Social Media

Two weeks in Malaysia on a budget, how to see the world’s largest flower (Rafflesia) & visit the dreamy Perhentian Islands for under £300 ($384)

Sailing into Perhentian Kecil

Travelling on a budget requires some amount of compromise and it’s certainly not for everyone, but it is possible to see the world without spending thousands of pounds. I spent 15 days backpacking through Malaysia, starting in Melacca, before zigzagging up the country to Penang. My accommodation, travel and food came in at less than £300, here’s how;

Book hostels
Hostels have improved so much in recent years, it’s easier than ever before to find a good place to stay without spending a fortune. These days, I love nothing more than booking into a well-designed small, boutique hotel, but there was a time when I only slept in hostels and I saved a hell of a lot of money doing so. Throughout my time in Malaysia, I only slept in hostels or homestays and these ranged from 22-bed dorms with no air conditioning, places with no windows that resembled prison rooms and huts on the beach. Some were grim, some were great, but all were cheap. I was in the country to explore, see amazing sights and travel around, the place where I stayed each day was nothing more than a bed for the night, which is why I was happy to rough it.

Eat at markets 
With Chinese, Indian and European influences, Malay food is some of the best in the world.
Street stalls and simple cafes serve the most incredible chicken satay, coconut pancakes, roti canai and fresh fruit juices, not to mention the abundance of local markets selling all kinds of exotic fruit from rambutans to mangosteens, it’s easy to eat well on a budget. When picking a stall or restaurant look for queues or anywhere with a buzz, chances are if it’s busy, the food is good.

Travel by land
Air travel is always going to be the pricier option, so to stay on budget I always travelled by bus when travelling through Malaysia. I would usually chance my luck and turn up at the bus station on the day I wanted to leave and this mostly worked out well. Bus journeys can be long but if you travel overnight, that’s your accommodation sorted too, I only did one overnight bus journey in the two weeks I spent in the country as other journeys were relatively short. Travelling by bus also means you get to experience more of the country’s day-to-day life, hours spent observing from a bus window in a new and exciting place is what it’s all about.

My Malaysia route
Malacca, with its red buildings and brightly coloured tuk tuks, just two hours from Singapore, was my first introduction to the country and a great place to start. With a twice-weekly night market, this was where I got my first taste of Malaysia’s delicious street food as well as hearing some brilliantly outrageous karaoke at Jonker Road market. Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, on the same road, is one of the oldest in the country and not too far away is one of my favourite exhibitions in Malaysia, ‘Enduring Beauty’. Hidden away on the third floor of the People’s Museum, this fascinating curation of photographs and drawings features body modifications endured in the name of beauty or culture. There are photos of tooth-filing, lip plates and intentional scarring, as well as the Chinese practise of foot-binding, all of which I found utterly intriguing. 

bright tuk tuks along the street in melacca
Explore Malacca on a brightly coloured tuk tuk ride

From Malacca, I travelled north by bus to the countries capital Kuala Lumpur, a journey which takes around two hours. Here I spent time seeing the famous Petronas Towers, visiting markets and Chinatown, generally soaking in the buzz of the city before catching another bus onto Tanah Rata, a small town in the lush Cameron Highlands, three hours away.

petronas towers at night
The Petronas Towers by night

The Cameron Highlands is a beautifully verdant green area of the country, covered in tea plantations, miles of jungle that’s great for trekking and strawberry farms. I stayed for three nights as the cooler temperature was a welcome break after the humid heat of Kuala Lumpur and Malacca and I planned to go into the jungle in search of the largest and one of the rarest flowers in the world, the Rafflesia. ‘Discovered’ by Sir Stamford Faffles, back in 1818, the Rafflesia is actually a parasitic plant that lives off a particular type of vine, there is no stem or leaves, just a bud that swells to a black ball before opening six months later to reveal a blood-red flower, covered in white spots, that can span over a meter. The flower gives off heat alongside a putrid smell to attract flies, in turn helping to pollinate and create more of these giant, yet endangered flowers. I took a guided tour to get to see a Rafflesia as there was no way I’d be able to find one for myself. We drove for an hour on paved roads, down ridiculously muddy tracks for a further 15 minutes and then trekked through the jungle for 30 minutes before finding this beauty.

rafflesia flower red and white spots malaysia
The incredibly beautiful Rafflesia

The next day, after a roti for breakfast I took a local bus for just 50p in the direction of a tea plantation I wanted to visit. Getting off at a folk in the road I then walked for the 4kms to Boh Tea Estate and Plantation where some of the countries best tea is grown. Here you’ll find a café overlooking the rolling bright-green hills and a factory that documents the tea harvesting process, which is super interesting. After lunch I hitched back to the folk in the road and visited the nearby Butterfly Garden where you can see all kinds of brightly coloured butterflies as well as chameleons, rhino-horned beetles and tropical frogs. The Cameron Highlands is also known for its many strawberry farms, I visited one for waffles with fresh strawberries although I can’t remember the name, but it’s easy enough to find one by following any handmade road sign. 

tea plantation green fields cameron highlands
Looking out over Boh Tea Plantations

After my wholesome days surrounded by nature in the Highlands, it was time to head to the beach and over to the east coast where a small group of islands, known as the Perhentian Islands are found. My bus dropped me at Kuala Besut and from here its a quick zip across the turquoise ocean to the actual paradise of Perhentian Kecil. I found a basic wooden hut (with frog and gecko) for not much money at all and spent the next three days in a blissed out haze, snorkelling, watching one of the most epic sunsets of my life and eating good food. Then it was back to the buzz of the city and onto my next stop, the cultural capital of Malayasia, Kota Bharu. The city is home to a brilliant cultural centre where you can see batik demonstrations, top-spinning, Malay martial arts and traditional Malay music played with instruments made from coconut husks. There’s also some great food and handicraft markets in where you can pick up batik printed fabrics and lots of interesting snacks like blue rice and chicken skewers.

malaysian man batik demonstration
Batik demonstration at Kota Bharu's cultural centre

Penang-Island was my sixth and final Malaysian destination, and I arrived sleepy one morning after the seven-hour night bus across the width of the country. Georgetown is a great place to stay, with a variety of hostels and amazing street art wherever you turn. The architecture and temples in Penang are really impressive too, with a stunning array of wats, pagodas, churches and mosques. I visited Kapitan Keling Mosque, the largest in Georgetown for a look inside and to check out the Indo-Moorish structure, it’s is such a peaceful place to while away a few hours. As is the case all over Malaysia, the food here is also brilliant, don’t miss a trip to the street markets to sample local snacks, you won’t be disappointed.

green and pink building penang island malaysia
One of Georgetown's prettiest buildings

From Penang is easy to continue your travels overland into Thailand if you have time, otherwise a bus back to Kuala Lumpur is the best option for international flights elsewhere.

Post a Comment


Theme by BD