I arrived in Malaysia a few days ago, and it is my first time back since 2010. Since that last visit I have seen a lot of Asia and the world in general, so in many ways I am seeing the country again with a fresh set of eyes. While I might have viewed Malaysia with tourist eyes many years ago, I now bring a lot more context and experience to bear on my time in the country.
Malaysia has a lot to offer, and I’m a big fan. It is one of the first places I recommend for those new to the region.
Here are six reasons why Malaya rocks.
1. Good infrastructure. Kuala Lumpur is a major transport hub, with cheap flights and lots of connections to other parts of the region. Buses are cheap and can take you anywhere easily and pleasantly, and trains are impressive. There also are good roads, modern facilities and a great 4G cell network—everything you need for a good visit.
I flew from Melbourne, Australia to the Malaysian megacity of Kuala Lumpur for $165, and then I easily flew north to the UNESCO historic city of Penang for $25 round-trip.
2. Affordability. While the locals in Kuala Lumpur complained about the rising prices in the city, Malaysia still is a very affordable destination, with accommodations that can run $15 a night, meals that cost only $3-4 apiece, and services and material goods similarly priced. Malaysia strikes a wonderful balance between quality and cost overall, much better than modern places such as Singapore or Brisbane and developing destinations such as Yangon (Burma) or Vientiane (Laos).
3. Quality food. While Thailand and Vietnam gets all the credit for good eats in the region, and of course there is plenty of fine dining in the former Malaysian city of Singapore to the south, Malaysia is a serious foodie country. Places like Penang grew to prominence because they were strategic trading hubs along the Straits of Melaka (a city in Malaysia, I might add), and this pays dividends in the form of a cultural melting pot where food from Europe, India, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia have come together nicely and often are fused.
Malaysia can be a foodie paradise, and at low costs as I mentioned above. You just feel good eating in Malaysia, even if you aren’t a hardcore food tourist.
4. Friendly people. Chalk it up to Islam’s focus on community, the country’s synthesis of cultures, or the laid-back island roots of the Malay people. Any way you look at it, though, Malaysia is a friendly place to visit (and a highly moderate Muslim country for those who get scared by extremist Islam). You feel welcomed, and even the tourists are less likely to be of the crazy sort because the partying is under control.
5. Strong culture. Islam brings the spice, making Malaysia far more exotic and exciting than visiting, say, Canada. The strong mix of cultures due to the country’s location and trading roots means that Malaysia has more than just Muslim culture to offer, though.
Right now I’m staying in the Chinese quarter, in a traditional Chinese home that has been converted into a guest house. For dinner last night, I had some really authentic Indian food. There’s plenty of culture to explore in the country, which is one of my favorite reasons for traveling. You’re not getting Canada or a monoculture when you come here.
6. Many attractions. Want history? Places like Melaka and Penang have plenty of meaty history and historical sights. Want beaches? The country is teeming with them, and that’s the emphasis right now from the Malaysian tourism board since places like the Perhentian Islands are great places to catch crystal clear water and fluffy sand. Want adventure tourism? Try one of the world’s best unspoiled jungles by visiting Tamen Negara. Looking for shopping? Yeah, all of Asia has the mall thing going hard, and Malaysia is no exception. Prices are good here for shopping, too, as I mentioned above.
I’m only spending a week in Malaysia this trip, and half of my time will be spent visiting the Vedanta monasteries here and recovering from my fast-paced travel schedule the last two months of my trip. But I like what I see, and I’m reminded why Malaysia was one of the reasons that I first fell in love with Asia. I’ll definitely include more Malaysia time in my 2016 Asia trip.