Do you need to work out a holiday plan in Malaysia? Great! You are in the right place!
In this article, I walk you through exactly how to plan a trip to Malaysia which is perfect for you. I talk about what steps you need to take, how far in advance you should take them as well as break down when the best time is to go to Malaysia, how to get to Malaysia, where to visit, where to stay, how to get around and everything else you could possibly need to know for the perfect break. I also talk budget and what to pack. Everything you need to know!
If this is sounding overwhelming, don’t worry! I’ll help you plan your own travel Malaysia step-by-step. This handy travel booking list along with the timeframes below will keep you on track.
Because the good news is that it is quite easy to plan a trip to Malaysia by yourself with the information in this article, on this site and with some help of some online booking engines.
We travel to Malaysia multiple times a year and have also lived there. We always arrange everything ourselves – it’s easy, fun and the most cost-effective option. Although if you would rather do a tour to save any hassle then I also have suggestions for that below too!
Ready to get started? Let’s make that Malaysia tour plan!
Planning a trip to Malaysia? Have any questions? Join our Malaysia Travel Planning Facebook group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!
If you aren’t just interested in Malaysia and wondering how to plan a Singapore/Malaysia trip, this is also covered. If you haven’t yet decided if Malaysia is the right place for you, be inspired by this list of places to visit in Malaysia!
Table of Contents
How To Plan A Trip To Malaysia
The first step in how to plan Malaysia trip is to work out when exactly you will go. If you have set dates, you can skip the next section. Otherwise, I’ll help you decide when to go.
Then I will give you a list of what to book, when and you can read each further section below as you work through your planning list.
But before we start going through everything, here is a Malaysia map. If you aren’t familiar with the geography of Malaysia, you can quickly and easily see where all the places are that we talk about below.
If this is you, I recommend you take a minute to take a good look at this map. You can open it in a full screen by clicking the square-like symbol on the top right hand corner of the map. You can zoom using the controls to get an idea of where all the places mentioned below are. Keep it open while you read the rest of this article.
Basically, there are two parts of Malaysia – peninsular Malaysia which is attached to Asia and is where you will find the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and popular destinations like Langkawi and Penang.
Then there is Borneo or East Malaysia which is a big island a couple of hours flight from Kuala Lumpur. This island is also shared with the countries of Brunei and Indonesia.
When To Go To Malaysia
The good news is that it’s never a bad time to go to Malaysia! It’s always a good time of year somewhere.
One of the major destinations in Malaysia, the capital Kuala Lumpur, does not vary much year round. Singapore is close to the equator and does not vary much either if you plan to add that to your Malaysia trip.
Most other areas have a more distinct monsoon/rainy season and a dry season. It is best to visit in the dry season which is November – March on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia (which includes Penang and Langkawi) and April – October on the east coast (which includes Perhentian Islands and Redang Island) and in Borneo.
On the west coast, it does not matter too much and rainy periods do not tend to last long or cause too many problems. On the east coast, however, it is a different story and many of the islands basically shut down in the monsoon period so it is best to avoid this area then.
Other things to take into account are school holiday periods in Malaysia and Singapore. These fall from mid November to early January and there are shorter periods in March, June and August.
Finally, “the haze” is a problem that occurs annually around June – November thanks to pollution from fires in Indonesia. The affect of this is variable – sometimes it is minor and won’t affect your travel. Other times, the pollution can be quite bad especially in areas like Singapore and Malaysia.
Peak tourist times are December, January and Chinese New Years. Expect things to fill up quicker and be pricier at these times so it’s especially important to book ahead.
Here is a full article with more specific details about the best times to visit Malaysia in different parts of the country.
Travel Booking List And Countdown
Malaysia does not tend to get booked out completely but there are definitely times when it pays to book in advance which is mainly in the peak tourist season in December and January. If you are visiting for an event or festival, like Chinese New Years, it is also important to book in advance.
