Top Holiday Destinations for a Budget Vacation in Malaysia

After a tough two years of travel restrictions, we can finally go on vacation to our heart’s content again. While many people decide to go overseas for their holidays, there’s also no shortage of excellent vacation spots in Malaysia. In fact, vacationing locally gives you less hassle and is often more affordable.

So, if you’re looking for travel ideas for a budget vacation in Malaysia, let us show you where to go.

1. Penang

Penang bridge

Penang is widely known as the street food capital of Malaysia, and for a good reason. It’s home to amazing foods from diverse Malaysian cultures from nasi kandar to char kuey teow and more. Besides food, you also have gorgeous architectural and cultural spots that you can visit for free or for just a small entrance fee. Here are some things you can do in Penang.

  • Eat delicious foods: Some of the food spots you should visit in Penang include the original Nasi Kandar Hameediyah, Mee Sotong Hameed Pata at Esplanade Park Food Court, Padang Brown Food Court, and the Air Itam Asam Laksa. If you’re looking for a delicious budget weekend getaway, we reckon you’ll be happy just trying all the amazing food here.
  • Explore Georgetown: Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Georgetown is filled with colonial-era buildings with quirky murals dotted around the city. Here, you can take pictures with the murals, go cafe hopping, explore Penang’s Little India, and visit buildings like the Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion where a part of Crazy Rich Asians was shot.

Penang Hill - Vacation in Malaysia

  • Visit Popular Landmarks: Some popular tourist spots you should visit include Kek Lok Si Temple, Fort Cornwallis, Penang Hill, Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque, and The Top Penang which houses a theme park and a glass skywalk.
  • Go Hiking: When people think of Penang, they usually think of the beaches, but this island also has fun hiking trails worth checking out. You can go on a beginner-friendly hike at Bukit Jambul, stroll in the Youth Park (Taman Bandaraya), or take more challenging paths up Penang Hill.
  • Visit the museums: Penang also houses museums offering everything from historical exhibits to quirky art pieces. And most of the museums have cheap tickets, making them a must-visit when you’re on vacation in Malaysia. Popular museums include the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Colonial Penang Museum, Upside Down Museum, and the Penang 3D Trick Art Museum.

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2. Kuching, Sarawak

Kuching Waterfront Aerial View

If you miss flying in a plane but still want a budget vacation in Malaysia, Kuching is the perfect place to visit. As the capital city of Sarawak, Kuching has plenty of malls, restaurants, and unique natural as well as cultural attractions. Here’s some of what you can do in Kuching.

  • Visit the various museums: If you’ve never been to Kuching, you should definitely visit its museums. There’s the Sarawak Museum, established in 1860, the Cat Museum which houses cat-related artifacts, and the brand new Borneo Cultures Museum opened in March 2022.
  • Sarawak Cultural village: Home of the annual Rainforest World Music Festival, the Sarawak Cultural Village also has authentic homes of the various local tribes including Iban, Bidayuh, Malay, and more. Besides visiting the homes and learning about the local lifestyle, there are also scheduled dance performances which you shouldn’t miss.

Two bowls of laksa Sarawak

  • Try the local food: Kuching is home to the now well-known Laksa Sarawak, Kolo Mee, and Sarawak layer cake. However, you also shouldn’t miss trying other local foods such as Gula Apong ice cream made with local palm sugar and umai which is a fish dish similar to ceviche. To try authentic Sarawakian Dayak food, check out Lepau (halal) and the.Dyak (non-halal).
  • Kuching Waterfront: Located right in the heart of the city, the Kuching Waterfront is a scenic spot by the river where you can visit colonial structures like Fort Margherita, the Kuching Old Courthouse, and new attractions like the Darul Hana Bridge. Along the Waterfront is the Kuching Main Bazaar where you can get all your souvenirs from. After all, what is a Malaysian vacation without some souvenirs?

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3. Sekinchan, Selangor

Boy in Sekinchan paddy field

Sekinchan is a small fishing village located a 1.5-hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur, making it a great destination for a budget weekend getaway. It’s best known for its huge, lush paddy fields. Though you could cover Sekinchan on a day trip, you can also head to nearby Kuala Selangor for more activities. 

