Asia/ Malaysia

Backpacking Malaysia | An Affordable Travel Guide

Malaysia is a country that I visited almost by accident. From originally stopping over in Kuala Lumpar on the way to the Philippines, our plans changed when our budget was tighter than we realised. You can read more about changing our travel plans to skip the Philippines here but basically, we decided to explore Malaysia cheaply instead with absolutely no regrets.

As a country, Malaysia really does have everything you could ask for: unbelievable countryside, stunning beaches, buzzing cities, hugely varied cuisine and a ton of culture! In my Malaysia travel guide, I’ll run through the places we visited – as well as some we didn’t – to give you an idea of the main attractions, how to get around and the best places to eat!

Kuala Lumpur

Before visiting Kuala Lumpur, I pictured it as being quite similar to Singapore but actually, they have very different personalities. While initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I think that it’s a city that needs more exploring to uncover the incredibly vibrant and different personalities that exist within it.

[one_half]kuala lumpar petronas towers[/one_half][one_half_last]Batu caves Kuala Lumpar[/one_half_last]

Where we stayed

Matahari Lodge

We only stayed here for one night but even for the most budget of travellers, I wouldn’t recommend it. The lock on our bedroom door didn’t work, our room was windowless with just a bed and fan and the bathrooms weren’t great either. It seems petty to quibble for 45 Ringgit (a steal at £8 per night) but there are other similarly priced accommodations in the city that look much better quality. The positive however? It’s located right opposite Central Market so staying around this area is great for exploring the city.

Cosmo Hotel KL

We were lucky enough to be gifted this stay for the last three nights of our backpacking adventure and it was a completely different experience to our other accommodation! It was my first time staying in a hotel suite which, after months of staying in cheap hostels and guesthouses, was the most exciting thing! I’ve written a full review of Cosmo Hotel KL here.

What we did

The main landmarks that most people will associate with Kuala Lumpur are the Petronas Towers. As the world’s twelfth tallest buildings, looking up at them actually made me feel dizzy. I didn’t realise this at the time but they’re actually the tallest buildings I’ve ever seen (to date anyway) but watch this space…

If you love shopping, head to Bukit Bintang where there are a ton of huge and glamorous malls full of designer goods and high street stores. However, if you’re wanting to support the local economy, check out Central Market for some lovely handmade and batik goods. It’s pretty touristy but you can still find some gems if you hunt around.

Petronas Towers night

On our last day in the city – and the very last day of our backpacking trip! – we took the train out to the Batu Caves. It was a pretty emotional day so it only seemed right that we spent it somewhere this spectacular. The Hindi temple and shrine is a huge attraction in KL and it was definitely worth the journey outside the city. There’s a ton of steps so be warned that it’s only really suitable for those who are mobile. However, you’ll almost certainly take them pretty slowly because there are a lot of cheeky monkeys around which make for a pretty entertaining spectacle.

They aren’t afraid to come up close so keep tight hold of your belongings and don’t try to interfere with their groups. While we were there, one girl got her souvenirs snatched and had to watch as the monkey climbed to the top of a post and tried to bite its way into her package! Please don’t drop litter either and try to take it with you away from the area if possible because they will sadly try to eat it.

Batu caves monkeys

How to get around

Kuala Lumpur has a brilliant metro system that makes it cheap and easy to get around everywhere. It even runs to the airport, although bear in mind that this line is way more expensive than the others.

There’s also a free bus loop around certain parts of the city centre but the busy traffic means that these are a much slower option in comparison to the trains! We only took the bus once and decided the metro was the quickest way to travel after we barely moved a few feet in the first five minutes!

Where we ate

I can’t get enough of finding amazing vegetarian food in Asia and Malaysian food was incredible. A vibrant mix of lots of different cultures, you’ll find plenty of Indian-inspired curries alongside more noodle based dishes from South East Asia. Here were some of our favourite spots in Kuala Lumpur:

Water Lily Restaurant – a vegetarian Chinese restaurant with a whole variety of tasty mock meats, affordable prices and a sweet owner. I really enjoyed their lemon ‘chicken’ and they offer set menus for just 13 Ringgit (£2.40).

