SD › Where to Go in Malaysia
Updated: November 26, 2021
• Best Hotel: Ritz-Carlton (Langkawi)
• Boutique Hotel: Ambong Rainforest Retreat (Langkawi)
• Cheap Hotel: WOLO (Kuala Lumpur)
• Family Hotel: Four Seasons Resort (Langkawi)
• Airport Hotel: Mövenpick (Kuala Lumpur)
The Best Areas to Stay in Malaysia
As tourists rush to well-known tropical getaways like Bali and Phuket or explore newer destinations such as Vietnam and Cambodia, many ignore one of the best-value and most exciting – yet under-visited – regions in Southeast Asia. Only 740km long and less than half as wide, the peninsula where most Malays live and tourists visit is pleasingly compact and boasts public transport to rival Europe. And often forgotten are the two isolated provinces with surprisingly developed towns, as well as untouched jungles carved by raging rivers and populated by indigenous tribes and unique wildlife.
Within a short trip by bus, train, and plane from anywhere along peninsular Malaysia are postcard-perfect tropical beaches, colonial-era highlands blanketed with tea plantations, thriving metropolises packed with malls and markets, and historical towns with a heritage dominated by Chinese and Indian minorities. Malaysia is wonderfully different to Singapore (which is overpriced and can seem sterile), Vietnam (difficult to get around by public transport), and Thailand (where language differences are problematic), and most of the friendly locals across Malaysia speak English.
As close to Thailand as the Malaysian mainland, the resort haven of Langkawi Island offers pristine beaches and, unusually, caters well for budget-minded travelers. Especially historic and dynamic, Penang is a compact island that maintains a beautifully restored colonial heritage and at present is dominated by the Chinese, especially in the charismatic capital, Georgetown. Nearby on the mainland, the lovable town of Taiping is set alongside a remarkable lake and gardens, but is surprisingly ignored by tourists.
Despite overdevelopment, the Cameron Highlands retain a delightful colonial-era vibe, complete with Tudor-style architecture, strawberry farms, and tea plantations. Rivaling Singapore as one of Asia’s great cities, the energetic Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL), is well designed, easy to get around, and loaded with attractions. About halfway between KL and Singapore, the historic city of Melaka (Malacca) has an elegant riverside location and fascinating old town packed with mosques, churches, temples, and an excessive number of museums.
Just over the strait from Singapore, Johor Bahru is a gateway for the east and west coasts of peninsular Malaysia, and certainly worth a stopover. Further up the east coast are two clusters of magical islands, which include the petite and romantic Tioman Island and Perhentian Island, near the border with Thailand. Often forgotten and over 1,000km across the South China Sea are two historical anomalies: the states of Sarawak and Sabah, which share the world’s third-largest island, Borneo, with Indonesia and Brunei. The respective capitals of Kuching and Kota Kinabalu are well developed and offer something quite different to the peninsula.
The Best Places to Stay in Malaysia
- Best Luxury Hotels in Malaysia
Ritz-Carlton (Langkawi) • Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Penang) • St. Regis (Kuala Lumpur) • Shangri-La (Kuala Lumpur) • Hotel De’ La Ferns (Cameron Highlands) • Marriott (Kota Kinabalu) • Novotel (Taiping) • Hatten Hotel (Melaka) • Capri by Fraser (Johor Bahru) • Japamala (Tioman Island) • Riverside Majestic Hotel Astana Wing (Kuching)
- Best Boutique Hotels in Malaysia
Ambong Rainforest Retreat (Langkawi) • Macalister Mansion (Penang) • The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant (Cameron Highlands) • The Majestic (Kuala Lumpur) • Traders (Kuala Lumpur) • The Majestic (Melaka) • The Ranee (Kuching) • Heeren Palm Suites (Melaka) • Bagus Place Retreat (Tioman Island) • Stanton (Kota Kinabalu)
- Best Family Hotels in Malaysia
