Often overlooked by travelers, Malaysia is truly one of the most underrated countries of South East Asia. It is well known for the impressive scenery of beautiful Borneo. But Malaysia has a lot more to offer. Between the fantastic food, the rich culture, stunning religious sites, and incredible diving spots, you’ll love traveling around Malaysia.
This marvelous country is full of surprises, and trust me, you’re in for an epic adventure. Whether you want to go diving, jungle trekking, or simply relax at the beach, Malaysia is worth a visit. It was hard to choose the best places to visit because this country is truly amazing. But below, I’ve listed 14 iconic places to visit in Malaysia. Don’t miss these gems!
Ipoh is known as the gateway to the Cameron Highlands. But Ipoh is more than that. It’s one of the hippest destinations of Southeast Asia and the capital of Perak.
Ipoh is famous for its Buddhist temple Sam Poh Tong, built in a limestone cave and Kellie’s Castle, a beautiful mansion built by a Scottish planter. More than that, Ipoh is also a great destination if you like hip cafes, cabarets, street art, and delicious street food.
A stop in Ipoh is a must on your way to the Cameron Highlands. You’ll love this stunning colorful city, and enjoy one of the many amazing restaurants serving traditional Malaysian food.
2. Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian islands are one of the most popular beach destinations in Malaysia. The two main islands are Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, and they are very different, so choose wisely.
I personally stayed on Perhentian Cecil (the small island) and it’s the perfect spot for those looking for a relaxing beach vacation. Whether you want to snorkel, dive, jungle trek or simply laze on a white sandy beach, Perhentian Kecil has everything you need.
The Perhentian islands are the best spot in Malaysia to explore underwater life. Scuba Diving is cheap, the coral is stunning, and you are almost guaranteed to see turtles.
Both islands are easily accessible by boat from the mainland. Note that the islands are closed to tourists during monsoon season (October to March) so make sure you check the dates before you go!
3. Taman Negara
Taman Negara is one of Malaysia’s most popular national parks. Spread out over 3 states, Taman Negara is huge and easily accessible from the main big cities. Taman Nagara is also said to be over 130 million years old, making it the oldest primary rainforest in the world.
The park is home to many animals, including tigers, monkeys, and birds. If you’re looking for the perfect jungle experience in Malaysia, Taman Negara is where you should go.
There are many activities to do in the park, like jungle trekking, night walks, and river cruises. One of the most popular activities is the canopy walkway, one of the longest in the world. It’s a must do when you go to Taman Negara. From the suspension bridge built 40 meters above ground level, you can enjoy scenic views of this stunning fauna and flora populating the rainforest.
Malacca, one of the most popular cities in Malaysia, is a wonderful mix of modern living and heritage culture. Home to well-preserved churches like St Paul’s and Christ Church, you can discover Malacca’s colonial past throughout the city.
Visit Jonker street, the heart, and soul of Malacca. This colorful street is the perfect place to grab a bite, visit antic shops and stroll around the night market.
Malacca is also home to many interesting museums, my favorite one being Baba & Nyonya. This fantastic place is stunning and retraces the Peranakan history and culture.
Malacca is a UNESCO world heritage city, so needless to say it should definitely be on your bucket list. This small town is easily accessible from Kuala Lumpur and other hot spots of Malaysia.
5. Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands is a popular tourist destination in Malaysia. Located only 20km east of Ipoh, the Cameron Highlands are easily accessible by bus or car. Famous for their tea tree plantations, strawberry farms and hiking trails, the highlands are a must-see in Malaysia.
The Cameron Highlands were developed during the British colonial period and are named after the British explorer Sir William Cameron. Because of their location, the Cameron Highlands are much cooler than the rest of Malaysia, making them the perfect spot for cultivating tea.
The Cameron Highlands is also the only area in Malaysia where you’ll find strawberry farms. You can pick them yourself, and try the fabulous Malaysian berries. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll love the mossy forest and its many trails. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxing afternoon in nature! Kids will love the butterfly farm, where you can see hundreds of beautiful butterflies flying around. And of course, don’t forget to visit one of the many tea tree farms to try some tea, and admire the green rolling hills.
6. Kuala Lumpur
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Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia’s cosmopolitan capital, is a bustling city with attractions such as modern skyscrapers, clean and quiet parks, historical and religious sights, and a diverse food culture that makes it the perfect city for a stop-over or short stay.
The diverse architecture begins with the modern Petronis Towers and KL Tower that dominate the skyline. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the Islamic Art Museum, the Moorish style Jamek Mosque with its striking white domes, and the Batu Caves, with its temples and Hindu Shrines.
KL is also home to many attractive green spaces, such as the centrally located and beautiful KLCC Park, with its designer water features and sculptures, to the sprawling Tun Abdul Heritage Park (Lake Gardens), that houses, amongst other attractions, the Perdana Botanical Gardens, the KL Bird Park, and the KL Butterfly Park.
