Farmboy and I visited Malaysia in August last year (2013). You may be thinking of heading there soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together a travel guide for the places we visited, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if he could. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.
Malaysia is predominantly a muslim country, this is something to keep in mind for a few reasons. Alcohol is very expensive there, and in some places forbidden. Also, try and research which national or religious holidays are happening during your trip. This may seem obvious to some people, but it was something I had never thought to research. We were there over Ramadan and were staying on the Perhentian Islands at the time. The island we were on basically shut down for the week and we could only find a handful of places to eat at. Bear that in mind when making your final bookings.
We spent 8 days in Malaysia. After landing in Kuala Lumpur, we headed straight to the Perhentian Islands by overnight bus and spent the rest of our trip there.
The Perhentian Islands are made up of 2 islands, Kecil & Besar. Besar is the more family friendly island, and Kecil is the livelier island made up of backpackers and part goers. We spent 5 nights on Perhentian Kecil in a range of accommodations. We weren't able to find any places to book online and so had to join the hoards of people on the first boat in who had to walk up and down the beach in search of a place to stay. We were envious of the French couple who whipped out their booking confirmation on the boat, and then proceeded to amble their way to the only fancy looking resort on the island. We were insanely jealous, as the rest us on the boat kept eyeing up the competition to see who would make it off the boat first in search of a room for the night. This is why we now try to book at least 60% of our accommodation before hand. From Kuala Lumpur you can take an overnight bus to Kuala Besut which is where you then catch a small boat to the Perhentian Islands. Once on the islands there are plenty of taxi boats that you can take to get from one island to the other for about US$15 one way if needed.
We caught an 8 hour overnight bus from Putra Station to Kuala Besut (-+US$20 pp) which stopped at the port at about 4am. We found out later that AirAsia has numerous cheap flights from KL - Khota Bharu, from there it's an hour taxi ride to the port at Khuala Besut.
From the port it's a 45 minute boat ride in a small, fiberglass boat (watch your belongings...everything gets wet!). The speedboats take you just short of the shore, from where you take a mini 'taxi' boat to the beach. It's completely unnecessary, but unavoidable as the main boat won't stop any closer to the shore. It's a cheap transfer (about US$2 a person) but still very annoying. From there it's a short wade ashore through knee-deep water with your bags (keep that in mind when packing!). When leaving the islands, there is a jetty from which you leave from, which makes things easier for the return trip.
Kecil Island is small enough to explore in one day. There are 2 main beaches, Long Beach (usually where you are dropped off by the boat) which houses all the backpackers and night life. And then Coral Bay. Coral Bay is the place to go for spectacular sunsets, slightly cheaper prices, and small private beach coves. The snorkeling is better at Coral Bay, but the swimming is better on Long Beach. It's only a 15 minute walk through the Jungle from one side to the other.
I highly recommend staying at Ewans Place (click here for his facebook page). His was the only restaurant open during Ramadan and he was so helpful in organising us a last minute room, after a few pleads and batting of eyelids. The rooms are simple, but clean and more than adequate. Nothing fancy, but they are situated in the middle of the island, away from all the noise of Long Beach.
While both Kecil & Besut Island share the same diving sites, the dive operations on Perhentian Kecil are slightly cheaper than those on Perhentian Besar. Daytime dives can be as cheap as US$25 each depending on the company and distance to the site; night dives cost around US$40. We don't have our diving licenses, but packed our own snorkels and goggles from Korea so we have the freedom to snorkel wherever we want to.
After our stay on the Perhentians we headed back to the mainland port of Kuala Besut and caught a taxi to the airport at Khota Bharu. We had booked flights using the AirAsia app on our iPhones (having our iPhones with us has been a life saver on many a trip, their GPS location mapping and the apps for booking hotels and flights with the click of a few buttons have made traveling so easy). There were 4 of us to share a taxi (about $20 for the hour long trip but you can haggle the price). Once we got to Khota Bharu we had some time to kill and headed to the main market in the town square. It was such an interesting experience, well worth a stop at.
A FEW TIPS
- If you're short on time, look to see if you can find cheap local flights on sites like AirAsia (this has saved us so much time and we have been able to book flights for reasonable prices). Download the AirAisa app, it's super easy to use. For Malaysia we booked our internal flights for about $120 last minute for two people from Khota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur
- When booking flights be sure of what is included in your flight booking, especially with Air Asia. We booked flights for Malaysia for really cheap, and then only after booking did we realise that we could only take carry on luggage (which was restricted to 7kg's a person, and they were super strict at the airport, weighing all our bags including my big camera bag).
- Take your smart phone with you. We didn't have data, although we were told that sim cards were readily available and pretty cheap. But we were able to jump on some free wifi in cafes. The GPS function on our iPhones was an absolute life saver, as it functions in helping you navigate, even when not connected to wifi.
- Jot down your expenses, this helps you stay on track. We took only cash for our 2 week trip and writing what we spent where helped us to stay within the budget
- Download the Orbitz and Hotels.com apps on your phone. By booking through the app you usually can get good discounts discount and can book last minute. When we were there in 2013 there were no places on Perhentian that you could book online, but this might have changed by now.
- Visa Requirements: For South African/UK/US/Canada/New Zealand/Australia passport holders, no visa is required for 90 days. You need to have a passport that is valid for 6 months after your departure date, so if you arrive on the 1st of the month and leave on the 30th of the month, the passport should be valid for 6 months from the 30th of the month. If you passport is not fully valid your airline may not allow you to board and the immigration authority will not permit you to land in Malaysia.
- Pack a sense of humour. You will get lost. You will fight with your husband/boy friend/friends. You will get sick at least once and you will have an amazing holiday all the same.
Is there anything I've left of the list? Any places you'd recommend in Malaysia? Or any tips you think should be included here, pop me a comment below.
If you have any questions about our trip feel free to leave me a comment below and I'll get back to you soon.
[This is the second travel guide I have done, click here to see my guide to Vietnam]