Peninsular Malaysia certainly packs a lot into its leggy frame - swathes of biodiverse rainforest sit right alongside the glittering capital, and street food markets from Penang to Malacca offer dishes inherited from distant shores alongside traditional Malay cuisine and home-cooked Nyonya comforts. While there are many golden nuggets to be found, there are also parts of the country that don’t quite meet the highest expectations (sorry, Cameron Highlands, we’re looking at you!). Our advice is to be selective, pick the places that really do live up to their hype, and make the most of the country’s stopover potential.
Kuala Lumpur is an enticing skyscraper capital, ever-changing and full of neon promise and energy, whilst Malacca tempts you south with gentle whispers of rich heritage and intriguing stories. If you’ve got time to spare, Penang, though requiring a longer journey, is a fantastic town, full of life yet with plenty of historic (and culinary) delights to get your teeth into. For beach, whilst there is a wide selection of islands and coastline, the pick of the bunch are undoubtedly the resorts of Langkawi during our winter months and the east coast’s Tanjong Jara Resort or Japamala on Tioman during the summer. In our experience, Malaysia is best seen in small-but-perfectly-formed bursts, which is one of the reasons it makes such a satisfying journey-breaker for a long-haul trip to Asia.
KL airport is a natural changeover point for flights into South-East Asia. It’s well served by several efficient, good-value airlines, including Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, and everything about stopping here feels smooth and easy. Whether you’re headed for the wildlife-rich rainforests of Borneo, off to explore one of Indonesia’s diverse islands, or making your way to Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, or beyond, stopping in Malaysia allows you to take a breath and regroup with ease before travelling onwards. A stopover here should never feel like marking time - every minute can be made the most of.
Despite Kuala Lumpur being the default stopover destination, we always consider Malacca as an alternative, as it's not a significantly longer drive from KL airport than the centre of the capital. These are two very different destinations. KL is a thriving modern metropolis that comes to life after dark, whether you’re exploring the markets or gazing towards the horizon from a skyscraper cocktail bar. Malacca, on the other hand, is just a couple of hours south, but offers a gentler counterpoint. Once the greatest trading port in South-East Asia, its streets are filled with tempting street food aromas and colourful culture. Spend your stopover in either and tailor the pace to how you prefer to travel.
Part island, part sprawling mainland port, Penang is one of Malaysia’s most well-known destinations, and well worth a visit if you have a couple of days to spare. People come to Georgetown for the combination of faded heritage architecture and cosmopolitan thrills, but it’s the food that draws the most visitors, with a wealth of eateries and street-food hawkers offering tempting delights wherever you turn. It’s definitely not somewhere to go if you’re craving peace and quiet, but is the place to head for if your travels are led by your appetite for foodie culture. As an added bonus, Penang is just a short hop from Langkawi’s best beaches, perfect if you’re craving a bit of down-time at the tail end of your journey.