What could be more appealing for a holiday: a relaxing combination of city life, a spot of history and culture, all rounded off with an affordably luxurious beach stay? If that sounds like the holiday for you, look no further than Malaysia – and two to three weeks is just about enough time to get an overview of the Malay peninsula.
Flying to Malaysia, you’ll arrive in Kuala Lumpur. In many respects, KL is a typical Asian city in that it’s full of shopping malls (check the prices of iDevices, they’re considerably cheaper in Malaysia than the UK).
The big draw of this city is the mighty Petronas Towers - better yet, I stayed at Hotel Maya, a gorgeous 4* hotel which has magnificent views of the Petronas Towers. You’ll need to queue early for tickets to the towers, so it’s far better to book tickets in advance - Travel Nation arranged mine. Be warned, the towers’ glistening exterior is exceptionally photogenic and while you might find yourself belittling tourists with selfie sticks – I challenge you not to join in.
If you’re in KL for a few days, take a trip out to Batu Caves – they’re one of the most significant Hindu shrines outside of India. After climbing many, many steps beside scampering, cheeky macaque monkeys, you’ll reach a fantastic limestone cave at the top, with an opening to the skies above. The monkeys are fun to watch – be careful as they’ll steal food right out of your hands! You’ll also need to be ‘appropriately attired’ - I found myself hastily wrapped a sarong as my dress was deemed too short.
After a few days in the steamy capital, head to the lush Cameron Highlands. The views as you climb higher are lovely – the tea plantations look like a rolling green carpet, and the air is welcomingly crisp and fresh.
We had a private car and driver who took us up into the highlands, where we stayed at the Strawberry Park Resort. The highlands are known for two things; the rolling hills covered with tea plantations, and hydroponically grown strawberries (which highlanders are very proud of).
We opted for a full –day, guided, private jeep safari. Our guide took us to the BOH (‘Best of the Highlands’) tea plantation where we could wander amongst the tea bushes and learn how the shoots are used to make green tea and the leaves to make black tea.
We were then taken for a short trek into the mountains, with glorious views over the plantations and further afield. Our Malaysian guide was fantastic and showed us the different plants that we would recognise that grow in the cloud forest; ginger, cardamom and a plant that must be the basis for TCP as it smelt antiseptic. I’d highly recommend this way of exploring with a guide – we wouldn’t have seen or understood half as much by ourselves.
We rounded off the day with a visit to a tea factory and tea room where we could see how they manufacture tea fromthe leaves and sample some for ourselves. Whether you drink black, green or white tea, there’s plenty to choose from, and it can be quite serene, sipping tea and gazing over the plantations below.
On route to our next destination - Penang - our driver/guide took us to Orangutan island. It’s a small sanctuary in the middle of a lake, only accessible by boat. If you make the trip, you’ll be rewarded with views of Malaysia’s indigenous apes swinging through the trees. We also saw the younger ones being bottle fed and some baby orangs up close – super cute! I recommend asking Travel Nation to arrange a stop for you en route to Penang.
We stayed in the comfortable Traders Hotel, a 10-minute walk from China Town and Little India. Historical George Town has some beautiful street art which we were looking for. The crumbling white buildings shelter wall-sized murals, so keep your eyes open as you stroll around.
In the evening, if you take a stroll up to Little India, you’ll find street stalls selling all sorts of delicious bites. We filled a bag with lots of different jellies, coconut-ty bites and glutinous rice snacks and snacked on them while we wandered the streets amongst the sari shops.
Next, we headed to the Clan Jetties, which are wooden ‘piers’ jutting into the sea, lined with houses and shops. Various Chinese clans live here and some of the houses are decorated with pretty Chinese lanterns and little houses – plenty of photo moments here too!
From Penang, you can take a ferry up to Langkawi, or you could backtrack a little and fly up. I’m not a massive lover of boats and this was a sit-down-strap-in affair, so if that’s not for you, I’d fly instead. Langkawi is very much the holiday destination, so you’ll feel transported once you arrive.
We were met from the terminal and driven to our hotel, the in the south-west corner of the island. The hotel is mid-range, but it does have a magnificent infinity pool, right on the edge of the beach. Bliss.
Don’t miss the Langkawi Sky Bridge which involves taking a cable car high up into the mountains before you reach the bridge itself. I’d seen the view on Pinterest, so many times I couldn’t wait to see it for myself – the views are panoramic.
From Langkawi, you can fly back to KL which takes an hour barely. We were met in KL and driven to Melaka on the West Coast. We stayed at a beautiful, old colonial property, the Hotel Puri. Every morning buffet breakfast is served on a leafy terrace – the perfect, tranquil start to your day.
Melaka is full of history – it’s changed hands and been fought over so many times, including a period of being ruled by the Dutch. The must-do things for visitors for Melaka are a ride in a gaudy trishaw and an experience of Jonker’s Walk street food on a Sunday night.
You can pick up a trishaw in the centre of town, and you’ll get a short guided tour around the main sites. Our driver was brilliant, and he injected comedy into our ride when the slightest gradient meant we had to get out and walk as he couldn’t pedal us both uphill! The trishaws compete for decoration, and most have kitschy Hello Kitty or Barbie dolls attached, as well as stereos and other bling. It’s tacky but fun.
By day, Jonker's walk is a veritable emporium of addictive shops that seem to cater precisely for a kitschy/hipster western market. We bought cute, cheap, and locally designed screen printed tee shirts and local wooden handicrafts – it’s gift heaven.
There are so many places to get a great coffee in Melaka, and you’ll find yourself dipping in and out of them regularly, just to take a break from the sun. One favourite was the Calanthe Art Café which serves coffee grown from each of Malaysia’s 13 states. Actually, as a coffee fan, I thought that Malaysia has a surprising number of seriously cool coffee houses.
We were told to look out for The Best Streetfood In Malaysia in Penang, but we didn’t find it there, it was definitely at the Sunday night Jonker's Walk Street Marke. Singaporeans buzz up to Melaka for their weekend breaks, which is I think the reason this night market is so good. So much so that we grazed the length of it and almost dropped into a food coma at the end!
Two great favourites were:
Sticky rice wrapped in a palm leaf with sweet mincemeat in the centre. I can’t explain why it was dyed blue, but it was satisfyingly delicious. Something like this would make the perfect mid-week lunch in the office – I wish you could buy it over here!
Secondly, a Durian puff: Durian is famed as the most stinky fruit in Malaysia (a deserved reputation). So much so that every hotel has “No durians allowed” signs everywhere. A durian puff is the fruit encased in pastry. I was warned to eat it in one go but chickened out. The result was durian extract on my clothes which then had to be isolated in a bin bag for the rest of the trip. Say. No. More.
From Melaka, many people travel the short distance south to Singapore, as I did. I enquired about switching our bus transfer for a private driver, but this is vastly more expensive, due to the border crossing. The express bus is straightforward and takes about 3-4 hours depending on traffic into Singapore. I recommend asking Travel Nation to book the bus and checking where it arrives – we didn’t, and then found ourselves marooned in Singapore, seemingly far from any point of reference, so a downtown stop would make things easier!
If you’re interested in a Malaysia trip or holiday, we can tailor-make something to suit your style and budget. Malaysia is very affordable, so you might be able to stretch up to more luxury than you expect – ask us for advice! This two week Malaysia holiday is based on my trip and visits all the places I've mentioned, so call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email if you're interested in a similar trip.