Whether you like lounging on the beach or prefer more active pursuits, there are activities for everyone in Malaysia, so just choose yours, or try them all, and above all, enjoy your time there !
Diving or snorkeling in Tioman
There is no shortage of diving sites in South-east Asia, but Tioman island is a favorite with both locals and foreigners, and it's not hard to see why. Not only is the water crystal clear, but the landscape is gorgeous, and staying on a car-free island makes for a relaxing time.
The best time to go to Tioman is April to October, as the monsoon makes ferries unreliable the rest of the year, and most accommodations close in January and February anyway. June to August are the busiest months, so you'll need to book ahead.
Boats on Tioman beach
Hiking in Bako National Park
There are many national parks in Malaysia, and many of them are worth visiting. Bako made the list because it's relatively easy to access, and the best-known trails can be hiked by nearly anyone, with some lasting only one or 2 hours. You can visit Bako as a day trip from Kuching, or stay overnight in one of the huts (book ahead if you plan to stay).
Take loads of water, mosquito repellent, and your camera. Be careful with the monkeys, they are hoping to get food, and get angry when they don't.
To get there you'll have to get a boat: this is part of the experience, enjoy the ride !
Climbing Mount Kinabalu
While Mount Kinabalu is one of the tallest mountains in South-East Asia at 4095 m, it's also one of the easiest ones to climb. That's probably why it's also a very popular climb.
Climbing to the summit can be done in 2 days, with a halt in Labuan Rata, where guesthouses offer accommodation. Climbers usually leave around 2 am to make it to the summit before sunrise.
The best time to go is between May and September, as it's the dry season on Sabah, but as any tropical country, weather is never guaranteed. In any case take plenty of layers to wear when you approach the summit, as it can get very cold.
Dining in Georgetown
One of my favorite things to do in Malaysia ! So far all our activities in Malaysia were quite active, so you might feel you deserve a break. How about fine dining in Georgetown, Penang ? Penang is renowned for having the best food in Malaysia, especially Baba Nyonya food, which is a fusion between Chinese and Malay cuisines.
However my favorite restaurant in Penang, (and maybe my favorite restaurant full stop), is the Kapitan in Georgetown. It's a 24h place specializing in tandoori dishes and kebabs. For some of these, you'll have to come during the night, as they're not served during the day, but they're worth the wait !
And if it's not your cup of tea, Penang also has many more fancy restaurants, whether you like Chinese, Indian or European food, you'll find it there.
In my opinion, the best tandoori set in Penang
A tandoori set at the Kapitan restaurant, with peshwari naan.
Taking the cable car in Langkawi
Assuming you're not afraid of heights, this is one of the best paying attractions in Malaysia. Once you're at the top, you'll get great views of the island (even better if the weather cooperates), and you can take the sky bridge, which is quite an experience in itself.
The trip in the cable car itself is relatively quick, considering how high you go, but the views are good, and it makes for an interesting video.
The sky bridge in Langkawi
Get a tan on the beaches of the Perhentian islands
Of course while in Malaysia one activity you can't miss is getting a tan. I use the word activity loosely here, as you can just stay on the beach and do nothing, just don't forget to use sunscreen, as the sun can burn very quickly here, even when the skies are cloudy.
Like in Tioman, the best time to go to the Perhentian Islands is March to October, as most accommodation is closed out of season, and the currents can be dangerous at times.
Explore the jungle at the Taman Negara
Taman Negara is on every backpacker's itinerary for Malaysia. It is after all the jungle, even if you're less likely to see wildlife than you'd be in Borneo, but it's accessible without a plane ticket, and still quite impressive. Even you don't see large animals, you will at least hear all the small ones, and they can make some noise !
Stay in a longhouse in Sarawak
While it's not 100% off the beaten track any more (Sarawak's longhouses are on many people's to do list in Malaysia nowadays), it is still an experience that has no equivalent in peninsular Malaysia, so you'll have to go to Borneo. You can arrange a stay in a longhouse with a tour company, and will usually depart from Kuching.
Don't expect a hotel-like level of comfort though, because you won't get it. The further away (and the longer the stay), the more “authentic” your stay will be.
Visit one of the many mosques, temples and churches. One characteristic of Malaysia is its diversity, and all the different religious buildings you'll see everywhere is just another proof. Not to be missed are Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur, as well as the Kek Lok Si temple in Penang, where you can even purchase a tile with your name that will go onto the roof of the temple (it's forever expanding, and the money you're paying goes towards the construction of the temple.
Shop until you drop in Kuala Lumpur
Shopping is always on my list of things to do in Malaysia, especially in KL. Whether you go for shopping centers and malls like KLCC, Sungei Wang and more, or prefer to haggle over T-shirts in Petaling street market, you will always find somewhere to get a kopi or teh tarik to get some more energy to take you shopping into the night. You can even find night markets, usually with great street food, or shop for souvenirs in Bukit Bintang, where shops stay open late.
One of my favorite places to shop in KL is the Sogo department store, especially during the sales, but you might have to use your elbows as it can get quite crowded at that time.
Night market in Kuala Lumpur
That's it for my top 10 sights in Malaysia. If you feel I've left any important sight out of my things to do in Malaysia, please let me know, I'm always happy to discover new places.
Thanks for stopping by !