Having lived in Malaysia for all my life, I do get tired of the usual destinations and sometimes all I want is to find hideouts and places that are far from the usual bucketlist trends, that take on a whole new meaning with slow travelling, people, culture and vibe.
Malaysia’s landscapes have become thriving adventure spots, home to a new breed of destinations who comfortably attract people who are on a budget, weekend warriors and good old family and friends who do want to take in a whole new experience.
Here’s where and how to join in the fun to seek out new places away from the usual tourist trail and find pockets of freedom for that much-needed staycation, vacay, day trip or short weekend getaway from KL.
Where To Start and How To Get The Best Short Weekend Getaway in Malaysia?
It is quite easy to have a short weekend getaway in Malaysia, you are able to move past concrete and pavement to soak in the cultural vibes of nearby towns that are rich in culture. Buddhist, Chinese and Indian temples, skyscrapers and bustling markets can be found alongside colonial architecture and Malay buildings.
I have had a bicycle with me to explore most of KL and have explored different ways to see Malaysia, whether it is using the train, car or even the bus. The starting points for most of these trips are often from Kuala Lumpur but could even begin from Penang, Ipoh or Singapore since distance is often kept to a minimum of 3 to 4 hours and maximum 6 hours giving you enough time to explore the food scene, vibrant street art and do absolutely nothing (as well!)
1. Bukit Tinggi, Bentong & Raub: Waterfalls and Durian
Road trips to these places were often rushed and we never really had the opportunity to hang around in colonial establishments and reminisce the old school history and charms that make Bentong and Raub and important part of Malaysia’s history.
In Bentong, it was tin mining that shaped the town and in Raub it was gold mining, now turned into a Musang King durian enclave. Ironically, this mining centre was named Raub after a group of miners found a handful of gold in every tray of sand they dug.
The best way to plan your itinerary in these places is to literally have breakfast in Bukit Tinggi, lunch in Bentong and dinner in Raub. Both Raub and Bentong bear a lot of similarities to pre-war shophouses and yellow-stained interiors. The best places to stop are often for food at the famed Tong Kee Kopitiam for cham and butter kaya toast followed by a visit to Chamang Waterfall and a visit to Yes! Orchard where you can even stay at their durian establishment, or at Bilut Leisure.
In Bentong, I visited the Bentong Gallery attached to a coffee shop that had an interesting narration about the origins of Bentong in how Jalan Loke Yew was the first street built over a century ago that belonged to the owner of the tin-mining company.
2. Janda Baik: Coffee, Farm-To-Tables and Glamping
With KL’s unforgiving heat, many Malaysians often head towards the hills to seek respite from the harsh rays. It is still hot but never truly hot once you’re snaking your way up breezy forest roads and jump into the nearest waterfall. Janda Baik has even become a popular spot for outdoor weddings (and I can see why!).
It is really easy to get here as it just a 45 minute drive and what’s great is that there are tons of beautiful nature trails with a little bit for everyone from coffee drinking to bathing in the river and having a little homestay experience. One of their really nice finds is Ulu/Lata Tempit or Lata Hammer for a refreshing hike and if you just want to dip in a stream, a really nice place is Sungai Benus for a chill by the river with a picnic. You can grab a cuppa at Pinto+ Coffee — I really love their coffee plants and their approach towards making this a community cafe!
That’s not all to Janda Baik, one can seek more heat if the weather permits at the Hot Spring Hotel and even visit A Little Farm On The Hill, a farm-to-table concept. And if hot spring is not your thing, Janda Baik offers some really cool glamping experience at Canopy Villa Glamping Park.
3. Sekinchan: Paddy Fields And A Fishing Village
Who ever knew that a small town on the west coast of Malaysia would have scenic paddy fields and a fishing village? Apart from being a lively fishing village, Sekinchan is one of the major rice producing areas of Malaysia. The vast, well-irrigated and organised paddy fields around Sekinchan produce one of the highest yields of rice in the country.
