Backpacking Across Unexplored Malaysia

21st Apr 2013
Photo of Backpacking Across Unexplored Malaysia 1/5 by Lionel&Emma
Boarding the Jetty to go to Coral Bay
Photo of Backpacking Across Unexplored Malaysia 2/5 by Lionel&Emma
Graffiti in Melaka
Photo of Backpacking Across Unexplored Malaysia 3/5 by Lionel&Emma
Inside the Batu Caves
Photo of Backpacking Across Unexplored Malaysia 4/5 by Lionel&Emma
Orangutans In Taiping
Photo of Backpacking Across Unexplored Malaysia 5/5 by Lionel&Emma
View of Penang from the top

On our journey around the various magnificent countries of South East Asia, Malaysia was the first stop. And I am glad we did so. We headed to Malaysia from Singapore a bit unaware of the beauty of the country. We were all ready to explore. Since we are traveling South East Asia on a budget, we used buses to get to Malaysia. It isn't exactly the most comfortable mode of travel, but we quite enjoyed it. In the amazing mix of South East Asian countries, Malaysia is sandwiched between the crowded country of Thailand and the relaxed and more urban Singapore. Therefore, it is a necessary stop for South East Asia travelers. If you come here from Thailand, you are more likely to find it serene and quiet and if you are here from Singapore (like us), you will find it happening and interesting.

Malaysia is a complete travel package. Sandy Beaches lined with crystal blue waters, national parks filled with exotic flora and fauna, a vibrant town structure, cuisine that will turn you into a foodie and history and culture that will continue to hold your attention. Malaysia has much more than what its tourism ad boasts of. Although Thailand sometimes over shadows it, Malaysia offers a travel experience that is very unique and quite different than its giant neighbors.

This itinerary summarizes our one month long stay in Malaysia. We hope it helps you plan your vacation in Malaysia. These are some of the best places to visit Malaysia! The amazing thing about this trip to Malaysia was that it focused on the lesser known parts of the country. Since we were getting accustomed to the whole backpacking concept, we decided to take matter in our hand and explore Malaysia our way. In many places, we have completely skipped the traditional to-do list and have explored the country as per our whims and fancies. And, I have to add, it was quite the journey!

Not too long ago, Johor Bahru was not exactly a "tourist" spot. It was a dusty, dirty town. But, it has changed quite drastically since then. Situated on Malaysia's border with Singapore, this little town has developed enough to attract the tourists and sustain their interest, albeit for a while. Johor Bahru is filled with amazing Hindu temples decorated with glass mosaics. The second-largest city in Malaysia, Johor Bahu has come a long way with opening up of various amusements parks and other commercial complexes.

Photo of Johor Bahru Johor Malaysia by Lionel&Emma

We were on a budget in Malaysia and thus had to be careful with accommodation. GGH is quite a bit further out from the city centre. Goodies also a bunch of appropriately priced items in the lobby area with a ‘Honesty Jar’ on the table There were things such as toothpaste, towels, packet noodles, cold drinks, coffee sachets, things you may have forgotten to bring, or may need during your stay. Very thoughtful indeed! It is also quite far from the city, (but close to Larkin Bus Terminal) and just seemed too remote for my liking. It was clean, except there was still someone else’s hair in the shower drainage, and comfortable for a night’s sleep – but odd to see no one around in the property from check in until check out.

Photo of Goodies, Guest House Johor Medan Aliff Harmoni 1/2 Taman Damansara Aliff Johor Bahru Johor Malaysia by Lionel&Emma

There’s not much to do here, except walk around, eat and take tourist shots. Melacca is a stop to just relax and probably wander aimlessly and meet some exciting people. There are tons of hidden nooks and crannies in the old town. We firstly made our way to the obviously touristy place of the Old Dutch Square. Here there’s a fountain opposite the river, some ruins and churches. We lazed around the next day too. Melaka is a sleepy town; probably more of a weekend town where Malaysians descend to for a break. It’s cozy, quaint – lots of cool little shops that Lionel had to pull me out of! This is a nice place to unwind, meet friendly locals, and best of all, you don’t feel guilty for doing nothing at all.

