You guessed it: I lost a part of my heart in magnificent Malaysia! Our first big trip together (spoiler: we survived!). My first trip to Southeast Asia (verdict: I want to go back!). The first time I trekked in a jungle (no-brainer: I loved it). The first time I slept in a cave (prognosis: probably the last time..)
Our Malaysia in a few words? Warm, welcoming, colorful, multicultural, surprising, green, tropical, accessible, authentic. Basically a great destination for anyone craving a taste of Asia, without the need to be a seasoned traveler/backpacker. People are super friendly and everything is smoothly organized (easy to get from A to B), but still you don’t have the feeling to be part of a herd of tourists. A perfect balance.
We stayed for three weeks and wanting to experience as much as possible from what this beautiful country has to offer, we did seven stops. Quite a busy schedule, but if you would ask me in hindsight I could not for the life of me sacrifice one of our stops and the things we discovered there.
Things to do:
- Batu Caves: this Hindu temple is built in a cave within a giant rock formation. Even though the temple itself is probably not the most impressive one around, the experience of climbing the stairs leading up to it, starting from the foot of a massive golden statue, (say hi to the monkeys along the way) plus the mystic surroundings of the cave, make it worth a visit.
- Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple is the oldest temple Hindu in Kuala Lumpur. It sports beautiful examples of the fairylike decorations that are so specific to Hindu places of worship, which always trigger my imagination.
- China Town & Little India: one of the things I loved about Malaysia is how several different cultural groups live side by side in (apparent) harmony. You can cross the street an go from shop windows filled with traditional sarongs to ones filled with Chinese street food carts.
(Note: we only stayed in KL for one day. There is probably a lot more to see and do, but these were our highlights).
Spots to eat:
- The Rabitt hole Kuala Lumpur: I really liked the grungy cosy interior. Yes the menu has pictures (which is usually against my food rules), but as this seemed to be quite common, we let that one slide. Ignore the tourist staples on the menu and go for a typical Malay dish served on a banana leaf.
- Jalan Alor street: street food galore! It’s very touristy but just a fun experience. If you are wary of eating street food (weak ass tourists that we are..), it’s just a fun atmosphere to walk through as well!
Place to stay:
Trust me: find a hotel with a rooftop pool. It doesn’t need to be crazy expensive. After a loooong flight, it is just the right dash of decadence.
Place to stay/eat/LIVE:
The Sticks: As far as I know Fraser’s hill is not a tourist staple, but I discovered an amazing looking eco-glamping spot through Instagram, and we just HAD to go there. We were definitely not disappointed! It’s the perfect breath of air after the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur. A stay close to nature and our very first Malaysian Jungle trek ❤
The tea plant-covered hills of Cameron Highlands are so particular and picturesque that they’ve earned a spot on our travel log. The towns as such are not that nice so hanging around for one day to see the sights is plenty.
Things to do:
- Walk in the Mossy Forest: it’s a totally different greenery than the jungle, very mysterious and fairytale-like.
- Strawberry farm: the freshest strawberry milkshakes E.V.E.R
- Visit a tea plantation: we went to visit the BOH plantation, and I had the best iced tea of my life there
- There are a bunch of guided tours which take you to each of these stops within one day. In terms of time-efficiency, definitely a good idea! We did our tour with Eco Cameron Tours and had a great experience.
Taman Negara National Park
The world’s oldest tropical rainforest! Need I say more?
Things to do:
- Catch the boat in: Taman Negara is reachable by bus or taxi, but trust me: the best way to start your jungle stay in beauty is by arriving by river boat. You can catch a riverboat at Kuala Tembeling Jetty to Kuala Tahan, the village at the entrance of the Taman Negara park. The boat trip takes a few hours but with those views, you won’t be bored for a second!
- Jungle trekking: You are in the oldest rainforest in the world! Put on your hiking boots and get walking! (Don’t go alone though, be smart and get a guide).
- Overnight trekking with HAN travel: I was crazy enough to let my boyfriend talk me into a 2 day trek with an overnight stay in a cave. You know those out-of-your-comfort-zone experiences you are SO glad you did but will NEVER repeat. Yep, this was one of those. But a longer trek is definitely something to consider, as you will be heading deeper into the heart of the jungle. The sounds, smells and atmosphere are truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Be still, my plant lady heart).
- Lubuk Simpon: not up for a long trek or a guide? Walk on the wooden boardwalk towards Lubuk Simpon and have a swim in the river. If you’re lucky enough to be alone, be very quiet and wait for the birds and fishes to come say hi.
- Canopy walk: a Taman Negara icon, this 40 m high suspension walkway gives you the opportunity to stroll among the jungle treetops. Unfortunately the canopy walk was closed for maintenance when we were in there, so I will be green with envy if you get to do this one!
Place to eat:
- Floating restaurants: across the river from the entrance of the park, in Kuala Tahan, there are is a bunch of “floating” restaurants offering yummy, budget-friendly food in a cosy environment on the river.
