Backpacking Malaysia: A Guide for Easy Asia Travel

Backpacking Malaysia is great for easy Asia travel.  Easier than South America, easier than Thailand.  We traveled the length of the Malaysian peninsula from Malacca to Penang, Kuala Lumpur (KL) to the Perhentian Islands through the Cameron Highlands.  The people are friendly, welcoming, and excited to have you in their country.  The buses are clean with organized stations and the roads are smooth with minimal traffic, especially in the countryside.  The highlight of backpacking Malaysia was the food.  From Malay to Chinese to Indian, the cuisine is an amazing fusion of different cultures, living together in relative harmony.  Low food costs are easy for every budget traveler and in Malaysia you can get a full meal starting at $1.50 for a vegetarian banana leaf lunch.  Even though the government just added a tourist tax to all hotel rooms, Malaysia still has good deals for travelers on a budget.  We stayed in some of the nicest and most fun hostels of our lives, and our 15 days in the peninsula didn’t scratch the surface of what the country has to offer.

Pick a Route:backpacking malaysia easy asia travel

Picking a backpacking route though Malaysia is easy.  For a two week trip we would recommend starting in Singapore and working your way north from Malacca to KL, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian Islands, then back across to Georgetown, Penang.  If you have three weeks we would suggest adding Taman Negara National Park and Langkawi Island.  These are both trips along the standard backpacker trail, great for your first time in Malaysia.  Since Malaysia has much fewer tourists than Thailand, you will run into the same friendly faces as you go.  There was one lady on our trip that we ran into in at three different places on our adventure.  Of course there are many other parts of Malaysia worth exploring, mainly the jungles of Borneo where things are more wild.  On a four week trip we would suggest spending a week there getting off the tourist path.

Enjoy the Food:

backpacking malaysia easy asia travel

The food in Malaysia is easy and good for any backpacker’s budget. The most we “cooked” for ourselves in Malaysia was to peel a banana, maybe once.  The local markets are great places to pig out economically.  Check out the laksa, poh piah, mee koring, and nasi kandar.  Western style restaurants are there, but they are the most expensive and generally not as exciting as the local flavors.  Every city has a Chinese neighborhood and an Indian neighborhood.  Little India was always our favorite spot to eat, great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike!  For one meal I had seven different curries and spent a total of less than $3. For these reasons, Malaysia was my all time favorite country to eat in!

Stay in a Hostel:

Frame Guesthouse backpacking malaysia easy asia travel
The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop. Frame is a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways. We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

Backpackers will love Malaysia for the hostels which are cheap and easy to book online.  Sometimes they do fill up, especially in the busy season, so we suggest booking in advance.  They range in price and quality and there is a new 10 Ringgit tourist tax for every room.  Our favorites were the Lemongrass on Long Beach in the Perhentians, and Frame Guesthouse in Georgetown, Penang.  Prices range from $10 per night for a dorm bed, $15 for a beach bungalow, or $18 for private room with A/C.

Speak With the Locals:

Backpacking Malaysia is easier than other parts of Asia because most people can speak or at least understand English.  A majority of the signs are also in English and Malay, so you will never have a hard time finding your way around.  Malay also using the English characters so it’s easy to pick up a little bit along the way which always makes the locals appreciate you more.   Knowing few words like terima kasih (thank you) can get you a lot of respect points and make you look a little better than the average traveler.


When looking for easier Asia travel, backpacking Malaysia should be at the top of your list.  With top notch people, food, nature and adventure, and hostels, never ending aventuras await you in this tropical paradise!


Like this post about backpacking Malaysia for easy Asia travel?  Check out our archives for never ending travel advice, reviews, and many stories of adventure in Malaysia!

Street Food Heaven – Penang, Malaysia

Shophouses in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Buddhist ceremony in Georgetown

Penang, Malaysia had been on our bucket list since before we even knew what country it was in (😳embarrassing)!  One sleepy afternoon years ago, we were watching Anthony Bourdain on “Parts Unknown” stuff his face at Line Clear in Georgetown and decided then and there that any trip to Asia would have to include Penang.  After all, it was street food heaven right? We had five nights planned!  We decided to stay at the Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel because everyone on the backpacker trail was talking about it.  The price was kind of high at 40 Ringgit for a dorm bed but included was free breakfast, all-day coffee and water, and two strong drinks at the bar.  The bar area closes at 11 after the nightly beer pong tournament then everyone goes on a pub crawl down the street to Love Lane where you can continue the party as late as your heart desires.

most popular new hostel in malaysia
Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel
Tipsy Tiger Hostel Party
The Bar At Tipsy Tiger
love lane party street
Love Lane – Party Street Penang

The Tispy Tiger was a good time but after two nights of craziness we were ready for something more chill.  Our second accommodation, The Frame Guesthouse, a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways.  We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop

