What’s In Malaysia? Where To Go On The West And The East Coast

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A month before I left for Malaysia it wasn’t even on the list of destinations that I want to visit. It all started when I found out that I will have two weeks off in June and that my mum can organise the same for those dates. She was just telling me that she doesn’t have anyone to go on holidays with and I said as a joke: “I’ll go. I’m not flying to Europe though. Let’s meet in the middle.”

Ten minutes later into the conversation and it’s not a joke anymore and I’m looking up where in Asia is good to go in June. For which, I highly recommend checking out https://www.selectiveasia.com/asia-holidays/weather/june which tells you what time is the best to go to which country. Because even though it might be sunny in Thailand, it might be monsoon season in Vietnam, and you don’t want to find that out too late.

Malaysian East coast seemed like a best place to visit in June (together with Indonesia). Okay, cool, but what’s in Malaysia?
I’ve heard about Kuala Lumpur but what are any other interesting places that are worth visiting? What do you do there? How long should you spend in each one? Believe me,I had no idea either. But I do now. So I’m gonna tell you where we went and what I thought of each stop, my tips and why I think you should add Malaysia to your travel bucket list.

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West or East coast?

The first thing you need to realise is that the weather on the west and the east coast is different. So make sure to check that out before you plan anything. Also, generally speaking, all the tourist-y spots, the cities and popular stops are on the west coast. East coast is characterised by beautiful white-sand beaches, a lot of snorkelling opportunities but is also less developed and popular which means very little tourism.

Popular stops

West coast: Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Cameron highlands, Ipoh, Penang, Langkawi etc.

East coast: Redang island, Perhentian islands, Tioman island, Pangkor, Kapas, etc.

Where you choose to go in Malaysia depends largely on what you’re looking for, whether you’re there for the nature, food, culture, beach, history, wildlife, shopping or the jungle, Malaysia’s got it.

We wanted to do cities, culture and food and a few days at the beach, so we decided on the Kuala Lumpur – Ipoh – Penang – Redang island route.

Kuala Lumpur

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Why to visit and what to expect

It’s a crazy mix of cultures and experiences, it’s versatile and vibrant. The architecture is amazing, it has parks and jungle forest walks as well as massive shopping malls. It’s multicultural and there’s a big variety of influences – Indian, Chinese, Muslim or Catholic temples in close proximity to each other. Great street food, cheap taxis, crazy traffic and friendly people.

There’s a lot of various things to do and it’s fun but the landmarks aren’t that amazing and the city doesn’t really have that much character which means that I noticed that after the second day we were slowly running out of things to do.

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Highlights

  • Petronas twin towers
    – test your photography skills by trying to fit yourself and towers in the picture
  • KLCC park
    – green oasis in the middle of the city
  • Petaling street and China town
  • Forrest eco park
    – do the canopy walk and get that picture for the ‘gram
  • Batu caves
    – pay 15MYR to see the inside of Batu caves, I think it was worth it, there was also a section with lizards and other animals, where you could get a snake on your shoulders, I passed on that one, thank you
  • Merdeka square
  • Bukit Bintang
  • Central market
  • Food
    – roti canai, satay, char kway teow, wonton soup, nasi lemak, baos and dumplings, malay desserts (usually coconut flavoured) but also Indian or Middle Eastern food
  • Jalan alor street food market
    – a bit touristy and busy but very good variety and choice
  • Temples (Sutton Abdul Summad building, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Guandi Temple
  • KL tower
  • Try durian fruit if you dare
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Tips / Things to remember

  • The city is approximately 60km away from the KL airport
  • If you stay around Bukit Bintang area, most landmarks are within walking distance, just beware of the crazy traffic
  • If you need a taxi, use ‘Grab’ app, which is Asian version of Uber
  • You’ll need to get a taxi to get to Batu caves, and expect it to be very crowded

How much time to spend here – 2-3 days

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Ipoh

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Why to visit and what to expect

A small city halfway from Kuala Lumpur to Penang which is not that well known or touristy but it’s recently being discovered and has been famously featured in Lonely Planet’s top new cities to visit in SE Asia. Which makes it a great stopover on your way to Penang, you can easily get there by a train or bus in 2 1/2 hours from KL.

It’s often described as a smaller version of Penang, which is quite accurate. I would say there is even more street art in Ipoh and a lot of it is also by is Ernest Zacharevich. The little streets of the old town have a lot of character and there is even an emerging hipster scene with cafes and hidden speakeasy bars.

