Malaysia Travel Guide
“Every time I come to Malaysia there’s one thing I gotta have… laksa.”
– Anthony Bourdain
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Skyscrapers, Street Art & Cendol
For Anthony Bourdain, it’s laksa. For me, it’s cendol. Nothing says Malaysia like a freakish bowl of sweet coconut milk topped with green jelly and kidney beans. Give me a slice of thick-cut toast with Kaya butter, a tall glass of Ipoh white coffee, and a simple bowl of Char Kuey Teow fried noodles, all in quick succession. I’m no foodie, but Malaysia sure brings it out in me.
From the skyscrapers of Southeast Asia’s most iconic metropolis, Kuala Lumpur, to the 130-million-year-old rainforests in Taman Negara, Malaysia truly is a place where old and new, tradition and modernity, the crumbling and the glossy, meet in the middle. Many adventures begin at Kuala Lumpur international airport. Before you make a break for it, take a few days to soak up the place where it all comes to a head.
Take a quick trip to the Batu Caves and a drawn-out hike to Mount Kinabalu. Kick back on the Perhentian Islands, sip tea in the Cameron Highlands, and saunter down the river in Kota Kinabalu in search of wild orangutans. From Peninsular Malaysia to the island of Borneo, this is undoubtedly one of Southeast Asia’s most varied and underrated countries.
Malaysia is the original melting pot, a heady blend of Malay, Indian, Chinese, Hokkien and indigenous cultures. If you’re a handicraft lover like me, best leave some serious space in your suitcase for souvenir shopping. Iban baskets from Kuching and ikat and batik textiles are my picks.
Walk the streets of Ipoh, my favourite city in Malaysia, with its heritage architecture and hawker markets, and roam the five-foot ways for legendary street art in Penang. Maybe it’s the Milo or milky tea served with a cracker on the side, but Malaysia always makes me pine for a childhood I never had. Anywhere you land, the nostalgia is almost as thick as the cloying humidity.
Malaysia Travel Essentials
when to go
Dec-Feb (winter) or Oct/Nov (shoulder season).
2 full days for KL; 10-14 days for the highlights; 3-4 weeks for a good overview.
Fly into KL/Penang, or train from Singapore or Thailand.
Domestic flights (AirAsia), high-speed train or bus.
40-50 USD per person per day (mid-range hotel; local meals; bus fares; museum tickets).
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Cameron Highlands jungle trek.
Laksa, popiah (spring rolls) from Kuching, Ipoh white coffee & a bowl of cendol to finish.
Over-ordering at a hawker market & still managing to finish the lot.