Malaysia Itinerary: 2 Weeks in Asia’s Most Underrated Destination

by Jul 21, 2019Itinerary, Malaysia, Travel

In this Malaysia Itinerary – 2 weeks post, I’m going to show you EXACTLY how you can spend two and three fabulous weeks in Southeast Asia’s most underrated travel destination. This itinerary is ideal for those curious travelers in search of culture, history, nature, and of course, a beach.

After living in Asia for eight years and traveling around Southeast Asia countless times, I can honestly say that Malaysia has by far the friendliest people, the most diversity, the most interesting architecture, and the best food in the region. It should be on everyone’s Southeast Asian itinerary.

Here’s what you’ll get out of this Malaysia itinerary:

1. Where to go and how long to stay
2. What to do and see in each destination
3. Where and what to eat in Malaysia
4. Where to stay
5. How EXACTLY to get from one city to the next
6. When to travel to Malaysia

I’ll also tell you how you can extend your trip to Malaysia to three weeks with an easy side-trip to my favorite Thai island, Ko Lipe.

You can follow this Malaysia itinerary at any time of the year regardless of the season. However, it’s most suitable between November and March when the west coast is at its driest and the monsoon season hits the islands on the east coast, making them inaccessible.

One important thing to know about Malaysia before you go (I wasn’t aware of this the first time I went), and that is the country has two seasons: the rainy season and the rainier season. So, expect some kind of rain shower every day of your visit. If you’re equipped with this knowledge, you won’t be disappointed.

So, grab your camera and your sense of adventure and let’s explore Asia’s best-kept secret: Malaysia!

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  For more info, read the Bamboo Traveler’s disclosure page. 

2 Malaysia Itinerary Routes

You can do this Malaysia itinerary in 2 or 3 weeks.

Stop #1: Melaka (Malacca)

Malaysia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 1 and 2

Malaysia Itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 1 and 2

For those coming from Singapore, you’ll want to start your Malaysia itinerary in Melaka, a sleepy, laid-back city about three hours by bus from Singapore.

You can also find a more detailed Melaka itinerary in this article, An Unforgettable 2-Day Melaka Itinerary

Why Begin a Malaysia Itinerary in Melaka

You might wonder why this Malaysia itinerary doesn’t begin in Kuala Lumpur (KL). For first-timers to the country, Melaka is an easier place to navigate than KL is. It’s a medium-sized city of 484,000 people, while Kuala Lumpur is a traffic-congested, polluted metropolis of 1.8 million. I think you’ll also like KL better when it’s your last stop rather than your first one. The culture shock has worn off a bit by then.

Another reason to start in Melaka is that historically, it’s considered to be Malaysia’s most important city. It’s here where the Malay Kingdom and the Malay Sultanate first began six hundred years ago.

From 1400 to 1511, Melaka was the wealthiest and most powerful city in Southeast Asia. Traders from China, India, and Arabia flocked to Melaka to trade in spices and luxury goods. Some made the city their permanent home, marrying local women, and creating a fascinating hybrid culture called the Peranakans.

Melaka was occupied by not one but three European countries. Here you’ll see remnants of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British empires. including ruins of old churches, grand colonial government buildings, and ornate shophouses.

What’s Melaka Like Now?

For a long time, the city and its beautiful shophouses were neglected. It wasn’t until Melaka became a UNESCO World Heritage Site that it came back into the spotlight. Renovations were made and shophouses were spiffed up, some of which have become reasonably priced heritage hotels.

However, Melaka hasn’t been completely gentrified. If you’re eagerly looking for a place that resembles a movie-set such as Hoi An in Vietnam or Singapore, you’ll be disappointed. Melaka’s streets in the Chinatown area are still full of holes and open drains. While some buildings have been remodeled, many are still in states of disrepair. But that aura of neglect adds to its charm and atmosphere and makes it feel less like a tourist trap and more like a real town.

You’ll also find some amazing dishes that I didn’t see anywhere else in Malaysia: chicken rice balls.

This is also a great place to explore the Peranakan culture with a visit to the Baba Nyonya museum and lunch at some great Peranakan restaurants.

What’s With the Two Spellings?

Malacca is the old spelling under the British. Melaka is the official Malaysian government spelling.

Why Visit Melaka on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?

You don’t have to start it on those days, but you REALLY should be in Melaka on the weekend so you can experience the Jonker Street Night Market, the highlight of my trip to Melaka. The market only takes place on those nights. On weekday evenings, the Chinatown and colonial areas of Melaka are like ghost towns. Restaurants and shops close around 5:00 or 6:00 pm. Seriously.

Arriving on Sunday might be the best option. Melaka is a popular weekend destination for Singaporeans, so hotel prices increase on weekends. By Sunday the weekenders have hopefully returned to Singapore and hotel prices go down, but you can still experience the night market.

How to Get to Melaka from Singapore

Getting to Malaysia from Singapore can be confusing and tricky. That’s why I wrote a whole post on how to get from Singapore to Malaysia and back to Singapore. In the post, you’ll learn PRECISELY how to travel between the two countries.

Top 8 Things to See and Do in Melaka:

I’ve ordered this list from my #1 favorite to my #8 favorite things to do in Melaka. You can also get more details on planning your trip to Melaka with this comprehensive Melaka itinerary.

