Malaysia sits between Singapore and Thailand, literally and on the scale of how easy it is to travel.

The country is divided into two main regions, Peninsular Malaysia on the west, composed of Kuala Lumpur & nearby states.

And, East Malaysia, composed of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo Island.

You can enjoy many of Southeast Asia’s best heritage cities, natural spots, food havens and urban experiences in Peninsular Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur offers direct connections from major cities in Asia & beyond. It’s the primary hub of AirAsia, so finding cheap flights shouldn’t be hard to come by. There’s also the option to a bus or train and cross the border from/to Singapore easily within a day. Once you’ve arrived, getting to main tourist spots is convenient by land or air.

Venture to East Malaysia for the best beaches, diving & trekking. It is home to Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak in archipelagic Southeast Asia (outside of Papua) as well as many beautiful off-shore islands.

Is Malaysia on your bucketlist? Inspire your trip with these must-visit places and top things to do for first-time travelers.

1. Georgetown & Penang

Kek Lok Si (Buddhist temple) near Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia

Kek Lok Si (Buddhist temple) near Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia

Why go — Food in Georgetown, Penang is widely known as the best throughout the country and is reason enough to visit. It’s definitely my favorite place to visit in Malaysia. There is no place in Southeast Asia that can match its satisfying mix of old-world cosmopolitan heritage, relaxed feel, exotic allure, and lush natural landscapes.

How to go

Georgetown & Penang Island is one hour north of Kuala Lumpur by flight. Penang International Airport (PEN) serves frequent direct flights KL, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Taipei & many domestic destinations in Malaysia including Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Langkawi, and Kota Bharu. Popular airlines include AirAsia, Malindo Air, Malaysia Airlines, Tigerair, Jetstar & Cathay Dragon. You can also reach Georgetown by bus/train/car, after a 4 to 6-hour land trip from Kuala Lumpur.

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2. Langkawi

Sky Bridge overlooking the forest and the Andaman Sea in Langkawi, Malaysia

Sky Bridge overlooking the forest and the Andaman Sea in Langkawi, Malaysia

Why go — If you’ve been to the best beaches in the Philippines and Thailand, Langkawi’s natural scenery is probably not going to blow you away. That said, it still is a stunning place to visit with worthwhile things to keep you busy for a day or two. What I like about Langkawi the most is that is easy to travel yet remains approachable and largely underdeveloped. It’s also one of the few tax-free islands in Malaysia where you can enjoy duty-free shopping.

How to go

Langkawi is one hour north of Kuala Lumpur by flight. Langkawi International Airport (LGK) serves flights from KL, Singapore, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Penang, Guangzhou & Shenzhen, operated by AirAsia, Tigerair, SilkAir, Malindo Air & Malaysia Airlines. If you want to go by land & ferry, ride a bus or train from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis (6 to 8 hours travel time). Then, ride a ferry to Kuah in Langkawi Island. The sea journey takes around 1 to 2 hours. You can also arrive in Langkawi on a direct ferry from Penang or Satun in Thailand.

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Langkawi travel tips

3. Melaka

Christ Church at night in the Portugese-colonial district of Melaka, Malaysia

Christ Church at night in the Portuguese-colonial district of Melaka, Malaysia

Why go — Melaka (Malacca) is a former Portuguese-colonial trading port conveniently located between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. If you’re traveling to both cities by land, this heritage and food destination is worth a stopover.

How to go

Melaka is easy to reach by land from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The bus ride from Kuala Lumpur usually takes 2 to 3 hours. If you’re coming from Singapore, travel may take between 3.5 to 5 hours, depending on the queue at the Singapore-Malaysia immigration checkpoints.

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4. Kuala Lumpur

Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Why go — Kuala Lumpur is definitely worth exploring if ever you’re visiting Malaysia. The capital city’s urban landscape, dominated by iconic KL Tower and Petronas Towers, is dotted with grand heritage buildings, worthwhile museums, well-maintained parks, revered temples, and mosques.

