Malaysia is a culturally rich destination with a bounty of national parks, white sandy beaches and temples. I spent 3 weeks backpacking through it with a few friends before visiting Singapore and Indonesia. We had 3 stops: Penang, Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpa.
The first stop on our travels was Penang. We stayed in George Town, the central place for backpackers, in a hostel called House of Journey. We were lucky enough to be there during the Hungry Ghost Festival where the streets were filled with colour and incense.According to belief, July is when the gates of hell are flung wide open to set loose its captives, allowing them to return to earth and roam freely and to visit their living descendants. We spent out first night wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere.
The street food around Penang was spectacular. We ate in Red Gardens Food Court which is a huge square of street food. It was so hard to decide what to order out of all the amazing options that I ended up ordering 6 dishes! I had bamboo charcoal rice, tempura prawns, 2 oysters, dumplings and fried ice cream. I also shared spring rolls with the girls. It was my best meal throughout my whole time in Malaysia!
The Street Art around George Town is not to be missed. You can collect a street art map from your hostel to find all the best spots. Little India is also great to explore; you can even buy a coconut to drink.
One of the most popular things to do in Penang is the Penang Hill. We got a funicular up there and watched the sunset. Tip: be prepared for very long queues to ride the tram down at this time. In hindsight we probably should have stayed up there longer and waited out the queue.
My favourite thing to do in Penang was Penang National Park. We decided to take the long, challenging 2 hour hike to a beautiful beach. This beach felt like paradise and was pretty empty; it was worth the sweat from the hike. We then got a speed boat over to Monkey Beach (where we didn’t see any monkeys!) This boat ride was definitely an experience. The driver decided to ignore where we were going and try and fix the ladder on the back of the boat. Little did he realise that we started heading straight to the rocks. We all called out to him in fear; he then ran over to the steering wheel in a panic and changed our direction just in time.
Monkey Beach was busier than the last one but still as beautiful. We got a corn on the cob for lunch and spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach and the tree swings. I had my first experience of jet skiing here with my friend. It was great fun! It was 80 rm for 15 minutes which is about £8. The two other friends we were travelling with then had a turn and managed to fall off in under 5 minutes. It took not one but two of the workers to help them back onto their jet ski. My friend and I watched the scene in fits of laughter.
Another place worth visiting in Penang is Kek Si temple which is a Budhist place of worship. You can put wishes on the wishing tree in there which was a fun experience. There were some pretty gardens in the temple with Hobbit-like doors. There is also a good view point.
We took a bus from Penang to the Cameron Highlands. I weirdly love long bus journeys; they are a great chance to relax, listening to music and to meet other travellers. This journey also contained worthwhile views.
Cameron Highlands is, you guessed it, pretty high up so the air was very cool which was a nice contrast to the rest of Asia we explored. We stayed at the Hong Kong hotel.
In the evening I would recommend wandering and getting lost in the night market. The stalls there had a noticeable theme among all the stalls of strawberries (Cameron Highlands is known for growing strawberries.) Once again, I bought lots of food: chocolate covered strawberries, noodles, vegetable tempura, sweet potato fries, corn on the cob and honey comb. I also had a strawberry flavoured hot chocolate which I can’t say I enjoyed. We ended up in a karaoke bar singing Spice Girls. Good night!
I would definitely suggest doing a tour in the Cameron Highlands, I imagine it would be difficult to explore on your own. We opted for a full day tour where our first stop was Boh Tea Plantation. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to and I loved it. There were stunning views over the tea plantations and the factory was also very interesting. I bought lots of green tea. It tasted so pure.
Our next stop was the top of Gunanag Brinchang which was 6,666ft high. After this we went for a short trek in the Mossy Forest where we learned about different plants and found a view point.
We stopped at a butterfly farm with many colourful, delicate butterflies. There were also other creatures to see there like insects and snakes. You can’t visit Cameron Highlands without seeing a strawberry farm. There wasn’t much to see there apart from strawberries but it was enjoyable none the less.
Our final stop was the Time Tunnel Museum which told the history of the Cameron Highlands. It was an Englishman who started the tea plantations. Soldiers used to visit to get away from the heat.
We took a 4 hour bus to Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia’s capital. This is a great place to spend a few days with plenty to see, from visiting the iconic Petronas Towers, climbing the steps of the Batu Caves to relaxing in the pleasant lake gardens. We stayed in a hostel called Suzie’s guesthouse.
We visited Kuala Lumpa Bird Park where the birds were not caged but instead walking free. There were some beautiful birds including a gorgeous florescent orange one. We also saw monkeys here. We spent the evening in the hostel playing cards with new friends. This is the best way to spend an evening whilst backpacking in my opinion: meeting interesting people and sharing stories.
One thing not to be missed in Kuala Lumpa is the iconic Petronas Towers, even though you may strain your neck looking up at them from the ground. The twin towers stand 88 storeys high and have a bridge connecting them both that you can walk on during the tour up there. On the observation deck there are views all over the city and beyond.
Return to these fantastic towers at night to see them wonderfully illuminated.
Another must-do in Kuala Lumpa is the Batu Caves.
In short, the Batu caves are 400-million-year-old limestone caves, now containing a few Hindu temples. We were greeted by little monkeys running around who kept us entertained whilst walking up the many, many steps (272 to be exact). We saw some infant monkeys playing around on one of the buildings. The walk took double the time it probably would have done if it wasn’t for the adorable monkeys taking up our attention. I wasn’t overly impressed by the temple at the top but I did appreciate the fact they were in a cave. I did, however, enjoy exploring the dark caves. We were all given a helmet and a torch and at one point we all turned the them off to notice that it was pitch black. All that could be heard was the sound of the bats flying around above us. It was incredible to think that this complete darkness is the home to so much life. We were shown what first looked like rocks but actually turned out to be bat poo. This is what all creatures eat in the cave as it has nutrients from what the bats eat outside. I would not recommend doing this to anyone afraid of insects or spiders. I happen to love spiders so was very happy we saw some in there.
Overall, the Cameron Highlands were the highlight for me. They were so beautiful and fantastic to explore with plenty of History to absorb at the same time. It’s a shame that this stunning place is often missed by visitors to Malaysia; I would recommend it to anyone travelling the country.