a travel guide to malaysia


Step out the front door of KL International airport and into the world of Malaysia. A traveller's paradise with sites you will only find in the "Wild East".

Stunning skyscrapers, ancient temples and food to die for are waiting for you in Malaysia. Even on a backpacker's budget, it isn't difficult to enjoy the finer things in this amazing country.

Whether you are ascending to the top of KL Tower or traversing the jungle paths of Borneo, you will find Malaysia to be a fantastic country to backpack through. Just be careful, you may never want to leave.


Kuala Lumpur, or KL as the locals call it, is a fascinating city that sometimes smothers and suffocates inhabitants, but it is here that the many ethnic groups living in Malaysia come together to form one.

Traditionally, the population of KL has been made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians, all living and working together. Over 50% of Malaysia's population is made up of these three groups, although the country has numerous indigenous populations and a large number of expats outside of Asia calling it home.

The four biggest religions in the country are Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism; and all four seem to live side by side in harmony.  Keeping in mind that Malaysia's leading religion is Islam can stand you in good stead and prevent you from making a "social faux pas". If you can keep from making a social faux pas, you will be right at home in KL and the rest of Malaysia.

Places to visit

Langkawi is thirty kilometres off the mainland of Malaysia and is an archipelago of 104 islands. The islands are only reachable by air or by water, so they are quite secluded. Langkawi is perfect for people who love being a beach bum. There are a number of sandy shores to spend your days on, and each has a number of great water sports to take part in. For a completely unique way to see the islands, zip through the Andaman Sea as you jet ski hop from one to the other.

One of the coolest things to do is to walk the Langkawi Sky Bridge. The 125-metre bridge gives exciting and hair raising views of the natural world below. After walking in the clouds, get back to Earth and visit Gunung Raya. The mountain is the highest peak in Langkawi and it is covered in a rain forest that is filled with wildlife. Hike the slopes and trek down the forest trails as you view monkeys, birds and squirrels that live there.


Located on the northwest coast of Malaysia, Penang is a favourite tourist spot for backpackers criss-crossing southeast Asia. During the hot months, one favourite pastime is to take the funicular up to Penang Hill. Visitors love the cooler temperatures as they walk amongst the lush green environment. If you are backpacking with a loved one, or you kindle a backpacker romance, Batu Ferringhi is a fantastic beach destination. The shore’s sunset is perfect and, if you are up early, the sunrise is excellent, too.  Go for the food - some of the best in the world (ask anyone thats been).

Borneo is partly Malaysia's, well just over a quarter of it, but what a wonderful "quarter" of land it is. Mount Kinabalu is located in the Malaysian portion and it is the country’s largest peak. Travellers from around the world have scaled to the top of the peak and enjoyed watching the sunrise from its summit. In Sarawak, travellers can find the historical city of Kuching and explore the Sarawak River by boat. If you want to stay in touch with nature, be sure to take a walk in the trees in Kinabalu Park. Also whist you're there, check out the Poring Hot Springs & of course the Orangutan's.


Walking through the streets of KL, you will be attracted to the spicy smells emanating from the restaurants that line the streets. Malaysian recipes lead you by the nose as cooks make great use of chillies; lots and lots of chillies. If you love spicy food, Malaysian cuisine is perfect for you. If you don't like hot food that makes you sweat uncontrollably, you better learn to like it.

Although spicy, the food is delicious and there are plenty of dishes that have less heat added to it. The spices used in Malaysian cooking are another example of the country's melting pot of cultures as various food traditions have formed modern day cuisine.

As a backpacker, there is nothing like sitting down in a restaurant, tired and possibly hungover, and eating your first Nasi Lemak. Featuring rice cooked in coconut milk, anchovy chili paste and a variety of sides, it is a dish visitors to Malaysia become quite familiar with. Nasi Lemak can be served throughout the day and much of the time it is a breakfast meal. Salty and fragrant, the taste of is unforgettable.

Malay's love food, so much so that they may eat up to six meals a day. When backpacking through KL, Penang or Johor Bahru, it seems people never stop eating; and it is easy to get used to.

What to see?

KL is the perfect starting point to any backpacking adventure in Malaysia, and there is no better site to see than the Petronas Twin Towers. From 1998 to 2004, the Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in the world, and continue to be one of the symbols of KL.

Once you pack your bags and head out of KL, you will find a whole new world waiting for you. Penang is a beautiful city filled with colonial architecture and rolling beaches just outside its limits. If you aren't in a beach mood yet, head to the Kek Lok Si Temple and view one of the most important Buddhist temples in the region. Amazing during the day, the temple is even better at night when it's all lit up. Stroll the grounds, walk the steps and view the 10,000 Buddha carvings inside the Temple Rama IV.

Back in KL, seek out the Batu Caves and check out the Hindu art that decorates the area. The most popular Hindu shrine outside of India, the Batu Caves is a wonder of art and nature.  It has that real "wow" factor.

Travellers on a budget must venture to the Perhentian Islands, which are located near the Thai border. The islands are a perfect stop off for visitors travelling between the two countries, and offer low-cost food and lodging.  Walking the streets you will find hostels, hotels and guesthouses waiting for you. Once checked in, the beach beckons and a day lying on the sand is a great way to spend an afternoon on the Perhentian Islands. Follow it up with beers at the local bars.


Without a doubt, KL is the centre for Malaysia's nightlife. The city never sleeps and backpackers can find something for their budget when heading out. Going into a watering hole wearing beachwear or shorts will probably get you turned away in KL, so be aware of the dress code enforced by bars.

While the city has a number of great drinking spots like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Pisco Bar and Zouk Club, drinks may not be the cheapest when going out in KL at night. The Reggae Bar is one of the best backpacker bars (& hostels) available in town. Their happy hour specials will give you plenty to smile about while in the city.

In Penang's Georgetown, nightlife is less formal, and drinking sessions spill outside onto sidewalk cafes. Walking through the streets, music will call to you as it booms out of neon lit dance clubs.

Langkawi is more affordable for a night out when backpacking across Malaysia, and the laidback atmosphere may suit far more adventurers than the hipster bars of KL. Staying up all night drinking and conversing is more common in Langkawi than loud raves.


Backpackers looking to volunteer in Malaysia have a number of options. From improving the lives of local women to helping animals, volunteering with an organisation is available in Malaysia.

While you can find places to volunteer once on the ground in the country, it is best to email an organisation before arriving (Check out my resources page).