to Malaysia can be very memorable, so here’s a mini guide to help you plan!
Where to stay in Langkawi
Gunung Mat Cincang
Traveller: Nikita Agarwal, Indian
Langkawi has something to offer to all kinds of travellers, be it relaxing, exploring or spending time in nature. One of its major attractions is the Langkawi Sky Cab. The ride will take you to the top of Gunung Mat Cincang, the second highest peak in Langkawi. It’s totally worth the panoramic views! The crisp air and surreal views at the Sky Bridge are an experience in itself. We weren’t so keen on the Oriental Village below, though it does have a 3D museum and some other rides.
A highlight of our trip was a mangrove boat tour with Dev’s Adventure Tours. We were impressed by their knowledgeable naturalists. The tour comprised a visit to the bat caves, eagle spotting and a mangrove tour. We came across loads of wildlife, from monitor lizards and vipers to eagles and kites. The tour ended with lunch at a floating restaurant with incredible views. For the more adventurous, the tour company also has kayak tours and jungle treks.
We stayed at Berjaya Langkawi Resort, which was comfortable with amazing hospitality and views. Evenings can be spent at one of the beaches – Pantai Cenang has the most water-sports activities. For a quieter spot, head to Pantai Tengah. You can also enjoy sunset dinners on yachts or island-hopping tours.
Traveller: Catherine Maclean, Australian
If you’re looking for where to stay in Malaysia, Langkawi is a quick hop, skip and jump away. It’s just 90 minutes from Changi or 30 minutes from Penang. With cheap flights, it’s an easy and affordable weekend getaway. My friends and I stayed in Pantai Cenang, a bustling strip of hotels and restaurants along the beach. For convenience from the airport and stunning sunset views, it’s a good base, though we found it a little too touristy.
The hike up to Seven Wells isn’t too challenging – most of it is stairs. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views across the jungle to the sea. As the name suggests, there are beautiful rock pools to relax in before heading back down.
Be sure to visit the roving night market for some of the best food around. It’s held at a different location on the island each night, so hunt it down and follow it around throughout your stay!
Hiring a car and escaping the tourist crowd was our best decision. The beach at Tanjung Rhu was a dream: golden sand and crystal blue water, and we virtually had it to ourselves! You’ll also want to set up camp by Scarborough Fish and Chips and enjoy huge plates of delicious food and cold beverages.
Where to stay in Penang
Traveller: Emma Morrell, British
We spent four days in Batu Ferringhi in Penang with our kids, ages five and seven. We stayed in a suite at the Parkroyal Penang Resort, an amazing resort on the beach with great amenities including two pools (one had two waterslides!), a splash pad, decent gym and fun kids’ club. The staff were friendly too.
There were many good restaurants and we ate out a lot because the hawker market was close by. The hawker served pizza in the evenings and was great for the kids when they were too tired to try new things. We loved Penang National Park and Kek Lok Si temple. However, there wasn’t time to visit Penang Hill, which was a shame. We also went to ESCAPE Theme Park and Entopia Butterfly Farm.
I asked the kids what they enjoyed about the trip and they said they liked everything! The theme park and butterfly park were at the top of the list, as well as the hotel pool. We found Penang an incredibly easy place to take kids. There’s loads to do to entertain the whole family and it was easy to find food that young ones would eat. My daughter found a tie-dye rainbow dress that she loved and spent the rest of the trip searching for a matching dress for me, finding one on our last night. It’s not the most comfortable dress but she was insanely happy!
Traveller: Danielle Rossetti, Australian
We booked an Airbnb for our stay in Batu Ferringhi as there were five of us travelling. It’s easy to call a taxi or Uber from the airport so don’t bother with expensive transfers – we were suckered into that! The area has a charming “faded resort” feel about it. There were a lot of older people while we were there, and plenty of Western food places and bars on offer. You must go to the Spice Garden and its Thai restaurant – try the rice coloured with butterfly pea. The walk to Monkey Beach is also great for the kids, but don’t forget your water bottles!
The buses are generally clean, cheap and easy to use, though they sometimes don’t turn up! It takes around 45 minutes to an hour on the local bus to get to Georgetown. We loved Georgetown and its lovely street art. The China House has art installations, yummy cakes and an indie vibe. Every Sunday, there’s a pop-up market in Hin Bus Depot with lots of local arts, crafts and food.
Where to stay in Malacca
Traveller: Nikita Agarwal, Indian
My husband and I visited Malacca via overnight bus from Singapore (six hours). We stayed at 1825 Gallery Hotel in the heart of the city and by the river, with easy accessibility to everything. We visited various museums including The Stadthuys and the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum, offering insights into the lives of the Chinese immigrants who settled with the Malays. Another highlight was the Melaka Straits Mosque, with spectacular views at sunset. The popular Jonker Street Night Market is another good spot – great for bargain buys and delicious local food. For panoramic views, visit the Sky Tower and Taming Sari Tower.
Malacca is home to one of the oldest churches in Malaysia, St Paul’s Church. It’s not to be missed. You can also visit the famous Harmony Street to witness the peaceful coexistence of Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist temples and a mosque. We also spent an evening on the Melaka River Cruise and enjoyed a trishaw ride.
