Malaysia is the secret star that most people overlook when they come to Southeast Asia. Everyone travels to Bali and Thailand and with good reason, but for some reason, Malaysia doesn’t make the cut. I’m about to change that with this post. After reading my 12+1 reasons to visit Malaysia, you’ll be booking your ticket.
If not, you must be numb inside.
Not sure why Malaysia is overshadowed by its neighbors. Maybe because there really hasn’t been a significant push for tourism as there has been in Thailand. Or because it’s not a hipster paradise like Bali.
Perhaps it’s because the only thing people remember about this country is MH370. Or because it’s a Muslim country and people are scared to travel here? But let me tell you, if any of those reasons are keeping you away from Malaysia, get over it. You are missing out–BIG TIME.
But how can you trust my opinion?
I’ve been living here for six years and traveling at every moment to discover more of this incredible place.
It is the unsung hero of Southeast Asia so keep reading to find out the best reasons to visit Malaysia.
1. The Beaches and Islands
You’ve seen pictures of those islands with the crystal clear water. It’s azure, teal, turquoise. You can see your toes and everything else while frolicking in the water. The sand is a fine white powder. The jungle and all its shades of green flow right into the fine sands. That’s Malaysia.
You may be the only person on the beach, or there may be a fisherman casting nets for his dinner. The water is warm, the coral is bright, and fish are flitting around your toes. It is right out of a National Geographic TV show. That’s Malaysia.
Those islands are real. Just google Redang, Tioman, Sipadan, Rawa, Perhentians or just read this.
There are 878 islands to choose from here. Think you might like one or two?
2. The Ease of Communication
I’ve written about this before, and because it makes such a difference, it bears repeating. Almost everyone speaks some level of English, and unless you get really off the beaten path, you won’t have problems communicating your wants and needs.
It’s not their first language, and in some cases, it’s their fourth, so you may have some challenges with the details, but overall, you’ll find it easy. Can’t find the bus station–just ask. Food allergies–just tell them. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is more the norm than the exception.
3. The Wildlife
Monkeys, and lizards, and elephants oh my. I regularly see two different types of monkeys from our office windows; the dusky leaf eaters and the macaques. The black, dusky leaf eaters are my faves. They are so cute and shy, and always have the most surprised look on their faces. Is it weird that I have a favorite type of monkey? But look at those guys, the cutest! Amiright?
The macaques are the naughty ones. They are the ones that will steal the sunglasses off your head if you aren’t paying attention.
We also watch sea eagles gliding on the breeze before plunging down into the ocean for their catch. Then they soar in circles up to my 10th-floor balcony and show off the fish squirming in their talons. It’s as if they are proud and showing off their lunch.
And those are just the ones from my high-rise window.
Get out of the major towns, and into the jungle, and you’ll be able to see orangutans, gibbons, and proboscis monkeys. Some are in the wild, others are in sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers.
Other wildlife like tapirs, wild boar, and elephants can be found in the jungles as well.
To get the most wildlife bang for your buck, go to Malaysian Borneo and spend a few days floating along the rivers.
If you’re a bird watcher, you can find nine species of hornbills, kingfishers, and 63 species of endemic birds here. If you like bats, come to my condo, they make regular appearances.
Can’t forget the monitor lizards walking down the street. Or the snakes on the hiking trails. Don’t get me started on the insects that come out of hiding with the express purpose of scaring the hell out of me.
4. The Adventure
Most people, including myself, never think of Malaysia as an adventurous country. But now that I am living here, it is definitely one of the top reasons to visit Malaysia.
Want to scuba dive or learn to dive in some of the best waters on the planet? Malaysia has you covered.
Or pick an island and you can snorkel right off the shore.
Malaysia has tropical weather, which means plenty of rain, so white water rafting available year-round.
If you’d rather stay on dry land, how about spending a couple of days climbing Mount Kinabalu? It’s a tall 13,435 ft and the highest mountain in Malaysia.
As long as you’re up there, why not try the world highest via ferrata? It is a path of rungs, rails, cables, and bridges built into the rock face of a dangerous route. You clip into the wires so you can hone your Spiderman skills.
