Somewhere between jungle temples and remote beaches, your first encounter of the day is with “the man of the forest.” Adventures continue with rafts floating into rose-colored sunsets, and then peak with a dinner of nasi lemak. From the world’s largest cave chamber to the street shows of teh tarik, there’s no specific way to experience adventure travel in Malaysia. It just requires you, the desire for adventure, and ten seconds of insane courage to take the plunge!
Stepping foot on the “peninsula of gold,” it’s hard to contain the excitement for backpacking Malaysia. And for good reason! Whether it’s cosmopolitan cities spiraling into space or swaying rope bridges between mountaintops, Malaysia’s boundaries are thrown across several landmasses, and are packed with a little bit of everything.
The capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is the most popular destination in Malaysia to visit. It’s large and in charge, yet ready to welcome you with a cheery “Dapatkan bersedia untuk masa yang liar!” From the sweeping Petronas Twin Towers to the hustle-and-bustle of the exotic Central Market, Kuala Lumpur is not easy to take in… and even harder to forget.The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park and the Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary have rave reviews; who wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with a Malaysian Blue Flycatcher or a chubby baby elephant? Locals (humans and the occasional boa constrictor) and tourists are drawn to all the culture and modernization of this capital.
Borneo is a unique island. It is considered part of three different nations: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. The rainforest, that encapsulates 75% of the island, is one of the oldest in the world and is home to the Borneo elephant, the cloud leopard, and the ever-famous Borneo orangutan. Let the time you spend in Borneo open your eyes and heart to the beauty of Mother Nature and all her inhabitants.
On the western edge, Malacca is quaint, quintessential, and quirky. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site — the perfect bygone addition to your Malaysia visit — and allows you to step into a history book. Jonker Street is not to be missed, with its sizzling street food and stalls that offer some of the most unique souvenirs you’ll find south of the equator! At 260 feet, the Malacca Menara Taming Sari is a panoramic monument, offering a 360-degree view of the city.
Boredom is not an option with countless jungles to explore, animals (some only native to Malaysia) to discover, colorful buildings to amaze, and street food to satisfy those whose “eyes are bigger than their stomachs”.
Adventure Travel in Malaysia
Does a 5 a.m. yoga session overlooking the crystal clear waters from Borneo tours sound like your style? Or are you a surfer who is laid back, yet always watching the horizon for the next wave? It doesn’t matter if you are a fish out of water or a monkey masquerading as a human, there is something for every type of critter and personality.
At the bottom of the ocean near Malacca, the richest shipwreck ever recorded was found (at a staggering $9 billion!). If that doesn’t make you want to get your scuba diver’s license to explore, I’m not sure what will. With that only scratching the surface of backpacking Malaysia trips, your life will certainly be richer from the experiences ahead. For those wanting to test their mermaid (or mer-man) skills, river kayaking, snorkeling, and rafting is the best way to get both feet wet. Always wanted to try sailing, but never had the opportunity? Land ho, captain!
You’re fearless. Nothing scares you, not even the 91 mountains Malaysia boasts (even though some are glorified hills). Grab your hiking boots and your walking stick, and let’s set out! Backpacking, hiking, mountaineering, and safaris are some of the incredible inland adventures waiting for you. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready for any of the exotic beasts that roam the island freely.
Most of these Malaysia and Borneo tours are already pre-set with the activity, but are flexible in lengths, start and end times, and the nitty gritty details. While your heart and blood pressure might only be able to handle one week, others might be fall in love and be medically cleared for programs that last upwards of three months. If trying to survive your language class in high school was all you could do, fear not! Most tours are offered in English, so you’ll be able to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.
Depending on what adrenaline pumping activity you want to experience in Malaysia, there are definitely great and not-so-marvelous seasons for each. There are two monsoon seasons: May-September, and October-March. That only gives roughly two to three months for the island to “dry out,” so plan and pack accordingly. The weather is pretty humid and hot year-round, both for Malaysia and Borneo travel, so linen and cotton will become your best friend. While it is a very wet climate, there is a silver lining to every cloud, so don’t let a little drizzle dampen your spirits.
Costs & Affordability
After an indescribable day of traveling around the country and reapplying sun lotion, you’re starved. You check your wallet and there is only $20 left...uh oh! Or is it such a bad thing in Malaysia? That bill in your wallet translates to a three course meal, two beers, and a taxi ride home. Ka-ching!
Travel programs in Malaysia are usually pretty inclusive in what they offer, with areas for upgrades. A simple glance over most programs and you’ll see that registration and orientation fees, excursions, food, and accommodation are all included. Contact each program’s organization to double-check what out-of-pocket expenses there might be.
Looking at some of the Malaysia or Borneo travel program prices might have you running for the hills, but fear not! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And, as a mighty adventure traveler, this is a mere puddle in the hike. Savings and part-time jobs are an amazing start to fund your experience, but also try asking for donations. There’s also group funding sites, such as Fund My Travel. You’ll be surprised at how generous people are when they know it is going to a good cause.
Accommodation & Visas
As humans, our basic necessities include food, water, love, warmth, and a place to live; GoAbroad can help with at least one of those. Range of accommodation while backpacking Malaysia is as diverse as the fauna inhabiting the island. Whether you want fall asleep under the stars on multi-day treks or treat yourself to a warm bath after biking between mountain peaks, Malaysia’s got you covered.
Programs offered usually include either placing you in dormitory (can you say new best friends?!) or helping you find living arrangements within the city. Monthly rent is roughly 3/10 of the cost in the States, and you’ll feel like you robbed a grocery store while paying mere sen (cents) on the ringgit (dollar).
In most cases, visits longer than 90 days require a visa, but anything shorter than that just earns you another stamp in your passport. It might seem like some big, scary process, but that’s one of the benefits of booking your adventure with a company; they help take care of details and see if there is anything you may have overlooked. Before you know it, you’ll have all your ducks in a row and you’ll be ready to start your adventure. Contact your local Malaysian embassy for more details.
Benefits & Challenges
Malaysia almost seems too good to be true. Being there, you’ll be able to trek through one of oldest rainforests on earth, experience the blending of religions, cultures, and ethnicities, chow down on some of the yummiest street food, and capture the best Instagram photos.
However, do remember that weather as you travel in Malaysia is pretty steamy, so always have water on you. Dehydration is no joke. Also, due to the levels of deforestation, new diseases continue to arise. The safest bet is to get all vaccinations before travel. Speak with a healthcare professional before you hop off on your adventure to know the best ways to keep you safe and healthy.
Since Malaysia has the British Empire’s influences and is a tourist hotspot, Malaysians do speak English — at least as their second language. Most people do appreciate someone who tries to speak their language before reverting to their native language, so go ahead and learn what “Adakah anda ingin pergi pada pengembaraan?” means- and how to pronounce it. If anything, a smile is something every person understands.
Life isn’t meant to be lived in one place. With all the adrenaline-pumping activities and mouth-watering, coconutty food Malaysia has to offer, why not make it your next adventure destination? Take a deep breath and stop living a life that is boring-o — instead go to Borneo!