The paddy fields makes it one of the best places to visit when the weather is not unbearable. You can also visit the Fisherman’s Wharf to take a glimpse of the lives of the fisherman in Sekinchan. Some of the best restaurants are Restaurant Loong Hua and Cha Po Tion. While you’re at it, take a tour to the Paddy Processing Factory, a museum about the local rice industry. Among other things to visit are the scrappy old school bus turned into a cafe at N16 and visiting the Pantai Redang (Beach Redang) where the Sekinchan Wishing Tree presents an opportunity to make a wish and admire the other ribbons and wishes according to Chinese folklore.
4. Kuala Selangor: Fireflies and Sky Mirror
Not to far from KL lies Kuala Selangor, also known as Estuary of Selangor River where a lot of casual daytrippers from KL make their way for the firefly colonies and the nature parks as well as the interesting history of this region.
Starting with Sasaran Beach, the place is known for its Sky Mirror feature that is likened to the Bolivian Salt flats, Salar De Uyuni. Heading inwards to get a dash of history, Bukit Melawati overlooks the Strait of Malacca and has a lighthouse that contains the reamins of the Kota Melawati fort. The fort was built in the late 1700s by Sultan Ibrahim of Selangor to protect against Dutch invaders but the Dutch captured it a renamed it Fort Altingburg.
The magic lies in Kampung Kuatan at night where fireflies swarm the area shadowed by their luminous glow. Kampung Kuantan is essentially an agricultural village surrounded by orchards, small farms and oil palm plantations. It is often a serene place known for their mangrove trees but sadly in the past with more land clearance and development upstream and pollution from nearby areas have resulted in the loss of large mangrove areas, and fish resources have become scarce but the Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) has done its best to promote firefly-related tourism.
5. Ulu Yam, Batang Kali: Orchid Farms and Hokkien Village
There’s a lot of history to Ulu Yam. In the past, the British administration gazetted Ulu Yam as a Communist hot-spot and surrounded it to keep the Chinese in check. In order to minimize Communist influence, all residents back then were not allowed to go into jungle.
For the uninitiated, most people would have heard of Batang Kali as a stopover from Genting Highlands and the history associated with this town durian a 1984 massacre, where the killing of 24 villagers by Scots Guards during the Malayan Emergency, henceforth known as the Batang Kali Massacre. However, there’s more to this place from its Hokkian culture, hot springs and even orchid and guava farms.
The largest orchid nursery in Malaysia, World of Phalaenopsis hosts a large variety of orchids with a nice hideout cafe serving some cheesecakes, waffles and coffee. You can also visit the Hoho farm serving Taiwanese hybrid guavas by Mr Ho where he walks you through how it is harvested and treated. You can wander around the Hokkien village who make up the majority of Batang Kali’s population and even visit a noodle-making workshop at Balai Raya, a multi-purpose function hall at Kampung Bukit Chandang to learn how to make the iconic lam mee, which is wheat flour noodles in a thick, starchy soup.
To end the trip, visit the Hulu Tamu Hot Springs to unwind or the Sungai Sendat waterfalls.
6. Pulau Carey: Orang Asli Culture and Seafood
Not considered an actual island compared to Pulau Pangkor considering it is so close to mainland Kuala Lumpur, Pulau Carey still carries its charm as an island and an offbeat road trip getaway. An English man named Edward Valentine John Carey came to Malaya as a rubber planter in the early 1900s and acquired the island to start a rubber plantation and that’s how the island was named after him. Today Sime Darby owns most of Carey Island and a major part of the land is cultivated with oil palms.
They even have an aboriginal tribe known as Mah Meri at the Mah Meri Cultural Village with their population consisting of not more than 1500. This makes an interesting trip as you get to visit the Orang Asli Cultural and Handicraft Centre and take a look at their unique wooden statues and masks. What’s great for a stopover is obviously food, and not just any food but seafood! Kan Guan Seafood Restaurant serves an incredible spread of seafood dishes! For a night’s stay, you can stay at the Amverton Cove Golf & Island Resort.
