We all travel for different reasons. For some, their idea of travelling includes relaxing on the beach and soaking up the sun, followed by an afternoon snorkel in crystal clear waters. For others, travel is about completely immersing themselves into the culture of the destination and taking the time to learn about the traditions and history of the locals. And lastly, there are the adventure and adrenaline junkies, where travel consists of stepping outside your comfort zone and doing things that you have never done before.
There are few places in the world that ticks all of these boxes, however, Malaysia is most definitely one of them. It’s because of this, that I believe Malaysia is one of the most underrated countries to travel to. You always hear of people travelling to Southeast Asia and hitting up the beach parties and elephant sanctuaries of Thailand, or the zen yoga vibes and surfing spots of Bali. You don’t, however, hear of a lot of people raving about their trip to Malaysia. Well, that’s because a lot of people are reluctant to visit! It is definitely a lot less mainstream than a lot of other countries (ahem, social media), but I assure you it is a destination that should not be overlooked.
Malaysia has so much to offer: amazing cuisine, stunning national parks, picturesque beaches, world-renowned aquatic life, rich history, and a vibrant culture. In my opinion, this country should be a top priority on your next globetrotting adventure. So, what are you waiting for?
20 The wonderful locals
The people in Malaysia are some of the friendliest I have ever come across. Sure, you will get some that will be difficult and try to capitalize off you being a tourist, but you’re always going to find that with any country you visit.
I never felt unsafe or threatened as a female travelling in Malaysia, as all the locals were constantly waving hello and asking where I was from. They were always willing to give suggestions, lend a helping hand, or simply flash a friendly smile. Even with a language barrier, they are very warm individuals and I highly suggest you try to get to know any local you come across.
19 The variety of cuisine
Malaysia offers some of the best food selections I have had in Asia, simply because they give so much variety. The cuisine has influence from India, Malaysia, China, Japan, and there is an abundance of fresh food markets in every place you visit—you won’t be eating the same thing all of the time.
Specifically, if your taste buds are screaming 'India!', you're in luck, with a plethora of dishes and restaurants to suit, especially if you enjoy curry.
Saying this, Malaysian cuisine should obviously be something you should strive to eat everywhere you go in the country, from famous noodle and rice dishes, delicious traditional fruits, and decadent desserts.
18 The lack of crowds
Since Malaysia is not as popular as more mainstream destinations such as Thailand and Bali (which can get congested with tourists), you will find that there are generally fewer crowds of people. Even the capital city of Kuala Lumpur isn’t crazy busy or overwhelming when you first arrive. There are a ton of secluded beaches to explore and national parks stretching for miles where you aren’t going to bump into a million people.
It’s a great intro city if you are thinking of travelling Asia and you are feeling a bit nervous or don’t know what to expect.
17 The unique landscapes
The amount of times I was wowed by the amazing landscapes of Malaysia while on an 8-hour bus ride across the country was countless. There are times when you feel like you are in the middle of a rainforest, surrounded by rolling hills, or absolutely stunned by amazing white sandy beaches surrounded by lush greenery.
The country is also generally extremely mountainous, with many people’s expectation being that it was quite flat. Well, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. This makes for amazing drives through the country that will have you staring out the window for hours on end, making those long trips very bearable.
16 It's easy to get around
It’s quite easy to get around Malaysia, even if you find yourself a little directionally challenged. The bus system is more organized than I thought it would be and it’s easy to book a bus at a moment’s notice if you decide you want to go somewhere new.
The road infrastructure is also great compared to other countries in the area—I’ve always felt safe driving on the roads (minus a bumpy ride or two). There are also scooter and motorcycle rentals pretty much everywhere you go, and Malaysia is the perfect place to learn if you are new to it.
In most areas, the roads signs and dividers are clearly marked and there aren’t too many places where you will find roads in too rough of a condition.