  1. Visit the Jonker Street Night Market on Friday to Sunday nights for an electric vibe, lots of good street food, and great people-watching.
  2. Stay in a heritage hotel.
  3. Baba Nyonya Heritage House Museum is a must!
  4. Wander around the streets of Chinatown admiring and taking lots of photos of the beautiful, crumbling shophouses, temples, and mosques.
  5. Walk around the Colonial area of the city (a short walk from Chinatown) and visit Christ Church and the Stadthuys.
  6. Climb up in the back of the Stadthuys to the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, the Dutch Graveyard, and great panoramic views of Melaka.
  7. Stroll along Riverwalk admiring the architecture and stopping for a drink or a bite to eat.
  8. Visit Kampung Morten for a look at a real Malaysian Kampong (traditional Malay village) and stop at Villa Sentosa to see what a 90-year-old Kampong home looks.

Additional Things to Do in Melaka

If you have more time, you can add these activities to your Malaysia itinerary:

  1. Take a boat cruise along Melaka River.
  2. Take a cooking class at Nancy’s Kitchen.
  3. Take a taxi out to the Floating Mosque (Masjid Selat Melaka) at sunrise or sunset.
  4. Tour the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum – I was pretty disappointed.
  5. Visit the oldest Chinese graveyard at Bukit China, now turned into a park.

What to Eat and Drink in Melaka

  • Definitely visit the Jonker Street Night Market and try the potatoes on a stick covered in cheese powder. There’s lots of seafood as well as refreshing drinks.
  • Try some Baba Nyonya (Peranakan) cuisine at Nancy’s Kitchen.
  • Try chicken rice balls at Hoe Kee Chicken Rice Ball for lunch (they close at 5:00 pm).
  • Stop by Calanthe Art Cafe for some White Coffee and Nyonya laksa (photo above). The laksa is Melaka is more coconutty flavored, while the one in Penang is sourer. Both are good!
  • Walk along Jonker street sampling the pineapple and egg tarts.

Where to Stay in Melaka

Even if you’re a budget backpacker, try to splurge on a stay at a heritage hotel. These are colonial shophouses converted into hotels. They’re not only full of lots of character, but they’re also reasonably priced. The best, best, best hotel in all of Malaysia for what I paid was the Aava Malacca. I paid $45 a night for this huge gorgeous room. There was even an infinity pool overlooking Riverside Walk. Breakfast was included. They had rooms for less than $45, but I wanted a room with a “window” so I splurged and spent $10 more on the fancier room. The only downside to this hotel is that the staff aren’t very knowledgeable, helpful, or friendly.

Stop #2: Penang

Malaysia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 3 – 6

Malaysia Itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 3 – 7

The next destination on your Malaysia itinerary is the country’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site, George Town, in the state of Penang. You’ll spend day 3 traveling to Penang and then 3 or 4 days seeing the sights on the island. You can read a full 3-day itinerary for Penang here.

Let’s first get the geography cleared up before we dig into the fun stuff. Penang is a state in northwestern Malaysia. It comprises both the island of Penang (like Melaka, it was also named after a tree) and the mainland directly across from it. The main city on the mainland is Butterworth, which you can easily skip. The main city on the island is George Town. This is where you should spend most of your time.

Penang was originally ruled by the Sultan of Kedah. However, in the late 1700s, the Thais began giving him some trouble, so the Sultan went looking for an ally. He found it in the British, or so he thought.  

In 1786 the Sultan gave Penang to the British in exchange for protection from the Thais and 30,000 Spanish dollars a year. From that point on until 1957 (except from1942-1945 when the Japanese occupied Malaysia), Penang was under British control.

Unfortunately, the Sultan got a raw deal. The British never completely lived up to their end of the bargain. The Sultan did get the money, but the British never came to his aid when the Thais gave him trouble again.

Under the British, Penang became a free port, attracting Chinese and Indian immigrants.  Today, Penang is 40% Chinese and 10% Indian. The high density of Chinese has given them control over Penang’s state government since Malaysian independence. This is significant because the Chinese and Indians have very little political power in Malaysia.

Like Melaka, don’t expect Penang to look like a movie set. The place is grittier and more dilapidated than I expected. Although some shophouses have been remodeled, many of them appear as if no one has touched them in 100 years.

Another great thing about George Town is the ethnic and religious diversity: churches, mosques, and Buddhist and Hindu temples. And the food! Both Chinese and Indian food galore. Sadly, it turned out to be much harder to find Malay food.

However, unlike mellow Melaka, George Town is full of more energy. People are making money here and it’s not only from tourism.

The roads are chaotic and traffic congested. Crossing the street feels like you’re gambling with your life.

If you assume you can always avoid the daily rain showers by just walking under the shophouses’ five-foot ways, you’ll be mistaken. Most of the time, you’ll find a motorcycle or someone’s boxes or an engine or a refrigerator blocking the sidewalk, forcing you to walk in the street.

Penang seems hipper than Melaka. The street art lives up to its hype and the most fun thing to do in George Town is to hunt for it. When you first arrive, stop at the Tourist Information Centre for a free map for the locations of the art. The city also has more nightlife and better music than Melaka.

How to Get to Penang

You can travel to Penang by bus or plane. By bus, it’ll take seven to eight hours. By plane, it’ll take one hour and ten minutes. The last time I checked the flight only cost US$18. Check out flight times and prices on 12Go Asia.

