Malaysia is one of those destinations that, when you mention it, raises an eyebrow. Why there? Isn’t it really rundown? What is there to ‘see’ in Malaysia? Trust me, I had the same response about a hundred times over when sharing my exciting plans to visit for 3 weeks back in November 2018.
The reason? Well, my Dad (pictured left!) is from Malaysia and, as such, half of my family reside there. And I’ve been lucky enough to visit multiple times throughout my entire life!
So it completely blew my mind when I realised that I’ve never blogged a travel guide to the beautiful country that I call a third home. (Mum’s from Hong Kong! And as I lived there as an expat for 2 years, I call it my second home.)
So why should you visit Malaysia? Well for starters, it’s one of the most diverse places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
You’ll find people from all walks of life here, cultures living along each other in (mostly) harmony. It’s also home to age-old rainforests, bustling cities and heritage towns, all of which I’ll introduce you to in this guide. I’ll also update this guide, the more I visit.
With the help of my family who’re permanently based in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, here are my top recommendations for your next trip to Malaysia…
First up, some top tips if you’re visiting Malaysia and/or South East Asia for the first time. Malaysia is the same as any country: keep your wits about you as pickpockets are rife. The local currency is Malaysian Ringgit and it is always best to carry some cash on you, as card machines — never mind contactless payment! — isn’t as common as in European countries.
- Take pocket tissues, wet wipes and hand sanitiser out with you everywhere. As a general rule of thumb, there are no serviettes on tables, loo roll in the toilets and as a tourist, you’ll be using lots of public transport. You don’t want to be caught short on the porcelain throne!
- It is incredibly hot and humid year-round. If you’re not used to 85% humidity, as I’m sure lots of us aren’t, then I recommend popping a face towel, pocket fan and water bottle in your bag too.
- On the note of carrying tissues and wipes out with you… Pick your footwear carefully! I get it, you want to get the ‘gram, but pop your nice shoes in a bag for photos and wear a pair you don’t mind ruining, as bathrooms and markets can be super grubby, especially old-school squat bathrooms.
- There’s no need to tip in Malaysia, as it is included in your bill.
- If you need to take a taxi, download the Grab app. It’s similar to Uber. Also, I really recommend Yoyo buses if you’re looking for transport to and from the airport.
- Don’t get ripped off! Local hawkers shouldn’t cost you more than RM8 (~£1.52) at a push. Yes, really!
- Trust no monkey. But really, if you’re exploring outdoors, keep your water bottles, belongings, and food especially, zipped away. They will take any opportunity to grab your things! I once saw a lady have her wallet stolen!
Welcome to my family’s hometown! Ipoh is the (beautiful) capital city in the Malaysian state of Perak. Three hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, it is unofficially known as the foodie capital and is presently enjoying a bit of a renaissance. There is plenty to see, eat and do, and there are several remnants of the colonial period that make for excellent ‘gramming!
Ipoh Old Town
This is my personal favourite spot in Ipoh. The old-timey, decaying buildings are really Instagrammable, they’re full of galleries, hipster coffee shops and plenty of delicious restaurants to try. There are a few vegan restaurants around here too (my auntie LOVES Vegenation Life and Vegan Delight) if you’re looking to stay away from meat.
On the to-do list:
- Ipoh Heritage Walk (6.5km)
- Walk down Concubine Lane and eat the famous Tofu Fa.
- Try salted egg fish skin! It’s the local delicacy and I LOVED it as a child before I went veggie.
- Drink coffee! Kopi putih is Ipoh’s signature drink, and Old Town White Coffee originated here. I knew I had coffee in my veins.
- Visit Han Chin Pet Soo, the miners’ museum.
The Old Town is full of hidden gems, making it a great way to wile away an afternoon. There’s a 3D trick art museum where you can capture fun photos against 3D murals, but moreover the city is blessed with plenty of street art murals just down regular streets.
Location: Jalan Bandar Timar
Concubine Lane has always been one of my very favourite parts of Ipoh.
Established in 1908, it became a popular residential area for British police officers and affluent Chinese families. And in turn, these residents kept their concubines and mistresses here. The area was reputedly known for prostitution, opium use and gambling (I asked my Granny if this was true once, and she was SO shocked that I knew about the history!!).
The townhouses on Concubine Lane were abandoned in 1957 when Malaysia gained independence from the UK. And very recently, between 2016 and 2018, half a million ringgit was poured into the historical district to restore and conserve the houses.