Arabesque – a quiet Middle Eastern restaurant tucked away behind the evening street stalls in Chinatown. When you’re craving a bit of hummus and falafel, you can’t go wrong with a bite to eat here.

Water Lily Vegetarian chicken


Initially, we were unsure whether it was worth visiting Melaka but I’m so glad we did! The lovely town is situated just a couple of hours bus ride away from Kuala Lumpur so it’s easy to tick off your list as an overnight trip.

Where we stayed

Bayview Hotel

Way out of our usual budget at 108 Ringgit for a night (£20 – so still crazy cheap by Western standards), we splashed out because I was dying for a swim in their rooftop pool. Honestly though, while it was lovely to have comfortable beds, a spacious room and, of course, the chance to go for a dip, we could have probably found a way cuter guesthouse closer to the centre of town for less than £10.

What we did

I’ve written a whole post about what to see in Melaka so check that out if you’d like to see exactly how we spent our time – How to See Melaka in One Day.

Melaka is a great place to relax and have a busy day or two of sightseeing if that’s what you’re looking for. Equally, if you’re looking for a more chilled out time, just wander around and relax with a cold drink in some of the lovely cafes dotted around. It’s also a great place to support local artists and buy souvenirs – I only wish that I could have fitted some of the beautiful pieces we saw in my backpack!

Malaysia travel guide

sunny day in Melaka

How to get around

Melaka is best seen on foot: you can take in the atmosphere of the beautiful city and it’s not too big! You can get to Melaka by bus in two hours from Kuala Lumpur. Costs range from 11-15 Ringgit from TBS bus terminal or 22 Ringgit from the airport.

What we ate

Melaka is well known for its great food and it’s cheap too! We were really excited to find a number of speciality vegetarian places so made it our mission to check out as many as possible.

OLA CafeIf you’re after a coffee, cake or A/C stop, this is a great place to stop off!

SelvamIncredibly cheap Indian food: I wrote in more detail about our experience here in the post linked above.

Selvam Restaurant Melaka

Anthony’s Vegetarian Restaurant  We came across here by chance when another restaurant that we were searching for turned out to be closed. My tofu hotpot and ‘ham’ fried rice was nice enough but didn’t stand out.

Seeds GardenThis pretty cafe serves natural and unprocessed foods.

Cameron Highlands


Cameron Highlands Tea Plantation

Where we stayed

TJ Lodge

Most of the budget accommodation in the Cameron Highlands didn’t have great reviews so, after spending a while searching, we took a risk and went with TJ Lodge. As it turns out, it’s actually a great little hostel with two huge living areas and a well-stocked kitchen. It’s basic but comfortable and I’d definitely recommend it.

What to do

There’s a seemingly endless list of activities to do in the gorgeous Cameron Highlands! From making the most of the cooler weather with some trekking to visiting local farms, it’s hard to get bored here.

I’d highly recommend visiting the BOH Tea Factory and Plantation where you’ll find these famously gorgeous hills. I talk more about what we got up to in my full blog post about the Cameron Highlands so check it out here: things to do in the Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands Tea Blog Review

How to get around

Buses to the Cameron Highlands run regularly from Kuala Lumpur and cost just 35 Ringgit (around £6.40). The buses were amazing here with incredibly wide, reclining seats! As for the main town, you can walk around Tanah Rata easily or hire a car if you want to explore without a tour.

What we ate

Barrack – Standing out from the high-street Indian offerings, this cute outdoor cafe has some delicious veggie options including a curry bread bowl!

Georgetown, Penang

Step by step road art

Where we stayed

Heritage Sixteen

This is a really lovely building with a tiny outdoor balcony area. It has a really cute design, with brightly painted doors to each room helping it to stand out from the crowd, along with an ideal location in the heart of Georgetown. Click the link over the hotel name to see the full listing and photos – I tried to take some but they came out so badly that I can’t possibly insert them here!