15 The insanely nice beaches
Malaysia has some of the most spectacular white sandy beaches and crystal clear, turquoise waters I have ever seen. Some of the more touristy beaches can be over-crowded and dirty, but you just have to go off the beaten path.
The beaches on the islands, such as Tioman Island and Perhentian Island, are also significantly nicer than the ones on the mainland.
A trip to Malaysia is not complete without making your way to the islands, where you will not only find amazing beach life but a laidback and relaxing atmosphere. These beaches are also generally a lot cleaner and free of garbage.
14 The stunning national parks
Malaysia is full of picturesque national parks with endless hikes (if you can handle the humid heat). The greenery in the country is so unique and vibrant, with stunning mossy forests and vegetation that you cannot witness anywhere else.
Bako National Park in Borneo is an amazing protected coastal area with pristine beaches and unusual rock formations. Kinabalu Park is a large forested nature preserve that is home to Borneo’s highest mountain, which is worth doing for avid trekkers.
Malaysia has nearly 100 parks and reserves to get that nature fix, so you will never run out of places to explore.
13 The proximity to other countries
The best part of travelling within Malaysia is that it’s the perfect segue to travel the rest of the Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Kuala Lumpur is just a short bus ride away from the amazing city of Singapore, where you can live lavishly for a few days. Also, since it’s on the border of Thailand it’s the perfect transition to continue your travels there (you can actually see Thailand in the distance from the Malaysian island of Langkawi).
If you thought that your Asian travels were done with Malaysia, you are very mistaken as I guarantee you won’t want to stop there.
12 The scuba diving is world-renowned
Malaysia is known for having world-renowned aquatic life, which makes it one of the best places in the world to scuba dive. Specifically, the Perhentian Islands are one of the best (and also one of the cheapest) places in the world to get your scuba diving PADI certification, with the entire island consisting of solely dive shops. The water is calm and crystal clear, and the conditions are pretty much perfect for a beginner.
Seeing sharks and turtles are not uncommon, along with hundreds of types of fish and coral species. If you aren’t keen to scuba, you can still see a ton of underwater life by grabbing a snorkel and exploring the depths of the ocean.
11 The affordable prices
Being a country in Southeast Asia obviously means you aren’t going to break the bank on your travels. Despite travel from one place to the other being a little pricey (buses, flights, etc.), you will find the prices are insanely cheap to eat, drink, and sleep.
You can grab a meal for only a few bucks, a cold bev for a dollar or two, and a place to sleep for less than $10 a night. However, it’s easy to get out of hand in a place like this with everything being so cheap, so make sure you are still budgeting to ensure you aren’t going overboard.
10 The capital city of Kuala Lumpur
As far as capital cities go, Kuala Lumpur is up there as one of my favorites. While it can be touristy (like any major city), it is also rich in amazing architecture, great food, a ton of shopping outlets, and beautiful parks and outdoor spaces.
The Petronas Towers are a treat for the eyes in both the daytime and night, and the view from the top gives a spectacular 360-degree view of the city.
The KLCC Park, located right in the middle of the city center, is the perfect place to relax and recharge during a day in the city. There is also a canopy eco-park in the city where you feel as though you in the middle of the jungle, with the views of the city still present.
9 The variety of accommodation
From city-view hotels with rooftop infinity pools, beachside bungalows, straw huts in the middle of the mountain ranges, and tent campsites on the beach, the accommodation options in Malaysia are out of this world.
There are a ton of luxury options that you can get for a non-luxury price, or alternatively, a great deal of cheap options for the budget-conscious traveler.
You can get a dorm room for less than $10/night, a nice private room for $20-30/night, and a luxury hotel room for less than $100/night.
8 The vast wildlife
There are so many amazing species of wildlife throughout Malaysia. The country has invested a lot of money into conservation efforts, with wildlife being one of the key reasons why people venture to Malaysia every year.
Particularly in the Borneo area, you can get up close in person with native orangutans, lizards, monkeys, and wild deer. The orangutan reserve is a must see when you visit Borneo, where they focus on protecting the species and at times saving them and rehabilitating them back into wildlife. There are also a ton of different species of monkeys, but be careful as they sneaky animals can and will outsmart you!