However, you are generally best off booking flights and accommodation 6 – 12 months in advance for the best deals. There can be a big cost saving on flights particularly when they are booked far in advance especially if you want to go in the peak tourist time or school holidays.
6-12 months in advance:
- Book international flights
- Get travel insurance
- Plan itinerary
- Book any domestic flights
- Consider booking accommodation
3 – 6 months in advance:
- Book accommodation
- Work out how you will get around Malaysia, book car hire if necessary and any remaining domestic flights
1 month in advance:
- Get visa if necessary
- Book attractions and tours
- Book bus tickets
- Book airport transfers or plan how you will get to your hotels
- Work out sim card for phone
- Make sure you print out or have easy access on your phone to all bookings
1 day in advance:
How To Travel To Malaysia
Unless you are from or visiting a neighbouring country, you are most likely flying into Malaysia. Thankfully, this is usually quite easy with Kuala Lumpur being a major hub. There are also international airports in other parts of the country like Langkawi and Penang but options are usually limited and this tends to only work if you are flying from a neighbouring country.
Even if you are coming from nearby, like Thailand, flight deals can be very good so it can be worth flying over the extra hassle of overland transport.
Best Flight Deals To Malaysia
Skyscanner is particularly good for searching for the cheapest days to fly and you can also set up price alerts so it will email you if the price changes. Click here to give it a go.
CheapOair is a better choice if you are looking for business or first class flights. Click here to do a search.
There are two major airlines based in Malaysia: AirAsia (budget airline) and Malaysia Airlines and these can be convenient options especially if you want to connect to a domestic Malaysia flight. However, many great airlines fly to Malaysia and it’s not necessary to travel one of the local airlines.
It can often be cheaper to book flights to Kuala Lumpur separate to any domestic flights.
It’s also worth considering flying into Singapore instead especially if you want to visit Johor Bahru or Tioman Island. Flights to Singapore can be cheaper and there can be more options too.
If you want to visit Singapore on your trip as well as Malaysia, this is particularly a good option but there are also many flights from Singapore to different locations in Malaysia and it’s easy to go straight from the airport across to Johor Bahru in Malaysia as well.
If you have plenty of time before you plan to travel, are flexible with dates and live in Asia or Australia, then signing up for the AirAsia newsletter is a great idea. There can be some great sale fares but you do need to be ready to book the second they come out as they usually sell out fast.
If you are in a neighbouring country, it’s also easy to travel overland into Malaysia.
There are buses, trains and boats between Malaysia and Thailand. The most frequent and often easiest option is by bus.
Hat Yai, in southern Thailand, is a common point to get buses into Malaysia (and they leave frequently) although there are many places from which you can travel to Malaysia.
It’s also possible to get a train into Malaysia. You will first need to catch a train in Thailand to the border with Malaysia at Padang Besar. From here, you can catch a second train to Alor Setar (for Langkawi), Butterworth (for Penang) or all the way to Kuala Lumpur.
You can also take a ferry, There are regular fast ferries between Satun in Thailand and Langkawi (find times and ticket prices here). In high season, there can be boats operating to Koh Lipe in Thailand from Langkawi as well (timetables here).
It’s very easy to travel between Singapore and Johor Bahru in Malaysia with frequent buses to many places in the country. It’s also possible and easy to take taxis between the two countries. There is also a train from the Woodlands Train Checkpoint across to Johor Bahru although a bus or taxi is more convenient.
It’s possible to take ferries between Indonesia and Malaysia. If you are in Kalimantan (the Indonesia part of Borneo) then it’s also possible to bus to Malaysia from Pontianak (timetable and prices here).
Most ferries depart from Sumatra in Indonesia and arrive in Melaka and Penang. There are also ferries from the islands of Bintan and Batam to Johor Bahru or Tarakan in Kalimantan to Tawau in Sabah, Borneo.
Brunei is surrounded by Malaysia in Borneo and it’s easy to travel between the two. There are buses or you can take a ferry from Brunei to Pulau Labuan which is a Malaysian island just off the coast of Borneo.
