The Perfect 2-Week Malaysia Itinerary (2024)

Whether you love the buzz of a capital city, the chill of an island getaway, or the thrill of hiking into the unknown, Malaysia is a destination you’re going to fall deeply in love with. With scenery that’s as diverse as the people that call this Southeast Asian nation home, 2 weeks in Malaysia is only ever enough to leave you wanting more.

Start in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital and one of the most fascinating cities in Asia. This is modern Malaysia as its most innovative, and you can survey the city from the lofty heights of the Petronas Towers before delving into street food markets at ground level. The Malay Peninsula, which stretches south from Thailand to Singapore, is lined with white sand beaches, while island destinations like Penang and Langkawi need little introduction.

The Cameron Highlands offers a cool retreat from the humidity of Malaysia’s coastline and a destination where you can hike from tea plantation to strawberry farm, embracing the mountain air at altitudes above 1,500 meters (4,921 feet). Then hop on a flight and head on over to Malaysian Borneo, where you can see orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, scuba dive off Kota Kinabalu, and brave the Bornean jungle along the Kinabatangan River.

If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia, then keep reading as we unveil our perfect 2-week Malaysia itinerary!

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When to Visit Malaysia

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Malaysia’s proximity to the equator has gifted (or cursed, some would say!) the country with a tropical climate. This means that while temperatures are typically warm all year round – it’s rare for temperatures to drop below 20°C (68°F) unless you’re higher up in the Cameron Highlands or climbing Mount Kinabalu – Malaysia is also an incredibly rainy place to visit.

Unusually, Malaysia is affected by two separate monsoon systems which hit the country at different times of year and in different places, which means timing is often key if you want the best weather. The southwest monsoon hits Malaysia between April and September, and the northeast monsoon lands between November and March.

This leaves very few months of the year when there isn’t actually a monsoon, which is why our Malaysia itinerary focuses solely on the west coast and Sabah, rather than the east coast of the country. The best time to visit the west coast of Malaysia is when it’s dry (or as dry as it can be!), and that’s generally between December and April, so you avoid the worst of the southwest monsoon.

However, you need to consider that in Borneo, December and January are the rainiest months, when it can really thunderstorm. We recommend planning this trip between February and April if you can. However, the rainy season on the west coast is never quite so frantic as on the east, so it’s okay to dip into May, June, and July, particularly given the weather in Borneo is perfect during this summer season.

Things to Know Before You Go

Malaysia has a fairly liberal visa policy for many nationalities. British, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and EU passport holders (among many others) have visa-free access for up to 90 days at a time. As Malaysia is a big transport hub for Asia, there’s no limit on how many times you can enter and exit the country – you’re simply given 90 days each time.

However, if you were to overstay those 90 days, you could face serious penalties. Our itinerary is only two weeks long, though, so you should have no trouble. Other nationalities can apply for an e-visa or speak to their local Malaysian consulate for more information.

Malaysia uses the Malaysian Ringgit, with around 4-5 MYR to the USD (depending on fluctuations). Many businesses accept credit or debit cards, while ATMs and money exchanges are widespread except in remote Bornean destinations.

The national language is Bahasa Melayu, which is very similar to Bahasa Indonesia. However, thanks to Malaysia’s time as a British colony, English is widespread. Given Malaysia’s multicultural makeup, you’ll also find that many Malaysians actually speak Tamil or Chinese dialects as a first language, in addition to Bahasa Melayu and English.

Malaysia is generally a safe country to visit, but be warned that drug laws are strict. As a predominantly Muslim nation (although many other religions are also practiced), Malaysian society can appear quite conservative, so be wary of this even on touristy beaches.

Depending on where you travel in Borneo, you may need to take anti-malaria medication, while dengue fever can unfortunately be found all over, as it is elsewhere in Southeast Asia, so cover up and use mosquito repellent where necessary.

Getting Around Malaysia

Malaysia consists of the mainland Malay Peninsula, which borders Thailand to the north and is connected by a causeway to Singapore in the south, and the two states of Sabah and Sarawak, which are located in the northern portion of the island of Borneo, bordering the tiny sultanate of Brunei and the Indonesian province of Kalimantan.

Our 2-week trip to Malaysia takes you to see the highlights of the mainland and over to Sabah in Borneo. That means you’re going to need to fly, but luckily, Malaysia is well-connected domestically and internationally.

In fact, Kuala Lumpur is somewhat of an international hub, with low-cost Malaysian airline AirAsia operating out of the city. Most international carriers have flights into Kuala Lumpur (or KL, for short), be it from other Asian destinations, Australia, Europe, and even the US. You could also fly into Singapore and take the bus north to KL to start your journey.

If you’re traveling more extensively around Southeast Asia, you can also take the bus or train down from Thailand (Bangkok to KL is an exceptional ride!) or arrive by boat from Thai islands like Koh Lipe to Langkawi.

On the mainland, you can get around using Malaysia’s excellent long-distance bus or train networks. Tickets can be booked online, with regular connections between all the major destinations you’re going to visit. The exception is Langkawi, which requires a fast boat ride from Penang.

