Welcome to Malaysia – the country in Southeast Asia that is rather overshadowed by Thailand, Indonesia & Co. Malaysia is definitely a little insider tip, even though we have to admit that it didn’t quite go as we had initially hoped for us in Malaysia.
Nevertheless, Malaysia is really worth the trip: You can expect to find not only an incredibly interesting mix of cultures, but also many charming cities, places and beautiful nature. And of course, let’s not forget the fantastic food: Malaysia is a paradise for absolutely everyone who loves street food.
Our journey through Malaysia travels from north to south to the highlights of the Malay Peninsula. What were we looking for? To avoid long trips in buses, to relax a lot, and a little bit of adventure. The result was a route from Bangkok through Malaysia to Singapore with a detour to beautiful Sumatra – an extended Malaysia travel route, so to speak.
1. Malaysia travel itinerary: All the stops from Bangkok to Singapore
We decided to travel through Malaysia from north to south, therefore we booked an open-jaw flight from Europe with the arrival in Bangkok and departure from Singapore. We can really recommend this to you because it allows you to integrate two exciting Southeast Asian cities into your trip.
Despite all of the hustle and bustle, despite all of the chaos, the traffic and the smog: There is no better place to start a trip through Southeast Asia. The capital of Thailand is simply a must-see. So, if you haven’t been before, Bangkok is a great option to kick off your trip.
You could easily spend two weeks in Bangkok without getting bored. We recommend a stay of three or four nights for newcomers. That way you can visit some of the most important temples, such as the Royal Palace or the Wat Pho with its gigantic reclining Buddha.
Malaysia: George Town (Penang)
Next stop, Malaysia: Penang is a small island off the mainland of Malaysia, which is connected to it thanks to a bridge. The capital of the island of Penang is George Town – one of the most beautiful cities in Malaysia. With its many colonial buildings, Chinese temples and food stalls, we felt comfortable here right from the start.
We spent our time in George Town discovering the creative and fascinating street art of the city. It’s worthwhile to take a trip up the cool Penang Hill, provided the air is not too hazy (which unfortunately was the case for us). You probably get the best view out in the morning.
We were staying directly in the old town of George Town and that was definitely the right decision. We stayed three nights in our accommodation, the Spices Hotel near the well-known Armenian Street, and felt very comfortable.
Getting to George Town
The fastest way to get from Bangkok to Penang is by plane. There are several direct flights leaving from Bangkok to Penang every day.
We originally thought about taking the train to Malaysia but decided against it due to lack of time. We are a little sad we missed out on it. Have you ever travelled over land from Thailand to Malaysia? If yes, then we look forward to hearing about your experience – please leave us a comment.
Our hotel tip for George Town: Spices Hotel
More detailed blog article: Tips for George Town on the Island of Penang
Recommended length of stay: 3 nights
Malaysia: Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands off the east coast of Malaysia are often described as an island paradise. However, unfortunately a lot is off in the supposed paradise. We wrote a blog article about this: Honest Account of the Perhentian Islands.
As much of a paradise as the Perhentian Islands actually are – unfortunately we have to share that most of the accommodation here is overpriced and parts of the islands (not everywhere) are sadly full of rubbish. The Perhentian Islands are made up of two islands: Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil. We recommend the larger and more relaxed of the two for you, Perhentian Besar. Definitely avoid: Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil.
Therefore, we only stayed two nights on the Perhentians. That might sound too short but the highlight of the island, snorkelling, works out well even if you only stay two nights: Snorkelling in the Perhentian Islands.
Getting to the Perhentian Islands
We travelled on a minibus from Penang to Kuala Besut. The drive begins early morning (at around 5am), takes around 5 or 6 hours and costs 150 RM per person. Alternatively, you could fly this section: The nearest airport to Kuala Besut is Kota Bharu.
In Kuala Besut there are regular boats to the Perhentian Islands. The departure times seem to change often, therefore it’s best to check again in advance. When you get into the boat you say which of the two islands or which beach you would like to go to. The travel time by speed boat is around 30 to 45 minutes.
The return ticket for the boat trip is already included in the minibus price (see above). Otherwise, this normally costs 70 RM. There is an additional fee for the national park in which the Perhentian Islands are located (30 RM).
Malaysia: Cameron Highlands
The lush green highlands of Malaysia with its endless tea plantations are the highlight of many people’s trip through Malaysia. To be honest: We still don’t really know what we should think about the Cameron Highlands. Yes, the lush green, spacious tea plantations are of course impressive, no question. The rest? We are still searching for the right word. Quirky? Bizarre?
Before we knew it, we found ourselves in strawberry, bee and insect farms. Everything is clearly catered more towards tourists from Asia. Not to mention the large hotel bunkers. Yes Cameron Highlands, you are a little strange. We let you know more about our impressions in this blog article: Experiences in the Cameron Highlands.
Getting to the Cameron Highlands
We wanted to cover the larger part of the journey to the Cameron Highlands on the jungle train. What we didn’t know: It no longer operates due to flooding in 2014. In the meantime, however, you should be able to travel this route again. You can find more detailed info about train travel in Malaysia in this blog article: Malaysia Tips.
