Tucked away in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a beautiful and unique country that serves as a crossroads of the world. Geographically, half of Malaysia is located on the Malay Peninsula while the other half can be found on the island of Borneo. This allows tour-goers to Malaysia an exciting mix of landscapes to explore -- from pristine rainforest to secluded beaches and islands.
The capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a booming multicultural city with a variety of influences from around the world that shape daily life. Many visitors to the capital flock to the famed Petronas Towers for their incredible height and unique architecture. Outside the urban centers, Malaysia’s landscape provides adventure experiences like no place else.
Choosing a tour around Malaysia can be a challenging task given that there are many different ways to experience the country. Tour-goers looking for adventure will find it, while those focused on food and culture will also have a variety of great tours to choose from.
Exploring Malaysia from a cultural tour perspective is an enriching experience. With a multicultural mix of ethnicities, languages, and religions, Malaysia is full of different foods and traditions. Aside from exploring the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, cultural tours in Malaysia might take travelers to various places of worship and food markets outside of the city.
A popular stop is the Batu caves located outside of Kuala Lumpur which feature Hindu temples built inside a system of immense caves. Another popular destination is Penang Island -- filled with interactive street art and amazing food. Enjoying a traditional Malay meal is both a social and ritualistic experience which is always a highlight for travelers.
Known for its immense cave systems, Malaysia is an adventure seeker's dream destination. On an adventure tour, you'll likely have the chance to explore a handful of the caves of Merapoh -- there are hundreds -- where you can wade through rivers, discover ancient stalactites and observe rare species of flora and fauna.
If that isn't enough adventure, Bako National Park -- located on the island of Borneo -- offers many more activities. At this popular stop for many adventure-based tours, you can go hiking in Malaysia’s lush rainforests and enjoy wildlife and waterfalls. After your daytime activities, you might end up overnight camping in the jungle under the stars on a bed of leaves.
Known for its idyllic coastline, many tours in Malaysia take advantage of the country's many islands, offering opportunities for diving, snorkeling, and sea kayaking.
For those looking to enjoy Malaysia's beaches, visits to the coastal city of Kota Kinabalu allow tour-goers a more relaxed itinerary of lounging and cocktails. However, there are some adventure activities like parasailing and hiking available if a mix of activities is more your style.
Wildlife Conservation Tours
With half the country occupying the nature-rich island of Borneo, Malaysia is known for its deep connection to the planet. Many tour operators in Malaysia make an effort to give back to the environment, allowing tour-goers the opportunity to volunteer with orangutans at Orang Utan Island or help tag sea turtles during nesting season.
The rainforest of Bako National Park is under constant threat from logging and palm oil plantation. Some tours incorporate education as well as volunteer work to clean and maintain trail systems.
Planning Your Trip
Any tour of Malaysia is sure to be an exciting travel experience. Proper planning and research makes it easier to find the tour of Malaysia that is right for you.
Best Time to Visit Malaysia
Malaysia does not have four distinct seasons, which makes choosing a “best time” a difficult task! Overall, the weather is consistently warm year-round. One of the more popular times to visit Malaysia (the west coast and Borneo) is November through to March. Within this season, December through February are drier and busier due to Christmas and New Years celebrations.
It is generally wise to avoid monsoon season on the east coast of the peninsula from mid-October to the end of March. April to October is dry and enjoyable on the east coast. If you are heading to Malaysia on a wildlife tour, you might aim for July to October as it is peak nesting season for turtles.
What to Look for in a Tour to Malaysia
Malaysia is divided into two main landmasses separated by the South China Sea. Therefore, tours typically do not cover the entire country but focus on a specific region. For example, you might book a cultural tour that covers the Malay peninsula including Kuala Lumpur and the Batu Caves. Other tours might exclusively occur on the island of Borneo which is far from the capital.
In general, look for a tour that takes care of the basic details like transportation and accommodation. These details should be included in the base cost of the tour. Other details you should consider are activities and meals. Look for tour operators with good reviews from reputable websites and real customer experiences.
Typical Tour Cost
A typical 8- to 12-day tour of trekking adventures on Borneo can cost anywhere from $900 to $ 2000. A typical 8-day cultural tour that includes Kuala Lumpur on the peninsula can cost $1000, while an “ultimate Malaysia” tour can cost around $2200 or more for a 15-day tour. As mentioned above, tours are usually focused on a specific region or tour style, given the unique geography of the country.
There are also usually extra costs associated with tours. Flights to and from Malaysia, necessary travel visas, and travel insurance are typically not covered. Whether all of your meals or only select meals are covered can be a point of differentiation between tour companies, so keep this in mind when calculating final costs.
Packing Tips & Gear Rentals
You should pack light, versatile clothing that is good for lots of weather conditions. Malaysia experiences hot and humid weather year round so packing breathable, flexible materials is always a good idea. You should remember to pack clothing that covers your shoulders and/or knees for visiting religious sites.
Even if you do not travel in the rainy season, the weather in many parts of Malaysia can fluctuate between sunshine and rain on a daily basis. Therefore, you should bring a water-resistant jacket with you when heading out for the day. Proper hiking footwear is essential for most tours in Malaysia -- especially for adventure-based tours.
If you're going camping or participating in any water activities, other items such as tents or snorkeling gear are usually provided by tour companies and included in the tour costs. However, be sure to inquire about any additional gear rentals you will have to organize on your own.
Other Tips for Travel in Malaysia
If you’re looking to do a tour of Malaysia, it is important to remember that the country is predominantly Muslim but is composed of many different ethnic and other religious groups. As such, tour-goers will encounter specific rules for greetings, alcohol consumption, meat availability, and generally respectful etiquette in public.
It would be useful and respectful to learn a few basic Malay words. That said, Malaysians learn English as their second language so communication is usually not a problem for tour goers.
Health & Safety
Before you travel to Malaysia, it is important to consult a travel doctor to ensure you are up-to-date with your vaccinations. Consuming “street food” is common practice, but travelers’ bodies unfamiliar with the cooking methods or spices might experience food-related illnesses. It is common practice to drink bottled water -- even in urban centers like Kuala Lumpur.
While Malaysia is a relatively safe country in Southeast Asia, there are still risks involved. There are high rates of petty crime -- most notably pick-pocketing -- particularly in urban areas. Violent crime is uncommon against tourists. As a traveler, you should take the usual safety precautions with your belongings. If you carry a handbag, keep it closed and secure to the body. In caves and other forested areas, always follow the instructions of your tour guides and excursion leaders.