Four Seasons Resort (Langkawi) • Shangri-La Rasa Sayang (Penang) • Ritz-Carlton (Kuala Lumpur) • Mandarin Oriental (Kuala Lumpur) • Casa del Rio (Melaka) • Grand Paragon (Johor Bahru) • Perhentian Island Resort • Grand Margherita (Kuching) • Tioman Dive Resort • Hotel Sixty3 (Kota Kinabalu)
- Best Moderate Hotels in Malaysia
Bambü Getaway (Langkawi) • 23 Love Lane Hotel (Penang) • Flemington (Taiping) • Ceria Hotel Bukit Bintang (Kuala Lumpur) • MoMo’s (Kuala Lumpur) • Prescott Hotel Medan Tuanku (Kuala Lumpur) • Jonker Boutique Hotel (Melaka) • Fathers Guest House (Cameron Highlands) • Bello Hotel JB Central (Johor Bahru) • The LimeTree Hotel (Kuching) • Putatan Platinum Hotel (Kota Kinabalu) • Cheers Chalet (Tioman Island)
- Best Budget Hotels in Malaysia
WOLO (Kuala Lumpur) • Cheng Ho Residence (Melaka) • Straits View Hotel (Johor Bahru) • ABC Beach (Tioman Island) • Perhentian Chomel Chalet • D’Green Hotel (Kuching) • Qlio (Kota Kinabalu) • Lang Hoose (Penang)
Best Areas in Malaysia for…
- Best Region in Malaysia for Sightseeing: Kuala Lumpur (KL)
The capital can offer even more sights than Penang and Melaka because it’s so much larger. Accessible on foot within the city center and via the excellent public transport system are temples used by Indian minorities, teeming markets across the sprawling Chinatown, and a bundle of lovingly-restored buildings from the colonial era. Other must-sees include the stalls and cafés at Central Market, the astonishing views from the Petronas Twin Towers, and cluster of first-class museums in and around the extensive lake gardens. It’s also very easy to daytrip by train to likable regional towns like Seremban, Shah Alam, and Klang, and by cable car (and bus) to Genting Highlands, a Vegas-style mini-city of casinos and theme parks among jungle-clad mountains.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Beaches: Langkawi Island
Imagine sand with the quality and color of talcum powder, bunches of angled palms laden with coconuts, and shimmering, calm waters colored emerald and turquoise. Most beaches are commandeered by luxury resorts, but still open to the public, while some stretches of sand are so comparatively undeveloped that it’s easy to escape the crowds – and snorkeling within swimming distance from the shore adds greatly to the attraction. Other beaches along pretty coves on uninhabited islands nearby are only accessible by organized boat trips.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Boat Trips: Langkawi Island
Only fully developed for tourism in the past couple of decades, Langkawi is within an archipelago of over 100 islands, many just limestone outcrops; others, islets with coves, caves, and pockets of forests. Once renowned as a haven for pirates but now part of a protected marine park, the seascapes are stunning and some areas are populated by indigenous groups of ‘sea gypsies’. Visitors can swim in freshwater and saltwater lakes; admire birdlife from boardwalks; snorkel among fish and reefs in clear waters; or just sunbathe at pristine beaches. Boat trips are easy to arrange – as part of a larger tour or chartered with a boatman – from hotels and travel agencies across the island and at the boat terminal in the main town, Kuah.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Outdoor Activities: Cameron Highlands
Malaysia is blessed with beaches perfect for water-sports (see below), as well as forests and mountains ideal for more adventurous activities. However, the majority of Malaysians and tourists (most of whom come from Singapore) are not outdoorsy sort of people, but some more affluent and courageous locals do enjoy trekking through the mountains of peninsular Malaysia and climbing one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks just outside Kota Kinabalu. More suitable and accessible for most tourists is hiking (rather than trekking) around the cooler Cameron Highlands. This area also attracts foreign backpackers keen on exploring the mountains, forests, and tea plantations by using maps and well-signed trails, or hiring guides to remote peaks, waterfalls, and villages of indigenous orang asli (‘original people’).
