1. Kuala Lumpur
You’ll most likely fly into Kuala Lumpur when traveling to Malaysia, so this one’s a no-brainer. But unlike some other big cities in Asia where travelers arrive and get out of town as soon as possible, Kuala Lumpur is a worthwhile destination of its own.
The mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influence means you’ll have no shortage of culinary exploits in Malaysia’s capital city. The cultural diversity is a big part of KL’s allure. Take a short walk or jump on the extensive train network and you can see the delights of numerous cultures.
Kuala Lumpur has no shortage of unique neighborhoods to explore. Interesting sights such as the Petronas Towers, the Perdana Lake Gardens, and the Menara KL Tower provide plenty of enjoyable distractions before you head farther afield in Malaysia.
Malaysians are proud of their big island on the west coast — and they should be! The colonial city of Georgetown was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has plenty to offer in the way of museums, a seaside fort, historic homes, and most importantly, a famous street-food scene.
Numerous artists have left their marks in the form of murals along the streets of Georgetown. Cafes, shops, and things to do can be found dotted throughout.
Penang is considered one of the best places in Southeast Asia to sample delicious street food of all types. The waterfront esplanade known as Gurney Drive in Penang is lined with stalls and eateries for trying local Malay, Chinese, and Indian treats, among others.
3. The Perhentian Islands
Backpackers and budget travelers love Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands, especially Perhentian Kecil — the smaller of the two islands — where fine sand and excellent snorkeling/diving fill the day before parties start at night.
Nearby Perhentian Besar — the big island — caters more to families, couples, and travelers who are willing to spend more to enjoy the blue water and skip some of the partying. Regardless of the island you choose, getting to the Perhentians requires taking a speedboat. There are a few challenges for setting up shop on the islands.
The Perhentian Islands are very seasonal. Accommodation can be difficult to find on Perhentian Kecil in July, the peak month, but the islands are mostly empty during the winter months due to rain and stormy seas.
4. Malaysian Borneo
The option to exchange dirty concrete for green rainforests and abundant wildlife is only a cheap, quick flight away! Visitors to Malaysia often stick to the mainland and forget about the natural wonders on earth’s third-largest island only a short hop away.
The Malaysian part of Borneo is divided into two states: Sarawak in the south and Sabah in the north. Both have different vibes and charms. The Rainforest World Music Festival held outside of Kuching each summer is one of the most exciting music-and-culture events in Southeast Asia.
From endangered orangutans to rainforest canopy walks and some of the best diving in the world, Malaysian Borneo should definitely be a part of any trip to Malaysia.