If you want more info on this, let me know. Not because I got anywhere near climbing a mountain, but because Mark did.
I was too busy floating in the most transparent water I’ve ever seen.
5. The Food (one of my favorite reasons to visit Malaysia)
Like seriously. The street food is beyond delicious. If you come to Malaysia and don’t eat street food, you really haven’t been here. For many travelers, it is a highlight of their trip, and the stuff dreams are made of when they go back home.
Centuries ago, it was an essential stop on the world’s spice route which meant flavors from around the globe were traded here. Those spices and the cultural mix of Chinese, Malays, and Indians have made the street food something of a phenomenon.
Food is such an integral part of life here, especially in Penang.
A typical greeting, just after “How are you?” is “Sudah makan,” or have you eaten yet? It’s the first thing strangers talk about. It’s what my hairdresser asks me before I sit down. It’s what the taxi driver talks about every time you get in the car. And when you say, “Yes, I’ve eaten,” the next question is, “What did you eat and where?”
I’ve never been anywhere where the topic of convo is primarily food. No one talks about the weather here, it’s food. And I love that about it!
And don’t just take my word for it, read this.
6. The Locals are Wonderful
All throughout Southeast Asia, the people are very gracious.
But in some countries, we are looked at as a payday–not here.
Because most locals speak English, our interactions can be friendlier and more conversational. The locals are a curious bunch and want to know why we’ve chosen Malaysia. It was their warm-heartedness that wooed us from the beginning.
7. The Cultural Diversity
Few countries are as diverse as Malaysia. I know that is a bold statement coming from America, the “melting pot.” So let me explain. In the US, there are a gazillion people from a gazillion different countries–so indeed it is a melting pot of sorts. We have a Little India, a China Town, a Little Italy, a Ukrainian Village, in most major cities.
But, do those people actually mix? Do they all sit together at a table and eat, talk about life, go to school together? Probably not.
Here they do. Don’t get me wrong, there is racism, poverty, and immigration issues here too, it’s not perfect.
But the blending of cultures is something extraordinary here and dates back to when the country was forming. Chinese men would travel here by ship and marry the local Malay women, creating an entirely new culture, the Baba-Nyonya.
But that is just the beginning. Multitudes of Southern and Eastern Asian ethnicities have settled here over the centuries creating a colorful mashup people. Today the main ethnic groups are Malay, Chinese, and Indian. But in Malaysian Borneo, there are about seven more unique ethnic groups to add to the mix.
8. The Religious Variety
Cultural diversity leads to religious variety.
You can walk down the street in Kuala Lumpur or George Town and find a Buddhist or Taoist temple, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a church all within a few minutes of each other. It can be mind-boggling.
I’ve been inside a Hindu temple, smelling the perfume of nag champa incense, and examining the colorful deities when the call to prayer from the neighboring mosque starts to boom. How many places in the world have that kind of blend?
One of the aspects of Malaysian life that I find very unique is that people practice their religion daily, out in public. In the US, it seems harder and harder for people to be open about their faith for fear of offending someone. Here you can’t walk by a religious site without seeing people lighting incense, praying, or taking part in their daily religious rituals. It is out in the open, and no one cares.
Honestly, it’s refreshing. And I’m not a very religious person.
My first year here, I saw a Muslim woman wearing a hijab (headscarf), singing Jingle Bells while decorating a Christmas Tree…in a grocery store.
There is a Hindu temple by our condo that blesses cars and scooters for safe driving. And everyone goes there, Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, whoever, to get blessed.
This may be one of the most fascinating reasons to visit Malaysia.
9. The UNESCO sites
UNESCO sites are places that are significant for natural or cultural heritage. Currently, there are four World Heritage Sites in Malaysia.
- Lenggong Valley (cultural site) has four archaeological sites dating back almost 2 million years ago, one of the oldest records of early man, and the oldest outside Africa. Perak Man was discovered here and is Southeast Asia’s oldest most complete human skeleton.