- Best Region in Malaysia for Water-Sports: Batu Ferringhi, Penang
Although Penang is not a tropical holiday destination like Langkawi and Tioman islands, the main beach region of Batu Ferringhi does offer a modest range of activities on and above the sea. Midway along the north coast and easy to reach by public bus from the capital Georgetown, Batu Ferringhi is popular – mostly among Malaysians – for jet-skiing and parasailing, but some prefer just sitting on a ‘banana boat’ and being whisked along from the back of a speedboat.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Diving and Snorkeling: Tioman Island
Although not as developed or enticing as Thailand for underwater exploration, scuba-diving trips can be organized at Kota Kinabalu, capital of the remote Sabah province, and the beautiful Perhentian Island. Tioman Island takes the prize, however, for its treasure trove of coral reefs and marine life, including frolicking dolphins. Divers appreciate that Tioman is compact and good-value, and trips are easy to arrange through agencies offering international-standard safety, equipment, and courses. What’s more, there are several WWII shipwrecks for more experienced divers and snorkeling is possible within swimming distance of the shore – and masks and fins are readily available for rent.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Nightlife: Kuala Lumpur (KL)
As a vibrant Asian capital, the choice of things to do after dark across KL is extraordinary. Despite hefty taxes on alcohol and a Muslim majority, there are plenty of bars – but not the range available in Thailand or ones that attract the sort of hard-drinking tourists found on Bali. On the rooftops (including on a helipad) of several 5-star hotels are extravagant bars, while some heritage-style hotels offer more sedate lounges for cocktails and cigars. More affluent locals might flock to nightclubs and jazz clubs, although these are usually a little tame compared to cities outside of Malaysia. More sophisticated events held at various arts and cultural centers often showcase the diversity of Malaysia’s population: families can visit a cinema complex with English-language films, and watching a Bollywood blockbuster in a colonial-era movie theater is an experience like no other.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Food & Restaurants: Georgetown, Penang
One genuine but underrated attraction of visiting Malaysia is its cuisine. While not as renowned as Thai or Vietnamese food, the variety is truly remarkable because of the mix of Malays, Indians, and Chinese, and the unique Peranakan cuisine originating from descendants of Malays and Chinese. Arguably the finest place for choice is Penang’s enchanting colonial capital, Georgetown, especially along the narrow lanes dominated by the significant Chinese minority. The variety is incredible across the city: from makeshift market stalls and street-side cafés catering for locals to European-style bistros in 5-star hotels overlooking the sea. Many tourists flock to the hawker centers where food stalls are set up each evening in the eastern suburbs, many facing the sea.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Vibe & Culture: Georgetown, Penang
The capital of Penang is pleasingly compact, so it’s easy to explore on foot (or by free public bus) the myriad of attractions within this multicultural city. For example, the Indian minority have Muslim mosques, Hindu temples, and curry houses; the Chinese run market stalls and incense-infused temples; and the Malays work in many of the tourist attractions across the city and island. Georgetown proudly showcases its colonial heritage with whitewashed churches and comprehensive museums, as well as a restored fort in the middle of downtown. Along jetties near the ferry terminal, Chinese ‘clans’ live in wooden houses above the water, while it’s also possible to visit authentic kampungs (villages) around the interior and southern coast.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Cultural Classes: Kuala Lumpur (KL)
With fewer (non-Singaporean) tourists, cultural activities like cooking classes (common in Thailand) and art/crafts lessons (popular in Bali) are rarely offered in Malaysia. The exception is KL, where a few courses are offered – more for expats living in the capital, but still available to tourists. At MyBatik, students can learn about the batik method of designing clothes and bags, as well as tie-dying and teh tarik (milky tea), while at Lazat Cooking Classes, 3-course meals are cooked and then devoured. Similar cultural activities are offered in the historic cities of Melaka and Georgetown (Penang).
