Malaysia, Borneo and Singapore: Part 1 Mainland Malaysia

In October, we decided to travel to Malaysia for a three week tour encompassing mainland Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo and a final stop in Singapore. Armed with a Rough Guide, I set about trying to plan an itinerary including as much as I could in a short space of time.

Days 1-3 Kuala Lumpur

Our first stop was the capital city and we were staying in a new hotel (Metro 360)on the edge of Bukit Bintang. Phil had been struck down by illness, so our first day after landing was spent napping and relaxing, followed by exploring the local hawker markets, bars and restaurants in our locale. Every few metres you are offered a massage, food or invited to buy goods on a stall. I am not sure if fatigue and illness clouded by view, but Kuala Lumpur has to be one of the most underwhelming cities I have visited and not somewhere I would chose to return to. It is a very easy city to get around with a brilliant metro and monorail system, but lacks a real focal point apart from the Petronas Towers. If you are into shopping, then this city will keep you occupied for hours, if not, then two days is more than enough to visit the main areas.

The Petronas Towers are very impressive and definitely worth a visit. We did not actually go up them as it was quite a murky day so assumed the views wouldn’t be great, but you can book a 45minute tour online in advance. We then went to China Town, got Phil a haircut in a dodgy backstreet barbers and wandered the pedestrianised Jalan Petaling; basically closely packed market stalls selling all kinds of fake designer goods.

The following day we took a daytrip by train to the Batu Caves. Unfortunately, unless there is a festival going on, a very underwhelming visit. The site consists of a giant golden statue of a Hindu god and 272 steps up to the caves. It was undergoing renovations when we visited, so the statue was covered in scaffolding and visitors were obliged to carry a bucket of rubble to the top. The caves weren’t that impressive and apart from entertaining photos of macaques and their young, it isn’t really worth the trip out of the city unless you have time to spare.

Days 4-6 Langkawi

Internal air flights in Malaysia are ridiculously cheap and as we were short on time, we took an Air Asia flight to our next stop – the island of Langkawi. We stayed in a small hotel called Telaga Terrace Boutique Resort, which had pleasant rooms and a central pool for guests to use, but no direct access to the beach and no views. We found that unlike other south East Asian countries, accommodation in Malaysia was actually quite pricey. I was surprised at how commercialised Langkawi was, and was expecting more of a quiet traditional island. Unfortunately for us, we arrived at a time when torrential rains were occurring on and off, so relaxing on the beach was not an option and our first day was spent reading books and venturing out for dinner once things had eased off. It is worth bearing in mind that the island has no public transport, so it is necessary to get taxis everywhere or hire a car or scooter to explore.

We took a day trip to the Langkawi cable car – apparently the steepest of its kind. The views were initially spectacular, but unfortunately as we ascended the mountain, we entered a cloud and for the rest of the ride were unable to see anything! Upon our return to the base, we continued up the road to the Telega Tujuh – quite an uphill trek in the Malaysian humidity! There is a low viewpoint to admire the waterfall and then the path continues upwards to a viewing point at the top of the waterfall, where lots of streams coalesce into freshwater pools.

The following day we had signed up for an island hopping boat tour. We visited the beautiful Pulau Dayan Bunting forested island which has a central crater where you can swim or hire pedalos, Singapore Besar for eagle feeding And Beras Basah to chill on the beach. The trip was a great day out despite the large number of tourist boats. The boat ride return to the marina was like a Disney water ride; the captain of our small boat tried to out race a wall of rain that you could physically see approaching us. Despite his best efforts, we got caught in a torrential downpour, but it was all such good fun that no one minded that we were all soaked through. It is worth making sure you have a dry bag with you though to keep your camera and valuables in!

Tip: Beware of the monkies! They will steal anything that is dangling, so make sure you hold all carrier bags high up, ensure scarves are not loose, do not leave bags unattended at the beach and definitely don’t get any food or drinks out -they will attack!

Food and drink recommendations:

  • “The Cliff” for sunset drinks at the bar and views back along the beach
  • Yasmin Restaurant – a lovely Middle Eastern restaurant with large portions
  • La Sal at Casa Del Mar – a lovely bar and restaurant right on the beach associated with the hotel. Although the drinks were pricey, we stumbled into a great happy hour bar game and ended up winning four free cocktails!

Days 7-9 Penang

We took the ferry from Langkawi to Penang, mainly because we thought we would have nice views, however actually it would have been the same cost and more comfortable to fly. On arrival, our lovely friend Emma, (who we hadn’t seen for about ten years) and her boyfriend Jordan picked us up from the ferry port, dropped us at our accommodation and then took us out for a curry. We were staying in Ren I Tang Heritage Inn, a fantastic 19th century hotel in the heart of Little India in Georgetown that used to be a Chinese Medical Hall. The staff were lovely and extremely helpful and the accommodation is brilliant – you must stay here!

Emma and Jordan were our tour guides for the day and took us to lovely coffee shops and gave us recommendations for our stay. Penang is beautiful and has amazing food stalls, lovely old buildings and there is plenty to see and do! I only wish we could have stayed here longer to explore the national park. Georgetown has lots of street art, from murals to cartoons made of steel wire and it is fun exploring all the streets to hunt them down! We visited the Peranakan mansion during a downpour to escape the rain,  numerous temples, the clan jetties (stilt houses), the famous love lane, and tried lots of weird and wonderful street food.

We were also lucky enough to manage to catch up with my Malaysian friend Swee who I met in Ecuador and we all went out to a Hawkers market and tasted the local specialities. Penang is a wonderful place, great food, friendly people and lots to explore – a wonderful end to our mini tour of mainland Malaysia.


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