Ultimate Backpacking Guide for Malaysia and Brunei

Malaysia is by far the most underrated country in South East Asia, surrounded by Bangkok, Indonesia and other great gems. Malaysia is without a doubt one of the countries with the most potential and that surprised me the most in this region.

Surprisingly advanced and somewhat more expensive than its neighbors, unexploited nature, large temples and without a doubt the best cuisine in South East Asia with the permission of Singapore.

Everything you need to know for your trip to Malaysia:

  1. Best time of year to visit Malaysia
  2. Best tips for Malaysia
  3. 20 Day itinerary for Malaysia
    1. Days 1 to 4: Penang
    2. Days 5 and 6: Cameron Highlands
    3. Days 7 to 10: Kuala Lumpur
    4. Days 11 and 12: Melacca
    5. Days 13 and 14: Kuching (Sarawak)
    6. Days 15 and 16: Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan)
    7. Days 17 to 20: Sabah (Kota Kinabalu)
  4. Malaysia daily budget
  5. Where to stay in Malaysia
  6. What to do in Malaysia if you have more time

Official exchange rate 1EUR = 5 MYR

Best time of year to visit Malaysia

After having visited several South-East Asian countries at different times of the year, I can attest that there are no better or worse times to visit them. It will always rain on you at one time or another. Of course, is a country somewhat anomalous when it comes to receiving the rainy season, since it has several monsoons?

  • Northeast Regions: November to March
  • Northeast Regions: May to October

The bridge months between seasons are usually the dry season and in the opposite regions as well. No matter when you go, you won’t have any weather problems. Yes, during the rainy seasons it usually rains very intensely, but they are tropical storms and tend to disappear relatively quickly. However, it is possible that you will have rain every day during that period.

Best tips for Malaysia

Here are some tips that may be useful on your first visit to the country:

  • Borneo: Don’t leave it aside and if you go there, dedicate time to it. Due to its peculiar terrain and the poor condition of some roads, it will take you longer to get around that island compared to Peninsular Malaysia.
  • Flights with AirAsia: They are extremely cheap, don’t hesitate when spending 6 hours on a bus, look on skyscanner and a flight to KL or an island will appear for a ridiculous amount.
  • Grab: As in many countries, taxis take advantage of tourists so take advantage of technology and use Grab, it costs half as much as Uber and less than a taxi. If for whatever reason you cannot take a Grab, always agree on the price with the taxi drivers, they will tell you <> Don’t listen to them, always agree on the price even in the Tuk-Tuk.
  • Use the RedBus application to find all the buses and buy them online, you avoid intermediaries and go to the stations well in advance.
  • Not sexy inside: This is what they told us in more than one temple… Whether you are a man or a woman, cover your legs and shoulders! You must always wear long pants to enter the temples. It is a Muslim country, be respectful of its culture and traditions.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol has very high taxes for being a Muslim country and is usually more expensive even than in Europe, the only exceptions are the islands of Langkawi and Labuan, which are Duty Free regions.
  • Visa: The visa for Spaniards and most nationalities is 30 days but it is easy to extend. Otherwise you can cross the neighboring border and re-enter, also called doing a “visa run”.

20 Day itinerary for Malaysia

Maybe I would have made some changes to my route and dedicated more time to Sabah and skipped Sarawak, but this is my route and my recommendations:

Days 1 to 4: Penang

If you go to Penang, my recommendation is that you stay in Georgetown and move from there. Penang is an island in the north of Malaysia. Just like Langkawi only has beaches. Penang has beaches, hiking, street art, spectacular cuisine and a unique historic center.

I recommend that you walk around the center in the markets and try its countless dishes, it has a great Indian influence and spicy food is practically everywhere, the best known are New World and The Jetty, in Jalan Penang near Komtar you will find Lots of street food stalls.

However, Georgetown is world famous for its street art, wherever you go in the city you will find the typical colonial buildings and in its alleys, painted walls, graffiti and old utensils converted into art.