- Gunung Mulu National Park (Natural Site). Located in Sarawak, part of Malaysian Borneo, significant for its natural beauty, biodiversity, caves, and unique karsts. The massive park has 17 vegetation zones, 3500 vascular plants, and 109 species of palms; many endemic to Malaysia. There are 295km of explored caves chambers.
- Kinabalu National Park (Natural Site). Also, in Malaysian Borneo, this is where the iconic Mt. Kinabalu is located. The ecological system here is distinct. It has tropical lowland and hill rainforest, tropical mountain forest and sub-alpine terrain all in one place. Half of all Borneo’s birds, mammals, and amphibian species and two-thirds of all Bornean reptiles are found here.
- Melaka and George Town Historic Cities (Cultural Sites). Both cities have over 500 years of trading between the East and West. There is proof in the architecture and multiracial societies that still live in these towns today. There are colonial buildings next to Chinese Shophouses next to religious sites. Both cities are examples of a multi-cultural heritage and tradition in Asia where different religions and cultures and coexist.
10. Affordable travel
I’ve just given you a bunch of amazing reasons to visit Malaysia, so I know you are planning on staying a while. The good news is that transportation systems here are very affordable and modern. You can travel across the country on domestic buses, trains, and flights.
However, when you feel like something different, you are in luck. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, is the hub for Air Asia. It’s the top low-cost carrier in the region.
There are direct flights from KL to 35 countries, as close as Indonesia and Thailand and as far-reaching as Netherlands and Kazakhstan. Direct international flights within Southeast Asia start at US$25. I seriously can’t think of too many places I could fly within the US for US$25.
We use Skyscanner for most of our bookings over here. It’s an awesome website. If you haven’t used it yet, check it out.
11. Value for money
A great reason to visit Malaysia is that your money will stretch farther once you get here. It’s easy to find good food for US$1-2 per plate. Mark and I regularly eat a nice dinner out for less than US$12. And that’s for a whole red snapper, a heaping dish of fried rice with shrimp, and a spicy plate of greens.
Hotels can be budget and cost under US$25 (hostels cost about half of that), or you can find five-star boutique resorts that cost under US$150. No matter what your budget is, Malaysia has you covered.
12. The Weather
Come (almost) anytime. If there is one thing you can count on in Malaysia is its tropical climate. It’s near to the equator, which means plenty of heat and humidity.
There are two peak seasons, depending on where you are in the country. The west side’s dry(er) season is November through March, and the east side is the opposite. So I suggest coming in the shoulder season and getting the best of both worlds.
But I don’t recommend coming in August and September. There can be a lot of haze during that time because it is the burning season in Indonesia. Sadly, just like in the rest of the world, forests and plantations are burned for various reasons. Here it is mostly due to the slash and burn process used to clear the land and ready it for the next round of palm oil trees.
And all the wildlife that is killed in the process is just heartbreaking. Start reading the ingredients on your food and you’ll see that palm oil is in everything. Please, find an alternative. The less we use, the less they’ll produce.
Everyone wants to go to Thailand and Bali, and I get it. They are both incredible places in their own right. You should absolutely travel to both.
However, the truth is that in some places in Bali (Ubud, Seminyak, and Canggu–I’m talking ’bout you) there are more foreigners than Balinese.
In Thailand, tourism is the most significant industry, so of course, there are zillions of tourists.
Malaysia may be overshadowed by both, but its authenticity and uniqueness are in a league of their own.
It’s a modern country with all the amenities you’d want for a holiday, or even for a lifetime.
I have just given you 12 excellent reasons to visit Malaysia. I could have easily given you dozens more. But I’ll just add one more to make it a lucky 13…I’m here! Nuff said!
But if you really want more, read 27 of the Most Interesting Fact About Malaysia.
So, what are you waiting for? Get your a** over here!
Have you been to Malaysia? What was your most memorable moment? Reply in the comments.
Ready to book your trip? I thought so…
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through this site, Sand In My Curls will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps keep the site going and gives me a little extra vodka money–thank you!