Finally, don’t miss local delicacies like cendol and laksa. Restaurants we visited include the Discovery Cafe, Geographer Cafe and Sid’s Pub. The highlight was authentic Peranakan food at Nancy’s Kitchen!
A Malaysia travel guide
Population: 32.3 million
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Religion: 60% Muslim, 19% Buddhist, 9% Christian and 6% Hindu
Emergency numbers: 999, or the standard GSM 112 number for smartphones
- The Sarawak Chamber, in Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, is one of the biggest known enclosed spaces on the planet – enough space for 40 Boeing 747s!
- Sabah is home to the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world.
- The longest king cobra in the world, measuring 5.54 metres, was captured alive in Port Dickson in April 1937 but later grew to 5.71 metres in captivity in London Zoo.
- Penang Free School is the oldest English school in Southeast Asia, founded by the Reverend Sparke Hutchings in 1816.
- Malaysia’s national drink is teh tarik (pulled tea).
- Malaysia is the birth country of world famous shoe designer Jimmy Choo.
- 1 May: Labour Day.
- 1st Saturday in June: King’s birthday.
- As in Singapore, Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji, Hungry Ghost, Mid-Autumn and Dumpling Festivals, Thaipusam, Deepavali and Vesak are all celebrated.
Hot spots and itineraries
Popular destinations include Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Penang, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and the Cameron Highlands. There are four World Heritage Sites, including historic Melaka and George Town.
Some itinerary ideas
- Peninsula Malaysia: Melaka – Kuala Lumpur – Cameron Highlands – Ipoh – Georgetown
- Sarawak: Kuching – Bako National Park – Mulu National Park
- Sabah: Kota Kinabalu – Sandakan – Sepilok – Pulau Sipadan
Staying safe and healthy
- Malaria and dengue fever are prevalent, so see your health practitioner before travelling.
- Planning on conquering Mount Kinabalu? Watch out for acute mountain sickness (nausea, headaches, fatigue); also, take precautionary measures, such as acclimatising, resting and drinking plenty of fluids.
While you’re there, please don’t…
- Be embarrassed if you burp – in Malay etiquette burping or belching after a meal is considered acceptable.
- Mess with illegal drugs – there is a mandatory death penalty for trafficking. (This law is likely to be revised in the second half of 2022.)
Before you go, read …
- The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka – the story of Lakshmi, a Ceylonese girl brought to Malaya in 1930, as the young bride of an older man.
- A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute – a tale of love and war, which follows an English heroine’s journey from Malaya during World War II to the Australian outback.
- The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw – another novel set in colonial Malaya, this one telling the story of a textile merchant named Johnny Lim.
Before you go, watch …
- The Sleeping Dictionary – a story of forbidden love set in Sarawak during British colonial rule during the 1930s.
- PASKAL: The Movie – critically acclaimed 2018 military action film and the most expensive Malaysian film ever made.
- Entrapment – the Petronus Towers in Kuala Lumpur get a star turn in this movie, featuring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
They said it
“Do not be tricked into thinking that there are no crocodiles just because the water is still.” – Malay proverb
“We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us. Let us always remember that unity is our fundamental strength as a people and as a nation.” – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister
“If it is heavy, we carry it together on our shoulders; if it is light, we carry it together in our hands.” – Malay proverb
Do I need a visa?
Most nationalities don’t need a visa to enter Malaysia for up to a month (three months for many countries). Others, including citizens from China and India, do need to meet certain visa requirements. Check details at malaysiavisa.imi.gov.my.
How long will it take me to get there?
One hour (Kuala Lumpur) or 2.5 hours (Kota Kinabalu) flying time from Singapore. Malaysia is 8 hours ahead of GMT, the same as Singapore. Crossing the border at Tuas or Woodlands, it’s around a 40-minute drive to Johor Bahru, depending on where you live in Singapore, and how busy the border post is.
What’s the money situation?
The official currency of Malaysia is the Malaysian ringgit (RM). Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs available in most places.
When’s the best time to visit?
Many resorts on the peninsular east coast close from October to February due to the monsoon weather. The west coast, including Langkawi, Penang and Melaka, receives the most rain from July to mid-September. Malaysian Borneo has a typical equatorial climate. Most rainfall occurs between November and January, while the dry season runs from May to September.
What’s the lingo?
The official language is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay or Bahasa Melayu). You’ll also hear English, Cantonese and Tamil. Here are some phrases to get you started:
- Hello/Good morning: Hello/Selamat pagi
- What is your name? Apaka nama anda?
- My name is __: Nama saya __
- How much? Berapa banyak
- Thank you: Terima kasih
- Yes: Ya
- No, thank you: Tidak terima kasih
Last but not least
Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?
Handshakes are the most common form of greeting. They are usually gentle and not too prolonged. You should wait for a Malaysian woman to initiate a handshake.
What’s a must-try dish?
Sure, they’re readily available in Singapore, but you still shouldn’t miss Malaysian satay (served with peanut sauce and ketupat rice cakes) or a plate of nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, usually eaten with fried anchovies, cucumber slices, roasted peanuts, hard-boiled egg and sambal chilli paste.
What should I buy as a souvenir?
Some Royal Selangor pewter. Clothing and fabrics are also a good option.
Find more destination guides in our Travel section!