7 The vibrant shopping
Malaysia is retail heaven for the adventurous shopper. Whether you are hitting a street market or the high-end shops in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find it hard to not buy a thing or two.
The Kuala Lumpur Petronas Towers, the city’s tallest landmark, is home to a shopping center with every big label retail name in the game. Alternatively, If you are on a budget, you can head to Chinatown’s night market to snag some bargains.
In more 'off the beaten track' areas, you will find authentic and homemade clothing items and artifacts that will probably beat some of the cheap tourist knockoffs you will find in more populated areas.
6 The fascinating history
I didn’t realize how unique the history was in Malaysia until I experienced it first-hand. Being the arrival spot of Western colonial powers in the 16th Century, there is historical influence everywhere you go. The country has a bunch of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, especially in George Town, which is home to an abundance of beautiful architecture, temples, and churches.
If you are really keen to learn about the history of the country, Kuala Lumpur is the place to do that, which is home to Independence Square, where the flag of Malaysia was first raised. However, everywhere you go in Malaysia you will have the opportunity to learn the history of the area if you take the time to ask and explore!
5 The popping art scene
If you enjoy a bit of art, you have to make your way to Penang while in Malaysia. In 2012, the government hired a world-renowned London artist to breathe some new light into the city in the form of street art. In an effort to showcase the rich history of the city, the artist came up with some pretty wicked art displays. And let me tell you, this ain't your typical street graffiti.
You can easily spend a full day exploring the streets of Georgetown, discovering all of the street art on offer. There are also a ton of art museums in the area, as you will find in pretty much any major area you go to in Malaysia.
4 The vibrant culture
Similar to the variety of food, Malaysia is known as one of Asia’s greatest cultural mash-ups when it comes to the rich culture. With influence and people from Malaysia itself, as well as China and India, it's a melting pot of traditions and styles.
Each culture exists harmoniously, and celebrates their own authentic traditions and beliefs. There is always something to celebrate, as the amount of celebrations from each culture give such a variety that it seems the country doesn’t have much ‘down time’.
You will definitely always be kept on your toes as you will likely be exposed to new ways of living every day. This is just another reason why Malaysia is so special.
3 The exciting nightlife
If you are keen on hitting the town, the Kuala Lumpur nightlife provides a vibrant and lively atmosphere with countless bars, pubs, and rooftop patios with stunning views of the city.
From laidback cocktail bars to more happening nightclubs, there is a ton of variety depending on what you are looking for on a night out.
Alternatively, the islands provide a more chilled, beachside nightlife, where you can sip on a cold beverage while watching the sunset and waves crashing onto the beach. No matter what you are looking for, you will definitely find a hotspot in every town that you visit that won’t break the bank.
2 The cultural festivals
Malaysia is a country of celebration, with so many festivals happening all year round that you are bound to be in the country for at least one of them. Chinese New Year, held in February, is the largest Chinese festival in Malaysia with vibrant costumes and decorations, exciting parades, and the famous Lantern Festival.
Another popular festival is Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo, which is a three-day event of traditional live music, dance, and craft workshops. This festival, held in July, attracts quite a few foreign tourists due to the exciting performances that take place.
There are countless amounts of festivals held around the country, so be sure to research ahead of time!
1 The stunning mosques
Because of the historic variety of migration to the country, Malaysia is home to a diverse collection of mosques. The mosques are unfortunately overlooked by a lot of tourists visiting the country, whereas religious tourists are often taken aback by the stunning architecture of the buildings.
In most cases, tourists are welcomed to explore the buildings and prayer rooms with the proper attire. It’s fascinating to witness the mix of people attending the daily call to prayer, ranging from those in traditional garments to the latest modern fashion threads. While you are visiting, make sure to take the time to visit one of these traditional spaces and pay your respects.