The highlight of Penang for us was the street food.  Every corner had different stuff and you could really experience the fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines.  We tried to eat as much as possible, always opting for fourth and sometimes fifth meal.  It was a hard life.  Most of the food vendors have a few tables where you can sit and eat, and most require you to buy a bevarage- beer, soda or fresh-squeezed juice- if you use the table.  It really was a street food heaven.  Here are our favorites!

street food heaven
Laksa noodles- get in my belly
street food heaven
Pohpiah – like a large spring roll stuffed with tofu, veggies, and chili sauce!
street food heaven
Biggest Indian Meal Ever!
street food heaven
Obama Vegetarian Spring Rolls from Red Garden Food Paradise
street food heaven
Fermented pork belly noodles
street food heaven
Cendol – Icy Bean Dessert
street food heaven
More laksa bowls, yum!
penang food
Banana Leaf Indian
vegan food malaysia
In a healthy turn of events, we got vegan food from Wholey Wonder.  Yum!  The unicorn “cheesecake” is naturally-colored from the different superfruits in the layers.  So awesome!

One of the best places to eat is the famous Red Garden Food Paradise.  They usually have some singers and dancers in the center stage and around the edges there are so many different food vendors selling dishes from all over the world.  It has a very classic feel with red plastic chairs and happy families sharing tables stacked with food.  It’s always busy and opens at 6pm nightly.

red garden food stalls
Red Garden

My favorite late night spot was the 24-hour joint Line Clear.  Always a line and barely a menu, they kind of yell “What do you want?” when you get to the front then they slop it on a plate with rice and you get a scoop of sauce from each of the curries.  The food they sell is called nasi kandar, which pretty much means “country rice.”  It’s simple and everything you ever wanted after having a few beers on Love Lane.  Street Food Heaven indeed!

line clear nasi kandar
Line Clean 24hr Nasi Kandar.  Surprisingly they even had some vegetarian options for Carrie!

24 hour nasi kandar

Georgetown is unique in Asia because it largely avoided the bombings of World War II and the following wars.  Only a few bombs were dropped there so the old architecture has remained, giving the city a whole lot of character.   The only negative is the lack of sidewalks; you basically just walk along the side of the road and hope you don’t get clobbered by a drunk, texting motorbiker.  There was a lot of unique street art, most memorable of which were the cartoon wire sculptures depicting life in Penang throughout the years.

Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

As in the rest of Malaysia, the mishmash of cultures and religious blends peacefully and beautifully in Penang.  So, I’ll leave you with a sunset over the downtown mosque and Hindu temple.

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque in Georgetown

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple in Georgetown
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia


Malacca, Malaysia – Bring On The Street Food!

Our first stop in Malaysia was Malacca.  Conquered by the Portuguese in 1511, the town was one of the first sultanates and had already been a center of trade for hundreds of years.  After the Portuguese the city had many other rulers including the Dutch, British, and the Japanese during  WWII .  The city is full of different architecture styles melting together the different cultures and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.


The city was quiet during the day but Friday-Sunday nights everything went out for the Jonker Walk Night Market.  Everyone piled into the street for amazing food and lots of random stuff to buy.  We tasted so many things and enjoyed ourselves a lot at the market.

We made it to Malaysia!!!
Jonker Street, Malacca
Jonker Street Night Market – Malacca, Malaysia
Of course there’s karaoke!
Malacca, Malaysia
Anyone need a ride? We’re suckers for bright lights.
Malacca, Malaysia
Laksa – It’s the best!  Noddles with a fishy, coconut, lemongrass, and red pepper broth.  Usually there are some fried fish pieces and a hard boiled egg!

Malacca also had a nice river where you could take boat cruises.  It was either too hot or raining whenever we wanted to do it but we can’t do everything.

Malacca river, Malaysia
Malacca River

There were temples and churches and mosques all on the same streets, everyone living together in harmony.  I know some other people in the world who could learn a think or two from that.

Malacca, Malaysia templesMalacca, Malaysia templesMalacca, Malaysia temples

Malacca, Malaysia temples
There are always tigers and dragons guarding the temple doors.

Malacca, Malaysia

Here is a giant statue dedicated to Mr Malaysia, the pride of Malaysian bodybuilding.

Malacca, Mr Malaysia
Mr Malaysia

We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of this city.  It felt like a small town really.  The food was fantastic and made us super excited to explore more of the country!  Stay tuned for our trip to the big city, Kuala Lumpur!!!!

Introducing the Pupusa Tracker!


Before entering El Salvador we had read about this food item called a “pupusa” that everyone eats all the time and they sounded pretty delicious.  Once in the country we noticed that yes, there are pupuserias on every corner of the whole country.  A pupusa is basically a thick, doughy, tortilla filled with cheese, refried beans, pork, or a variety of other things.  You put some coleslaw-like stuff and some tomato-like stuff on top (sorry, we haven’t been here long enough to know the proper names for everything) and eat them with your hands.  They are the national fast food and we love them!!!  They sell for between 30 and 50 cents each and we usually eat three or four apiece for a cheap dinner.  Since we are already so addicted, we decided to start counting how many of these tasty guys we put down in our time in El Salvador.  We will place the current count on the right side of the website, near the top.  We plan to eat more than 100 in our three weeks here.  That is all.

