Often overlooked in favour of it’s neighbour Thailand, Malaysia actually has a lot to offer. With it’s blend of cultures it offers plenty to interest travellers, from temples to food and much more. There is plenty of history here, with the spice trade and European colonial powers playing a big part. It’s also home to the oldest rainforest in the world which is a great place to explore. This Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary shows you what you can explore during 2 weeks in the country.
When talking about Malaysia the country is generally divided into 2 parts. the Peninsular and Borneo. As specified in the name this Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary covers the former. Its designed to take around 2 weeks to complete, and is focused on exploration.
This Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary is 14 days long and includes the following the stops:
- Kuala Lumpur – 4 nights
- Taman Negara – 3 nights
- Cameron Highlands – 2 nights
- Penang – 3 nights
- Melaka – 2 nights
I have also included Ipoh as an optional stop on the route between the Cameron Highlands and Penang.
This Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary doesn’t include the Perhentian islands, but it should be said that they are a popular stop for backpackers travelling the region. If you want to visit you can take a bus there from Taman Negara or from KL. It’s also worth noting that because of the Eastern Monson they are only really an option from March until October.
Taman Negera is also heavily effected by the rain. Between October and January you will find options limited in the park. It is best to visit at another time. The rest of the places listed can be visited during ‘rainy’ season without too much disruption.
I have included some detail about transportation in this Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary. Look out for the italics to understand how to get from place to place. The 2 main methods are either bus or mini van. Malaysia does have a railway system too, though it doesn’t really fit with this route. You can check out the stops here.
Kuala Lumpur – 4 nights
The Highlights Of KL:
- Petronas Twin Towers
- Batu Caves
- Islamic Art Museum
- KL Tower
- China Town and Little India
Kuala Lumpur (KL) can often be overlooked by those backpacking the Southeast Asia region but there really is a wealth of things to see here. Many people dash on through but invest some time and you can really enjoy what this city has to offer.
KL has a well developed and cheap transit system. Therefore you can get pretty much anywhere by rail/metro. If you have arrived in the city by plane you can also take a shuttle bus to the centre. It drops off at KL Sentral where you can transfer to the Rapid Transit system.
The Big Attractions
The Petronas Twin Towers and the Batu Caves tend to get most of the attention in KL and are obvious starting points to explore when following this Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary.
The towers are the tallest twin towers in the world. They are very impressive and certainly photogenic. At night time they are lit up and you can see a fountain water show in the area.
The Batu Caves are huge Hindu Caves on the outskirts of KL. They feature an impressive staircase and a huge statue as well as Hindu imagery. And many monkeys who make the walk up to the temple interesting to say the least.
China Town is popular here too, though it’s main street is really a glorified shopping centre. For me the attractions are it’s temples. Of particular interest is Sri Mahamariamman Temple. It is the oldest Hindu temple in the city and found on the edge of China town. It’s tower is the most noticeable here. Along the road is Guan Di Temple, which is a Taoist place of worship.
Little India is also a fantastic place to find good food in KL. There are plenty of vegetarian and non-vegetarian restaurants around here.
Exploring The City Further
The Islamic Art Museum has a wonderful collection of Islamic artwork and artefacts. These have been gathered from across the Islamic world. Its worth investigate a few hours to walk around and admire everything on display here. Its also next to the Botanical Gardens which are pleasant for a walk if the weather is good.
The Masjid Jamek Mosque is open to visitors and you can walk around the complex and have a look inside. It has some beautiful architecture. It’s worth heading to the bridge on Lenoh Pasar Besar to get a view of the temple afterwards too.
The KL Tower offers some great views over the city. It’s quite pricey but worth a visit to look over Kuala Lumpur and get some pics! I wouldn’t say it was essential but it’s definitely intretsing to check out if you like city views.
Kuala Lumpur has some huge shopping malls with a huge range of goods. You can find many global brands here as well as local ones. Importantly for backpackers they also have cheap food halls that offer surprisingly good quality meals. Try KL Sentral and Suria KLCC in particular.
Taman Negara (Kuala Tahan) – 3 nights
- Canopy Walkway
- Night Safari
Taman Negara is Malaysian for ‘National Park’. In particular in this instance the term is used for the largest national park in the county, which also happens to be the oldest rainforest in the world. Its 130 Million years old and a great place to visit and explore. The best way to enter the rainforest is by boat from Kuala Tembeling. This gives you a good opportunity to enjoy the river scenery and spot wildlife just as water buffalo, monkeys and birds. Upon arriving in Kuala Tahan you will find that the restaurants are located floating on the river. The accommodation is further up the hill and is fairly spread out. If you need a hostel then I recommend Agosto Taman Negara Hostel which is a nice place with friendly staff and well priced dorm beds. Wild Lodge Taman Negara is another good hostel nearby.