How to go

Arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), the main flight gateway to Malaysia. It’s one of the busiest and most well-connected airports in the world with direct flights to tourist hubs in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia, South Asia and major cities in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Major airlines include Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Lion Air, Malindo Air & Firefly. The airport is 30 minutes to 1 hour south of the city center by land. You can take the train, bus or private car.

From the Philippines, go on a flight to Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Malaysia Airlines. Travel time takes nearly 4 hours. Flights to KL are also available from Clark, Cebu & Kalibo.

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Kuala Lumpur travel tips

5. Kota Kinabalu & East Malaysia

Mamutik Island in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Mamutik Island in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Why go — Kota Kinabalu is a bustling yet laid-back city in Sabah, East Malaysia known as a gateway to Borneo’s amazing natural sites including Mount Kinabalu, Mulu Caves National Park, diving spots, and pristine jungles.

How to go

Kota Kinabalu is 2 hours and 30 minutes easy of Kuala Lumpur by plane. Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI) serves flights from KL, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tokyo and many domestic destinations in Malaysia. Major airlines include AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines & Malindo Air.

From the Philippines, you can fly direct to Kota Kinabalu from Manila on Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. Flight duration is 2 hours.

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Kota Kinabalu travel tipsSabah

6. Taman Negara National Park

Hanging Bridge in Pahang Taman Negara (National Park), Malaysia

Hanging Bridge in Pahang Taman Negara (National Park), Malaysia

Why go — The Taman Negara National Park is one of the world’s oldest rainforests. If you’re in the mood to explore nature, this place is very pristine with many interesting things to do like walk on the world’s longest tree hanging suspension bridge, enjoy a relaxing river cruise, or go trekking deep into the jungle.

How to go

The land trip from Kuala Lumpur takes around half a day. The first leg is the 3.5-hour land trip from KL to the jetty at Kuala Tembling. If you are going by bus or train, you may need to transit via Jerantut. From Kuala Tembling, ride the scenic ferry to Kuala Tahan, the jump-off point to Taman Negara National Park. There’s also the cheaper option of taking the public bus from Jerantut to Kuala Tembling, but you don’t get to enjoy the slow cruise along the Tembeling river.

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Pahang travel tips

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7. Putrajaya

Putra "Pink" Mosque under the sunset light in Putrajaya, Malaysia

Putra “Pink” Mosque under the sunset light in Putrajaya, Malaysia

Why go — Putrajaya is home to many of Malaysia’s most impressive monuments. Here, you’ll find grand mosques, government buildings, and iconic bridges surrounded by manicured parks and a 600-hectare lake. It can be reached on an easy day trip from Kuala Lumpur or on a drive-by to the airport.

How to go

Putrajaya is easy to visit from Kuala Lumpur. It is located between KL city centre and Kuala Lumpur International Airport. You can go by train on the KLIA Transit or by bus. Travel time may take as quick as 30 minutes or up to 1 hour depending on the traffic.

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8. Legoland Malaysia & Johor Bahru

Legoland in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Legoland in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Why go — Legoland Malaysia is one reason to visit Johor Bahru, located just across the causeway from Singapore. It is the first Legoland theme park in Asia and features many cool attractions including a Lego-themed water park, Lego-themed hotel, and impressive miniature recreations of many of Asia’s best-known landmarks.

How to go

Most travelers visit Legoland & Johor Bahru on a day trip from Singapore. Travel time usually takes 1.5 hours to 3 hours depending on the queue at the Singapore-Malaysia immigration checkpoint. If you’re traveling from abroad, Johor Bahru-Senai International Airport (JHB) serves direct flights from Bangkok, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Surabaya & Shenzen. Fly with AirAsia, Firefly, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, Sichuan Airlines or Spring Airlines. You can also reach Johor Bahru by bus or train from Kuala Lumpur. The travel time is 4 to 6 hours.

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Johor Bahru travel tips

Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.

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