  • Visit lush paddy fields: No trip to Sekinchan is complete without visiting its beautiful paddy fields. The fields stretch as far as you can see and make for a gorgeous scene against the open blue sky. While here, you can visit the Paddy Gallery to learn about paddy cultivation and processing, besides buying souvenirs. The best time to see the paddy fields are in March, April, September, and October before they get harvested.
  • Drop by Kuala Selangor: For a proper weekend getaway even on a budget, you can drop by Kuala Selangor to visit the Sky Mirror and see the fireflies. During low tides, the ground at the Sky Mirror reflects the sky, looking like a perfect mirror, making for excellent photo opportunities. In the evening, you can go on a fireflies boat tour along the mangrove forest.

Sekinchan Skymirror - Vacation in Malaysia

Image source: skymirrormalaysia.org

  • Enjoy fresh seafood: Both Sekinchan and Kuala Selangor are known for fresh, delicious seafood. If you’re on a vacation here, make sure to visit one of the many restaurants as the food here is not only tasty but also more affordable than in other places.

4. Cherating, Pahang

Baby turtle on the beach

Cherating is a beautiful, coastal town that’s probably best known for housing the premium Club Med Cherating hotel. However, there are plenty of budget vacation attractions here that are sure to occupy your weekend getaway schedule. Besides having a swim or picnic on the beach, here are other things to do in Cherating.

  • Visit baby turtles: Cherating has a turtle sanctuary where you can see baby turtles and learn about the local turtle conservation efforts. If you’re lucky, you can even join the staff in releasing baby turtles back into the sea.
  • Go surfing: One of the very few surfing spots in Malaysia is located at Cherating. The swells here measure over four feet high and can run for up to 500 meters. If you’re a beginner and have always wanted to surf, you can visit Cherating Point Surf School to learn how to surf. The best time to surf here is during the North-East monsoon season from November to March.

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surfing vacation in Malaysia

Image source: cheratingpoint.com

  • Eat authentic Terengganu food: Cherating is only a short drive away from Kemaman, where you can find tasty Terengganu cuisine including keropok lekor, otak-otak, mee calong, and of course, seafood. 
  • Tour the mangrove river: The Cherating River cruise is a popular attraction in the area. You can spot animals like monkeys, snakes, and monitor lizards on the daytime river cruise, while the evening fireflies river cruise lets you experience glowing fireflies up close. Fun fact – the fireflies in Cherating are of the Pteroptyx bearni variety which glow unsynchronized to each other, unlike the ones in Kuala Selangor which flash in sync.

5. Johor Bahru, Johor

Boy driving at Legoland

Image source: legoland.com.my

When people think of a budget vacation in Malaysia, Johor Bahru rarely comes to mind. To the unfamiliar, it may look like any other Malaysian city. However, JB actually boasts a diverse list of attractions from its heritage street to the Legoland theme park.

  • Visit LEGOLAND: LEGOLAND Malaysia is one of the top local theme parks right now with over 15,000 LEGO models in eight themed areas, a water park, and a marine aquarium. Besides marveling at lifelike LEGO recreations of major cities, there are tons of rides to try out and fun performances to enjoy with the family.
  • Go on a shopping spree: JB is also home to shopping destinations with excellent deals. At the Johor Premium Outlets, you have over 150 luxury branded outlets such as Coach, Balenciaga, Calvin Klein, and Adidas that offer discounted merchandise. Another place to visit is Pasar Karat, a large flea market that sells everything from street food to clothes, and even refurbished electronics, all at affordable prices. The Pasar Karat opens every night except on Mondays.

The Red House in JB

Image source: thestar.com.my

  • Try the local food: Just like other cities, JB has its own food culture with tasty cuisines. A budget vacation in Johor isn’t complete without trying its food, so don’t miss visiting Meldrum Walk to feast on street food including fried oysters, mutton soup, satay, and much more. If you’re looking for old-school pastries, check out Salahuddin Bakery where they have been selling flaky curry puffs, bread, and various cakes since 1937.
  • Explore Johor Bahru city: There’s no shortage of things to see here, so make sure you explore the city. Places worth mentioning include the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Street with its antique shop houses, the Istana Besar which was the former home of the Johor Sultan, and Danga Bay which is a scenic waterfront with a recreational park and seafood restaurants.

We hope we’ve inspired you to plan your own fun vacation in Malaysia. Of course, Malaysia has loads more interesting destinations you can visit on a budget so don’t forget to explore the country and see all that it has to offer!

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