A backpacker's guide to Malaysia

Y! Travel Journal

By Michele Koh Morollo

With its close proximity to Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines and budget airline flying regularly to many of its cities, Malaysia is a great destination for backpackers exploring Southeast Asia. Its 13 states: Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Perak, Kedah, Perlis in Peninsula Malaysia, and Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo each offer different sights, sounds and tastes for the budget traveller. The country’s many affordable hostels and backpacker accommodations, cheap and delicious street foods and friendly locals make it a destination that is easy to navigate and easy on the wallet too. Here are some spots that are ideal for those who want to experience Malaysia on a shoestring budget.

Kota Kinabalu

The capital of Sabah in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is home to Kinabalu National Park, where you can trek through rainforests up to the 4,095 metre high Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia. On your hike, look out for the rare and amazing pitcher pant. There are a number of good hostels here like Lavender Lodge that offers dorm rooms for only 30 MYR.

Gunung Mulu National Park

Near the capital city of Miri in Sarawak is Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its mysterious karst formations and caves populated by close to five million bats. When the horde of bats exit the cave in the evenings in search of food, the sky looks like it’s shrouded in a noisy blanket of black, and travellers here stand watch in awe. Benarat Lodge, a guesthouse across the Melinai River near the park is a good option for backpackers.

Tasik Chini

Near the Pahang River in the state of Pahang, about 100 kilometres from the city of Kuantan is a lake that is believed to be the site of a sunken ancient Khmer city. The indigenous Orang Asli tribes still live here and you can trek through the jungle and visit their villages, camp out or explore the river on a boat. There are bird watching trails many species of fish here, as well as wildlife that include endangered species like tapir, mouse deer and the elusive clouded leopard. If you visit between the months June to September, the lake is covered with beautiful pink and white lotus flowers.


If you want a break from nature and prefer to take in some history and culture instead, head to Malacca, the smallest state on the Peninsula. A former Portuguese, Dutch and British colony, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Malacca is the site of a handful of interesting colonial buildings like A Formosa, a Portuguese fort built in 1511. While you’re here, sample mouthwatering Peranakan (Straits born Chinese) food at one of the courtyard cafes on Jonker Street.

Perhentian Islands

Approximately 19 kilometres offshore from the coast of Terengganu in the northeast of Peninsula Malaysia and 40 miles from the south of the Thai border are the Perhentian Islands, two islands that are known for their clear blue waters, pristine beaches and excellent diving and snorkeling. The smaller of the two islands – Perhential Kecil has more cheap accommodation options and is often packed with backpackers during peak season. It you’re looking for a really low-priced stay, try Rock Garden Village here.

Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highland is a hilly region about 20 kilometres east of Ipoh, between the states of Kelantan and Perak. At 5,000 feet above sea level, the temperature here is always cool making a great spot to escape the tropical heat of the low lands. Lush green landscapes make this a pleasant and peaceful escape where you can enjoy visits to tea plantations, rose gardens, strawberry farms and butterfly sanctuaries or take a walk along one of 13 jungle trails. Most of the budget guesthouses are located in the main town of Tanah Rata.