We missed the last bus to the Cameron Highlands, so the only option we had left was to take a taxi. The driver first brought us from Kuala Besut to Gua Musang for 220RM. Unfortunately, the nice man didn’t want to take us any further („I Ramadan“). We searched for further transport to the Cameron Highlands in Gua Musang and finally found what we were looking for: The ride to the Cameron Highlands in an ancient, rusty bus took around 3.5 hours and cost 300 RM (250 RM during the day).
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur
Naturally, Malaysia’s capital should not be left off of any round trip. KL – as the city is often called – is the economic centre of the nation. Suddenly you are in a metropolis of millions with skyscrapers across the skyline. The city landmark stands out in particular: A visit to the Petronas Towers is an absolute must on any trip to KL.
We stayed three nights in Malaysia’s capital, one reason being to celebrate Kathi’s birthday. In our opinion you should stay at least that long so that you can get a good overview.
Getting to Kuala Lumpur
Once again, we didn’t look at the bus timetable in advance (darn!). The result: We found ourselves in a taxi once again. You need around four hours and 350 RM to reach Kuala Lumpur from the Cameron Highlands. The route is fairly windy before you reach the highway! As it happens, somewhere in the middle of this stretch is a beautiful waterfall where you can recover from the strenuous drive.
You would rather take the bus? No problem! But it’s best to inform yourself about the bus connections at the bus station in Tanah Rata to get the right time.
From the big city into the cosy small town of Melaka. Here you can recharge your batteries a bit – especially after a stay in Kuala Lumpur. Melaka (also called Melaka in English) belongs to the UNESCO world cultural heritage. The colonial city is located on a river and is definitely more well known to the Asian tourists than the Westerners. The old town of Melaka is easy to navigate, and everything is within walking distance.
Because the next stretch of our journey to Sumatra was more or less concrete, we stayed three nights in Melaka. Two nights would also be enough though. Melaka is fairly close to the Kuala Lumpur international airport (KLIA1 and KLIA2). If you have a somewhat earlier flight, you can easily make it there in around 1.5 hours (150 RM).
Getting to Melaka
There is a very well-organised bus station (TBS) in Kuala Lumpur, located just out of the city. Buses leave every 15-30 minutes from there to Melaka. The trip takes a little under two hours and only costs a few euros. The bus stops on the outskirts of Melaka and it’s best to take a taxi from there into the city.
Our hotel tip for Melaka: The Nest House
More detailed blog article: Travel Tips for Melaka (coming soon)
Recommended length of stay: 2-3 nights
Optional stopover: Bukit Lawang (Sumatra, Indonesia)
Sumatra: Yes or no? How long did we put off this decision? Weeks long! How much do we regret not coming here much sooner? A lot! Although this part of our travel route may not fit into some travel itineraries, it was absolutely the best way for us to spend three free days.
The name of the place where you can hike into the jungle to see orangutans living in the wild is Bukit Lawang. We spent three nights there all together (two in Bukit Lawang and one in the jungle). If we had to choose again, we would add on a fourth night. The time came around far too soon for us to say goodbye to this wonderful corner of the world.
Getting to Bukit Lawang
We flew with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to Medan (Sumatra) for around 50 euros. Our driver was ready waiting for our arrival there, who then took us to Bukit Lawang in around 4 hours. The driver organised our accommodation for us. Alternatively, it’s also possible to take the public bus (changing buses) to Bukit Lawang.
Accommodation tips for Bukit Lawang: Eco Travel Cottages Bukit Lawang
More detailed blog article: Jungle Hike to the Orangutans (coming soon)
Recommended length of stay: 3-4 nights
The city state of Singapore, the most modern metropolis in Southeast Asia, was the last stop of our travel route. As hard as we try: We just struggle to be as inspired by Singapore as other large cities in Southeast Asia. The spark between us and Singapore just isn’t really there.
Yet, Singapore is quite imposing and well worth seeing. Singapore is a mega city, a city of superlatives: the highest infinity pool in the world, huge shopping malls, and of course not to forget the gigantic super trees – artificial trees, reminiscent of a science fiction film. For newbies, we would recommend staying three nights in the city.
Getting to Singapore
In case you arrive from Sumatra like us: Jetstar has a direct flight from Medan to Singapore. The flight costs around 70 euros per person. The airport in Singapore is perfectly connected with the city via the MRT. A ticket into the city is very affordable, at just under 2 Singapore dollars.
Should you travel from Melaka to Singapore, the bus is recommended. The drive takes around four to five hours.
Hotel tip for Singapore: Wanderlust
More detailed blog article: Singapore Tips (coming soon)
Recommended length of stay: 3 nights
2. Map: Overview of our Malaysia itinerary from Bangkok to Singapore
We have marked the individual stops on this map so that you can get a better idea of exactly how the route goes. The black lines mark where we flew. The thick blue lines show our travel route through Malaysia over land or by boat.
3. More travel guides and conclusions about our Malaysia trip
Our conclusion for anyone planning a similar route: Malaysia is worth seeing but somehow in the end we were missing that certain something. Exactly what it was is difficult to say. We really enjoyed some places like George Town or Melaka. We also loved the presence of many different cultures in Malaysia: No other country in Southeast Asia is such a fascinating melting pot of different culture as Malaysia.
Disclaimer: Affiliate Links
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of affiliate links. If you book or buy something via the links, we will receive a small commission. This will not change the price for you at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
Have you ever been to Malaysia? What did your itinerary look like? We look forward to your comments!