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Malaysia: Southeast Asia's hidden gem

May 30, 2022
7 min read
Colorful Hindu Temple in Batu Cave, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia: Southeast Asia's hidden gem
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Southeast Asia is a backpacker’s and luxury traveler’s paradise all at once. The region is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world due to its affordability, delicious eats, and boasts of options for all types of travelers. When making plans to visit Southeast Asia, most travelers head to the popular hotspots of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and maybe even Cambodia. But it’s a missed opportunity to head all the way to these parts of the world and not visit a true hidden gem of Southeast Asia: Malaysia.

To get to Malaysia, it’s likely that you’ll fly to the capital of Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) is a major hub with connecting flights to all over the globe, so finding a flight convenient for your needs should pose no issue.

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(Image provided by Grab)

Related: 6 ways I could use my Malaysia AIrlines Enrich Points before they expire

Once you exit the airport, you’ll have to head into the city which can be done either via bus or taxi. If you plan to take a taxi, download the app Grab, which is an Uber-like app in Southeast Asia (Grab works in Vietnam as well). Despite Malaysia being an affordable destination similar to other nations in the region, one sure-fire way to get ripped off is by taking an airport taxi instead of Grab. For context, I made this mistake, and my airport taxi cost 255 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) or $58 and a Grab would have been 75 MYR OR $17.

Now, where to stay? Kuala Lumpur is a luxurious city that has the ritzy feels of Dubai, but at a fraction of the cost. You can opt for a sky-rise hotel or Airbnb in the city center with a rooftop pool overlooking the Petronas Towers, often for as low as $40 per night. If you’ve always wanted a private butler but don’t have enough points or funds to pay for one, The Ritz-Carlton in Kuala Lumpur might just be the fast track to your dreams, with rooms starting at $106 per night or 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for a 2-night stay.

Patronas Towers. (Photo by Kaityln Rosati)

Make sure to hit the Batu Caves, just a short ride outside of the city. This is the temple with the infamous rainbow steps plastered all over Instagram, but don’t only go for getting the perfect shot. At the top of the 272 steps is a Hindu temple in an actual cave, hence the name. Expect to see monkeys along the way and even a small waterfall. Before you head back into the city center, make sure to grab a masala dosa from one of the many Indian restaurants in the area. Batu Caves gets extremely packed due to its popularity, so it’s recommended to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

(Batu Caves, photo by Kaitlyn Rosati)



Colorful steps at Batu Caves. (Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati)

Kuala Lumpur also has a bustling Chinatown. Here, you’ll find several street food carts serving up bowls of spicy noodles, such as chili pan mee or curry mee, for less than $1 a pop. If you’re looking for a treat unique to the region, go for the gold and try durian, the stinky fruit that’s been banned on several forms of transportation around the globe. You’ll even see restaurants that have signs that say “No Durians” due to its smell resembling that of dirty gym socks.

Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. (Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati)


Related: Why you should take your family on a vacation to Malaysia

In many parts of Kuala Lumpur, but particularly Chinatown, you can score some cheap souvenirs for yourself including sunglasses, clothes, makeup and more. Don’t go too far out of your way looking for alcohol though. Malaysia’s official religion is Islam, and though alcohol is not banned, it’s not as readily available as it is in other countries in the region. Finding a good cocktail or glass of vino near the Petronas Towers isn’t the most difficult task, but in Chinatown and other popular neighborhoods, options to grab a cold one will be fewer and farther between and might make a dent in your wallet.


(Chili Pan Mee, photo by Kaitlyn Rosati)

Why stop at only Kuala Lumpur? Malaysia has some of the best beaches in Southeast Asia without the crowds of those in Thailand. The climate year-round is humid and hot, so adding a beach to your Malaysian itinerary only makes sense. Head to Langkawi and stay at an all-inclusive resort in Pantai Tengah. Borneo, though divided by three countries (Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia) has some of the best diving in the region. Sipadan Island off the coast of Sabah, Borneo, was once voted the top diving spot in the entire world by Scuba Diving Magazine’s Gold List. Expect to see manta rays, turtles and even some sharks.


(Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati)


Related: A Stunning Hotel with Service to Match: A Review of The St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia

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No trip to Malaysia would be complete without a visit to the northern region of Penang. Penang has the best of both worlds: white sand, crystal-clear water beaches, and a buzzing city, George Town, with cheap eats, temples galore and rich history. Head to Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the entire country. Do some bargain-shopping and late-night eats at Batu Ferringhi Night Market. Learn about indigenous Malay flora and fauna, and take a cooking class using local ingredients at the Tropical Spice Garden. When you’ve had enough of the city, head out to an overwater bungalow at Lexis Hibiscus Port Dickson, starting at $194/night, a mere fraction of what a similar experience would cost you in the Maldives. Make sure while in Penang to grab a bite of Nasi Lemak, a fragrant coconut rice dish served with fried anchovies, peanuts and sambal, said to be the national dish of Malaysia.

So, who should consider a trip to Malaysia? Everyone! Solo travelers, families, foodies, backpackers, thrill-seekers and couples. Malaysia has something for everyone.

Related: Why you should take your family on a vacation to Malaysia

Overall, Malaysia is an affordable, colorful destination with some of the best food and beaches in the region. It’s easily accessible from other nearby nations, so what’s stopping you from adding it to your Southeast Asian bucket list?

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023