Solo Travel in Malaysia
Mainland Malaysia is on the route from Thailand to Singapore and is very safe for a solo woman. The only trouble you may encounter are the beggars who are known to come onto buses or approach you outside the restaurants.
Being a country with three religions and races it’s very cosmopolitan and although you may still be in the minority, the race difference isn’t so obvious so you can mingle in and not feel like an outsider.
If you want to avoid the travelling route, head for the hills or the jungle to avoid the other travellers but you may prefer the security of the cities and villages rather than remote places like Borneo when travelling solo in Malaysia.
Malaysia is a land of sweeping coastlines and coral-fringed islands where mountains meet dense rain forests and unspoiled wilderness. It may not have the exhilarating nightlife of Thailand or be as cheap but it’s more laid back and less crowded and is bursting with heritage, culture, islands, beaches and Highlands.
Kuala Lumpur is a top Malaysia holiday destination and is a beautiful city with a mix of architecture from the Victorian old train station to a mini Opera House. Spending time in the capital is a must if not just for the dizzying sight of the Petronas Towers, which were once the tallest towers in the world standing 452 metres high in their sparkling glory.
The atmosphere in China Town is electric, especially the night markets and the restaurants are some of the cheapest places to eat for rice and noodles (there’s plenty of fast food joints if you prefer your western comforts). Sitting outside is a great place to people watch and meet others but remember to take a map as the roads are long and a wrong turn could cause you an extra mile.
Must sees are the Kuala Lumpur Tower for the observation deck, the Art Gallery with many collections and sculptures and the Crystal Fountain, one of the newest landmarks that stands outside the trendy Pavilion shopping malls. The Sez Ya Temple is the oldest Taoist temple in the city and is reachable by the LRT, the rail system which runs frequently throughout the city.
For arty souvenirs try the Central Market designed in 1930s Art Deco style which has fixed prices and is cheaper than downtown.
Visit the East and you’ll see that Malaysia is no stranger to eco-tourism. The country has been practicing the principles for over two decades and the rugged region of Sarawak in Borneo is one of the world’s most bio-diverse areas. Mulu National Park has the largest limestone caves in the world and Sarawak has more than 600 species of trees including the beautiful orchids known to Asia.
Borneo is actually the third largest island in the world and consists of Sabah and Sarawak for jungle experiences and rugged wilderness, ideal for adventure itineraries.
Borneo is the place for wildlife and orangutan lovers as Sarawak has nearly 30 species of large mammals including primates such as the proboscis monkey which you can see in their natural habitat at Tunjung Puting National Park (on the Indonesian side of Borneo) or Bako National Park. For amphibians, the frog pond at Kubah National Park is famed as “the most beautiful sound in the world.”
Visit the capital Kuching for colourful cultural performances, stroll along the esplanade or haggle for crafts and souvenirs from the main bazaar. Sarawak Culture Village provides an insight into the Sarawak tribal life or if you prefer to stay overnight with the locals, try a cultural homestay with the local longhouse tribe – known for their welcoming hospitality.
Sabah is home to Mount Kinabalu, the highest point in Southeast Asia at 4000 metres above sea level. The coral reefs of the coast of Kota Kinabalu are a magnet for snorkelers. Turtle Island is a breeding ground where can accompany rangers on their daily turtle routine, swim with turtles and even reef sharks off Perhentian Island or just relax on the paradise island of Pankor Laut.
Head North to the Cameron Highlands, five hours North of KL for a cooler climate and tours around tea plantations, honey and strawberry farms and drop in on the giant insects at the Butterfly farm. If you suffer from travel sickness, beware as half the journey is uphill with many windy turns.
If you want to sample the islands in the North, the Perhentian Islands are an idyllic backpacker hang out or visit Redang, a secret island ideal for divers and snorkelers which is reachable by boat from Kuala Terengganu.
The Northern region is more developed than other places in the country. Penang is an island linked to the mainland with a China Town, Little India, temples and a water village all within walking distance in Georgetown (and beaches of course). Chulia Street is one of the liveliest streets in Penang and is great for budget accommodation and good street food. You can fly into here or go by road.
If you prefer somewhere with a little more history try Pelis, the northern gateway to Malaysia with history back to 1800 or Kedah, the most ancient state in Malaysia with history that dates back even further to the 5th century AD. If you just want to lay on a beach, Langkawi is your island. This tropical gem of coconut trees and powder-fine sand is the ideal place to just lay back and chill.
On the East coast you’ll find an atmosphere that is so laidback it’s practically horizontal. Time virtually stands still and it’s an oasis of serenity. Want to see a 130 million year-old rainforest? Visit Taman Negara in Pahang where you can camp and surround yourself by local wildlife (not recommended for those who don’t like insects). Kuantan is Pahang’s capital and is a bustling township with interesting sites.
If you prefer somewhere a little more lively, Cherating Beach is Asia’s first Club Med and is lined with hotels and resorts catering for every budget. Terengganu has a sweeping coastline and many homestay villages to sample rural life in Malaysia. Kelantan is more rustic and is known as the ‘Cradle of Malay Culture’ for its quaint villages and houses on stilts.