Not knowing how inexpensive flights were in Malaysia (I also hate flying), I took the bus, so I’ll explain in detail how to do it.

You can buy bus tickets online at 12Go Asia or Easy Book. It cost me RM65 (US$16 / £13). Book one for George Town and NOT Butterworth. George Town is on Penang island. Butterworth is the town on the mainland. If you get off there, you’ll need to take a ferry to the island, making your journey even longer.

Take a Grab (like Uber) from your hotel to Melaka Sentral.  When you get to the bus station, go to the ticket counter to exchange your 12Go Asia booking for a physical ticket. If you don’t have a print-out of our voucher, the bus company will charge you MR1 (US$.24).

My bus stopped on the outskirts of KL where most of the passengers got off.  Stay on the bus. No one told me what to do, so at first, I started following the herd. If it weren’t for two wonderfully kind Malaysian women, I might’ve been stuck in KL.

Unfortunately, the trip is an all-day adventure of eight hours.

When you get to George Town, you’ll probably need to get a Grab since the bus station in Penang is far from the tourist center of George Town.

For info on how to use Grab in Southeast Asia, check out my post on How to Save Money in Singapore, where I explain the App in detail.

Top 10 Things to Do and See in Penang

In order from #1 favorite to #10 favorite, here are my ten favorite things to do in Penang during my Malaysia itinerary:

  1. Start out your Penang itinerary with a free walking tour of George Town at the Penang Information Centre (10:30 am on Tu, Th, and Sa)
  2. Hunt for all the amazing street art
  3. Wander the streets admiring and taking photos of the shophouse architecture
  4. Chow down on some delicious hawker food at one of George Town’s night markets
  5. Go on a food tour
  6. Visit the Blue Mansion – Cheong Fat Tze Mansion
  7. Visit the many Chinese and Indian temples around Penang
  8. Listen to some live music at China House
  9. Stay in a heritage hotel
  10. Learn about the Peranakan culture

11 – 20 Things to Do and See in Penang

If you have time, you can try to fit these into your Malaysia itinerary:

11. Visit the Peranakan Mansion – It’s big and beautiful, but lacking context and needs a better tour

12. Khoo Kongsi Clan House

13. Chinese clan jetties

14. tour the Tropical Spice Garden

15. Penang Hill

16. Kek Lok Si Temple

17. Sun Yat-sen Museum

18. Beaches of Batu Ferringhi – If you’re going to Langkawi, there’s no reason to go here

19. Snake Temple

20. Take a cooking class at the Tropical Spice Garden

What and Where to Eat in George Town

  • Tek Sen – a very popular Chinese restaurant – you may have to wait but it’s worth it; also a bit pricier than other restaurants. MR16 to 28 per dish.
  • Hawker Centres – Gurney Drive, New Lane (Lorong Baru), Chulia Street Night Market, Long Beach Food Court, and Jetty Food Center
  • Food tour
  • Laksa – It’s sourer than laksa in the south because of Thai influence
  • Sri Ananda Indian restaurant – paper dosa
  • China House for western food, cake, beer, wine, and live music.
  • Nyonya Kueh – Peranakan sweets

Where to Stay in George Town

If you’re not on too tight of a budget, you should add a stay in one of George Town’s gorgeous heritage hotels.

However, I found Penang’s hotels to be pricier and the rooms smaller than Melaka’s.

I stayed at Carnarvon House on Carnarvon Street, conveniently located in the heritage area of the city. It was a couple of blocks from the famous and touristy Armenian Street.

The foyer of the hotel is in the heritage-style chic with beautiful Asian furniture and woodwork and exposed brick to give it that hip unfinished look. However, the rooms are small and sparsely decorated. You’ll also have to share a bathroom.

The owner is friendly and knowledgeable about the area.

What I enjoyed was the ability to try different kinds of dishes for breakfast. Although you can order a western breakfast, the owner gets food from different local restaurants, so you can try something new each day.

Stop #3: Langkawi

Malaysia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 7 – 8

Malaysia Itinerary 3 weeks: Days 8 – 10

After nearly a week of history and culture, you’ll want some beach time, so the next stop on your Malaysia itinerary is Langkawi. The great thing about this tropical island is that it’s only one hour by plane or three hours by boat from Penang.

Langkawi is comprised of one large island and 99 mostly uninhabited smaller islands. The dry season is from December to February. In the summer, the sea can get rough, which can make the boat ride to the island unpleasant.

Langkawi is just 1.5 hours by boat from Thailand, but if you’re expecting an island with a laid-back, backpacker vibe like Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, you’re going to get an island filled with medium-sized resort hotels and western fast food. I realize that might sound awful. But if you overlook the food and the impersonal looking hotels, it’s a great island with lots to do. And the people are super friendly!

The beaches are clean, and since the main beach, Cenang beach, is so long, you can always find a quiet place to lay out your towel and lie down and relax.

You might have heard warnings about jellyfish, but I didn’t experience any. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’ve heard that they’re more common during the summer months.

There’s a beautiful clean waterfall that you can swim in, a cable car with stunning panoramic views of the island, and various tours around the 99 other islands. You can hire a car and driver for MR120 (US$29 / 23.20 pound) for a whole day.