Place to stay:
Mutiara Taman Negara Resort: when you spend all day in the jungle, you deserve a nice place to stay! We splurged a little on this one, but it was so worth it. Only accommodation right at the entrance of the park with cosy huts and good food. I can tell you: the night after our cave sleepover those big soft beds felt like H.E.A.V.E.N.
The East coast of Malaysia is tropical beach central! We stayed on the “Kecil Island”, which is the smaller of the 2 main islands. Not much to do if you needs shops, restaurants or partying to be entertained, but the perfect relaxing beach getaway.
- Snorkelling trip: there are plenty of beautiful corals around the island, making it a paradise for snorkelling. Just step into the water and snorkel away or join a tour which will take you from one hotspot to the next.
- Turtle point: A must on any snorkelling tour! If you get lucky, you will spot the graceful underwater wonder that is a sea turtle. Make sure to admire it from afar though, as you don’t want to stress them out.
- Romantic beach: You know that picture perfect beach image: turquoise water, pearly white sand, rainbow colored fish… you have in your head? This beach is all that and more!
Place to stay/eat/ENJOY:
Crocodile rock villas: The best surprise of our trip and one of those places you wish you could stay just a little longer… Erica & Atord, the couple who runs this glamping gem, are wonderful people and have created a beautiful piece of paradise by the sea… Warm boho vibe, great conversation, impromptu jam sessions and honestly the best food we had in Malaysia. Can you tell we LOVED it there?
Georgetown, our favourite Malay city! A buzzing artsy oriental vibe, with remnants of it colonial past; a multicultural melting pot, with a dash of hipster, a ton of beautiful street art and that special quality of a city by the sea.
Things to do:
- Street art walks: Georgetown is a street art walhalla! We found this super useful map by the occasional traveller, and it became our guide through the city, from one mural to the next.
- Kek Lok Si temple, the largest buddhist temple in Malaysia. Crazy impressive and so colourful! Inspires silence and exuberance all at the same time. We bought some wish ribbons to support the temple and I tell you, some of our wishes already came through, so who knows 😉
- Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple: If you want to limit you temple-dwelling: visit Kek Lok Si and this one. Another beautiful example of why Hindu temples are the dreamiest.
- Drive around in a ricksha. Granted: you’ll feel a little spoiled-little-rich-boy. But it’s the perfect pace to look around and take it all in, without wearing your feet out. Plus our driver had such nice stories and a lot of great spots to show us!
- The clan jetties: these waterfront settlements, built on poles submerged in the sea, house some of the old Chinese clans. Walking onto the boardwalk feels like walking into a separate little universe. Tip: try to also visit some of the more quiet areas, not buzzing with tourist shops, you’ll get a true feel of how people live. Make sure to respect the inhabitants privacy though, some parts are not accessible for tourists.
- Penang botanical garden. Not the most impressive botanical garden I’ve visited when travelling (a tiny bit worn-out to be honest), but the vintage greenhouses do create a dreamy old-time atmosphere, which any plant lady will want to check it out. What can I say. We never met a botanical garden we didn’t like.
Places to eat/drink:
- Tek Sen: if you can only go to one restaurant in Georgetown, go to this one! It’s crowded, it’s buzzing, it’s local, it’s authentic. We had the best Chinese food there and really felt like we hit the local experience jackpot.
- Junk: this tiny eclectic bar serves the best burgers with sweet potato fries! Not very local, but let’s be honest: if you spend a few weeks eating Asian food, sometimes you secretly crave a little Western comfort…
- Chulia street or Muntri street are loaded with hipster coffee bars to have breakfast or lunch. Shoutout to the Mugshot, where we had the best coffee in days.
- Love Lane: we discovered this one during our ricksha ride. While the name alone could catch your eye, the row of cute cozy bars does the trick as well. Stop & have a drink!
- Street food! So.much.street.food.
The original Malay paradise destination! After quite a busy travel schedule, a few days of shameless beach chilling was the perfect stop before heading home.
Things to do:
- Island hopping: rent a boat with a group or just the two of you. The coastline is magnificent, and the marble rock formations are super impressive.
- Rent a bike: it’s the perfect way to get around the island, get kinda lost and see the sights! Plus if you run out of gas a friendly local will get you some in a water bottle. True story.
- Get up early and watch the sunrise. I know. We’re such cheeseballs.
- Read a book. I’m serious. Whether it’s with your ass in the sand, your back on a lounge chair or your feet in the sea. Read a book.
Place to stay:
- Wild Pasir Panjang. A short boatride away from the main Island, we discovered this hidden piece of paradise. It has only a few accommodations, and for the largest part of our stay we were completely alone. Desert beach experience: check! For anyone who’s not afraid to go back to basic in exchange for waking up on the beach, delicious (Thai) food by the in-house chef, a huge stretch of private beach and palm trees for days: this is your island life!
Can I go back now? ^^
Happy travels! Love, C.