A domestic flight will bring you to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, and while Borneo’s larger towns and cities are well connected by bus, be prepared for slower, bumpier rides to make it to rainforest destinations like the Kinabatangan River.

Kuala Lumpur–2 Nights

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Home to some 2 million people, Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s sprawling capital city and the best place to start your Malaysian adventure. You’ll love how this mega city offers a serious contrast between the old and the new while simultaneously showcasing the best that Malaysia’s different communities have to offer.

Jamek Mosque

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Start with the old, and by that we mean make your way over to the Jamek Mosque, which dates back to 1909. The mosque sits directly on the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers (Kuala Lumpur means “Muddy Confluence,” in Malay, and is named after this muddy merging of waterways), overlooking the oldest inhabited site in the city, where a humble village grew into the capital you see today.

Merdeka Square and Chinatown

Jamek Mosque sits next to Merdeka Square (Merdeka means “Independence”), an old cricket ground used by the British, where Malaysian independence was declared in 1957. From here, you can walk on over to Chinatown, where Petaling Street is known for its Chinese street food, cheap eats, and knock-off market stalls.

National Museum of Malaysia

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One street over from Petaling Street is the fabulously colorful Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in KL, which dates back to 1873. By now, you’ll have a feel for the multicultural nature of KL, and if you want to learn more about the country’s unique history, you can visit the National Museum.

Now onto the new. The older buildings of Chinatown and Merdeka Square are framed by skyscrapers that extend outwards into the suburbs, and one of the most iconic Malaysian attractions is the Petronas Towers.

Petronas Towers

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Rising to a height of 452 meters (1,483 feet), these twin towers offer exceptional panoramas of the city from the level 86 observatory bridge that connects the two. Below, you’ll find KLCC park, where at night, you’ll have a spectacular view of the towers when they’re lit up.

Jalan Alor Street Food Stalls

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We said Malaysia was all about the food, and in KL, you won’t be disappointed. Once the sun has set, make your way over to Jalan Alor, where you’ll find street food stalls spilling out onto the street, offering everything from Mongolian barbecue to laksa.

We also can’t wait for you to discover nasi kandar, a dish of Tamil origins that’s perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You’ll find nasi kandar restaurants all over KL. You’re given a big helping of rice (nasi), and you fill your plate up with the impressive selection of curries, meats, vegetables, and side dishes being cooked.

Cameron Highlands–2 Nights

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There’s still so much to see in KL, including the Batu Caves, the Central Market, and the Islamic Art Museum, but before you know it, you’ll be hopping on a bus and traveling north to the Cameron Highlands.

Tanah Rata

If you’re struggling with the heat and humidity, the Cameron Highlands will be a pleasant respite. Your destination is Tanah Rata, which sits at an altitude of 1440 meters (4,724 feet) above sea level and is roughly a 3- or 4-hour drive from KL. Tanah Rata is surrounded by strawberry farms, tea plantations, and mossy forests, and it’s the perfect base to explore the highlands.

You’ll soon discover that you’ve landed in a curious place. The Cameron Highlands are several degrees cooler than the lowlands, and during the colonial era, British officers and their families would retreat here in the summers. They certainly left their mark, and today you can even find a traditional English pub serving roast dinners and enjoy afternoon tea with a side of strawberries and cream!

Hike Gunung Brinchang

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The Cameron Highlands is really all about hiking, though. There are at least 12 marked trails leading from and around Tanah Rata, varying in length and difficulty from an easy 30-minute stroll through the jungle to a monster trek up Gunung Brinchang, which, at 2,032 meters (6,666 feet), is the highest peak in the Cameron Highlands.

Penang and Langkawi–3 Nights

George Town

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Now it’s time to hit the east coast of Malaysia. Foodies are about to land in heaven because your next stop is George Town, the largest city on the island of Penang. George Town was founded as a trading port by the British in 1786, and ever since, the varied immigrant communities have left an indelible mark on the local cuisine.

Join a food tour or indulge your cooking talents in a culinary masterclass as you eat your way around the city (keep an eye out for the city’s famed street art, too). The best food here isn’t found in Michelin-starred restaurants but on the streets and in the night markets.

First up, you’ll want to try Penang char koay teow, an iconic noodle dish stir-fried with eggs and prawns. Asam laksa is Penang’s take on the laksa dish, featuring sour tamarind and mackerel, while roti canai is a Tamil dish consisting of flatbread dipped in curry sauces.


If you can bear to leave the food behind, your next stop is Langkawi, a tropical island located around 2 to 3 hours from George Town by boat. We’ll let you decide how to split your time between Penang and Langkawi, but if you just want to soak up the sun at a beachside resort, Langkawi is the place to be. The island is completely duty-free, too, meaning those cold beers will cost next to nothing!

Kota Kinabalu–2 Nights

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Kota Kinabalu (or KK, as the locals call it) is the capital and largest city in Sabah, a vast state in the northeast of Borneo. From mainland Malaysia, it’s a 2.5-hour flight to KK, and you can find direct connections from Penang and Langkawi or fly via Kuala Lumpur.