Passports And Visas
If you are from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA or the EU you do not need a visa at time of publishing. Many other nationals do not need visas either for stays for up to 90 days. However, it is best to always check this for yourself.
Your passport does need 6 months validity at the time you enter so get a new passport before you go if this is an issue.
When entering, if you plan to stay in the country for more than 30 days, ask for 90 days entry. Sometimes, they will give you less than the allowed 90 days if you do not ask.
When travelling to Sabah and Sarawak (which are Borneo), your passports will be inspected again.
Money In Malaysia
The Malaysian currency is called the ringgit (RM) and there are many ATMs around which is the best way to get cash. You will need to carry around this currency as it’s rare for anything else to be accepted. You can use credit cards at many places as well.
Where To Go And Malaysia Itineraries
The hardest part of how to plan a trip to Singapore and Malaysia is likely to be working out where you can go. There are many great options!
The most popular places are:
- Kuala Lumpur – the capital and largest city with many attractions and things to do
- Penang – an island with an interesting history, UNESCO listed old town, beaches and great food
- Langkawi – a popular island for beaches and relaxing with the best resorts in the country and some good attractions
- Johor Bahru – a popular starting point from Singapore especially for families as it’s home to Legoland Malaysia
- Melaka – close to Kuala Lumpur, this is a great destination to learn more about the mixed history of Malaysia
- Cameron Highlands – cool down in the highlands with beautiful views, tea plantations and many farms and low key attractions
- Tioman Island – a popular beach and diving destination from Singapore
- Perhentian Islands – some beautiful beaches and good diving off the east coast of Malaysia
- Singapore – yes this is its own country and not in Malaysia, but combining a trip to Malaysia with Singapore is a popular option and worth considering
There are also many other fabulous places to visit in Malaysia which I recommend you consider if you have more than two weeks. However, if it’s your first trip and you have up to two weeks, these places are your best bet.
As a general rule, I recommend 3 days per place minimum. You can adjust this based on whether you are someone who likes to take it easy when you travel or like to go quick and see as much as possible.
You can also find some itineraries combining Malaysia and Singapore here and more Malaysia itineraries here. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just use one of mine!
If you are looking for some destinations to add to your travel planner Malaysia which are slightly less popular, consider making the journey to Borneo and exploring the states of Sabah and Sarawak and perhaps adding Brunei. I only recommend this if you have at least a week available and I would only visit one state with just a week.
Some other destinations in peninsular Malaysia worth considering are:
- Ipoh – known for its street art and amazingly good food
- Redang Island – beautiful beaches and some solid resort options on the east coast if you would like something less popular than Tioman and the Perhentians
- Port Dickson – if you don’t have long in Malaysia and want a beach destination convenient to Kuala Lumpur
Recommended Group Tours In Malaysia
If you would rather just enjoy your holiday while not worrying about the details, a group tour is an excellent option. Here are some recommend options…
TourRadar is the perfect place to look for tours whether you are someone who wants a fully inclusive tour or someone who just wants to make life easier with some help getting around Malaysia with a set itinerary.
TourRadar is a market place for tours and there are many in here for Malaysia. You can filter by style, interests, dates, who you are travelling with and more. The tours have reviews so you can make sure they are good and you can chose between cheap tours which are more independent and basically just bus passes to tours with everything organised.
This is a great starting point if you are not sure about whether to do an organised tour in Malaysia or not. Tours from some of the following companies also appear on this site.
Trafalgar Tours is the best choice if you want everything taken care of on a bus tour.
They offer a great tour program in Malaysia and Singapore which you can see here.
I have done a couple of G Adventures tours and love them because they are good at making things easy for you while still getting you to out of the way destinations and giving you local experiences as well as giving you some time by yourself if you want it.
The groups tend to be small with a maximum of 15 travellers making it easier to visit places and keep things local.
I have done a few Intrepid Travel tours and I love how many of them use public transport and put an emphasis on local experiences while keeping everything hassle free with your own tour guide.
They have an average group size of 10 which works well compared to big bus tours.