Tena and Beyond: The End of the Road in Ecuador

When we needed to get away for a few days, we jumped on a bus to Tena Ecuador and entered the Amazon jungle.  We left most of our stuff locked away at the Tunguhaua Tea Room, our farm, and headed out with 2 small packs.  Traveling without so much stuff was such a relief!  The nervous feeling that I couldn’t get out of my chest faded away as the rumbles from the volcano were lost behind us.  The bus ride was about four hours and from Banos it just got hotter and hotter until the air blowing through the window was no longer refreshing.  Along the road the vegetation  grew thicker as the hills began to flatten out.   Farmers grew fields of palm-like trees producing bananas, plantains, papaya,  pineapples, coconut, and other fruits that we couldn’t identify.

Once out of the bus in Tena Ecuador we asked around for directions to Hostal Limón Cocha, and found it slightly up the hill looking down on the city.  We got a private room with a shared bathroom for $13 per night.  The hostel is run by a German guy and his family, and they also do jungle and rafting tours that you can arrange there.

We dropped our stuff off then headed to town to dig the street food scene.  Tena is rougher and sweatier than other cities we have visited in Ecuador.  Every woman is pregnant, or has a small child wrapped tightly around her with a cloth, or both.  The men sit around under trees, smoking or drinking beer.  People look different here, they are darker and shorter, with obvious indigenous heritage.  We had been told that many a traveler has been taken down by the street food in Tena, but there were a lot of options so we threw caution away and dug in.  If we go out to get street food, we don’t usually grab two huge plates of the same thing but rather several plates of several different things and we share them.  First off we got a huge plate of fries for $1 with salad and different salsa options to pile on top.  Next, I got a kebab of beef, with a plantain on the end.  The meat was actually pretty good compared to other kebabs I have sampled before.  Last, we remembered having passed someone selling huge arepas (imagine a flat piece of fried bread that you put butter and cheese or whatever on top of).  We got two for $1 and found them to be full of cheese.  REAL CHEESE!  They were so hot and gooey!  So we went to bed full and didn’t even get sick.

The next morning we headed out with even a smaller backpack than the day before.  Our original plan was to go on a whitewater rafting trip but we were not able to book one at the last minute.  But we were not going to sit around sad with a whole jungle around us!  We caught a bus (actually we didn’t really catch it, we found out which one it was and then waited for about 45 minutes trying to decide if it was hotter in the sun or the shade of the cooking bus) and rode for about 1 hour to Misahualli Ecuador the official end of the road.

Tena Ecuador
The transportation any farther is only by boat.

The town was tiny and felt deserted.  We walked down to the river where there was a nice beach.  After telling each other that there were no piranhas, we swam for a few minutes then, feeling refreshed, got dressed to check out the town.  This is when we saw them, the reason for our venturing to this ghost town, THE MONKEYS!  Los monos run the beach stealing from backpacks and chasing children.  We took lots of pictures of the funny creatures, one time getting too close and causing the little guy to punch the camera!

Tena Ecuador
They dig in the sand for bugs!

But not all the monkeys were small and cute.  One was big and fat and mean and ran at us.  I’ll admit that he was a little scary.

After we had enough monkey pictures we took a walk around town, or at least what looked like a town.  There were a few open doors at places which may or may not have been selling something, but no one there to sell it.  We walked back to the beach and wandered into a building labeled “HOSTAL” hoping it wasn’t as deserted as it looked. There was actually a nice lady inside who brought us beers and liked talking about the monkeys.  After she went back to the kitchen, a monkey snuck through the side door, into the kitchen, and ran out with a small piece of food.  Next a puppy wandered in and barked at us then took a nap in the corner.  After that a different monkey, then a cat, then the first monkey again, with the food like a treasure curled up in his tail, then a chicken made itself at home in the corner.

Awesome sign in the animal hostel.

Eventually the lady running the place grabbed a bag of potato chips, walked out the front door, and started throwing them to the monkeys who went crazy.  The big mean one stole the whole bag and threw it into his tail for later.  The other monkeys had had enough though, so they either played in the rafters or swung in the hammocks.  Silly monkeys.

With enough monkey videos we headed back to town.  We saw a truck with backpacker-looking people packed into the back like cows, just returning from a jungle trip.  Two girls jumped out and ran into the shop we were checking out.  One of them spoke Spanish and showed the lady who was running the place the other girl’s legs.  They were so bug bitten and swelling and purple!  They made plans to go to some kind of a doctor and Carrie and I laughed at them a bit.  Who goes tramping through the jungle in their flip flops?!

Hot and tired, we got on the bus back to Tena, on the edge of our seats waiting for our cheesy arepas at the bus station.

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