Photo of Malacca Melaka Malaysia by Lionel&Emma

Capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is quite a place to experience the vibrant and energetic feel of the country. The city receives massive tourist attention (it is the sixth most visited city in the world). The best part about this capital is that it is luxury meets modesty. On one hand it has some of the great hotel giants catering to the comfort traveler and on the other it has budget hotels for backpackers (like us). There isn't any scarcity of places to visit in Kuala Lumpur. National Museum, National Palace, Central market, Batu caves and the Petrona towers, there are enough things to keep you busy. We stayed in a wonderful place, swam on the rooftop pool during a storm, walked the city, commuted on the painful public transport and visited the Batu Caves.

Photo of Kuala Lumpur Malaysia by Lionel&Emma

We booked our bus tickets to the island in Jerteh (the town near the jetty where you can get a boat to the Perhentian Islands). We chose the smaller Perhentian Island on a whim after the boat operator asked us where we were going and I said the first place I could think of – Long Beach. The islands are around 19 kms away from West Malaysia. The islands are a treat with sparkling water, palm trees and white coral sand beaches. Home to sea turtles, these islands also provide great opportunities for water sports like snorkeling and scuba diving. This is where the holiday begins!

Photo of Perhentian Islands Kuala Besut Terengganu Malaysia by Lionel&Emma

The Perhentian islands are known mainly for what is underneath the water so we looked around for snorkeling trips. Over at Coral Bay there are plenty of options starting from 30RM including gear and some even breakfast. There were a few other boats already here, and they were all treading water with their life jackets. Soon we were all geared up and ready to jump in. It didn’t take long until we were surrounded by hundreds of small colourful fish. We saw some large parrotfish feeding off the coral and swam with swarms of fish. The last stop before lunch was Turtle Point. These were huge turtles, gracefully feeding on the bottom. We saw two come up right before us to breathe. They were 3-4 meters down, so to get right up close we had to dive down. The largest I dove down next to was almost my length. These are beautiful animals.

Photo of Coral Bay, Palau Perhentian by Lionel&Emma

We decided to make a spontaneous stop at Taiping between Tanah Rata and Penang. We took a bus to Ipoh and then to Taiping, a colonial city in northwestern Malaysia. While the people here were charming, there was not a great deal to do. There is a very nice lake garden, which is worth seeing. However, Taiping is not the reason we came here. We came here in search of Orangutans on the mysterious Palau Orang Utan. The island itself is quite a remarkable conservation effort of these magnificent creatures. They have minimal human interaction and roam free in their 5 acre designated area. As a visitor, you are in the cage to see them, separated by two fences in order not to disturb them. There is a nursery where young infants are looked after if there are complications at birth. Forced breeding is not encouraged and Orangutans have a very slow reproduction cycle, hence why every effort is made to safe newborns. If you have a soft spot for these animals or are unsure, this is a great place to visit.

Photo of Taiping Perak Malaysia by Lionel&Emma

In Penang we decided to give the normal tourist places a miss and head out to discover Penang all by ourselves. To get around Penang and see the island, we decided to hire some motorbikes / scooters. After an hour of stressing and extreme concentration, I started to really love riding this thing and we rode around the northern half of Penang to the spice garden and the national park.The next day, I couldn’t wait to get back on a scooter and explore the south side of Penang. We looked for a fisherman’s village and found a ghost town with some fish drying and the aftermath of political campaign flags. Even the most remote town we went to did not satisfy our expectations of a picturesque seaside town or secluded beach. We even rode to the end of a road and saw the beginnings of what will once be the world’s longest bridge. The furthest point was Acheh and instead of quenching our thirst for a film grade beach, we did so with cold drinks and watching a few half naked Malay men playing Mah-Jong, which strangely was just as refreshing. Riding through the countryside was just like playing Just Cause. The lush green, remote towns and abundance of motorcycles was unmistakable. Getting tired from riding and black from traffic dust, we turned into our last stop, Kek Lok Si, a colourful Buddhist temple overlooking Georgetown. It was worth it!

Photo of Penang Malaysia by Lionel&Emma

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