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Highlights

  • Street art
  • Hipster culture
    – coffee at ‘Plan B’ and visiting The Tiga bar
  • Concubine lane
    – try all the traditional Chinese snacks and desserts
  • Wandering though the old town
  • White coffee
    – Malaysian speciality which originated in Ipoh
  • Museums
    – Funtasy art
  • Temples
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Tips / Things to remember

  • As I said it’s not very touristy so things aren’t open that late and the nightlife isn’t very good
  • It’s small and quite traditional so the shops and markets aren’t very modern
  • It’s cheaper

How much time to spend here – 1 day

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Penang

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Why to visit and what to expect

You’ll see Penang in almost all Malaysian itineraries, it seems to be the most essential city to visit apart from KL. And its popularity is well deserved.

Georgetown is truly amazing, there’s a lot of cultural sights and temples, the streets of old town are beautiful, it’s full street art, museums, new hipster cool spots and different cultures. It’s vibrant, alive, there’s a lot going on and it still has such a cool chilled vibe. Not to mention that it is often called the foodie capital of Malaysia and it’s often claimed that the most authentic and delicious food is found in Penang.

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Highlights

  • Street art
    – can be found thoughout the whole of Georgetown but you need to look for it, some pieces are inside stores, around corners or behind buildings, so it’s good to get a ‘street art map of Penang’ or just tell your trishaw driver that you want to see the street art
  • Museums
    – ghost museum, food museum, etc.
  • Georgetown
    – just wandering through the streets of Georgetown makes a good plan for the day
  • Armenian street
    – you can find some of the most well-known street art pictures here like “children on the bike” but it is also the most touristy street
  • Trishaw ride
    – get a ride through the old town the traditional way
  • Temples
    – Khoo Kongsi temple, Sri Mariamman Temple, Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque and so many other ones
  • Little India
    – try the best Tandori chicken and naan, check out temples and traditionally decorated streets
  • Chinatown
  • Street food
    – Gurney drive – the most popular street food market, but also so many others, Penang street etc.
  • Pinang Peranakan mansion
  • Beach
    – Batu Ferringhi beach
  • Chew jetty
    – old Chinese clan jetty
  • FOOD!
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Tips / Things to remember

  • Penang is close to popular Langkawi and is easy to get to for some island hopping if you want to stick to the west coast of Malaysia
  • It’s an island and there’s at least 3 main bus stations so when you’re buying your tickets make sure you’ll be getting dropped off “behind the bridge” not before because that’s quite a long way from Georgetown
  • If you’re staying in Georgetown, all the main sights are within walking distance, the Batu Ferringhi beach is on the other side of the island though
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Redang island

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Why to visit and what to expect

Who thinks of East Malaysia when wanting to see beautiful beaches? That’s right, barely anyone. That’s the point.

Because of that, there’s very little tourism, the beaches are not crowded even in high season, the resorts are not that expensive and the surroundings are unspoiled.

I was really surprised, the water was clear, the beaches amazingly white and the marine life is very rich.

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Highlights

  • long beach
  • Snorkelling
  • rich marine life
  • Diving
  • Good weather
  • beautiful and peaceful white sand paradise
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Tips / Things to remember

  • There are a few different islands on the east coast (Perhentians, Tioman, Lah Tengah, Kapas…), they are kind of similar but some offer a different vibe, for example Lah Tengah is very very quiet and secluded and Perhentians are popular with backpackers.
  • It can seem quite tricky to get to, first you’ll need to fly to a closest airport (Kuala Terengganu), then take a taxi or a bus to Merang jetty and then get a speed boat to the island (often can be organised by a hotel you’re staying at).
  • But beware, there are no direct flights from Penang, so we chose to go by an overnight bus which left Penang at 11pm and got us to Merang jetty just before 8am.
  • Look it up closely depending on which island you’re going to because they all depart from a different jetty. This might seem quite confusing at the start but it’s all bookable online and all the services were very reliable.
  • There are no ATMs on the island, so take some cash with you.
  • Because it’s not that touristy, the food and shop options are very limited, but you can still find some.
  • You can hire a boat or book a tour for some island hopping or to popular diving / snorkelling spots (there is a lot of diving schools on the island).
  • When going back, there are cheap flights to KL.
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So even though Malaysia wasn’t high on my travelling bucket list, it exceeded my expectations and I think it’s definitely worth visiting if you get a chance!

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Have you been to Malaysia or any of these cities? Do you want to go? Tell me in comments.

Suz

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