7. Kuala Khubu Baru: Scenic Dam, Cozy Stays and Kaya Puffs
When I first came across Kuala Khubu Baru, I was on my way to Chilling waterfalls and other times it was often to go to a hike to Bukit Kutu or to Fraser Hill. The first sight is often the Selangor Dam which supplies water to most of the residents in Klang Valley. With sweeping views and near-perfect paved highways, it was the perfect getaway to escape the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur.
The scenic town of Kuala Khubu Baru carries a lot of nostalgia with old colonial-style buildings dating back to some 80 years ago. Start your breakfast at Il Mio Cafe, a place that serves local favourites with antique clocks and finds with a bakery opposite that serves the best kaya puffs! Spend the night at a cosy shack and chalet called The Sticks, it has an accessible stream at Sungai Sangloi making it really nice to do absolutely nothing.
8. Hulu Langat: Kampung Life, Paradise of Herbs and Waterfalls
You can live all your life in Kuala Lumpur and not know about the hideaway trails nestled far away from the city centre. It is famous for its hiking trail to Gunung Nuang, the highest peak in the State of Selangor at 1,493 metres and even a known place for cycling up to Batu 18.
What’s interesting is probably the people and local finds that adds a different experience to Hulu Langat. Kem Herba is one of them. It belongs to a professor turned botanist who used to be a lecturer from the Forestry Faculty in University Putra Malaysia. Dr Mohd Noor offers daytrippers an insightful trip into the many unique plant species in Malaysia. You can end the day with a trip to Bahulu Clasiq cafe for local favourites and Gabai waterfall to cool off after a long day.
9. Ipoh: How can we miss it? Street Culture & Coffee!
The Old Town of Ipoh has been restored and may often seen as an emporium for Chinese culture. The lane may often seem like a small haven for Chinese knock-offs and souvenir items, no where near preserving Ipoh’s identity. If you can close one eye to heritage preservation and have a look at the hidden cafes along these laneways, then a visit to the Concubine Lane should be visited only to see what happens when tourism takes importance over heritage
Gua Tempurung in Gopeng, Perak, is one of the longest and largest limestone cave formations on the peninsula and also another visit! After a hard day of getting wet and wading through waters, you may want nothing to do with adventure and enjoy a nice cup of coffee instead. One such nostalgic place is Lim Ko Pi with a play on the owner’s name ‘Ko Pi’ (coffee). Another place that serves up White Coffee and Wantan Mee is Chang Jiang White Coffee.
10. Taiping: Golfing, Rainforest Trees and Culture
One cannot visit Taiping without visiting this iconic park filled with glorious 100-year-old raintree. George L. Peet’s A Journal in the Federal Capital, aptly described Taiping when he visited in 1993 stating that “I know of no more lovely sight in this country than the Taiping gardens". The best thing to do is to sit on the bench by the lake and read a book while you spot water amphibians do their thing.
A major draw to Taiping Eco Spritzer Park is its 18-hole mini golf course. Additionally, time stands still over here as you enjoy a wet plate of Wantan Mee in an old-school Hainanese Kopitiam shop called Yut Sun. Once you’re done you can cool down with cendol in one of Taiping oldest cendol stall, Ansari Cendol.
11. Kuala Sepetang: Dolphin Spotting and Mangroves
A thriving fishing village and mangrove forest reserve just 40 minutes away from Taiping, it is fascinating how little is known about Kuala Sepetang. Known as one of the best managed sustainable mangrove ecosystem in the world by UNESCO, the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserved contains boardwalks built over a swamp with cozy chalets. And there’s more than meets the eye (only if you’re lucky), you can spot a river dolphin known as the Chinese White Dolphin. It is also one of the 2 known species of pink freshwater dolphins found in the world.
