Kuala Lumpur | Penang | Malacca | Kota Bharu | Cameron Highlands | Perhentian Islands | Survival Malay |
Focus on Malaysia | Side trip to Singapore
Visiting Malaysia - An introduction
The following six places are recommended for a tourist who has only three weeks or so to spend in Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca (also spelt Melaka), Kota Bharu, Cameron Highlands and the Perhentian islands. If you have hardly two weeks (or if the sea is not your cup of tea), then the Perhentian islands can be left out without taking away too much from your Malaysian experience. But not the other five places (of course Kuala Lumpur, being the capital and where your plane is likely to land, cannot be avoided while Penang is the mainstay of Malaysian tourism).
The other three places do not pose much of a problem as, even if you have only two weeks to spend in Malaysia, you can easily squeeze in Malacca, Kota Bharu and Cameron Highlands into your programme as these are places that you need spend just one night (or at the most two nights if your itinerary permits). But within that short period you will be able to gain a better insight into Malaysia's past and present as well as the complexity with regard to its population mix than if you were to visit other cities or states in Malaysia.
But for those who have more time and would like to visit the other States, there is a list of useful links about tourism in each of the 13 States here to facilitate your planning. Many Malaysians travel on the night coach or the night train so you might want to consider this option too both to save on your travelling time as well as to have a night's free lodging into the bargain!
Kuala Lumpur being the capital might not appeal to some as it is a sprawling, modern and cosmopolitan city but cannot be avoided as it is likely to be your first stop in Malaysia. However the Chinatown there and the twin towers of Petronas as well as the KL Menara tower (menara actually means "tower" in Malay) are really worth a visit. In fact having your meals at the roadside stalls in bustling Jalan Petaling will be an experience you will never ever forget. Of the many tempting dishes available there I would single out the steamboat,
As for Penang and Kota Bharu well, if you should stay in one without staying in the other it would give you a lop-sided picture of Malaysia, as Penang with its shophouses is a city inhabited mostly by ethnic Chinese while Kota Bharu in the eastern state of Kelantan, is mainly Malay. A visit to the wet markets in both cities alone will show you how very different their lifestyles are. In fact the Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah (Siti Khadijah central market) in Kota Bharu is like no other you have ever seen and not to be missed at any costs, especially the view of the market from the top floor. Besides, Kota Bharu still retains much of the charm of a quiet, easy-going town that is a pleasure to be in as it has still not been too much spoilt by modernity.
As for food, don't leave Kota Bharu without trying out Kelantan's famous dishes, namely, nasi kerabu (rice tinted blue from flower petals), nasi dagang and ayam percik (or ayam panggang percik) which is chicken roasted over charcoal fire. Also, because of Kelantan's proximity to southern Thailand, the famous Thai soup called tom yam is also easily available here.
There is another reason for going to Kota Bharu, and that is, it is also the starting point for Pulau Perhentian, two neighbouring islands famous for their crystal-clear waters. The two islands of Pulau Perhentian though, are actually in the state of Trengganu and not Kelantan, despite their closeness to Kota Bharu. To go there take a taxi from Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut town, from where you can find a boat to take you to the very popular Pasir Panjang beach in Pulau Perhentian Kecil (the smaller of the two islands), or if you prefer to have more of the island to yourself, to Pulau Perhentian Besar. In fact for those who want authenticity Pulau Perhentian is definitely a better seaside resort than the highly-commercialized and touristy Pulau Langkawi in Kedah with its abundance of three and four-star hotels. By the way the taxi fare for a single person from Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut (in July 2011) is only 12 ringgit (though you might have to wait till there are 4 passengers before the taxi will go). The bus fare is 6 ringgit a person. Also the trip will take at least an hour and 10 minutes even if you should go by taxi (don't believe the guidebooks that tell you it takes only half an hour).
Malacca (also spelt Melaka), on the other hand, has much of historical interest to offer and is indeed a showcase of Malaysia's past with Malay, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences all playing a predominant part in making it what it is today. It is for this reason that, together with Penang, it was included in the list of Unesco's World Heritage sites on July 7, 2008.
As for Pulau Perhentian it's not worth going unless you are able to stay for at least 2 or 3 nights there (seeing that you have first to get to the village of Kuala Besut which is the jumping-off point and that the motorized boat trip from Kuala Besut to Pulau Perhentian can take up to an hour each way, depending on which part of the two islands you are staying in and the sea conditions) and that it only operates three times a day.
Side trip to SingaporeExpensive Singapore is definitely not a place to visit for the budget-conscious traveller but as it's just at the doorstep of Malaysia (in fact you can take a local bus from Johore Bharu across the Causeway for a day's excursion, returning to Johore Bharu by night) some tourists might be tempted to go over for a visit. However more people come to Malaysia from Singapore than the other way round as Singaporeans find things so much cheaper in Johore Bharu. Heidi Bue of Germany kindly contributed an article on Singapore here.
(Singapore was actually part of Malaysia from 16 September 1963 to 9 August 1965. Political circumstances forced them to go their separate ways - a move that Singapore has never regretted since.)
The following words have the same pronunciation as in English: bank, doctor, telephone, computer, taxi