- Best Regions in Malaysia for Walking and Cycling: Taiping and Langkawi Island
The compact downtown area within the agreeable but rarely-visited town of Taiping has manageable traffic and is positioned alongside vast gardens surrounding a lake. The lawns are lush and raintrees massive, providing a canopy along the quiet road circling the lake – and bikes are available for rent at a couple of shops. Wandering around the zoo, especially at night, is also loads of fun, while the more adventurous may want to hike to the hill station on Bukit Larut. Most roads around Langkawi Island are flat and have comparatively little traffic, and some shops and hotels rent bicycles, but roads are too long and shade-less for walking.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Shopping: Kuala Lumpur (KL)
Not surprisingly, the greatest selection of places to shop is within the largest city. Around Chinatown are busy produce markets and the main thoroughfare almost magically converts to a street market every afternoon. Other produce markets mainly cater for Malays (who almost seem outnumbered by Chinese and Indian minorities in some areas), while the Central Market is packed with stalls selling fabulous souvenirs. These days, most locals prefer malls and shopping precincts like Bukit Bintang that rival Europe for size, quality, and choice. And so many markets and malls are within the city center and easily accessible on foot or via the excellent public transport.
- Best Regions in Malaysia for History: Melaka and Georgetown, Penang
Both of these popular and historic cities proudly showcase their heritage – whether converted mansions and fort remains from the colonial era or other buildings not connected to European rule, especially among areas settled by the Chinese a century or more ago. So many of the attractions in Melaka, including the large number of museums, date from the days when the British, Dutch, and Portuguese fought for control of this ancient port. In contrast, Penang was colonized only by the British, so the capital, Georgetown, is dotted with whitewashed old churches and government buildings, and dominated by remnants of a huge fort.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Serenity: Taiping
As tourists rush between Penang and the Cameron Highlands, they sadly ignore this delightful and easy-going town. The center of Taiping (which means ‘everlasting peace’ in Chinese) is beautifully positioned next to a serene lake surrounded by vast lawns and century-old raintrees – a perfect place for strolling, cycling, paddle-boating, or just relaxing. Adding to the genuine feel of tranquility is the background of mountains with a hill station accessible by a strenuous hike or wild jeep ride.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Families: Melaka
This enchanting, historical city is ideal for those traveling with children for several reasons. Firstly, it’s very easy to reach by comfortable buses from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore (but is not close to an airport or railway terminal). Secondly, Melaka has so much to see and do in a particularly compact area: from museums to malls and more interesting riverboat trips, street markets with live music, walking and cycling tours of Chinatown, and festivals galore. And with so many families visiting Melaka from KL and Singapore, a number of theme parks and other family-focused attractions (e.g. a zoo) are also nearby.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Value: Taiping
While Malaysia remains particularly good value, it’s not surprising that the major cities and popular tourist regions (e.g. Melaka, Penang, and the Cameron Highlands) are comparatively more expensive – especially during peak times (i.e. weekends and local school holidays). In contrast, Taiping is ignored by the majority of foreign and Malaysian tourists, so most hotels are simple and cheap. The majority of amenities, such as shops, cafés, and bars, are designed and priced for locals rather than foreigners, and downtown is compact enough to avoid taxis (which are unmetered and overpriced throughout Malaysia).
- Best Region in Malaysia for Transport: Kuala Lumpur (KL)
As the capital and largest city, KL provides a world-class public transport system that includes trains, light rail, and monorail radiating from a well-designed hub in the city center. This very reliable, cheap, and effective transport is a wonderful way to explore the city, as well as visiting likable regional towns (e.g. Seremban) and amazing attractions in the countryside (e.g. Batu Caves). It also means that most visitors don’t need to use taxis, which are all unmetered and way overpriced. Although about 60km from the city center, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (also for domestic flights) is very well-connected by bus (at least one hour) and express train (less than 30 minutes). European-standard buses head in every direction from the city and the train linking Singapore with Penang and beyond passes through.
- Best Region in Malaysia for First-Timers: Melaka
This intriguing old city is an obvious destination for those unfamiliar with Malaysia and, especially, unused to traveling around Asia. It’s so easy to reach on European-standard buses from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (but not close to any airport or railway terminal). The vast range of hotels includes 5-star high-rises on the edge of downtown to charming boutique hotels within Chinatown – and most are within walking distance of the abundant attractions around the city center and along the river. Melaka can become crowded and more expensive, however, with weekenders from Friday afternoons to Sunday afternoons, so plan accordingly.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Festivals: Melaka
With its unique combination of Malays, Indians, and Chinese, plenty of religious festivals and cultural events are held across the country. These are more pleasant to enjoy (and even partake in) at Melaka, because the town center is so compact, has minimal traffic, and is within walking distance of most hotels. Festivals include Chinese New Year, with parades around the UNESCO-listed Chinatown and lanterns lining Melaka River and the Hindu festival of Diwali, which lasts up to 5 days. Other major events in Melaka are based on the Islamic calendar, established and encouraged by the government, e.g. Hari Merdeka (Independence Day), or linked to the city’s unique Portuguese and Christian heritage.