The Southern region is more for heritage and history lovers. Melaka is a UNESCO World Heritage City with 600 years of history. Take a river cruise or visit the museum. Avoid the light and sound show which is overpriced. Visit Negeri Sembilan for unique unswept roof designs synonymous with the Minangkabau culture, or Johor for more historical buildings and architecture which is linked by expressway to Singapore.
Other places to see in Malaysia are: Lata Iskandar for waterfalls, Kuala Kangsar for natural rubber trees, Sam Poh Tong for Buddhist and Chinese cave temples and Orang Asli for indigenous inhabitants in traditional tribal costumes who still hunt with a blow tube.
From gentle walks and snorkeling in national parks to the hair-raising thrills of roller-coaster rides, Malaysia has no shortage of adventures. Go whitewater rafting, fishing, sailing or birdwatching, explore sea caves, rock climb or choose a four-wheel drive expedition to see why Malaysia is truly Asia.
Visit Turtle Islands park between March to September for turtle hatchings.
Avoid the monsoon season in Nov to Feb for the East Peninsula's beaches.
How long do I need?
There are so many areas of Malaysia that to visit all of them would take over a month. In two weeks you can see Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi including Melaka and the Cameron Highlands.
Accommodation in Malaysia
There are plenty of hostels for the more budget-conscious solo in Kuala Lumpur and throughout the country. But with accommodation being great value here you could treat yourself to a 5 star luxury resort in Langkawi. You'll also find plenty of local places to stay with Airbnb. Save $20 off your first stay.
GatG Favourite – Langkawi Chantique, Langkawi
Friendly, quiet and clean, this hotel has a salt water pool to lounge around at during the day or take the free shuttle to the beach or mall. Prices from £46 p/n. Find Out More
GatG Favourite – Noordin Mews, Penang
If you love shopping, this boutique hotel is only 5 minutes from the shopping area of Penang. Enjoy some peace and quiet in the city of George Town. Prices from £54 p/n. Find Out More
GatG Favourite – Traders Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Simply stunning, the Traders Hotel offers views of the magnificent Petronas Towers as well as plenty to keep you fit and pampered during your stay. Prices from £63 p/n. Find Out More
Tours in Malaysia
If you’re looking for some company on all or part of your trip, both G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are responsible tour companies and have group tours in Malaysia from 9 days up to 41 days incorporating both Thailand and Indonesia. Prices start at £680. Explore Borneo on a 10 day Sabah Adventure from £1199 or the Best of Malaysia in 15 days from £1240.
I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
If you are looking for local tours in Malaysia, the following tour companies have been recommended by solo females:
- Borneo Eco Tours – A responsible travel company with community based tourism and tours.
- Picnic With The Penan – An authentic jungle experience venturing into the Penan jungle and villages.
- Borneo Mainland Travel & Tours – Offers adventure caving, bird watching and cultural travel.
- Urban Adventures – Day tours in various places in Malaysia such as city tours or biking.
- Servantrip – They connect travellers with local guides and interpreters which is ideal if you are travelling alone.
Travelling Around Malaysia
If you are travelling Malaysia at night in a taxi be prepared to pay 50% on top of the meter price. Yellow or blue taxis are more expensive but will save you having to barter for your fare during the day. Buses are comfortable and very cheap and operate all over Malaysia but they do operate on a more relaxed ‘Asia time.’ Book your ticket at one of the many local tour companies.
If you choose to drive, the West coast is accessible by the north-south Expressway, which links the coast roads and all signs are in English. With our roads, our architecture and our signs, it’s very easy to get around whether by rail, car or plane with many flights to KL. Read here for domestic airports. You can book a private driver through Servantrip if you prefer someone else to take the wheel.
Uber – When getting around the cities you may feel more comfortable with Uber instead of taking a taxi. Uber is a driver app where each driver is vetted beforehand, and you can see the driver’s picture and registration number before they arrive. Save up to $20 off your first ride with Uber using promo code RIDINGUBER20.
To hire a car we recommend pre-booking car hire with Avis so you can collect your car when you arrive at the airport.
From the Airport
A train operates from the airport to Kuala Lumpur city in 30 minutes and costs under £10 or take one of the frequent buses, only £5 for 1.5 hour trip.
Feel more confident with someone waiting for you at the airport when you pre-book a transfer with Hoppa, a reliable and safe service for solo females.
Travelling onwards (check for visas before you travel)
To Thailand – It takes 12 hours from Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai by coach, changing in Butterworth and again at the border or catch the train from Kuala Lumpur which takes 24 hours and costs £25. Read here for train details.
To Singapore – Buses leave Kuala Lumpur to the border (you may have to hand your passport in before you reach the border) but make sure you know where you’re going in Singapore as the bus drops you in the middle of nowhere. The train is just as easy and takes 6 hours from Kuala Lumpur for £7 where you can get a taxi or bus into central Singapore.
Where can I go from here?
Jakarta 2 hrs
Philippines 3.5 hrs
Cambodia 2 hrs
- Can I drink the water? Yes but many places offer filtered drinking water.
- Is tipping expected? No but 10% can be offered in restaurants.
- Fixed price or barter? Both, some places are fixed price.
- Any ATMs? In the main cities and towns yes. Not many in Borneo.
- Which side of the road do they drive? Left.
- Good for vegetarians? Yes.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No.
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