Dedicate a day to Penang Hill, climb to its observation deck and get a view of the entire city. You cannot go up by private vehicle, so you will have to decide if you want to go up by funicular (about 15MYR) or on foot. Keep in mind that it is very hot and humid and climbing that mountain is a good challenge.

The rest of the days I recommend renting a scooter for €7-8 a day (gasoline costs €0.30/liter… hilarious) and go to Pasir Pajang Beach or Batu Ferringhi Beach, on the way back stop on one of the cliffs to see the Penang Floating Mosque.

Days 5 and 6: Cameron Highlands

For me a little over rated, it is that place where you go if you have time or are passing through. The reason you go there is for the trekking and the tea plantations… If you have already done it in other destinations, you can do without it.

From Georgetown to Cameron Highlands it takes about 4 hours and there are two or three buses a day, some direct and others with an interchange in Ipoh. Once there, ask your accommodation what treks you can do, they will tell you depending on your level and the time you want to dedicate to it which is your best option. You can spend a week there and not repeat any trek.

Days 7 to 10: Kuala Lumpur

I’m not a big fan of cities, but Kuala Lumpur, like Bangkok, deserves a separate mention. I spent four days in KL and found few of them.

It reminds me of Singapore, a mix between modern and old, large skyscrapers next to temples and traditional or fake markets. You can have a cocktail at the Helipad of a skyscraper and buy some fake Balenciaga at the store in the alley behind your hotel.

You cannot do without two visits to Petronas, at least one during the day and one at night. Personally, I do not recommend going up to the top of the Petronas because the beauty of the KL Skyline is to see the Petronas, for that reason I recommend that you go to the Heli Lounger Bar in the Menara skyscraper, a cocktail bar with 360º views located on the 40th floor overlooking all of KL. For MYR 100 per person (€20) you have two cocktails included from the menu.

Moving on to a more cultural point, you must visit the Batu Caves, I have to say that I have been twice and they still seem fabulous to me even though the macaques terrify me. In KL Central you should go to eat at Jalan Alor, visit Merdeka Square and its Masjid Jamek mosque and Chinatown to buy souvenirs.

Day 11 and 12: Melacca

Melacca is an old Portuguese colonial city just two hours from KL by bus, buses leave literally every 30 minutes although for some reason you have to buy tickets within 90 minutes…

Melacca is well worth a visit. The positive part of Melacca is that the historic center, the canals and its alleys once you leave the center are beautiful, the negative part is that it is overexploited for tourists, you practically cannot walk through the center and it is full of tuned TukTuks (which I think they’re hilarious) from Pikachu, Hello Kitty and Paw Patrol.

Take the street art route, look for the pins on google maps and get away from the crowds, climb Melacca Hill to see the A Famosa fortress and the Church of St. Paul. If you have time to spare, I recommend that you rent a bike and buy mosquito repellent and go see the sunset at the Masjid Selat.

Days 13 and 14: Kuching (Sarawak)

Kuching will be your gateway to Borneo, Kuching means the city of cats and throughout the city you will find statues of cats and small felines roaming around the city. Kuching per se doesn’t have much to see, but it’s a fun place to spend a day.

The main points of interest in Kuching is the Semenggoh Park, which is a reserve protecting the orangutans that live there in a semi-freedom regime. Although if you can see them free in the jungle the better. Animals are relatively accustomed to being given food at certain times and tend to appear almost certainly.

Bako National Park is the other must-do in Sarawak, a national park where you can find several primates, including Proboscis (proboscis monkeys). Although the park is somewhat far from the city and you have to access it by boat, an important note is that you have to go and come back on the boat with the same people, which also means that the price is the same, go 1 or go 5 because the boatman has to make the same journey. A scam from my point of view to get more money from tourists.