- Best Region in Malaysia for Romantic Holidays: Tioman Island
No doubt, Tioman ticks all the right boxes for the perfect romantic getaway: most accommodation is in cozy, quiet chalets and bungalows (rather than crowded and impersonal resorts); many rooms offer direct ocean views; the beaches of white sand are ideal for strolling and sunbathing; the calm waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling; and exploring the numerous waterfalls and spring-fed lakes on foot is loads of fun. Compact, quiet, and friendly, the island remains comparatively unspoilt in many areas, and most locals live in genuine villages.
- Safest Area in Malaysia: Cameron Highlands
Malaysia is very likely to be significantly safer than the places tourists come from. Most possible dangers are self-inflicted, e.g. excessive drinking, riding motorbikes recklessly, or from accidents during adventurous activities. Malaysia does not attract the sort of hard-drinking tourists who may cause unfortunate incidents like physical and sexual assaults that are not uncommon in other tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. The overwhelming majority of tourists visiting the enjoyable Cameron Highlands are Malaysians, many with families, so the area is easy-going and trouble-free, despite the traffic on weekends.
- Least Safe Area in Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur (KL)
As is often the case, the larger the city the more chance of getting into trouble – whether from physical assault (extremely rare anywhere) to vehicle accidents (more common.) While the traffic in KL is heavy, crossing the road is not as potentially deadly as, for example, Ho Chi Minh City or Bangkok, because of the numerous pedestrian bridges and subways. The sort of opportunistic petty crimes not uncommon at major tourist regions throughout Asia can happen in crowded areas across KL, so take the usual precautions. And avoid downtrodden inner-city areas where prostitution and drugs are surprisingly rife.
The 11 Best Regions in Malaysia for Tourists
As close to Thailand as Malaysia, Langkawi is a prime tourist destination for its perfect beaches with clear inviting water, archipelago of 100 islands easy to explore by boat, flat roads ideal for cycling, duty-free shopping, and alcohol exempt from exorbitant government taxes. Across the island are a range of top-end resorts, many part of international chains in popular areas like Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah. There are also many more affordable options, especially in the likable capital, Kuah. Some beaches are undeveloped and often uncrowded, but difficult to reach with no public transport – only unmetered and overpriced taxis. Many tourists fly in on packaged tours, but there are also regular ferries to Penang Island and the mainland of both Malaysia and Thailand.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Ritz-Carlton • The Danna • St. Regis • The Datai • Casa del Mar • The Andaman
- Best Boutique Hotels: Ambong Rainforest Retreat • The Smith House • Panji Panji Tropical Wooden Home • Ranis Lodge • Telaga Terrace Boutique Resort
- Best Family Hotels: Four Seasons Resort • Royale Chenang Resort • Langkawi Yacht Club Hotel
- Best Moderate Hotels: Bambü Getaway • Arch Studio Cenang • Kawah Padi Garden Villa • Cenang Plaza Beach Hotel
- Best Budget Hotels: Dar Yasmine Motel • OYO 44124 De Langkawi Resort • Sabandy House B&B • Bed Attitude Hostel Cenang • Soluna Guest House
The thriving island of Penang (Pinang) is connected by regular ferry to Langkawi and the mainland; via a very long bridge to Butterworth; and by regular flights. With a restored fort, beautiful whitewashed churches, and several excellent museums, the capital Georgetown proudly showcases its British colonial history, while most other attractions around the island are accessible by useful bus services. Most visitors stay in high-rise hotels or, better, heritage-style boutique places in Georgetown, where the choice of food and restaurants is also fantastic. Spacious resorts and apartment complexes are dotted along the north coast, but beaches such as Batu Ferringhi (which has some water-sports) are not nearly as impressive as Langkawi.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Shangri-La Golden Sands • Hotel Equatorial • The Wembley • G Hotel Kelawai • Eastern & Oriental Hotel • The Prestige Hotel