I was pleasantly surprised by Langkawi.

The main city on Langkawi is Kuah where you’ll find hotels, restaurants, shops (Langkawi is duty-free), and the jetty. I didn’t spend any considerable time in Kuah.

The two main beaches where people stay are the bigger Cenang beach and the smaller Tengah beach. Cenang is filled with shops, and seafood and fast-food restaurants.

The north side of the island is quieter and has smaller beaches that you can visit by car or motorcycle (no public transportation). Staying there is harder, though, since this side of the island has only a few large and expensive resorts.

How to Get to Langkawi?

To get to Langkawi, you can either take a plane (US$19) or boat (US$20) from Penang. I had no idea the plane was so inexpensive and ended up taking the fast boat. You can purchase both plane and boat tickets online with 12go Asia.

The Boat Ride to Langkawi

The boat left at 8:30 am from Swettenham Pier in George Town.

My trip to Langkawi was smooth and uneventful. During the monsoon season, the ocean can be rough making the boat ride unpleasant.

When I got below deck, I handed my luggage to someone who stacked everyone’s on the floor at the front of the boat.

You’re assigned a seat number based on either when you check in or when you bought your ticket. Everyone sat below deck. The windows were so dirty that even if you wanted to look out of them, you couldn’t.

We were all squished into a seat with less legroom than on a plane. There was one aisle with four seats on each side. Luckily, on the trip to Langkawi, I got an aisle seat, but on the return trip, I was stuck in a middle seat.

For entertainment, the boat showed a cartoon on a television set that looked like it was bought in the 1980s and whose screen was so dreadful that made it nearly impossible to understand what was happening.

They also showed a safety video on the same television at the beginning of the trip, but for the same reason as the cartoon, it was impossible to understand. Luckily, the trip went smoothly, so we didn’t need the safety information.

Arriving in Langkawi

The boat made one stop before getting to Langkawi. There was no announcement in English as to what the stop was. I thought it was Langkawi because everyone in front of me got off, so I started to as well and only realized that it wasn’t Langkawi when I looked back and saw that no one else was standing.

The boat arrived at 13:30.

The ferry terminal in Langkawi is quite large. There are a few restaurants, coffee shops, and souvenir shops. This is also where you can buy tickets for onward travel to Thailand, which can be done at Tropical Charters on the second floor of the ferry terminal.

A taxi to my hotel, the Cenang Plaza Beach Hotel, cost MR30 (US$7.25 / £5.80).

What to Do and See in Langkawi

Here are eight things you can do on your Malaysia itinerary:

1. Hang out on the beach and swim in the ocean
2. Go on an island-hopping tour–Pulau Dayang Bunting (Pregnant Maiden Island),
3. Hire a driver to take you around the island all day—I paid MR120 (US$29 / £23.20)
4. Take a cable car and do the Sky Walk for amazing panoramic views of the island.
5. Visit Seven Wells Waterfall—Wear your bathing suit under your clothes
6. Visit Tanjong Rhu beach on the northeast part of the island
7. Go on a Mangrove Swamp tour
8. Visit the night market

What and Where to Eat in Langkawi

Honestly, the best food I had in Langkawi was at KFC. That’s how bad the food was. I had this chicken schwarma across from my hotel that tasted off.

There are lots of pricey seafood restaurants catering to Chinese tourists and western ones for everyone else.

The best non-western meal was at a restaurant on Tanjong Rhu beach. You can get fish and seafood at a decent price.

Where to Stay in Langkawi

I had an ocean-facing room with a partial view of the sea (trees were in the way) at the Cenang Plaza Beach Hotel on Cenang Beach. Although the exterior and hallways weren’t so inviting, the staff were the most professional and helpful of all the hotels I stayed at during my trip. They helped book tours and an awesome driver at a reasonable price. The room was clean and comfortable with a safe for storing valuables.

To get to the beach, you had to cross a small parking lot.  Don’t expect to find a hotel much closer than Cenang Plaza Beach Hotel. Except for an uber-luxury hotel at the end of Cenang beach, there aren’t any hotels right on the beach like in Thailand.

Stop #4: Koh Lipe, Thailand

Malaysia Itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 11 – 14

For those who have more time than two weeks in Malaysia and are traveling between October and June, take a boat to Koh Lipe, Thailand and stay a few days. Koh Lipe (Ko Lipe) is your typical laid-back Thai style island. Lots of mango shakes and pad thai, warm, calm and clear ocean, and clean, sandy beaches. With its waters containing 25% of the world’s tropical fish species, the island is a great place for snorkeling. And no jet skis, McDonald’s, or Starbucks! Hotels are cheaper and better than those found on Langkawi. Lots of small, personable boutique hotels with bungalows on the beach that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

Koh Lipe is part of the Tarutao Marine National Park, so you must pay a national park and environmental fee.

Koh Lipe is small and there are environmental concerns caused by over-tourism and unregulated construction on beaches. I didn’t see much garbage on the beach like in Vietnam, but at times this can be an issue on the island.

IMPORTANT: Boats only run from mid-October to mid-June (more frequently from November to May). That means there are NO BOATS from mid-June to mid-October.

If you’re looking for a good book about Thailand to read while lying on the beach, check out my list of 25 of the best (and worst) books about Thailand.