Accommodation In Malaysia
One of the reasons we love Malaysia is because of the huge range of accommodation available for all budgets and what great value it is. This is somewhere where you can find a 5-star over water chalet for under $100 a night!
Budget hotels abound and there are hostels for people on low budgets. Cheap hotels tend to still be clean and a reasonable standard, just basic.
Midrange options are excellent and this is somewhere I recommend you aim to pay for at least this if you can. Often you can find solid midrange options for around $50.
Finally, on the upper end, there are some truly amazing resorts and hotels which can be incredibly good value. The best options are in the most visited places of Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Penang, Johor Bahru and Port Dickson. If you go to less busy places, there can be a lack of really great accommodation so if 5 star resorts with great service are important to you then the places just mentioned are your best bet.
Best Accommodation Booking Sites
I highly recommend Agoda for booking accommodation in Malaysia.
It usually has the best price and has a rewards scheme where you quickly gain credit to use towards your next booking. In fact, if you pay upfront, often you get the credit straight away so you can use it for your next hotel booking.
Agoda also has a great range of accommodation in Malaysia including private home and apartment rental.
Airbnb is also possible here for people who like to stay in apartments and homes and we have stayed in some great deals in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
I find TripAdvisor useful for looking at reviews for hotel options to double check they are good quality.
Note that there is a tourist tax of RM10 a night which is often not added to your hotel cost until you arrive at the hotel. This is not a scam and needs to be paid.
We have many hotel guides to help you book your perfect stay. Here are some of them:
- Best resorts in Malaysia
- Best beach resorts
- Best resorts for families
- Resorts with private pools
- Best resorts in Langkawi
- Best hotels in Kuala Lumpur
- Best hotels in Penang
- Best hotels in Taiping
- Best hotels in Cameron Highlands
- Best hotels in Johor Bahru
- Best hotels in Desaru
- Best hotels in Melaka
- Best resorts in Redang
- Best resorts on Tioman Island
- Best resorts on Perhentian Islands
- Best hotels in Kota Bharu
- Best hotels in Kuala Terengganu
- Best hotels in Kota Kinabalu
- Best hotels in Labuan
- Best hotels in Miri
- Best hotels in Kuching
How To Get Around Malaysia
There are a few options for getting around Malaysia. All are quite easy!
Buses in Malaysia go most places and can be great quality between cities and towns. They are usually quite quick and are easy to book online or on arrival. Booking before you go can help you save time when you are there and ensure you get a bus at the perfect time.
Train is also a good option although it is more limited than bus in both routes and frequency. Trains can be tough to work in to your schedule if you have limited time.
The main routes are from:
- Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur (switching trains at Gemas)
- Johor Bahru to Tumpat. This is also known as the jungle line and takes you through the middle and up the east coast of Malaysia
- Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth (for Penang)
Buses can be more comfortable and luxurious and I recommend them over the trains unless you are a train lover.
3. Shared Taxi
Shared taxis are also an option over longer distances. You pay for your seat and they leave when they are full. I prefer buses as they can be more comfortable but a shared taxi can be faster if you don’t wait too long for them to fill up.
4. Private Taxi
It’s possible to hire private taxis to take you anywhere in Malaysia. This is generally much more expensive than the other options on this list but it depends how many people you have. This can be a great option for families.
You can simply take a shared taxi and buy all seats or arrange one beforehand. Your hotel should be able to help you or a tour agency.
5. Car hire
Car hire is a fun and easy way to explore the country. We find driving in Malaysia quite easy and it is our preferred option. It can be cost effective for families or bigger groups and it also gives you more freedom.
If you plan on visiting an island in Malaysia, you will probably need to take a ferry. These tend to run frequently to popular choices and be easy and good value.
Finally, flying is a great option within Malaysia. Domestic flights can be as cheap as a few dollars during sales but even outside of sale periods, they tend to be a bargain.
