7 Places you must see in Peninsular Malaysia. A short guide to some of the regions top travel destinations, sights and attractions.
About Peninsular Malaysia
Malaysia in located in Southeast Asia, comprising of two non-contiguous regions separated by the South China Sea. Peninsular Malaysia is found on the Asian mainland on the Malay Peninsula, south of Thailand. To its east, the Malaysian Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak are found in the north section on the island of Borneo.
It’s location on the Asian Mainland between Thailand and Singapore means Peninsular Malaysia is well and truly on the backpacker trail. However, we feel like it never gets the fan fare it deserves and is often overlooked. As a country we both used to lead tours through, we know it well. We have been lucky enough to travel up and and down this diverse part of Malaysia multiple times. With its rich cultural heritage, tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches, amazing architecture and seriously tasty food, it’s a region not to be missed. Combine this with its safe and straightforward travel reputation and you have an easy and rewarding holiday destination.
So with all that said, here’s our 7 Peninsular Malaysia must-see places for any itinerary:
Kicking off our list of must-see places in Peninsular Malaysia is Penang. Located in northwest Malaysia, the Penang region’s comprised of mainland Seberang Perai and Penang Island. For the majority of travellers, it’s Penang Island they want to see and it’s their first stop if heading south from neighbouring Thailand. Forget the sights, you could totally visit for the food alone! Known as the food capital of Malaysia, visiting the Hawker stalls (big food courts) is the way to go. Try the local specialities like Char Kway Teow, Penang Hokkien Mee and Penang Assam Laksa.
For a small island, there is certainly no shortage of things to see and do in Penang, other than just eating! And Georgetown, Penang’s capital makes an ideal place to base yourself. This UNESCO-listed historic centre is where you’ll find beautifully preserved heritage buildings. Mixed in and around Georgetown, you’ll also find all sorts of murals that make up the Penang Art Trail. Away from Georgetown, make sure to head up Penang Hill for amazing views. And keep an eye-out for the adorable Dusky Leaf Monkeys and birdlife found here and in the nearby Botanical Gardens. Or if you want to just take it easy, head over to the sandy beaches of Batu Ferringhi.
Checkout our PENANG IN A DAY – OUR WHISTLE-STOP ITINERARY blog for more information on what to see and do in Penang.
2. Pulau Langkawi
The Archipelago of Langkawi is found off the regions north-west coast. The largest island in the Archipelago, Pulau Langkawi, is a tropical paradise. Easily accessible by plane from Kuala Lumpur or a ferry from Penang, it’s a seriously easy to reach beach destination. Sitting out in the Andaman Sea, this popular near 500km2 Island is a beach-goers dream. There’s numerous white sandy beaches to lounge on and crystal clear water to swim, snorkel and dive in.
There’s plenty here for land-based nature lovers too. For amazing views take the Langkawi Cable Car to the top of mount Mat Cincang and stroll across the 125 metre-long curved Langkawi Sky Bridge. Or for the more energetic, hike up Gunung Raya (Langkawi’s highest peak) for great views and some awesome wildlife viewing opportunities. Look carefully and you might find the Dusky Leaf Monkeys, Hornbills and Flying Foxes. And don’t forget to checkout some of the islands beautiful waterfalls.
Responsible tourism tip: Avoid any tours that are practicing irresponsible unnatural practices like feeding Sea Eagles, monkeys and sea turtles.
3. Perhentian Islands
Head over to the Perhentian Islands off the coast of Terengganu in the northeast of Peninsular Malaysia. White sandy beaches and crystal clear water make this a beach lovers dream. The backpacker-friendly Perhentian Kecil provides a far more rustic experience than many of Thailands touristy beaches to the north. Venture to some of the quiet beaches like Keranji and Golden Sand (Golden Bay) to get away from the crowds. And if you’re really lucky you may even have these pieces of tropical paradises all to yourself.
Make sure to explore the underwater world while you are there. The Perhentian’s offer some of the cheapest diving in the world. For as little as $17USD, you can dive in search of Sharks, ‘Bumphead’ Parrotfish and explore wrecks. And if diving’s not your thing, it also has some of the most rewarding snorkelling spots SE Asia. Either take one of the cheap organised tours or go independently and try your luck finding Nemo, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Turtles, Bluespotted Ribbontail Rays and so much more.
Checkout our Perhentian Islands – THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PERHENTIAN KECIL for more information on what to see and do.
