4 Weeks in Malaysia: The Ultimate Itinerary
Home to a stunning natural landscape, diverse cultural makeup, delicious food and unbelievably kind people, Malaysia is a country that just begs to be explored. We spent four incredible, adventure filled weeks traveling through Malaysia and have put together this ultimate step-by-step itinerary in hopes that it helps you in planning your own adventure!
Having been in Thailand before Malaysia, we started in the north on the island of Langkawi and worked our way south, finishing in Singapore. Everything listed in this post is from north to south, but can totally be done in reverse as well!
Arriving in Malaysia
Thankfully, Malaysia is an extremely traveler-friendly country. Upon arrival by land, sea or air, most nationalities will receive a free, 90-day tourist visa. Easy entry procedures, a favorable exchange rate, lots of English signage and friendly locals make traveling through Malaysia a super painless experience.
If you’re going to be traveling through Malaysia for any reasonable stretch of time, we would HIGHLY recommend purchasing a local SIM card. It’s significantly cheaper than paying for roaming rates, offers pretty comprehensive coverage and is a total breeze to buy. We purchased our U-Mobile SIM from 7-Eleven and ultimately had little complaints. Offering 15 gigabytes of data over the course of 30 days for something like $10 USD, it was a total steal.
Langkawi (3 Nights)
Our first stop in Malaysia was the beautiful island of Langkawi. With beautiful beaches, luscious jungle and luxury resorts aplenty, it’s the perfect spot to splurge for a few days and live the high life. But if you're like us and live on a backpacker's budget, there's tons of budget friendly opportunities here as well.
Arriving to Pulau Langkawi (Malay for Langkawi Island) is a reasonably simple matter. Home to both an international airport as well as multiple ferry ports, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from. Fairly cheap flights and reasonable boat tickets mean that visiting Langkawi won’t break the bank either. For example, we paid roughly $25 USD from Koh Lipe to Langkawi, and about $18 USD from Langkawi to Penang.
Penang (3 Nights)
Another island located on the western coast of Malaysia, Pulau Penang is known less for its beaches and more for its rich history, beautiful architecture and to-die-for street food. Deservedly the most popular destination in Penang, George Town is an absolute must-see when visiting Malaysia. The UNESCO protected world heritage city is teeming with historic buildings, tasty food stalls and killer street art around every corner. We had an absolute blast wandering Penang’s historic lanes, and can’t suggest a visit highly enough. If you’re looking for a historic, boutique hotel for your time in George Town, check out our post on The Yeng Keng Hotel!
While George Town is the main draw for most people to Penang, the island is also home to a gorgeous stretch of coastline further northeast. If you’re looking for some ideas on where to stay and what to do, have a look at our post on Batu Ferringhi. Transportation to and from Penang is an easy ordeal as well. Home to an international airport, ferry port and connected to Peninsular Malaysia via bridge, coming and going is a total breeze.
Ipoh (3 Nights)
An often overlooked city, Ipoh was probably one of the stops that surprised us the most in Malaysia! Traditionally seen only in passing, Ipoh has undergone a massive cultural renaissance in recent years and no doubt for the greater good. Now one of the most up and coming tourist destinations in all of Malaysia, Ipoh is an awesome place to spend a few days during your travels.
Sporting some beautiful, historic architecture, seriously delicious food (especially the tauge ayam), and amazing cave temples, Ipoh definitely has plenty to offer. We arrived in Ipoh via bus from Penang and it was an easy and cheap journey, costing just 28 Ringit per person, one way. For booking bus and ferry tickets online, we would highly suggest using busonlineticket.com. We booked nearly every single one of our trips through their website and never had any troubles - just set up a PayPal account and you’re good to go!
Cameron Highlands (4 Nights)
Arguably the greenest and definitely the coolest destination in Malaysia temperature wise, the Cameron Highlands is another one of those must-see places in Malaysia. Famous for its refreshing climate, rolling hills, lush tea plantations and numerous hiking trails, the Cameron Highlands are a nature lover’s dream.
With multiple bus connections daily to both Ipoh in the north and Kuala Lumpur in the south, getting to and from is simple. When visiting the Cameron highlands most people choose to stay in the town of Tanah Rata, which is what we did and would highly recommend. In easy reach of many of the area’s best hiking trails and major tourist attractions, it’s a great place to base your explorations. Plus, Tanah Rata is home to Cameron Highlands’ small but well connected bus depot - a very handy thing. If you’re in the market for a super comfortable and affordable place to say, we would suggest looking into Gerard’s Place. Super cozy, reasonably priced and with some of the friendliest staff we’ve ever met, it’s a surefire bet to ensure you have a great stay.
Kuala Lumpur (2 Nights)
After spending a few days surrounded by Malaysia’s finest natural beauty, it’s time to jump headfirst into its buzzing capital, Kuala Lumpur. A bustling city full of towering sky scrapers, modern architecture and an awesomely diverse population, Kuala Lumpur is a fun place to spend a few days.
Home to a surprisingly decent public transportation system and with car-hire apps like Grab being so incredibly cheap, getting around Kuala Lumpur is surprisingly easier than you might think. However, there are multiple bus stations within the city, so just be mindful of which one you buy your tickets to and from!