Flights are especially a good idea for covering a larger distance and when you are short on time. So, for example, if you are visiting Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, I would definitely fly. Or maybe, you are visiting Penang and Kuala Lumpur and a few places along the way. Going overland one way and then flying the other could make sense.
It’s also necessary to fly if you want to travel from peninsular Malaysia to Borneo. This is the only way to make this journey. Flights tend to be a great deal between these points as well and you can fly to Borneo from a few points in Malaysia like Johor Bahru, Penang and Langkawi so you don’t necessarily have to go via Kuala Lumpur.
Attractions And Tickets
Klook is a trustworthy site we use all the time for attractions, tours and activities as it has the best prices and is always very easy to use.
Klook is also great for tours. A tour is invaluable for finding out more about the places you are visiting. Or, in the case of Malaysia, for getting you out and tasting the best food!
Some tours we particularly recommend:
- Melaka Day Tour – If you don’t have time to stay in Melaka, visit with this easy day tour from Kuala Lumpur
- Kuala Lumpur Food Tour – Visit local neighbourhoods in Kuala Lumpur while trying the best food on offer
- Batu Caves – Visit this top attraction near Kuala Lumpur easily on this tour
- Kuala Lumpur City Tour – Explore and learn more about the capital of Malaysia
- Penang Heritage Tour – See and learn about UNESCO listed George Town
- Penang Hill And Temple Sightseeing – Visit Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple
- Penang Food Tour – Amazing food to try on this tour of the best of Penang
- Langkawi Island Hopping Boat Tour – The scenery in Langkawi is stunning and this is the best way to relax and enjoy it
- Langkawi Helicopter Tour – Don’t miss the chance to see Langkawi from the air!
- Langkawi Night Market Tour – Learn about Langkawi’s night markets and sample delicious food
Airport Transfers And Arrival
Arriving in Malaysia is straightforward but it can be daunting the first time, especially if you have a long flight.
You can read our guide here about getting from KL Airport to KL Sentral in the city centre.
On arrival at either terminal in Kuala Lumpur, you can follow signs to get to transportation hubs and buy a coupon for a taxi to your hotel.
However, if you would like to just arrive and not think at all, I recommend booking a transfer in advance, especially if you have a long journey to get to Malaysia. Here are some options:
Travel insurance is invaluable. You just never know what will happen!
Last year, I broke my leg getting into the shower in Thailand. Doctor and hospital visits, tests then needing to cut our trip short and get a direct flight home added up and it was great to have travel insurance take care of it all – especially when they even paid for me to get home in business class and I was able to talk to an Australian doctor about what was going on.
In my opinion, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
I recommend buying travel insurance as soon as you book your flights as they will start covering you for some problems from that point.
World Nomads is our recommended option and you can get a no-obligation quote here.
Malaysia Travel Costs
Malaysia can be as cheap or as expensive as you want. The best part is that Malaysia is very good value, so while it may not be as cheap as some nearby countries, you do tend to get more for your money.
Some sample budgets for two people:
Budget traveller: RM200 a day
Mid-range traveller: RM300-600
High-end traveller: RM700+
Of course, budgets will vary due to many factors like how often you move around, how many places you want to visit, how much you like to drink alcohol and much more. These are rough estimates only to help you plan. It’s also worth noting that you can get incredible food for cheap so there really is no need to spend a lot on that as long as you are happy eating the local cuisines.
What To Pack
The good news is that Malaysia is basically always hot and humid – so you can leave all the heavy sweaters and coats at home!
However, this doesn’t mean you should just pack shorts and tank tops.
It’s important to always be respectful to local culture when it comes to how to dress and beach attire is definitely best suited to the beach or your resort. Malaysia is majority Muslim and local people tend to cover up.
You do not need to keep covered but it is a good idea to keep your shoulders covered and, in more conservative areas on the east coast, I recommend covering your knees too. Lightweight, light coloured clothing is the best.
You can buy anything you need in Malaysia very easily and we often buy our toiletries when we get there because they are cheaper than at home! The one exception to this is sunscreen – it’s expensive. We even had my mum bring it over for us when we were living in Malaysia.