Exploring the rainforest
A great activity for your first evening here is to join a ‘Night Safari’. A guide will take you through some of the forest around the national park entrance area. Some of the creatures you can spot includes scorpions, spiders, stick insects and more. There really is a whole host of things that come out at night and it’s really interesting to see them all.
Generally there are 2 popular trek options that offered in Kuala Tahan. These being a day trek of a 2 day, 1 night trek with a stay in a cave. Weigh up the options and make your decision when you are there. The trek takes you though the forest and you can learn from your guide about the area. Some of the guides have great stories, ask them about tigers and aboriginals!
Another popular activity here is to walk one of the world’s longest canopy walkways. You don’t need a guide to reach here, just follow the signposted directions. Thought its always worth taking a photo of the map at the Park HQ just in case too.
Details to know:
To get to Kuala Tembeling book a mini van in Kuala Lumpur. There are multiple tour booking agencies that offer it. Your ticket shoudl include the boat ride. Check with your accommodation if there is one they partner with or recommend. Han Travel is the largest and most visible. Be aware that in Kuala Tembelign they will try to sell you a lot of tours and so forth. There is no need to book anything now it’s cheaper to do it in Kuala Tahan.
Additionally in Kuala Tembeling you will need to purchase a park entrance permit. You will also need to purchase a camera pass for each device you plan to tale photos with.
Finally it’s important to note that thee are no ATM’s in Kuala Tahan. Make sure you take out money in Kuala Lumpur before you go. Normally the mini van drivers will stop to give you the opportunity. But having personally witnessed people have problems with their card (when my van stopped) I think its better to plan ahead.
Cameron Highlands – 2 nights
The main activities:
- Tea Plantations
- Viewpoint and Mossy Forest
The Cameron Highlands are generally a much cooler than the rest of Peninsular Malaysia. They therefore were a popular retreat for the British Colonials who were stationed in the country. The colonial influence is plain to see across the highlands area and the name itself comes from William Cameron. He was a British colonial government surveyor and found the highlands in 1885. Tanah Rata is the main town here and where most travellers base themselves. It has plenty of accommodation options and many restaurants covering several different food styles.
The Cameron Highlands are famous for tea plantations and they do not disappoint. The most impressive is the Boh Tea Estate. The Bharat Tea Estate is well worth a stop too. At both of these as well as photo opportunities you find areas to sit and drink tea and have a snack.
If you head to the top of Gunung Brinchang you can get views over the surrounding area. Its the highest mountain in the highlands and easily reached by taxi. There are hiking routes here too. You can also find the Mossy Forest here. This natural environment is interesting for how it has formed in the highlands due to the misty conditions here. There are walking routes though it and its easily navigated.
Take a mini bus from Taman Negara to get to the Cameron Highlands. It will likely stop it Jerantut on the way. Book through one of the agents in Kuaka Tahan. From Tanah Rata take a bus to Penang (or Ipoh should you decide to add it onto this Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary). This will go from the town’s bus station, though you can usually book in advance through your accommodation.
Optional – Stop at Ipoh
Whilst it hasn’t been included as main stop on this Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary, if you have the time Ipoh is worth checking out. It’s between the Cameron Highland and Penang and you would only need a night or two here. The main attractions are it’s street art and food. It’s particularly famous for the latter. The Kek Lok Tong cave temple is a popular excursion too.
Penang – 3 to 4 nights
Exploring the island:
- Street Art
- National Park
The island of Penang is found on the west coast of Malaysia. The main city on Penang is George Town, a great city to explore. Its full of culture, religion and great food. It was historically part of the British settlements in the area and was an important centre of trade. This is how so many Chinese and Indians came to to the city, they came to trade or work for the British. George Town was in fact the first British settlement in Southeast Asia. You can visit Fort Cornwallis which was built by the British East Indian Company on the spot where they first went ashore on the island.
Exploring George Town
This city is full of street art and spending a day wandering around it’s streets can be a lot of fun. Much of the most famous work was commissioned in 2012 and painted by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. Its easy to pick up a map in the city and follow trails to find his artwork and other notable works too. There are plenty of other pieces around too, keep your eyes open as you explore. As well as the pieces around the centre it’s worth checking out the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre. This old bus station has been transformed into an art gallery.
Whilst spotting street art check out some of George Town’s temple’s. The city has a large Chinese community and there are several Chinese temples around. The ‘Clan Jetty’s’ are well worth a visit too. There were 7 originally, built and owned by different Chinese clans who had moved to George Town in the 19th century. Unfortunately 1 burned down so there are only 6 now. Chew Jetty is the most visited for it has a small floating village with shops and a temple. Tan Jetty is also nice to visit too for it’s scenic views.