You can also visit the Wonder Mushroom Farm and take a walk through the sleepy village of Kuala Sangga, used as a stopping point for fishermen at work. Seafood in these villages are often the best and freshest, and a stop at Mak Jah Mee Udang for their prawn noodle and teh tarik is a must.
12. Cherating: Surfs Up!
Malaysia is known for its beaches and one of the best places to catch some waves, and enjoy the chilled laidback life is in Cherating. The Cherating Point Surf School at the Matahari Chalets is one of the key spots to learn surfing!
Besides surfing and exploring the beaches in Cherating, the cafe scene is not too bad and one of the key hangout places include Loca Cafe and Ombok Cherating Surf Cafe. Stay in Kasturi Resort or Royale Chulan Cherating.
13. Penang: Food Trails & Beaches
Tagged as the “Pearl of the Orient” and the “Foodie Capital of Malaysia”, there’s 1,001 reasons why travellers are always heading off to Penang after Ipoh. It is the place where the hills meets the ocean, where it is easy to hike up to Penang Hill and move on to laidback beach-snoozing activities at Batu Feringghi
The art scene in Penang has infectiously made its way to the heritage trail of Penang. There’s no shortage of street art, painted walls, sculptures and heritage buildings. It is a nice pleasant walk to immerse yourself in Penang and get a feel of the city.
Start with Penang’s iconic dish, Char Kuey Teow at Kafe Ping Hooi which is stir-fried rice cake strips with prawns, sambal belacan and whole lot of other flavours. Stay at The Frame GuestHouse, Hutton Lodge or Sinkeh GuestHouse
14. Belum Rainforest Pahang: Visiting a 130-million-year old virgin forest
Luxury stays and the wilderness rarely come together! Staying at the Belum Eco Resort or Belum Rainforest resort makes it easier to experience an off-the-grid stay and experience the Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex that includes the 130-million-year-old virgin jungles of the Royal Belum State Park.
With a total area of nearly 300,000 hectares, the vast forest complex is four times the size of Singapore, large enough to be home to 14 of the world’s most endangered mammals like the Malayan tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and Asian elephant. There are also over 3,000 flowering plant species, including three species of Rafflesia, the world’s largest single flower. Despite its exceptional biodiversity, the forest complex receives only a fraction of visitors compared to popular eco-tourism destinations in Malaysia like Taman Negara or Kinabalu, thereby providing a more intimate experience of an old-growth rainforest and greater chances of spotting animals in their natural habitat.
15. Fraser Hill: Bird Watching and Colonial Stays
Situated in Pahang and once a colonial hill station by the former British colonial forces, Fraser Hill remains a highland resort for many Malaysians who want a taste of scones and British tea surrounded by greenary. It was discovered in the 1890s by the British who loved these lowlands and how it provided a welcome respite from the heat.
The project area is known as the most popular bird watching site in the whole of Fraser's Hill. For some 30 years, the Fraser's Hill International Bird Race attracts birdwatchers and visitors in droves annually, and bird watching activity is already synonymous with Fraser's Hill. It is sad that some parts of Fraser Hill are making way for development which doesn’t fit with the harmony of the forest — if you’re there, try to opt for more colonial stays and support the locals!
You can visit the Bishop Trail or the Hemmant Trail, the trail for this is mostly flat and a great introductory walk for kids or family that provides a leisurely walk while being able to spot some stunning birds. Stay at Green Acres Fraser Hill or Frasers Silverpark.
16. Taman Negara: Blowpipe, Canopy Walk and River Cruise
Jungles as ancient as the age of dinosaurs and the world’s longest canopy walk and rare Malayan tigers: need I say further? Taman Negara is Malaysia’s oldest national park (gazetted in 1938/1939) housing both the world’s longest canopy walk and the grand Mount Tahan (West Malaysia’s tallest peak).