How to Get to Koh Lipe from Langkawi

There are two harbors in Langkawi with boats leaving to Koh Lipe: Kuah Jetty in Kuah and Telaga Harbor.

From Cenang Beach, I took a Grab to the jetty in Kuah for MR27 (US$6.53/£5.22) for a ten-minute ride. I had bought my ticket from Tropical Charters for Koh Lipe at the Kuah Jetty when I first arrived in Langkawi (paying MR118 (US$29)).

You can also buy your ticket online from 12Go.Asia. Buy your ticket in advance! One-way tickets for fall 2019 cost around US$27.61 from Telaga Harbor and US$37.18 from Kuah Jetty.

Tropical Charters recommends arriving 90 minutes before departure for Kuah Jetty, and Telaga Harbor recommends 2.5 hours since they close the check-in counter an hour prior to leaving.

When I got to the jetty at 8:00 am, I went to Tropical Cruises on the second floor to exchange my receipt for a ticket and to get the Thai immigration form. They told me to wait near Starbucks for a representative from the company to take the passengers to the international departures gate.

Next, Malaysian immigration scanned everyone’s fingerprints and did a security check of each passenger’s belongings. After that, we found ourselves in another hall. A crew member from Tropical Cruises collected everyone’s passport.

After that, we all got on the boat. The boat left at 9:45 am.

Arriving in Koh Lipe

The boat ride took one hour and thirty-five minutes. Koh Lipe is one hour behind Malaysian time, so when you arrive, it’ll be 10:15 Thai time.

When we got near Koh Lipe, we transferred to a small boat (carry your own bags onto the boat), which took us to immigration on Pattaya Beach. The boat crew took our bags off the boat, but then we carried them to immigration.

When we got to the beach, we stood in line until immigration or someone from Tropical Cruises called out the name of our country and gave back our passports. Next, we stood in another line to hand in our immigration cards and get a stamp in your passport. After that, Customs checked our bags. Finally, we paid 200 baht (US$6.50 / £5.19) for the National Park Fee.

Hopefully, the driver for your bungalow is waiting for you. Mine wasn’t so a driver from another hotel called for me. My phone with a Malaysian SIM card wouldn’t work even though I followed the phone company’s instructions for using the card in Thailand.

7 Best Things to Do and See in Koh Lipe:

  1. Nothing – I hung out, read, ate, drank, slept, and swam
  2. Snorkeling
  3. Scuba diving trip
  4. Yoga at Castaway Resorts
  5. Visit Walking Street for food, drinks, massage, etc.
  6. Watch the sunrise
  7. Get a Thai massage

Where to Stay on Koh Lipe

There are three beaches in Koh Lipe: Pattaya, Sunrise, and Sunset. Sunrise Beach has the best beach and water and decent places to stay. You can also stay in a hotel along Walking Street.

I stayed at the Cabana Lipe Beach Resort on Sunrise Beach, splurging on a Deluxe Partial Seaview Room with Balcony. Staying so close to the beach was worth it!

Stop #5: Ipoh

Malaysia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 9 – 10

Malaysia Itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 15 – 16

After Langkawi or Koh Lipe, you’re Malaysia Itinerary returns to the peninsula for a long but doable trip to Ipoh. Sorry about that. When I was traveling, I couldn’t figure out a better way to organize my route than this.

Day 9 (Day 15) is spent getting from Langkawi to Koh Lipe to Ipoh and Day 10 (Day 16) is spent all day in Ipoh.

You might be tempted to skip Ipoh on your own Malaysia itinerary, but I’m hoping you won’t It’s a medium-sized, not-too-touristy city with lots of history, street art, interesting colonial buildings, cave temples, trendy cafes, and the best food in Malaysia.

Situated in the western province of Perak, Ipoh is the third largest city in Malaysia with a population of over 700,000 people. It was a small village until the late 1800s when large tin deposits were found nearby. 

The Malays didn’t have the capital or labor to mine the tin themselves, so they asked the Chinese in Melaka, Penang, and Singapore for help. The Chinese merchants brought laborers from their ancestral homes in China to do the backbreaking and dangerous work in the mines. These new immigrants soon outnumbered the Malays

However, by 1930 control of the industry shifted from the Chinese to the British, who had the resources to increase tin production and revenue to a point in which Malaysia was producing one-third of the world’s tin.

Today, 44% of the population is Chinese, 35% Malay, and 14% Indian.

Tourists mainly stick to the Old Town, where Ipoh first began. Old Town can be divided into the colonial area in the northwest and Chinatown in the south. I found the former boring and hard to walk around in since the buildings were so spread out and crossing the street felt like I was risking my life. I stuck to the more compact Chinatown area for most of my stay in Ipoh. This is also where you can find the more interesting shophouses, street art, trendy cafes, and local restaurants.  In the suburbs, the Chinese built Buddhist cave temples in the limestone mountains.

If you cross the Kinta River, you’ll be in New Town. In the early 1900s, this was where most of the cities brothels were located. Here is where you’ll find some decent medium-priced hotels.

How to Get to Ipoh

It’s possible to get to Ipoh in one day from either Langkawi or Ko Lipe. Buy your tickets online ahead of time from 12Go.Asia.