The food scene in KL is rich and one that can hold its own against the well-known culinary hotspot of Penang. There are modern restaurants sitting alongside hawker style centers, a Little India and a Chinatown, as well as perhaps the epicenter of street food in Malaysia, Jalan Alor, where it is possible to eat your way through the entire Malaysian cuisine.
And if a stay in KL wouldn’t be complete without a spot of shopping, then a visit to one of the modern and contemporary shopping malls, such as the Pavilion KL Shopping center, would be in order. Alternatively, there are several busy flea markets to explore including the ever popular Petaling Street, in the city’s Chinatown.
7. Kapas Island
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Kapas Island, or Pulau Kapas, is an island in Kuala Terengganu. Its name literally translates to “cotton island”, which refers to its white-sand beaches.
Kapas Island is a less-crowded attraction in Malaysia. It is overshadowed by the more popular Perhentian Islands and other beaches in this area. Kapas Island mainly attracts locals from nearby places and foreign backpackers who love to stay in a simple, quiet beach for days. For its simplicity and relatively undisturbed beauty, some refer to it as the most beautiful island in the country.
The best thing to do in Kapas Island is to beach bum and relax. Kapas Island has that kind of charm that makes you want to stay for days or weeks. You can also walk the island from end to end and discover all the 5-6 coves along the path. Other things you can do include snorkeling or going on a day trip to the nearby Gem Island.
Kapas Island is easily accessible via land or air travel. You only need to take a flight or bus to Kuala Terengganu and then a cab to Marang Jetty where there are boats headed to Kapas Island several times a day.
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Located on the west coast of Malaysia, Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands surrounded by beautiful turquoise sea. But if you visit, you will most likely end up on the main island.
There are so many things to do in Langkawi that you could easily spend a week here, or even longer. One of the best things to do is to go island hopping on a tour through the Kilim Geoforest Park, a great way to explore the park and to observe wildlife. If you are lucky you may even spot an eagle catching fish!
Another great attraction in Langkawi is the Sky Bridge and the Cable Car. It’s been open since 2015, and it’s a curved bridge suspended 660 meters above sea level. As you can imagine, the views from up there are pretty spectacular, with the mountains and sea around you and the jungle below. There is a glass section that lets you look down right under your feet, so it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. The cable car to get up to the bridge is an attraction in itself. It is one of the steepest in the world, and it really looks like it defies the laws of physics. And if you are brave enough, pick a glass bottom gondola and see the jungle go by below your feet!
For a bit of relaxation, Langkawi has some spectacular beaches, with my favorite being Sandy Skulls Beach in the north of the island. It’s a bit away from everything and has no facilities so bring along snacks and plenty of water.
9. Port Dickson
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Port Dickson is located about 90 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur and close to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It is a popular destination thanks to a long coastline of beaches and its convenient location from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and the airport. It makes for a perfect alternative to Kuala Lumpur on a Malaysia stopover or a place for some rest and relaxation on a longer Malaysian adventure.
My favorite part of Port Dickson is the relatively affordable luxury accommodation. If you love the idea of an over-water pool villa, this is the place to come. There are many options with some resorts taking it to the next level. You can even get over-water pool villas with their own private pools.
If you get sick of swimming in a pool over the sea, there are plenty of small attractions to keep you occupied in Port Dickson along with the many beaches. You can visit the Army Museum or an Ostrich Farm or go to temples. You can also take a jungle hike and then cool down at a water park. Its close proximity to Kuala Lumpur means you can also day trip here or Melaka. We have also visited the big theme park, Sunway Lagoon, from Port Dickson.
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Food, street art, and curious architecture characterize Kuching, a vibrant city that showcases indigenous Iban culture and acts as a departure point for adventures in Malaysian Borneo.
The biggest city in the semi-autonomous state of Sarawak, Kuching is located in the north-western corner of the island of Borneo. Like elsewhere in Malaysia, Kuching offers a fascinating mix of Indian, Chinese, Malay and Nyonya influences—overlaid with indigenous Iban culture. Tourists can spend a night in a traditional longhouse, or purchase Iban handicrafts such as rattan baskets from Kuching’s waterfront market. The Tun Jugah Collection houses a private collection of textiles, antiques and historic objects related to Iban culture and is my favorite museum in Kuching.
Set on the Sarawak River, Kuching features a historic old town that blends colonial buildings with Chinese shophouses, and a sparkling promenade. My favorite parts of the city are Little India, with its vibrantly painted buildings, and the spice bazaars along Mosque Lane.