You can learn more about local history at the Sabah State Museum, while the city is home to some of the most impressive mosques in Malaysia, including the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, which is built on stilts above a lagoon. You should be well rested after your beach break in Langkawi, in which case we’ve got two adventurous suggestions to add to your itinerary. The only problem is you’re only going to have time to do one or the other.

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

If you’re an avid snorkeler or scuba diver (or if you just love white sand beaches!), then you’ll want to sign up for a boat tour of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. This marine reserve consists of five tropical islands located a few miles away from the city, where you’ll find swaying palm trees, turquoise lagoons, coral reefs, and an abundance of marine life. You could even stay the night on Gaya Island, where there’s an upscale resort.

Mount Kinabalu

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If you love hiking, then your second option is tackling Mount Kinabalu, which, at a lofty height of 4,095 meters (13,435 feet), is the tallest peak in Southeast Asia. You can join tours from KK, but if you want to summit, then you’ll need to spend the night on the mountain itself.

You’ll start hiking on the first day from the ranger office at around 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) before staying overnight at the resthouse or in tents at around 3,300 meters (10,826 feet). The next morning, you’re up bright and early to catch the sunrise from the summit.

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Alternatively, you can join a day tour from KK to Mount Kinabalu National Park, where you’ll have an easier day hiking trails around the mountain, visiting hot springs, and enjoying Tree Top Canopy walks. Back in KK, you can refuel with dim sum and chicken rice in Chinatown or head to the seafront night market for fresh fish, stingray, and crab, covered in copious quantities of chilis.

Sandakan–2 Nights

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Your next destination is Sandakan, a coastal city that sits on a beautiful peninsula in eastern Sabah. It’s a bumpy 6-hour bus ride from Kota Kinabalu (but the views of Mount Kinabalu on the way more than make up for this!) or a short hop on a domestic flight.

We’ve allocated two nights in case you do take the bus, as otherwise, you’ll have little time to spare before you launch yourself into the Bornean jungle. Sandakan, as the second-largest city in Sabah, is more than just a stopover, though, and if you’ve got time to spare, it’s worth checking out the views from the Puu Jih Shih Buddhist temple overlooking the city.

Selingan Turtle Island

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You can also venture out to Selingan Turtle Island, where you’ll find one of the world’s oldest turtle conservation sites. The hatchery looks after critically endangered species, including green turtles and hawksbill turtles. The island is a 45-minute boat ride away from Sandakan, but only 50 visitors are allowed to land each day, so you’ll need to book in advance.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Sandakan is conservation central, and the main place to visit here is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. This world-famous rehabilitation center cares for sick and injured orangutans, as well as the many baby orangutans that have been orphaned by poachers.

Orangutans are critically endangered, and the center is an inspiring place to learn more about their plight in the diminishing jungles of Borneo. Next door is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. The sun bear is the smallest species of bear, and the center cares for injured sun bears, many of whom were rescued from illegal captivity.

Kinabatangan River–2 Nights

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Flowing for 563 kilometers (350 miles) through the Bornean rainforests until it meets the Sulu Sea, the Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah. Found to the south of Sandakan, large stretches of the river have been protected as part of the extensive Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, which the locals call “The Corridor of Life.”

When you visit, you’ll soon understand why. The river itself attracts the most impressive and rarest species of animals that call Borneo home. This includes orangutans, pygmy elephants, Bornean clouded leopards, sun bears, and saltwater crocodiles, to name just a few.

While the wildlife sanctuary is largely home to primary rainforest, this narrow corridor of dense vegetation is unfortunately becoming a rarity in Borneo. On the drive down from Sandakan, you’ll see miles and miles of palm oil plantations, and if it wasn’t for the actions of conservationists, the land around the Kinabatangan River would have suffered the same fate.

The Kinabatangan River is effectively inaccessible without a local guide, so we recommend joining a multi-day tour from Sandakan. There are several guesthouses in the riverside village of Sukau, a 3-hour drive from Sandakan, where you can stay in basic homestays and even hammocks or opt for more luxurious lodgings.

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A 3-day/2-night tour gives you a wild taster of the Bornean jungle, and given that tours also stop off at the orangutan and sun bear rehabilitation centers outside Sandakan on the way there, it’s the perfect way to end your 2-weeks in Malaysia. We will warn you though, even the most luxurious guest houses along the Kinabatangan River are in the heart of the rainforest, which means services and facilities are going to be basic, but fun!

You’re in for an adventurous few days in the rainforest. You’ll be up before sunrise to take a boat cruise along the river in search of the orangutans and crocodiles (don’t go swimming here!) before heading out on jungle walks after breakfast.

There’s another cruise before the sun sets, and then you’ll ordinarily have the opportunity to venture out again in pitch-black darkness to see how the forest comes alive at night. You’ll be staying among snakes and spiders while the threat of leeches is ever present along the Kinabatangan River!

There you have it! That’s our perfect 2-week Malaysia itinerary. Where will you be traveling on your trip to Malaysia?

Planning a trip to Malaysia? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!

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    Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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