Backpacking Malaysia is great for easy Asia travel. Easier than South America, easier than Thailand. We traveled the length of the Malaysian peninsula from Malacca to Penang, Kuala Lumpur (KL) to the Perhentian Islands through the Cameron Highlands. The people are friendly, welcoming, and excited to have you in their country. The buses are clean with organized stations and the roads are smooth with minimal traffic, especially in the countryside. The highlight of backpacking Malaysia was the food. From Malay to Chinese to Indian, the cuisine is an amazing fusion of different cultures, living together in relative harmony. Low food costs are easy for every budget traveler and in Malaysia you can get a full meal starting at $1.50 for a vegetarian banana leaf lunch. Even though the government just added a tourist tax to all hotel rooms, Malaysia still has good deals for travelers on a budget. We stayed in some of the nicest and most fun hostels of our lives, and our 15 days in the peninsula didn’t scratch the surface of what the country has to offer.
Pick a Route:
Picking a backpacking route though Malaysia is easy. For a two week trip we would recommend starting in Singapore and working your way north from Malacca to KL, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian Islands, then back across to Georgetown, Penang. If you have three weeks we would suggest adding Taman Negara National Park and Langkawi Island. These are both trips along the standard backpacker trail, great for your first time in Malaysia. Since Malaysia has much fewer tourists than Thailand, you will run into the same friendly faces as you go. There was one lady on our trip that we ran into in at three different places on our adventure. Of course there are many other parts of Malaysia worth exploring, mainly the jungles of Borneo where things are more wild. On a four week trip we would suggest spending a week there getting off the tourist path.
Enjoy the Food:
The food in Malaysia is easy and good for any backpacker’s budget. The most we “cooked” for ourselves in Malaysia was to peel a banana, maybe once. The local markets are great places to pig out economically. Check out the laksa, poh piah, mee koring, and nasi kandar. Western style restaurants are there, but they are the most expensive and generally not as exciting as the local flavors. Every city has a Chinese neighborhood and an Indian neighborhood. Little India was always our favorite spot to eat, great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike! For one meal I had seven different curries and spent a total of less than $3. For these reasons, Malaysia was my all time favorite country to eat in!
Stay in a Hostel:
The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop. Frame is a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways. We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.
Backpackers will love Malaysia for the hostels which are cheap and easy to book online. Sometimes they do fill up, especially in the busy season, so we suggest booking in advance. They range in price and quality and there is a new 10 Ringgit tourist tax for every room. Our favorites were the Lemongrass on Long Beach in the Perhentians, and Frame Guesthouse in Georgetown, Penang. Prices range from $10 per night for a dorm bed, $15 for a beach bungalow, or $18 for private room with A/C.
Speak With the Locals:
Backpacking Malaysia is easier than other parts of Asia because most people can speak or at least understand English. A majority of the signs are also in English and Malay, so you will never have a hard time finding your way around. Malay also using the English characters so it’s easy to pick up a little bit along the way which always makes the locals appreciate you more. Knowing few words like terima kasih (thank you) can get you a lot of respect points and make you look a little better than the average traveler.
When looking for easier Asia travel, backpacking Malaysia should be at the top of your list. With top notch people, food, nature and adventure, and hostels, never ending aventuras await you in this tropical paradise!