From Langkawi – Penang – Ipoh

The boat leaves at 10:30 am from Kuah Jetty and arrives in Penang at 1:35. My boat took thirty minutes longer than scheduled. You can then take a Grab or taxi from the port to the bus station. Traffic can be terrible and the bus station is far from the pier, so give yourself an hour to get to the station.

An alternative to taking the boat is to fly from Langkawi to Penang. The price is pretty reasonable. The flight takes one hour.

From Koh Lipe – Langkawi – Penang – Ipoh

It’s doable to do this in a day, but you arrive in Ipoh late at night. I did it this way.

Buy all your tickets online in advance from 12Go.Asia. You can also purchase your Koh Lipe to Langkawi ticket from the same little building used by Thai Immigration in advance (NOT on the same day as departure!)

Boarding for the boat to Langkawi starts at 10:00 am. The boat departed at 11:00 am. It was supposed to take 1.5 hours, but because the sea was rough that day, it took an hour and 50 minutes. I arrived in Langkawi at 2:00 pm with enough time to grab some lunch.

For the boat to Langkawi, boarding began at 2:30 pm and the boat left at 3:00 pm, arriving at the Swettenham Pier in Penang at 6:00 pm.

I grabbed a taxi (MR43) to the bus station at 6:15, arriving there at 6:50 for a bus that was scheduled to depart at 7:00, but didn’t until 7:10 pm. I arrived in Ipoh at 10:30 pm. The bus station is far away from Old Town, so you’ll need to call a Grab to take you there.

What to Do and See in Ipoh

Here are five things to do on your Malaysia itinerary:

  1. Wander around Chinatown especially Leach Street, checking out the pastel-colored shophouses.
  2. Hunt for great street art by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic – Concubine Lane, Third Concubine Lane, and look for the Marilyn Monroe one near Plan B Café.
  3. Visit  the Buddhist cave temples in the cliffs in the limestone mountains in Ipoh’s suburbs – Perak Tong Temple, Sam Poh Tong Temple, and Kek Long Tong Temple
  4. Check out the train station, City Hall, and the Birch Memorial Statue in the colonial area of Old Town
  5. Wander through Kong Heng Square

What and Where to Eat

  1. Go to Sun Yoon Loong Kopitiam for breakfast and have the Wonton Mee—the best I’ve ever eaten
  2. Have chicken rice with bean sprouts at Lao Wong for lunch (they’re closed for dinner)
  3. White Coffee – The coffee beans are roasted with margarine and often served in condensed milk. It originated in Ipoh. It’s got more of a caramelized taste.
  4. Try an iceball at Bits & Bobs in Kong Heng Square.
  5. Check out the trendy Plan B for a drink or dinner (try the Passion Fruit fizzy drink with ice cream. So good!)

Where to Stay in Ipoh

Unlike Penang and Melaka, Ipoh doesn’t have many heritage hotels.

After splurging earlier in my trip, I stayed in a dorm room at the De Café and Rest House for about US$9 per night. Right smack dab in the center of Old Town, I couldn’t have asked for better-located accommodations. Its back entrance is off of Third Concubine Road. Spotless rooms and friendly staff.

If you don’t like hostels, check out the French Hotel in New Town or Hotel M, a ten-minute walk from Old Town.

Stop #6: Cameron Highlands

Malaysia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 11 – 12

Malaysia itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 17 – 18

The next stop on your Malaysia itinerary is the Cameron Highlands, located two hours and forty-five minutes by bus from Ipoh and five hours from Kuala Lumpur.

The area covers 718 square kilometers and is 800 to 1600 meters above sea level, making it a lot cooler than the rest of Malaysia. There are a few small towns scattered along windy roads that weave through the Highlands. The main town, Tanah Rata, makes for a convenient base as it has the area’s only bus station and several banks, hotels, hostels, tour companies, and restaurants. Brinchang is another town with a large market and a museum, the Time Tunnel, that you won’t be too sad to miss.

The beautiful and verdant area is famous for tea plantations, vegetable farms, and cool weather. Being at such a high elevation, this was where the British went to escape from the heat and humidity of the rest of Malaysia during colonial times. They built houses in the Tudor style and churches to make it resemble England. You’ll find places serving British scones.

The two highlights of a stay in the Cameron Highlands are visiting a tea plantation and doing some hiking

I highly recommend reading The Garden of Evening Mists to get a better understanding of the area. 

How to Get to the Cameron Highlands

I bought my bus ticket to the Cameron Highlands online. When buying your ticket, enter the destination as Cameron Highlands rather than Tanah Rata. You’ll get more results that way.

My bus left from Amanjaya Bus station in Ipoh and took two hours and forty-five minutes to get to Tanah Rata.

When the bus got to the Highlands (you’ll know it’s the Highlands because the road will get windy and hilly and you’ll see lots of farms and greenhouses), the bus stopped several times along the side of the road to let passengers off. I took the bus all the way to the bus station in Tanah Rata, but the driver said that he could have dropped me off in front of my hotel. So, if you’re taking the same route, tell your bus driver what hotel you’re going and maybe you can get dropped off close your hotel.

Luckily, my hostel was a short walk from the station. However, with a heavy backpack and no sidewalk, walking along a busy road was a pain.