Kek Lok Tong
Location: Jalan Usaha
Situated in the South of Ipoh, we always come back to Kek Lok Tong because it is just SO beautiful and relaxing here. Grandad used to walk down here from our old house, just for his morning stroll. Although I’m sure you’ll visit the Batu Caves in KL, Ken Lok Tong is a simple but stunning Buddhist temple built into the infamous Ipoh limestone cliffs.
Note: Beware of the wild monkeys here!
Go to the landscape gardens at the back for beautiful vistas of the limestone cliffs and ornamental garden. Plus, the longest reflexology footpath in Ipoh! I mean, I think that’s what Grandad visited for…
Ipoh Kinta Riverfront
Location: DR Seenivasagam Recreational Park
You won’t need to spend much time here as unfortunately Kinta River is dirty, and the parks here have fallen into disrepair. However if you have some time, there’s an adorable Japanese garden in the park, and plenty of wild Komodo dragons to spot, lazing on the riverbanks.
Location: Gerbang Malam
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Expect haggling, fake makeup (honestly, absolutely nuts to browse through), ‘those’ patterned travellers’ pants, funky brownies and more.
Qing Xin Ling Cultural Village
22A, Persiaran Pinggir Rapat 5A, Taman Saikat
This one is a bit of a hidden gem and, annoyingly, it is now ticketed and pretty touristy. However I do still recommend buying tickets in advance and spending either a morning or afternoon here. If you can’t handle sun exposure or heat, I’d recommend visiting in the morning as there isn’t much cover here.
Qing Xin Ling is situated in a beautiful, natural corner of the globe, featuring a natural lake, towering limestone cliffs, a tiny hike trail, cycles for hire and a ‘memory lane’, which depicts the time-honoured remnants in Ipoh, with realistic recreations of how the generation before us lived. I had such a great time visiting with Dad, who shared tales from his childhood with us. It’s a total rollercoaster through time.
Lubuk Timal Fall, Natural Hot Springs and Waterfall
Location: 31300 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
My cousin drove us to the Lubuk Timal Fall a few years ago, to relax in the natural hot springs that are famous in Ipoh. One of the main attractions in Ipoh is the Sunway Lost World Hot Springs Resort, but we find it to be pricey and often awkward as you have to wear a T-shirt over your swimwear, adhering to the multicultural customs in Malaysia with a huge Muslim community.
These hot springs are totally natural and are great to sit and relax in. Plus, there are waterfalls to watch and picnic areas to chow down in. They’re a big part of Ipoh’s identity.
Get £15 off your hotel reservation on Booking.com by booking with me! Click here to redeem the offer.
Location: Jalan Raja Musa Aziz
Because you can take the girl out of London…
HANGOUT is a new discovery for me, but one that I HAD to recommend in this travel guide. It reminded Harvey and I so much of Boxpark in Shoreditch, and if you don’t have much time to truly shop around for food in Ipoh Old Town, this is a great way to sample lots of food and take in the atmosphere at night. It’s pricier than most places in Ipoh, but a damn sight cheaper than London.
Location: Jalan Medan Ipoh 18
For my fellow vegetarians and vegans, I couldn’t recommend Mama Vege more! This little spot is completely veggie and specialises in hot pot, which was such a pleasant surprise for me as hot pot is usually meat-heavy. You can choose from four different broths, a HUGE menu of ingredients, an a la carte menu (we recommend the duck). Absolutely delicious and incredibly affordable.
Chiang Jiang White Coffee
Location: Jalan Windsor
My family absolutely LOVE this place. It’s located fairly central and is great not only for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but for a quick coffee break too. Chiang Jiang are one of the main suppliers of white coffee in Ipoh — alongside the famous Old Town White Coffee — so it is well worth trying. Their Kaya toast, macaroni soup and coffee menu are all delicious, although it isn’t very vegan-friendly. Also… it is incredibly photogenic.
Kedai Kopi Sin Loon Yoong
Location: 15A, Bandar Timan
A true Ipoh establishment of more than 80 years, Sin Loon Yoong (search the location geotag on Instagram!) is where you’ll find super tasty noodles and roasted meat in a traditional Chinese style. It’s super affordable and I’ve only heard good things about their roast pork noodles from my cousins.