For a great budget accommodation option in Kuala Lumpur, check out our post on the iO Hotel!
Perhentian Island (4 Nights)
A lot of people have messaged us asking about Pulau Perhentian, and every time we answer: GO!! Although it was definitely one of the more difficult destinations that we visited in Malaysia, it was definitely one of the most beautiful. Made up of two islands, Besar and Kecil, Perhentian is the definition of an island escape. White sand beaches, crystal clear waters and dense, inland jungles paint the perfect picture of Perhentian’s tropical paradise.
Out of the two islands, Besar is larger and known for a more laid back atmosphere, while Kecil is the smaller of the two islands and tends to attract a younger, more lively crowd. Since we were shooting for ultimate relaxation, we chose to stay on Besar and are super glad that we did. The secluded bay of Teluk Dalam was our home for a few days, and we honestly couldn’t have asked for a better spot. While we only ended up spending three nights here due to some transportation mishaps, we could have easily spent more. Awesome jungle hikes, secluded beaches and unbelievable snorkeling and diving activities are sure to keep you entertained while on Perhentian.
As we mentioned earlier, getting to Perhentian can be challenging to say the least, so take a look at our post with a few tips on how to get there.
Back to Kuala Lumpur (2 Nights)
Since Perhentian is so difficult to reach, it’s tough traveling to other cities after spending time there. Unfortunately, the best way to get around is from Kuala Lumpur, which means doubling back again. However, this does give you the opportunity to visit anything you may have missed in Kuala Lumpur and from there, travel onward to basically anywhere in the country.
Melaka (3 Nights)
Another brilliant example of Malaysia’s incredible and unique history, the city of Melaka is a necessary addition to every Malaysia itinerary. Chocked full of colorful architecture, interesting history, countless galleries and delicious eateries, Melaka is a great place to spend a few easygoing days. While we spent four nights in Melaka and certainly enjoyed them all, we think that we could have gotten the full experience in just three nights, or even two if you’re pressed for time.
Just two hours from Kuala Lumpur, the Melaka Sentral bus station is easy to reach and well connected to other popular destinations throughout Malaysia. Although the bus station is located a few kilometers north of the city, a Grab to Chinatown / central Melaka shouldn’t cost more than 10 Ringit ($2.50 USD). If possible, we would also suggest trying to visit for one night on the weekend. Although it can sometimes get almost frustratingly crowded, the Jonker Street Night Walk is a blast and was probably one of our highlights from Melaka.
Tioman Island (4 Nights)
Appropriately regarded as one of the country’s most beautiful islands, Pulau Tioman cannot be missed when visiting Malaysia. At 20 kilometers long and 11 kilometers wide, it’s impressive size offers every single shade of paradise that you could ask for. From super budget friendly cottages in ABC (one of the islands villages), to all inclusive resorts in Kampung Paya, you are bound to find something that fits your bill. We stayed in the village of Tekek (considered the largest village) and really enjoyed our stay. Home to some of the prettiest water and most stunning marine life we have ever seen, Tioman Island was undoubtedly one of our personal favorites.
Getting to Tioman Island isn’t necessarily a complicated affair, it just requires a little bit of planning beforehand. Although there is an airport on the island, duerring the time of our visit there were no commercial flights being offered. However, the easiest and cheapest way to reach Tioman is via boat. The main ferry port is Mersing, but boats also depart from Tanjung Gemok 35 kilometers north of Mersing. However, there are only two ferries a day from Mersing to Tioman (due to daily tidal changes), so make sure to coordinate your bus arrival time accordingly!
Given Tioman’s popularity, the port town of Mersing is easily reached by bus. The trip from Melaka takes between four and five hours and costs less than 20 Ringit. A return boat ticket costs 70 Ringit and can be bought at the ferry terminal, although we would definitely recommend booking ahead of time during weekends and the high season. The online ticketing website can be found here. Another thing worth noting is that Tioman Island is duty free, making it one of the few affordable places to drink in Malaysia - cheers!
Singapore (3 Nights)
Finally, no Peninsular Malaysian tour would be complete without a visit to the futuristic metropolis of Singapore. Although hands down one of the most expensive, if not THE most expensive place to travel to in Asia, it should be on everyones list.
A concrete jungle seemingly lightyears ahead of some of it’s neighbors, Singapore has tons to offer the curious traveller. From exploring the sights and smells of little India, to filling up shopping bags at the city’s boutiques to feasting at some of the world famous hawker centers, Singapore has something for everyone.
Well connected to Malaysia by both bus and air courtesy of one of Asia’s busiest airports, Singapore is a super accessible destination. We took a bus from Mersing to Singapore, which was a surprisingly affordable (~$25 USD per person) and carefree journey.
We only spent three days in Singapore simply because we couldn’t afford to stay for longer, but the time we had was amazing and made for the perfect ending to our month-long jaunt through Malaysia.
Everything from the incredible views, delicious food and smiling locals made our time in Malaysia (and Singapore!) some of the best of our trip. It’s an amazing, super traveler-friendly country that we would easily come back to in a heartbeat. We had an absolute blast exploring this gem of a country, and our hope is that this guide helps you do the same. Happy travels!
Yours in Adventure,
Joel & Marla