Days 15 and 16: Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan)

Brunei is perhaps the strangest country I have been to at the time of writing this post. A non-touristy country where there is little to see and little to do. The country is super safe and has practically non-existent crime rates, you won’t find alcohol anywhere, although you wouldn’t find anyone to have a beer with either…

There are, literally, LITERALLY, three things to do in Brunei. Visit the Jame’Asr Hassanil Mosque which when I went was under repair and closed to infidels, the Omar Ali Saiffudien Mosque which was closed for a religious event and the Sultan’s Palace which is not in the city and only opens during the birthday of the sultan so that everyone can go shake his hand.

Apart from that, the distances between places are very long, public transport is terrible and it is very hot. I wouldn’t recommend going unless you’re passing through, or it’s the Sultan’s birthday.

Days 17 and 20: Sabah (Kota Kinabalu)

After a day to get out of Brunei due to the land borders being closed, I discovered that you could leave via Labuan (a Malaysian island connected by ferry) and from there to Kota Kinabalu.

There are several things to do in Kota Kinabalu, the main thing is to get an island hopping voucher which is very cheap to visit several islands near the coast. You can make several, but in my case I focused on two, Manukan and Mamutik. They have very good snorkelling and virgin, clean beaches with few people.

From there you can do various day trips and hikes, if Mount Kinabalu is not your thing you can just do a day trip to Poring, do the canopy walk and the hot springs.

Regardless of this, KK has very good restaurants with a strong Chinese influence, while mainland Malaysia has a greater Indian influence.

Presupuesto diario Malasia

Alcohol aside, Malaysia is an above-average country in the region in terms of prices. Although it is still very cheap and very attractive for the budget traveler.

Food is usually around 2-3 per meal, but they are usually of exceptional quality, you find markets everywhere and with generous portions.

Transportation is in line with averages, but you may have to take several planes that, even if they are cheap, will increase your budget.

Accommodation You will hardly find places for less than €10 in mainland Malaysia, although Borneo is a little more affordable.

Leisure is the area where you can go a little further, tickets to the parks are expensive and alcohol has European prices.

Where to stay in Malaysia

  • The Frame Guesthouse // Penang: Clean, although a bit cold and inhospitable. It doesn’t transmit much, it has a hostel vibe and the common areas are always empty.
  • Rope Walk Guesthouse // Penang: Very central but somewhat worse maintained, too many people in the rooms but with much more social interaction.
  • Traveler Bunker Hostel // Cameron Highlands: One of the best hostels I stayed in, you have your own pod, very safe, and the staff does their best to do activities and trekking every day with the rest of the guests.
  • 1000 miles // Kuala Lumpur: Correct, quite clean, although the rooms are tiny due to the number of people they put there. Very little social.
  • Mingle @ Highstreet // Kuala Lumpur: Right in front of 1000 miles, very dynamic, it’s a party hostel, they have pub crawls and daily activities, place to be if you can’t stay at Penthouse @ 34th. Also super clean, new and with breakfast included.
  • Penthouse @ 34th // Kuala Lumpur: You’ll never see a hostel like this, on the 34th floor of a skyscraper with an infinity pool for just €15 a night! Good vibe and always full of other travelers.
  • Le Village Guesthouse // Melaka: A very strange place, I felt unsafe, the place was dirty and the people were quite creepy.
  • Marco Polo // Kuching: Place to be in Kuching, although it must be said that it is the only hostel in the city, good vibe, good, pretty and cheap.
  • Homy Seafront Hostel // Kota Kinabalu: One of the best hostels I have ever been to, spectacular views of the ocean and its islands, very central and its facilities are nothing comparable. In addition, the rooms were large, spacious and the facilities were very clean. Excellent common area.

What to do if you have more time in Malaysia

Without a doubt the Perhentian Islands and Nusa Tenggara in East Malaysia. If you have time and desire you can go to Semporna in Borneo to dive in Sipadan, one of the most unique diving sites in the world.

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