4. Taman Negara
One of the oldest rainforests in the world, Taman Negara is thought to be around 130 million years of age. Easily accessible, it’s a wonderful area to explore with or without a guide and is must-see in Peninsular Malaysia. By far the most popular tourist activity at Taman Negara is to 500m+ Taman Negara Canopy Walk. From up here you have awesome views over the jungle canopy and if you’re lucky, you may spot some wildlife up in the treetops. For slightly less touristy vistas, take the short hike up to Bukit Teresek for nice views over the more than 4000km2 of primary rainforest.
And for the nature lovers, you can hike out to one of the overnight hides overlooking the mineral licks. Wait patiently (with fingers crossed) for the chance to see the areas big mammals, like the endangered Malayan Tapir. The night-time jungle noises alone make heading out overnight a truly unforgettable experience. Although home to many amazing creatures, in reality, very few of the well-hidden mammals are spotted. But for bird enthusiasts, there’s lots to be seen. Lookout for Hornbills, Kingfishers, Pittas, Trogons, Broadbills, Asian Fairy Bluebirds and the Red-bearded Bee-eater. It’s these, reptiles and little creepy-crawlies that are most frequently found. But be aware of the mosquito’s and leeches that also frequent the area!
Tip: The monsoon season falls from November through January in this part of Peninsular Malaysia. So unless you want a really rainy rainforest experience, this time of year is probably best avoided.
5. Cameron Highlands
Escape Peninsular Malaysia’s often sweltering heat and head up into the cooler tea plantations, mossy forests and strawberry farms of the Cameron Highlands. We always loved taking groups up here, as it is so completely different to the rest of the region. The climate, colonial buildings and scones are probably not the first things you’d associate with Peninsular Malaysia! So it’s a surprise for many and makes for a very different experience to others had on the Malay Peninsula.
There’s so much to see and do in the Cameron Highlands and a lot can easily be arranged through budget friendly day trips. These tend to include tea estates visits, strawberry picking, exploring the mossy forest and even testing out your blowpipe skill in one of the Orang Asli Vilages. And if your visit coincides, you might even find the amazing Rafflesia flower, one of rarest and largest flowers in the world. If you want to get a little off track, take an independent hike along one of the 14 trails. We have done a few and there’s some lovely waterfalls and nice peaks to hike up to for great views if the weather permits!
Tip: The Cameron Highlands is very popular with local tourists and can get very busy on weekends and holiday periods. So for a really ‘chilled’ experience, these times are best avoided.
6. Kuala Lumpur
Without doubt KL is one of our favourite cities in the world and we’ll never tire of visiting Malaysia’s capital city. It has something for everyone, with all sorts of accommodation options, endless tourist attractions, amazing food and some of Asia’s best shopping. And with its cheap and super efficient transport network, exploring Malaysia’s biggest city couldn’t be easier. Of all the must-see places in Peninsular Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is the one we just keep coming back to for more.
You can easily fill days KL ticking off your bucket list of attractions and major landmarks. Here’s just a small selection not to be missed: Head up and across the Petronas Towers Skybridge; explore the KL Forest Eco Park; wander around Merdeka Square and Sultan Abdul Samad or just admire Kuala Lumpur’s awesome skyline from on the cities many infinity pools. After a day of sightseeing, head to one of the cities endless eateries or great sky bars.
Checkout our 12 OF OUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IN KUALA LUMPUR for more information on what to see and do in the Kuala Lumpur.
7. Melaka (Malacca)
Melaka rounds off our list of our 7 must-see places in Peninsular Malaysia. Once a quaint little place often bypassed by backpackers, Melaka has had a bit of a facelift in recent years and is now well and truly on the beaten path. Rich in cultural heritage, Melaka is something of a melting pot with colonial influences from the Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers blending in with traditional cultures of the Baba and Nyonya. And this diverse mix of the cultures has left not only great architecture, but some truly delicious food. Here’s just a few dishes we highly recommend – Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls, Nyona Sek Bak and the Tandoori Chicken from Pak Putra.
Melaka is a bit of bizarre mix of where old meets new, east meets west and culture meets… well something! For example you can cruise down the Melaka River with a historic building to one side, with colourful murals on the other, before passing under a flashing multicoloured neon light-covered bridge. Or you can speed through the old town in a pimped up Hello Kitty clad trishaw with Eminem blaring from its speakers. This mixture of influences, cultures and tourists has definitely resulted in a unique city with plenty of interesting experiences. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but well worth visiting to make up your own opinion.
Tip: The weekends get very busy with local and Singaporean tourists, so if you want a quiet visit, come on a week day. But if you want the full Melaka experience visit on a Friday to Sunday for the Jonker Street Night Market.
So when planning your next trip through Southeast Asia, leave room on your itinerary for these 7 must-see places in Peninsular Malaysia. You won’t regret it! Peninsula Malaysia is such an easy, friendly and rewarding region to travel though.
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