Things to Do in the Cameron Highlands

  1. Tea plantations – You can hike to one, take a taxi to it, or visit one as part of a half-day tour. Hire a driver to take you out to photograph them at sunrise or sunset.
  2. Hiking – The feasibility and safety of the trails vary from season to season, so ask at your guesthouse for the latest information. The hikes are NOT easy. Many of them are along unmaintained and unmarked paths. I did trails #10 and #6. I’m not a skilled hiker and I suffer from a torn cartilage in the knee and plantar fasciitis, so the hikes were challenging. My advice is to not hike alone especially if you don’t have a good GPS on your phone.
  3. The Mossy Forest – Located on the summit of Gunung Brichang, the Mossy Forest is a primeval forest covered in moss and lichen and with stunning views of the Highlands. When I visited the forest, the facilities were under construction, so we had to walk through mud and climb over tree trunks. Now I think you can only tour the forest along a boardwalk.
  4. Steamboat – If you’re traveling in a group or can get a group of travelers together, try Steamboat—seafood hot pot popular with locals.

Things you Can Definitely Skip:

  1. Butterfly Farm
  2. Strawberry farm
  3. Cactus nursery
  4. Market Square
  5. Time Tunnel
  6. Buddhist temple

What to Eat and Drink in the Cameron Highlands

  • Indian food
  • Steamboat
  • Strawberries
  • Tea

Where to Stay in the Cameron Highlands

I stayed at the Sleepbox Hotel, a hostel close to the bus station. The manager of the hotel was so nice and helpful person. But, the bathrooms and shower weren’t the most convenient. If I ever returned to the Highlands, I wouldn’t stay here.

The other issue I had with the place was the tour that they recommend you take with this company, Hill Top Tours. Horrible tour guide!  Unfriendly and uncommunicative.

Stop #7: Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 13 – 14

Malaysia Itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 19 – 21

The last stop on your Malaysia Itinerary is Kuala Lumpur. It’s a crowded, bustling, multi-cultural city. I loved it!

I had heard so many bad things about KL before visiting that I wasn’t looking forward to it. Noisy. Polluted. Horrid traffic. Streets that are difficult to cross. Hello? Welcome to Asia, people! Yes, yes, and yes. It is all that. But… if you make KL the LAST stop in your Malaysia itinerary, I think you’ll appreciate its diversity and energy and realize what an amazing place it is. If you attempt to see it at the start of your trip, you might struggle with being not only in a new culture but also in a huge city.

Kuala Lumpur is a relatively new city. It started out as a few houses and shops along a river. But then tin was discovered nearby and miners from China moved in to extract the tin, thus turning it into a town. As the mining became more lucrative, the settlement grew.

When the British took over the administration of all of Malaysia, the head administrator of KL, Frank Swettenham, improved the city by widening and cleaning up the streets and requiring that all structures be made of brick and tile to prevent fires. Like they did in Singapore, Penang, and Melaka, the British added five-foot ways (the covered sidewalks).

When rubber was found in the area in the early 1900s, foreign investors moved in and Kuala Lumpur continued to grow and prosper.

Today you’ll find a few grand colonial buildings, majestic mosques, slick shopping malls, and soaring skyscrapers. Like all cities in Malaysia, there’s a Chinatown, a Little India, and even a Malay Kampong.

Two days should be enough time to get a taste of the city. However, if you have more time, stay for three or four days. Check out this 4-day itinerary for Kuala Lumpur. 

How to Get to Kuala Lumpur

There’s no train, so your best bet is by bus. The road twists and turns as it makes its way down from the Highlands to a lower elevation. I was pretty satisfied with the responsible driving both into and out of the area.

The bus dropped everyone off at KL Sentral, a confusing bus station whose “exits” are harder to find than the Holy Grail. Like a lot of things in KL, the station is connected to a shopping mall. I have a theory that Malaysia makes finding shopping mall exits hard just so you’ll spend more time in them and thus spend more money.

You can get to Chinatown by subway. However, taking a Grab is so much easier.

What to See and Do in Kuala Lumpur

Here are 11 things you can do on your Malaysia itinerary:

  1. Batu Caves – Plan your trip well! The train to Batu Caves isn’t THAT frequent (every 1.5 hours) and you might arrive at your platform only to find that the next one doesn’t leave for another hour and a half. You then have two choices: wait for another train on the underground tracks or forfeit your ticket and come up for air.
  2. Wander around the Colonial District – Padang, Masjid Jamek mosque, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the Royal Senagor Club.
  3. Jalan Alor Street night market – great seafood and street food but only in the evenings; during the day it’s pretty dead
  4. Kampung Baru – A Kampong is a Malay traditional village.  If you stay at Backhome KL, you can sign up for a tour.
  5. Menara KL Towers  – Go here to get views of Petronas Towers
  6. The Islamic Art Museum – An excellent museum
  7. National Museum– Learn about Malaysia’s history.
  8. Chinatown – It’s lively and filled with good street food, but by this point in your Malaysia itinerary, you’ve already seen a Chinatown umpteen times; skipping it will not hurt.
  9. Little India – It’s ok, but after 12 days in Malaysia, you’ve probably already seen tons of Indian neighborhoods.
  10. Central Market – Meh. Filled with boring souvenir stalls.
  11. Bukit Bintang area – You can walk around the fancy shopping malls if that’s your thing or if you need some place cool.

Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur

You’ve got lots of decent choices for accommodations in KL. I’ve heard that you can find some good Airbnb options here. But as a solo traveler, I don’t enjoy being so isolated and feel safer and less lonely in a hotel or hostel than in an Airbnb.

Because I splurged on accommodations in Melaka, Penang, Langkawi, and Koh Lipe, I cut back on my expenses in Ipoh, Cameron Highlands, and now KL. Luckily, the hostel in KL, Backhome KL, is one of the more stylish and cleaner ones I’ve stayed at. They have private rooms as well as dorm rooms. Backhome KL has a nice kitchen, lounges, and outdoor area.

When is the best time to Visit Malaysia

Malaysian isn’t a large country, but its weather patterns vary from region to region depending on the season. While it’s dry in one area, it’s wet in another, so seeing the whole country in one trip can be a challenge.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are two seasons in Malaysia: the rainy season and the rainier season. When I went in December, I was expecting no rain on the west coast, but there was a short rain shower every day I was in Penang, Ipoh, and Melaka.

The temperature also doesn’t vary from season to season. It’s hot! Between 24 to 32 Celsius (75 to 92 Fahrenheit).

Penang, Langkawi, and Melaka

The driest months in Penang and Melaka are between December and March. The rainiest months are from September to November. July to August aren’t as bad as the following three months.

Swimmers will see more jellyfish in the waters off of Langkawi from May to October.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur’s driest months are June to August. From October to December and especially from March to May, KL gets more rain.

Cameron Highlands and Ipoh

The dryer months are February to August with February and July being the driest. The wettest months are September to January.

Taman Negara Rainforest

The driest months are from February to October. During the wettest months from November to January, much of the part is inaccessible due to flooding.

East Coast (Perhentian Islands and Tioman Islands)

The Perhentian islands get drenched during November and December, making them inaccessible. The rest of the year is much better, especially from June to August.

The Tioman Islands also get hit by the monsoons from November to January, which also makes it difficult to reach the islands. The rest of the year is much drier.


This area of Malaysia is driest from January to April and wettest from June through November.


It’s driest from July to August and wettest from November to February.

As you can see, the different weather patterns make planning your Malaysia itinerary challenging. My advice is to either see the whole country from June to August or visit the west coast on one trip and the east coast and Sawarak, Sabah, and Borneo on another.

Resources for Traveling in Malaysia

Here are some of my favorite resources for planning a trip to Malaysia:

Final Thoughts

Are you planning on visiting Malaysia soon? What are you most interested in visiting? Or have you been to Malaysia? Did I miss anything in this Malaysia itinerary of 2 weeks and 3 weeks?

Let me know!

Leave your questions or comments in the comment section. I’d be more than happy to answer them!

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George Town Penang at sunset
Malaysian food


  1. Malaysia is one of my favourite destinations. There’s a few places here that I’ll have to go on my next trip.

    • Hi Julie! I’m glad you had a chance to visit Malaysia. I hope you have a chance to return and see more of the country.

  2. Such a detailed and informative post! You really made me want to go and try out the itinerary, to explore all the places you’ve brought to life here!

    • Thanks, Coralie! I hope you have a chance to visit Malaysia soon!

  3. What an exhaustive itinerary. I will follow the same if I spend a two week holiday in Malaysia. For 1 week I will probably stick tp Penang and Langkawi. Thanks for the detailed guide.

    • Thanks, Sinjana! If I had just a week, I’d probably also stick to Penang and Langkawi, too.

  4. Spending all of October in Malaysia. This is really great information. Thanks for all the tips.

    • Thanks, Laureen! I hope you enjoy Malaysia!

  5. An excellent article, Julie. I like how you include places NOT worth visiting too! I wish more travel writers would do that. I’ve shared this on our Facebook page. The only point on which I would take issue with you is whether Malaysia has the friendliest people in Asia. From my experience I would say that Malaysia is the second most friendly nation. The Philippines takes the top spot by a mile. I lived in Malaysia for 13 years and in the Philippines for nearly as long, so my observation is made from the perspective of a resident rather than a tourist.

    • Hi David, Thank you! You’re so lucky to have lived in Malaysia and the Philippines for so long! I haven’t been to the Philippines yet (will be going next year!) except for the Manila airport, so I can’t say who’s friendlier. But I can surmise from the Filipinos I’ve met around the world that they are as friendly if not more so than the people of Malaysia.

  6. We would probably want to stay at least 3 weeks on a trip to Malaysia. Adding Thai Island and Ko Lipe sounds like a good plan. Good to know what time of year is best to visit. In each stop you have identified some great places to see. I am sure one trip won’t be enough. I love the mix of local cities and beach destinations to mix up our trip. And the Cameron Highlands look like nothing I would expect.

  7. Dear friend Superb guide you covered almost everything a traveler should look into. I’ve been thinking lately that I would love to visit
    I am glad to read your blog about your travel experience very interesting thanks.
    Your personal experiences and vivid descriptions truly bring the city to life, making me feel like I’m right there with you on this incredible journey. Your blog is a wonderful source of inspiration for fellow adventurers looking to explore the magic of.
    Keep sharing your stories and insights – they’re a delight to read! and i really wondering about your knowledge..!!!
    Best regards
    Santhosh Raghavan Cab in Kerala

    • You’re so kind! Thank you!


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About the Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

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