- Best Boutique Hotels: Seven Terraces • Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion • Macalister Mansion • Campbell House • Jawi Peranakan Mansion
- Best Family Hotels: Shangri-La Rasa Sayang • Parkroyal Penang Resort • Hard Rock Hotel • Bayview Beach Resort
- Best Moderate Hotels: AC Hotel • 23 Love Lane Hotel • Hutton Central Hotel • Le Dream Boutique Hotel • Eastern Hotel Georgetown
- Best Budget Hotels: Sweet Cili Boutique Hotel • Stay Songsong • Ke-lan-tan House • Hotel Alpha • Lang Hoose
A short bus trip from Penang via the mainland hub of Butterworth, Taiping is an adorable town with a compact center dominated by Chinese businesses, but the main attractions are the lake, gardens, and world-class zoo – all in the town center. Nearby is Bukit Larut, Malaysia’s oldest hill station, accessible on an arduous hike or wild jeep ride, and it’s easy to daytrip by train or bus to Ipoh (Malaysia’s third-largest city) and Kuala Kangsar, a likable riverside town with a royal history. Surprisingly left off the usual tourist trail, Taiping is low-key (and, therefore, also comparatively quiet), so most accommodation is moderately priced and good value, but nothing is specifically designed for families. Don’t stay in Kamunting, a satellite town with a massive bus station unless necessary.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Novotel
- Best Boutique Hotel: Sojourn Beds & Café
- Best Family Hotels: Sense Hotel • Sentosa Villa Resort • Hermitage Boutique House
- Best Moderate Hotels: Flemington • Hotel Grand Baron • Legend Inn
- Best Budget Hotels: Reserve The Cozytainer • Louis Hotel • Kimal Hotel • Raintown Inn • Guesthouse Dragon Place • Peking
Despite uncontrolled construction and a lack of appropriate infrastructure, this area of tea plantations and strawberry farms retains a genuine colonial-style charm. Most attractions and amenities are designed for Malaysian tourists, who appreciate the climate so ideal that not even the top-end hotels offer (or need) air-conditioning or heating, while others enjoy hiking using maps, trails, or guides. Avoid market towns like Ringlet and stay at Brinchang, which is filled with a mind-boggling number of cheap hotels or, far better, Tanah Rata, the main town with the finest facilities. Both places are connected by taxi with each other and by bus to Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, and many attractions can be visited on organized day tours. Most accommodations are apartments popular with families, but avoid weekends (Friday night to Sunday afternoon) and Malaysian school holidays when rates double and traffic along the narrow roads is bumper-to-bumper.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Cameron Highlands Resort • Hotel De’ La Ferns • Casadela Rosa
- Best Boutique Hotels: The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant • Tiny Boutique Habitat • Heritage Hotel • Arundina
- Best Family Hotels: ATS Cameron Hotel • Themework Homestay • Heliconia Apartments & Guest House
- Best Moderate Hotels: Rose Crest Hill • Fathers Guest House • Wan Alyasa Hotel • Hotel Flora Plus
- Best Budget Hotels: The Cave • Bricks Cameron Highlands • Traveller Bunker Hostel • Alora Budget Inn • BED Station Guest House
The Malaysian capital is certainly more appealing than most cities in Asia. Although typically sprawling, the center is well-designed and compact, so most museums, parks, historical remnants, and other attractions are accessible on foot or via the excellent public transport system which spreads around the city and beyond. The contrasts are startling: high-rise hotels and office blocks (including one of the world’s tallest) among teeming markets, and massive malls and trendy nightclubs near Malaysian mosques, Chinese shrines, and Indian temples. The numerous big-name hotels cater mostly for business people, although some are wonderful for families, while a pleasing range of boutique hotels are dotted around more interesting areas. Budget-priced accommodation is rarely recommended for location and safety.
