The best places to visit in Malaysia

Malaysia has everything. Cosmopolitan cities, amazing food, culture, beaches and national parks. Dry season is between December and February so we visited just before Christmas to get the best of the weather and it didn’t disappoint. We’d visit more of this incredible country if we’d had the time but in 10 days we managed three places: Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi.

Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a fantastic city that easily caters for every traveller’s ideal. Modern skyscrapers meet traditional colonial buildings, modern shopping malls meet street markets and high-end Michelin star restaurants sit alongside street food. They don’t fight against each other though, it blends perfectly together and has an upbeat but not hectic pace to it.

The main hub of the city is centred around three main districts, Bukit Bintang, KLCC and Chinatown and make up the Golden Triangle. We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, right next to the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers, the Petronas Towers. As impressive from the outside as the view is from the top, these iconic skyscrapers make KL’s skyline like nowhere else in the world. In the same district is the KLCC park which is a beautiful retreat in a busy city but my favourite part of this area, which is no great surprise, is the shopping malls. Try Surai KLCC as well as Pavillion in Bukit Bintang for the best range of high end and high street stores set over what feels like hundreds of floors. The food in the malls is good quality too and perfect for a quick bite in between shops.

View from the Mandarin Oriental

The Batu Caves were next on the list, one of the cities most visited attractions it can get busy but is definitely worth the trip. The trains are easy to use and takes you about 40 minutes outside the city for around 40p each from KL Sentral. Get there early to avoid the crowds and remember this is a Hindu temple and appropriate dress must be worn, you can hire long wrap skirts for a small fee.

The impressive gold statue at the foot of the 272 stairs is a monumental statue of Hindu deity Lord Murugan. These limestone caves harbour Hindu temples where bats fly overhead and monkeys steal food from anyone brave (or stupid) enough to eat a snack.

Talking of food…the food in Malaysia is incredible. There are thousands of places to eat in KL and I’m confident to say you’ll get a decent meal in nearly all of them. The best place we went to was Isabel, a stylish contemporary bistro owned by the Alexis group, serving traditional dishes with a modern twist. The wine list was extensive and the staff friendly and knowledgeable.

Penang

We took the train to the Penang, the food capital of Malaysia. It takes around 4 hours and is about £12 each with a short ferry ride over to Penang Island and we stayed at the Eastern and Oriental.

Our senses were hit in a completely different way to KL. The main city, Georgetown is an urban centre but mixed with old world Asia and an incredible Chinatown. The food here is exceptional and reason enough to come here without seeing anything else. The best meal we ate was at Tek Sen, it’s the kind of place you’d walk past if you didn’t know how incredible the food is. The mix of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian food is what makes this place so diverse and so special often with the best places to filled with locals and with the simplest of decors. Visit the Kek Lok Si temple while you’re here too.

Kek Lok Si temple

Make sure to look out for the street art in Penang, it perfectly captures the spirit.

Langkawi

For all of KL’s shops and skyscrapers and the culture and food of Penang Langkawi has beauty. Breathtaking beauty. It’s the kind of island you dream of going to, where the pictures don’t seem real and the hotels out of this world. After a short flight from Penang, we had a perfectly relaxing five days at the Ritz Carlton which was probably the best hotel we’ve stayed in with the world’s best spa.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking but the only downside of Langkawi is the food isn’t quite at the same standard – to get a good meal you need to eat at the hotel restaurants and although they’re not overpriced they’re inflated compared to the range of places you can find KL and Penang.

Spa

The sunsets over the water are comparable to Santorini and with the bars overlooking the horizon perfect evenings are frequent.

They have a gym, tennis courts and shops too as well as free of charge paddleboards to use.

If you can be bothered to move from the pool do go to the Langkawi Skybridge and Cable car but ask the hotel to check when the cruise ships are in, it’s crazy busy otherwise.

Oh but watch out for the monkeys…they’re pretty viscous and will steal anything you leave on your balcony…

  • Flights – start from £591 return from LHR to KUL 6th – 16th December as a guide. Note travel restrictions due to Covid-19
  • Hotels: Mandarin Oriental KL £241 for two nights based on a King room in December
  • Eastern and Oriental, Penang from £110/night
  • Ritz Carlton Langkawi £1218 for 5 nights including breakfast – which is phenomenal.

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