The real highlight is Taman Negara’s Canopy Walk, which holds the title as the world’s longest ropewalk – stretching 500 metres. You can also take the boat ride towards the sanctuary which travels to the heart of the rainforest at the Kelah sanctuary. You can also get acquainted with the Bateq tribes — a nomadic tribe, an indigenous group of hunter-gatherers in Malaysia. You’ll see how the Batek people hunt, locally known as sumpit, about two metres long.
There are three accommodation areas in Taman Negara, and where you stay depends on your budget. You can find a handful of guesthouses in both Jerantut town and Kuala Tahan village. You can stay at Balai Serama guesthouse or Hana Guesthouse.
17. Jungle Railway of East Coast: Traditional Malay Culture and Overland Journeys
Malaysia’s jungle railway of East Coast takes on an adventurous and nostalgic way of travelling through Malaysia’s rural east coast states. It runs from Tumpat near the Thai border just north of Kota Bharu in Kelantan state down to Gemas in Negeri Sembilan where it joins up with the west coast line which runs all the way from Singapore to Bangkok via Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
It is not an epic train journey like the Trans-Siberian Railway, but offers an insight to the life in rural East Coast states. While it goes nowhere near the sea, it links the east coast state of Kelantan to the rest of Malaysia's rail network. You can use this as a way to get to Taman Negara and break your trip and start at Kuala Lipis and get off at Gua Musang. You can take a look at the Great Malaysian Railway Journeys site for more details on slow travelling in Malaysia.
18. Cameron Highlands: Tea, Nature & Strawberries
Two hours away from Ipoh, Cameron Highlands remains famous for its sprawling tea plantation. You will see nostalgic reconstructions of English cottages and narrow village lanes dotted across the highlands. BOH Plantation, the largest tea brand in Malaysia has three main farms in Cameron Highlands: Sungai Palas, Habu Ringlet and Fairlie Estate.
If you want to see the mossy forest in Gunung Brinchang, you need not get a guide. There are 14 well known trails surrounding Tanah Rata perfect for independent hiking. For strawberries, you can visit Raju’s Hill strawberry farm or Big Red strawberry farm. Some of the best places to stay include DreamScape Apartment at Golden Hill, CH Homestay, Little Rabbits Apartment and Heahtitude.
19. Malacca: All Things Nyonya
As we all known, Malacca is famously known for its Peranakan culture also known as ‘Baba Nyonya’ which refers to as ‘Straits-born Chinese’. The Peranakan culture as a whole is largely defined by its cuisine – Nyonya food. It’s obvious that the easiest way to end your trip in Malaysia is to jostle along the Jonker Street and savour one of Malaysia’s prime dessert, Cendol at Christina’s Ee Cendol Shop.
You can also meander to the home of Baba Chan at the Baba Nyonya Museum which offers a glimpse into the richness of the culture and the opulence that was fashionable in many pre-World War II Peranakan homes. You can stay at Timez Hotel Malacca, Da Som Inn, Modern Cave Boutique Stay or Rosa Malacca.
20. Lang-Tengah: Offbeat beach escape
This tropical jewel of Malaysia is located on the east coast, off the coast of Terengganu, halfway in between Pulau Redang and Pulau Perhentian. About 45 minute’s journey by boat from the Merang Waterfront Jetty, it is a small island filled with hideaway escapes, snorkelling and crystal clear blue water!
One of the popular places just like in the Maldives is the “Blue Tears” which refers to the blue-dotted sand along the beaches at night, in which you will be able to witness an incredible view of bioluminescent ostracods. Lang Tengah Island is in the vicinity of Pulau Redang and Pulau Perhentian and is possible to visit two other popular islands. Have a look at the Turtle Conservatory at Turtle Bay carried out by a team of volunteers called Lang Tengah Turtle Watch (LTTW) that serves as the main nesting area for turtles. Nearby places to stay include Taaras Beach & Spa resort or Summer Bay Lang Tengah Island Resort.
Tell me in the comments below if there are any offbeat places in Malaysia that you’ve found.
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