- Best Luxury Hotels: St. Regis • Renaissance • Shangri-La • Grand Millennium • InterContinental • Grand Hyatt • JW Marriott
- Best Boutique Hotels: The Majestic • Impiana KLCC • Traders • Maison Boutique Theme Hotel • T Hotel Mont Kiara
- Best Family Hotels: Ritz-Carlton • Mandarin Oriental • Le Méridien • Pullman City Centre Hotel & Residences • Westin • E&O Residences
- Best Moderate Hotels: Ceria Hotel Bukit Bintang • Fraser Place • J-Hotel by Dorsett • MoMo’s • Prescott Hotel Medan Tuanku
- Best Budget Hotels: Hotel 1000 Miles • WOLO • The Bed KLCC • M&M Hotel • Big M • De Luna Hotel Sri Petaling
Rivaling Georgetown in Penang for charm and history, but more Dutch and Portuguese than British, this busy city is between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and hence is very popular (especially on weekends) with tourists from both cities. It offers more than enough to occupy a week – from wandering around the UNESCO-listed Chinatown to boat trips along the river and exploring the inordinate number of museums within restored colonial-era buildings. Most luxury hotels on the outer edges of the town center offer space and family-friendly amenities, but it’s nicer to stay at an exquisite boutique hotel in the old part of town. A number of theme parks and other family attractions are in the nearby countryside, but the downside is no airport or railway terminal nearby.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Ames Hotel • Eco Tree Hotel • DoubleTree by Hilton • Hatten Hotel • The Pines • Ibis • Hatten Place
- Best Boutique Hotels: The Majestic • Heeren Palm Suites • Muk by Victoria Home • Heeren Straits Hotel • 1825 Gallery Hotel
- Best Family Hotels: Casa del Rio • Swiss-Garden Hotel • Sgi Vacation Club • Bayview Hotel
- Best Moderate Hotels: TheBlanc Boutique Hotel • Jonker Boutique Hotel • Hotel Puri • Moty Hotel • Hotel Mill Road
- Best Budget Hotels: Trevor Hotel • Gingerflower Boutique Hotel • Cheng Ho Residence • Fenix Inn • Zamburger Gill Garden • Travellers Planet Hotel & Guesthouse
7. Johor Bahru
Just over the strait from Singapore by train, bus, taxi, and ferry, JB (as it’s often called) is usually ignored by foreign tourists, but is much more than just a shopping destination for bargain-hunting Singaporeans. The compact downtown is home to a significant Chinese and Indian heritage; a couple of museums, parks, and colonial-era remnants; likable pedestrian lanes filled with street-side cafés; and hotels offering views of Singapore across the water. If possible, avoid weekends (late Friday afternoon to Sunday mid-afternoon) when hotel rates double and traffic across the causeway with Singapore just crawls. The beaches, resorts, and golf courses at Desaru (80km to the east) are designed for Singaporeans with private transport.
- Best Luxury Hotels: DoubleTree by Hilton • Holiday Villa City Centre • Capri by Fraser • Berjaya Waterfront Hotel
- Best Boutique Hotels: Trove • Potpourri Boutique Hotel • Zamburger Bliss
- Best Family Hotels: Amari • Grand Paragon • Thistle
- Best Moderate Hotels: Z Hotel • Holiday-Inn Express & Suites • Bello Hotel JB Central • Jo Hotel
- Best Budget Hotels: Straits View Hotel • CIQ Hotel Sdn Bhd
One of several islands off the lower eastern peninsula, the largest, Tioman, is a classic tropical getaway. Popular for diving/snorkeling, duty-free shopping, and tax-free drinking, it’s mainly about just relaxing around the beach – perfect for those on honeymoons. Most accommodations offer seclusion, sea views, and great value – whether midrange resorts or cozy family-run chalets in Tekek, the main village, or beaches at Salang, Nippah, and Mukut. Most boats leave from the likable town of Mersing on the mainland, but don’t turn up on the island without a booking; do this in advance, preferably online. Flights are also possible on small planes from Subang Airport in the center of Kuala Lumpur.