What to do

Penang is a really popular tourist area of Malaysia and taking the little train up Penang Hill gives you stunning views at the peak. There are also lots of quirky museums and attractions – we got some ridiculous pictures at the Trick Art Museum!

Trick Art Museum Penang

Samara trick art museum

A couple of other things you don’t want to miss include:

  • See the world-famous street art in Georgetown
  • Visit the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple
  • Head off the beaten track to check out the beaches

Kids on Bicycle Georgetown

How to get around

For long-distance buses from Kuala Lumpar / Cameron Highlands, you’re looking at about 35 Ringgit per person again. Otherwise, there’s a great local bus system in Penang that can get you around most of the hotspots.

What we ate

D’Loovis – My favourite place for Roti Canai in Malaysia – I became absolutely obsessed with the dish! Get here for a cheap breakfast!

Y Not Cafe – This friendly Western cafe has brilliant vegetarian and vegan options.

Lily’s Vegetarian Cafe – A super cheap canteen-style eatery with delicious mock meats like these satay style sticks.

Lilys Vegetarian Kitchen


pantai cenang beach langkawi

Where we stayed

RL Budget Accommodation

For most of our time here, we stayed in a fan room (45 Ringgit or £9) but t was unbearably hot. Eventually, we upgraded to an air con room for the last couple of nights which was huge and came with a gorgeous little front garden! I’ll never forget spending evenings out on this little patch of grass, befriending a local cat and blissfully typing out a blog post as the sun set behind the palm trees.

What to do

Langkawi is all about relaxation. Despite it being a duty free island (alcohol in Malaysia is really expensive), there’s still not a huge amount of bars. Instead, enjoy the beaches, take a drive around the island and watch some amazing sunsets! The nicest beach is Pantai Cenang with a huge stretch of white sand.

langkawi malaysia

How to get around

You can catch the ferry to Langkawi from Penang – just leave in time or you’ll end up sprinting through town with your backpacks, dripping with sweat like we did. I’m shuddering at the memory! Once you’re on the island, there isn’t any public transport so hire a car / bike or it’s taxis all the way. The cabs do have set pricing through so you’re unlikely to get ripped off.

Where we ate

There isn’t a great deal of variety on Langkawi and it was harder to find veggie food here than in other places.

Rainbow Cafe – The cafe at our accommodation was surprisingly lovely and served sandwiches, pasta and breakfasts.

My favourite meal? A sunset picnic on the beach.

Langkawi beach picnic Langkawi beach sunset

And a few that I didn’t make it to…

Taman Negara National Park – It’s one of the world’s oldest rainforests and you can see an incredible variety of wildlife here.

The Perhentian Islands – I can’t quite believe we didn’t make it over to these paradise-like islands. If you’re all about the underwater life, the diving here is supposed to be incredible.

So, how beautiful is Malaysia?! If you’re considering heading there on a trip, I’d highly recommend it and I hope this post contains everything that you need to know!

Laura x

Wander with Laura’s Travel Guides:

How to Spend Two Weeks in Thailand

How to Budget for your New Zealand Road Trip

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Affordable Guide to Travelling Malaysia | Wander with Laura

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  • Reply
    July 4, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    I love travel bloggers that are as honest as you and give you tips on what not to do! Malaysia looks absolutely stunning, I’ve always wanted to visit the Batu caves!
    Jen, Velvet Spring x

    • Reply
      July 10, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      Thanks so much Jen! It’s a beautiful country 🙂 xx

  • Reply
    June 19, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Thanks Laura for such a fantastic blog, the pictures are amazing and you described this place very nicely and briefly.I appreciate that, Malaysia is really a beautiful country with very nice people. Thank You for sharing this blog.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 8:17 am

    You have been in4places and you think you visit Malaysia! unbelievable!this is a holiday ,not travelling Malaysia

    • Reply
      July 7, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Hi, of course it was a holiday -I would never claim that I’ve seen anything other than a small part of the country and I’d love to see more. However, many people visiting Malaysia only do have a few weeks so I hope my guide will help people in a similar situation to me choose where to visit 🙂

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