Before we dive on into this itinerary post a quick disclaimer that one week in Malaysia definitely isn’t long enough to see everything that this amazing country has to offer. If like us though, you’ve found some cheap flights and decided to have an extended stop over, you can definitely see plenty of incredible places in a week. Kuala Lumpur is one of the biggest transport hubs in South East Asia and hosts Air Asia HQ meaning there are tons of cheap flights into the city from many different countries.
With one week in Malaysia we reckon the best option is to spend at least a few days in Kuala Lumpur – a buzzing metropolis that fast turned into one of our famous cities. It’s relatively cheap, really modern and easy to get around and there’s loads to see and do. With the remaining few days head to one of Malaysia’s other travel hot spots like Langkawi if you’re after a quick beach break, or Penang for a bit of added culture and some of the very best of Malaysian food. We decided that 4 days definitely wasn’t enough time to explore somewhere like Borneo for example and in the end opted to spend a couple of days in Penang, which turned out to be the perfect choice.
Sadly we were pretty sick when we rocked up in KL, and having a cold for a full week meant that we didn’t squeeze in quite as much as we usually would. We still managed to see a fair bit though and our itinerary and highlights are below:
3 Days In Penang
First stop on our one week in Malaysia was to immediately get ourselves to Penang to start exploring. We flew straight to Penang from Kuala Lumpur as flights were just £30 each return including baggage so it seemed crazy to spend 5-6 hours on a bus or train instead of flying. A quick warning though that whilst Air Asia may seem a very modern and efficient airline in reality you’ll probably spend more time in airport queues than you thought possible… even if you check in online, print your boarding pass in advance and even print out your luggage tags. There’s also a fairly high chance that your flight will be delayed or cancelled – we had one delay and one cancellation out of three flights in a week. It is however very cheap so those sorts of inconveniences can be overlooked relatively easily.
Three days was the perfect time to spend in Penang out of our one week in Malaysia itinerary, and we’ve written a list of all the main awesome things you should try and do while you’re there. Our days consisted of sitting in cafes trying to get work done and drinking copious amounts of honey and lemon tea to try and cure colds before spending the afternoon fitting in some sightseeing.
On day one we spent the afternoon exploring Georgetown – the second biggest city in Malaysia and home to UNESCO world heritage architecture and plenty of amazing street art. It’s an arty and creative little community with everything from sketching tours to vintage car displays so there’s definitely something for everyone.
Next up it was time for a beach day so we duly headed to Batu Ferringhi on the Northern coast of the island and a cheap 30-40 minute uber ride from Georgetown. This stretch of coastline is stunning, with miles of sandy beaches, and plenty to do whether you want to chill out and have a massage or get involved in jet skiing or other water sports. There are however tons of jellyfish lurking so keep an eye out if you decide to go for a swim! It’s a beautiful beach though and the perfect place to relax for the day. Despite rain being forecast we had wall to wall sunshine and the beach was more or less empty.
Finally we decided to see Penang Hill, the highest peak on the island and one of the tourist highlights. Too ill for hiking we caught the funicular train to the summit and spent an hour having a wander. The views of the island and coastline are fab and there’s all sorts of weird and wonderful things to do – perhaps you’d enjoy an earthquake experience or a mooch around the owl museum. Try to pick a clear day to head up as if it’s cloudy it wouldn’t be much fun.
3 Days In Kuala Lumpur
Once our 3 days in Penang were up and we were half way through our one week in Malaysia, we flew back to Kuala Lumpur to enjoy the second half of our week in Malaysia. This was a completely unplanned trip – Rob spotted flights for £40 each from Ho Chi Minh City and it was pretty cheap to fly on to Taiwan, our next destination, so we decided to give it a go. So glad we did as we fell in love with Malaysia and KL in particular and can’t wait to go back (in approximately 3 weeks on an 8 hour stopover).
3 days is a decent amount of time to see the city highlights without rushing around and we felt we saw plenty even though we were relatively lazy. It’s also worth mentioning our accommodation in KL as for just £10 per night we stayed in a really decent hostel with breakfast and good facilities and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. Our hostel in Georgetown was a bit of a shithole for the same price so we haven’t bothered recommending that one!
On our first day we decided to take it easy and see the Batu Caves as well as spending some time in China town near to where we were staying. We’d planned to get the train but it turns out Uber is by far the most convenient and relatively (for two people) cheapest way of getting around. It cost about £6 for the return journey from the city centre. The caves themselves are far more impressive than we’d imagined and the main Temple Cave is free to look around. Be warned though there are a lot of steps to the top and it’s extremely hot – we were a mess by the time we reached the cave itself! It’s worth spending an hour or so exploring and taking pictures and it’s also possible to join tours of the other two caves in the complex. Once back in the city we walked around China town and spent some time at the many markets.
Day two was time for us to take our Malaysian cooking class – booked with LaZat Cooking School and based just outside the city. Starting with the usual market tour we met our small group and headed back to the school to get cooking. We’d tried some amazing food in Penang and learning how to cook a traditional Nasi Lemak was brilliant. Cooking classes in Malaysia are really expensive by South East Asian standards – we couldn’t find one for less than £40 each so it was a splurge but to be honest they’re well worth doing.
Finally we spent the last day of our one week in Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur exploring the central market and looking at the various stalls selling everything from Malaysian souvenirs to all the knock off goods you could imagine. There’s more hassle here than other shops and markets we visited but it’s still a good place to spend an hour or so and you can definitely find some bargains. Last stop was the Petronas Twin Towers which were seriously impressive. The tour was £15 each so not cheap but the views are awesome – we were up there in the middle of the daily afternoon thunderstorm which was pretty spectacular. We also had a little insight from one of the staff on the highest point who said for the best views you have to look out from the windows in the bathrooms – so bear that in mind if you visit!
Top Tips for One Week in Malaysia
All in all the one week we spent in Malaysia was brilliant – everyone we met was so friendly, spoke perfect English and it was one of the most welcoming places we visited. I’m not sure if it was the level of contrast between the very different experience we’d just had in Vietnam but it was so friendly we just loved it.
Our best advice for how to spend one week in Malaysia would be to choose just one or two places to visit so you’re not trying to cover too much ground. It’s easy to get around with Uber operating in all major cities and offering a really cheap means of transport, whilst local buses, metros and trains are also simple to navigate.
Watch out for mosquitos – we were destroyed by them and were covered in bites by the time we left as repellant didn’t seem to do much. Only western pharmacies sell sprays containing deet – most pharmacies sell only natural remedies from what we found. The heat and humidity was also pretty intense when we visited in early March so it’s worth avoiding walking around too much if you can.
Finally make sure to enjoy all the amazing food on offer – Malaysia is a melting pot of Asian cultures and the resulting variety of food available is incredible. From traditional Indian buffets to Chinese street food and Malay dishes like Asam Laksa and Nasi Lemak it all tastes delicious so try as much as you can while you’re there!