- Best Mid-Range Resorts: Japamala • Aman Tioman Beach Resort • The Barat Tioman Beach Resort • Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort
- Best Boutique Hotels: X Rector Minsu • Bagus Place Retreat
- Best Family Hotels: Tioman Dive Resort • Melina Beach Resort
- Best Moderate Hotels: Bushman Tioman • Tioman Cabana Bed & Breakfast • Cheers Chalet • Minang Cove Resort & Spa
- Best Budget Hotels: ABC Beach • Tioman Zaidi
Not far from the top of the eastern peninsula near Thailand, Perhentian offers an idyllic tropical island setting and vibe – including some of the most exquisite beaches anywhere in Southeast Asia and villages not too spoilt by tourism. There are, in fact, two islands – simply called Perhentian Kecil (‘small’) and Perhentian Besar (‘big’). Like Tioman Island, there are no international-brand luxury resorts – only midrange ones that are still very comfortable and good value, as well as basic but quaint chalets/bungalows. Perhentian Kecil attracts the younger set, while Besar offers more amenities – and pre-book accommodation online which should include transfers. No flights; only speedboats from the mainland village of Kuala Besut, not far south of the conservative city of Kota Bahru.
- Best Mid-Range Resorts: Villamas Perhentian Resort • BuBu Villa • Tuna Bay Island Resort • Alunan Resort
- Best Family Hotels: Perhentian Island Resort • The Barat Perhentian • Mimpi Perhentian
- Best Moderate Hotels: Suhaila Palace • Senja Bay Resort
- Best Budget Hotels: Perhentian Chomel Chalet • Flora Bay 1 • Flora Bay 2
Sharing the island of Borneo with Indonesia and Brunei is the far-flung province of Sarawak, almost 1,000km from Kuala Lumpur. The historic trading town and charismatic capital, Kuching (which means’ cat’ in Malay), is attractively set alongside a jungle-like river and is surprisingly large and vibrant. Most hotels are upmarket high-rises designed for business people, though there is also a wide range of simple but comfortable hotels. Other tourists go by taxi to the beach resorts at Damai, 35km north of the city, or by boat to traditional-style longhouses in the jungle interior.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Pullman • Imperial Riverbank • Hilton • Imperial • Riverside Majestic Hotel Astana Wing
- Best Boutique Hotels: The Ranee • Serapi Hotel • The Marian Boutique Lodging House • Batik Boutique Hotel
- Best Family Hotels: Citadines Uplands • The Waterfront Hotel • Grand Margherita • Riverside Majestic Hotel Puteri Wing
- Best Moderate Hotels: Roxy Hotel Padungan • Harbour View Hotel • The LimeTree Hotel • Meritin Hotel • Pine Garden Hotel
- Best Budget Hotels: D’Green Hotel • Padungan • My Place Hotel & Lodge • John’s Place
11. Kota Kinabalu
The capital of Sabah state is part of the ‘wild frontier’ about 1,600km from Kuala Lumpur. Flattened during WWII, KK (as it’s also known) won’t win awards for beauty and design, but it does offer attractions rarely found elsewhere in Malaysia: ethnic tribes (members of which work at the city markets); trekking and mountain climbing, especially at nearby Gunung Kinabalu, one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia; and traditional villages built above the sea and just offshore from downtown. KK is also a popular base for arranging snorkeling and diving trips among some of the finest but least-visited waters in Asia and tours by riverboats and jeeps deep into the jungle to see unique wildlife and visit indigenous people. In the city center, there are some surprisingly opulent and well-priced multi-star hotels mainly designed for business people and many other places ideal for budget-minded travelers.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Hilton • Promenade Hotel • Le Meridien • ibis Styles Inanam • Marriott
- Best Boutique Hotels: Stanton • The Atelier
- Best Family Hotels: Mercure City Centre • Dreamtel • Hotel Sixty3 • Grandis
- Best Moderate Hotels: Putatan Platinum Hotel • Sabha Gaya Hotel • The Klagan Hotel • Mandarin Hotel • Horizon Hotel
- Best Budget Hotels: Pantai Inn • Summer Hotel • Qlio • Unic • Hotel Gaia 95
- Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide
- Best Hotels in Kuala Lumpur
- Best Family Hotels in Kuala Lumpur
- Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
- Kuala Lumpur Hotel Map
- Best Hotels in Penang