The city also has a Little India and there are a few Hindu temples. Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple on the island, having been built in 1833. Little India is also a great place to browse Indian shops and market stalls.
As well as street art the city is famous for it’s food. There are many great quality restaurants and cafes spread out across the city. I’ve listed 5 of my favourite here (click link to open post).
Heading to other parts of Penang
Kek Lok Si is around 45 minutes to to hour’s bus ride from the city. This huge Buddhist temple complex looks out towards George Town. In my opinion it is one of Southeast Asia’s best temples. There is a lot to explore here and it’s interesting for how it blends imagery and tradition from different branches of Buddhism and Chinese tradition. Its worth arriving early and spending at least a couple of hours here.
The North West of the island of Penang is home to it’s National Park. It can also easily be reached by bus from George Town. Here you can trek through the forest to reach beaches on the other side. The 2 nost note worthy beaches are Keracut beach where you can find a turtle sanctuary. and Monkey beach, which has several beach restaurants. The latter also has a trail up a lighthouse which gives good views over the area. Both beaches are in fact home to tribes of moneys who roam the area.
When I visited I teamed up with 2 others who had the same plans and we booked a boat at the park entrance for the day, There are tour agencies there offering this service. It picked us up at an arranged time from Keracut beach and took us to Money beach. We then explored there before the boat took us back to dock near to the park entrance. I really recommend booking a boat like this if you are able to do so. It was good way to see plenty of the national park. I advise you set aside a day for exploring the park as there is a lot of ground to cover.
The journey from Penang to Melaka is a long one, it’s worth considering doing it over night. There are night buses you can find at the Komtar bus station in George Town.
Melaka – 2 nights
Highlights in the city:
- Street Art
Also known as Malacca, this area has long been of strategic importance in the region. It’s location has been vital to the trade routes that pass through the Strait of Malacca. As a result it was often fought over by regional and European colonial powers. of the latter it was first controlled by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British Empire.
Historical and Religious Sites
For European Conical history it’s worth heading to Saint Paul’s Church which was built by the Portuguese. It was late controlled by the Dutch and there are several Dutch tombstones on display. There are ruins of an old Portuguese forts nearby. As well as museum about Malaysian history which outside features armoured cars used in ‘the emergency’. This is where the government and British colonial forces fought against communist insurgents.
One of the most interesting museums in the city is the Baba and Nyonya Peranakan museum. It explains the history of the people it is named for. these are the descents of Chinese merchants who moved to the British Straights Settlements such as Melaka and Penang for trade. They married local people and subsequently over time the community formed.
Melaka is also home to the oldest functioning Chinese temple in Malaysia. Cheng Hoon Teng Temple follows and teaches Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. This is under the idea of the ‘three teachings’ in Chinese philosophy where all three are considered to be in harmony. Additionally on the same street you can find Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Hindu Temple and the Kampung Kling Mosque. The street is actually nicknamed ‘Harmony Street’ for the fact all these religions live side by side here.
Street Art and the rest
As with George Town, Melaka is also full of fantastic street art. The riverside in particular is a good area for this, though look around the city and you can find artwork ins several areas.
Dutch Square is the cities tourist hub. It’s buildings (including a Church and clock tower) are made from red brick/painted red so it stands out.
Melaka is home to one of the oldest Chinese Graveyards outside of China. Named ‘Bukit Cina’ is located on a hillside and originally dates from the 15th century. You can find a memorial here to the Chinese citizens who died during the Japanese occupation during World War 2.
It doesn’t take long to get back to Kuala Lumpur from Melaka should you have a flight elsewhere. Whether your heading home or elsewhere there are plenty of connections. Likewise Singapore is a huge transit hub and a great place to explore for a few days should you have the time.
If you are heading to Singapore you can take a bus directly there from Melaka. You pass through the border city of Joho Baruh which itself is a good place for a night if you want to break up the journey. There aren’t that many attractions here but it’s interesting to see how the locals go about their daily lives. If you do stay there be sure to check out the Old Chinese Temple. Its a Taoist temple dating from the 1870s and has some interesting artwork.
If you want to cross into Thailand by land there are several border crossings. However only certain crossings are open to non-Thai/Malaysian citizens, therefore you’ll need to verify your crossing point first. Consequently its probably best to see what the travel agencies offer from Kuala Lumpur or Penang. You could also go by boat by crossing from the island of Langkawi, in fact this might be preferential given travel warnings of political violence in Thailand’s south provinces.
This concludes my 2 week Peninsular Malaysia Itinerary. I hope it helps you plan your own trip to this awesome country!
The featured image for this post is of street art found in George Town. I do not know who the artist is.
If your a vegetarian you can also check out my Malaysia Vegetarian Food Guide to help plan your trip.
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