Ipoh Hainan Chicken Rice
Location: Jalan Raja Musa Aziz
What can I say?! The best chicken rice in town. And my, pre-vegan, favourite dish to eat.
Hawker Stall Central
Location: Jalan Sultan Idris Shah
This isn’t the exact location, but by night, the area comes alive with almost 100 hawkers. We love coming here after dinner for street side desserts, but every stall boasts a different speciality and it is a great place to order lots to try amongst a group.
Oddly enough, I haven’t spent enough time exploring Kuala Lumpur sans family guidance to really be able to recommend specific spots, so let me walk you through some of the places Harvey and I discovered on our most recent trip and where we managed to capture some epic ‘grams…
KL Forest Eco Park
Location: Jalan Raja Chulan
If you’re visiting KL Tower (I’m sure you will, it’s the best spot in the city to nab a magnificent panoramic city view!), then be sure to visit the KL Forest Eco Park on your way there or en route back down.
It’s the only rainforest left in the city and is, additionally, one of the oldest rainforests in Malaysia, dating back to 1906. And it’s home to a forest canopy walkway where you can walk along the route to gaze at wild birds, monkeys, tropical plants and more. 100%, pack your bug repellent!
Location: Jalan Petaling
Petaling Street is the Chinatown of Kuala Lumpur. It’s a far cry from the main hubbub of the city and its glossy malls and restaurants, but I love the crumbling facades and how the area is steeped in history. If you head here, be sure to make a beeline to Vintage 1988 for delicious coffee and a mosaic floor.
For those Crazy Rich Asians food porn scene vibes, head straight to Jalan Alor. This street is paved with eateries and you’ll be able to eat the best of Malay, Indian and Chinese food right here. Prepare yourself to be a) harassed within an inch of your life by the hard-sell, and b) full to the brim, eating a little of a lot.
These highlands are a brilliant way to see the glittering lights of the city from afar. Take a short drive or hire a Grab taxi to these highlands (they’re just 7 minutes away from my auntie’s house) by night and pack your camera. There are also hawkers and mamaks up here, perfect for a cheeky roti canai or three.
I dithered about adding the infamous Batu Caves to my list, because it’s pretty much a given that they’ll be on your travel itinerary. However I just had to pay homage to one of my favourite attractions of the city. A quick Google will show you the directions to these Hindu temples with their stunning colourful steps.
If you’re planning to visit, do remember to wear something below knee-length or expect to pay RM5 for a pretty scarf to cover your legs in respect to the religious customs. Monkeys are rampant here, so be careful of your belongings and stay hydrated: there isn’t much sun coverage here!
And lastly, onto Langkawi! This secluded island is a popular holiday destination for Malaysian locals as it can be reached easily by car, ferry or plane. It’s a duty-free island, although you’re not really here to shop because Langkawi boasts several award-winning white and black sand beaches. Unfortunately I can’t recommend any restaurants, because nothing stood out to us during our 5-day stay and we left disappointed every day. But damn, this island is beautiful.
Our resort opened out to this beach, and in fact many hotels and resorts do. Pantai Cenang is gorgeous, and packed with things to do. The sand is soft and white, there are sun-loungers available to hire (some allow you to hire them all day and you can literally return 5 hours later to them!), and there are loads of watersports to try out.
Dayang Bunting Marble Island
Part of one of our day-long tours, we visited this outlying island and it was such a fun 2 hours. For a small price, you can enjoy a short hike up, through and down to the largest freshwater lake in Asia. Once there, you can swim or boat on the lake.
Island Hopping Tour
Whilst I’d never normally book an organised tour, we found it really beneficial to book one and spend a day with a bunch of fellow tourists hopping from one island to the next. It’s pretty tough to see the entirety of the island, otherwise. We booked ours at a very reasonable price at the desk just inside the mall that’s by Nadia’s Hotel. The tour took us to the above island, out to feed eagles, and to a private island with stunning sands and snorkelling experiences.
Seven Wells Waterfall
Off to the Sky Bridge? Be sure to make time for a hike to the Seven Wells Waterfall. The walk up to it is treacherous and lined with monkeys, but the views from the top are breathtaking and you can bathe in the clear mountain waters.
The area is so named because at the halfway point, there are seven pools, naturally formed and filled with water that flows from Mount Mat Cincang, the second highest mountain in Langkawi. Legend has it that princesses bathed in these pools, but so do us regular folk!