Other essential items:
- Umbrella or rain coat – rain can be sudden and heavy
- Good walking shoes that have good grip on wet surfaces. Preferably sandal style
- Swim wear
- Scarf or sarong to cover up when going in mosques and some temples
- Plug Adapter– Malaysia uses a UK plug
- Power cube – so you can charge all your electronics in one place
Internet And Phone Coverage
Many accommodation providers and some restaurants will have wifi for keeping in touch with home. However, we always buy a local sim card so we don’t have to worry and because they are so cheap and easy.
You can get one at the airport in minutes and even buy one beforehand here.
You can read our full article about getting a sim card in Malaysia here.
Other Things To Consider
- While the majority of Malaysia has a Monday to Friday working week, some states follow a Sunday to Thursday working week. This occurs in Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu. There are usually still shops open but if you want to visit attractions like museums on a Friday, check they are open before you go.
- As mentioned above, there is a tourist tax on accommodation which is currently RM10 per night. This rarely seems to be included when you book beforehand and is usually paid at the hotel.
- Alcohol can be relatively expensive in Malaysia. If you are coming from a western country, it is unlikely to be so bad but it will seem expensive if you are coming from a neighbouring country like Thailand. It is also not that readily available thanks to the Muslim culture. Langkawi and Tioman Island have duty free status and alcohol is much cheaper.
- Ramadan is a period of fasting for Muslim people where they don’t eat during daylight hours. However, it is usually not hard for visitors to find somewhere to eat thanks to the sizeable Chinese and Indian communities who do not observe Ramadan. Those restaurants will generally still have normal opening hours.
- Foreigners pay more for many attractions in Malaysia. You will notice a “MyKad” price and a regular price. MyKad is just for Malaysians. It’s just how it is.
Malaysia With Kids
Our final section in this guide to plan a trip to Malaysia & Singapore is about travelling in Malaysia with kids. If you don’t have any kids, you can skip this and you are done! Feel free to ask any questions below.
However, if you have kids, I want to put your mind at ease. We travel to Malaysia frequently with our three kids and have travelled here with a newborn and toddlers. In fact, I spent the first half of my last pregnancy in Malaysia so my third child was somewhat made in Malaysia.
This is a great destination with kids. We just love it!
Malaysians love kids. We always feel very welcome everywhere with our kids and they get lots of positive attention when they are little. This helps put all of us at ease which leads to much better behavior.
Many restaurants are outdoors which I find works great with kids and kids will love all the natural attractions as well as the big attractions like Legoland Malaysia, Sunway Lagoon and KL Bird Park (and so will you!).
There are usually discounts on everything for kids with the youngest kids being free.
Many of the resorts in places like Langkawi and Penang offer kids club so you can get some quality adult time while your kids have a ball with new friends.
Some of our kids (and our) favourite places are:
- Port Dickson – The kids love the opportunity for a private pool villa over the sea like here and the top resorts here have a range of family activities and programs
- Legoland Malaysia
- Kuala Lumpur – There are some great attractions here from kids including KidZania, a giant park at KLCC and science museum and aquarium and the fabulous KL Bird Park
- Penang – We lived here with our kids and it is so great. There is the beach, natural attractions like Youth Park and many other things to do and eat
- Langkawi – Great for relaxing and nature time
- Ipoh – The Lost World of Tambun is a big hit
- Cameron Highlands – There are some great low-key attractions here which appeal to families like bee and strawberry farms
- Kuching – This is a great place to hang out and do day trips to places like the Sarawak Cultural Village and to see orangutans
Planning a trip to Malaysia? Have any questions? Join our Malaysia Travel Planning Facebook group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!
I hope this has helped you answer all your questions when you are working out “how to plan my trip to Malaysia”. Ask any questions in our Facebook group! And find more useful Malaysia planning guides here.
Sharon is an Australian who has fallen in love with Malaysia! She explores Malaysia multiple times a year, often with her kids, and has previously lived in Penang.