A collection of murals by Ernest Zacharevic—the same artist responsible for the street art in Penang and Ipoh—decorate Kuching’s crumbling buildings. My favorite piece, which depicts a wheelbarrow full of baby orang-utans, is inspired by the area’s most famous primate. There are a couple of orang-utan sanctuaries very close to Kuching, including the Semenggoh Nature Reserve.
Another highlight of Kuching is the food. Choon Hui Cafe, a local institution, specializes in two of Kuching’s best dishes: Popiah rolls and prawn laksa.
11. Mabul Island
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Mabul Island is a small island covered in palm trees that sits just off the coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. It’s known as one of the best diving sites in the world for macro diving or muck diving.
Macro diving is diving that focuses not on the big marine life, like sharks or rays, but instead on smaller but no less fascinating creatures. “Muck diving” refers to diving in places where the ocean floor is covered with muddy sediment, known as “muck”. While the muck does hamper visibility, it creates a habitat for pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs and other unusual marine life.
Snorkeling is also an option if you prefer not to mess with oxygen tanks. There’s good snorkeling from the beach near the Mabul Divers resort. It’s also possible to snorkel over the coral reef, but you’ll need to hire a boat to get there.
And you can also just relax on the sandy beach under one of the island’s many palm trees. You can easily reach any point on the island by foot. Which is lucky, because there are no roads or cars here anyway.
While there are several resorts on Mabul that cater to foreigners, there’s also a sizeable local village, with houses built on stilts over the water. I recommend staying at a homestay in the village so that you can experience local life and taste authentic Malaysian food.
12. George Town
George Town is the second largest city in Malaysia and sits on the island of Penang. There are two main reasons to visit George Town – the food and street art! Whenever I travel to new cities, I love learning about local street art. George Town is my favorite place in the world for street art since it is interactive and the perfect way to discover the city. I visited random alleyways that I would never think about going to, but since there was street art there, I had the incentive to explore more.
Download Maps.me and go on a self-guided scavenger hunt to find street art hidden all over the city. The street art is different in George Town versus other cities because it is interactive. For example one of the most famous pictures is a boy riding a bicycle. When you visit this place, there is a bicycle seat so you can take a picture and it looks like you are riding the bike and becoming one with the street art.
The second reason why George Town rocks is because of the diverse cuisine. The streets are lined with food cart vendors, and it’s a delight to taste test the different places. George Town is the gastronomical capital of Malaysia.
13. Sipadan Island
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Sipadan island in Borneo, Malaysia is the best place to dive in Malaysia it was even praised by famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau as one of the most beautiful reefs to dive in the world. Diving at Sipadan, there is a massive coral wall that drops 300m into the deep only a couple of meters from the shore, strong currents flowing here creates an amazing wall dive.
This is one of the most biodiverse dive sites and tops any aquarium, the most common sites are huge green turtles, big schools of massive bump head parrot fish, thousands of trevallies and reef sharks hunting in the area.
Barracuda point is the main attraction here where massive schools of barracuda swimming around the island can often be seen if you are lucky these fish spiral around you to form a large ‘barracuda tornado’. Reef hooks are popular here, a line with a handle on one end and a big, strong hook on the other. You hook it somewhere rocky on the reef, grab onto the handle and hang in the current watching pelagic species swim by!
The Malaysian government chose the environment’s side in 2004 relocating all resorts from the island to protect this amazing place for future generations. Only 200 divers a day get permits to dive here and this is strictly regulated, so book your permit in time!
14. Balik Pulau
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Balik Pulau is an ideal day-trip from George Town when visiting Penang. Located on the southwestern side of the island, is best explored by car. The island has a rich agricultural and fishing history, so while you drive there, you will come across the green paddy fields and see the old traditional Malay Kampong Houses.
That’s a scenic landscape for a stroll in nature before getting into town. While you stroll through its old buildings, stop at one of the many eateries to taste the Laksa Lemak, for which Balik Pulau is famous. In the southern part of Balik Pulau eat a the Kampung Balik, where you can savor exquisite Laksa and Hokkien Mee (noodle dish) as well as delicious nutmeg juices.
A trip to Balik Pulau is not complete without a visit to the fishing village, Pulau Betong. Drive further south to the picturesque town, and walk through the colored fishing boats moored to the dock. Go for a stroll at the fish market and make sure you don’t miss out on a delicious meal at the Jia Sian Cafè, a trendy place, usually very busy with long queues, where you can pick the freshly caught fish and having it prepared in front of you.
Malaysia really is one of the most beautiful countries in South East Asia. You will love everything about it, from the people to the places and it’ll leave you wanting more. I’ve traveled extensively throughout Malaysia, and it’s one of my favorite countries in the world. If you’re looking for a one of a kind experience, head to these 14 iconic places to visit in Malaysia. Have you ever been to Malaysia? Let me know in the comments below!
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