A Selection of Highlights of The Malay Peninsula: Modern Cities, History and Dream Islands
This open jaw itinerary starts in Singapore and crosses the whole Malay Peninsula, to finish in Bangkok, Thailand. I am sharing here this itinerary from Singapore to Bangkok because that’s what I did and it worked well for me; but you can of course plan it the other way around from Bangkok to Singapore.
Just a word about the climate of the Malay Peninsula: there are two main seasons, a dry season and a rainy season. When the eastern coast is dry, the western coast is rainy. For the next half of the year, it’s the other way around.
This itinerary is best attempted between November and April, as it is the dry season on the whole west coast of the peninsula. Penang, Langkawi, Krabi and Phuket will most likely be very sunny.
If you are traveling between April and November, I would suggest to craft an itinerary along the western coast instead. You could for example visit Tioman and Redang islands in Malaysia, and the Koh Samui region in Thailand.
The Itinerary at a Glance
- Trip Type: Backpacking, Independant travel
- Itinerary Shape: Open Jaw [info]
- Starting Point: Singapore
- Ending Point: Bangkok, Thailand
- Duration: 3 to 4 weeks
- Countries crossed: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand
- Transportation Modes: Bus, Ferry, Train
- Best Season: November to April, dry season in the islands
You might be surprised that I put “3-4 days” here. For the non-initiated, it often looks like Singapore is just a bunch of skyscrapers that you have seen in an afternoon. Singapore is much more than that! There are a lot of wonderful places to explore.
I put a conservative “3-4 days” here if you just want to have a good overview of the city-state, but if you have the time you can stay the whole week without having to worry about being bored.
You can find on the map and below a few ideas of places you can visit in Singapore.
Hotel Options in Singapore
Singapore → Malacca, Malaysia
Bus | 250 km (155 mi) ⁝ 3:30 hour
You are now ready to cross the first border of this itinerary. You will soon be visiting Malaysia! I did this route a few times with various operators, and they all offer a similar level of service. I wouldn’t be able to recommend a specific bus company. You can google “bus Singapore to Malacca” and you will be presented with a whole variety of options. You can then choose the one that quits your needs, in terms of pick up location, price and timings.
Singapore is linked to Malaysia by two bridges, in Tuas and Woodlands. Both options are possible but from central Singapore you will probably take the Woodlands one.
You will need to get off the bus at the Singaporean checkpoint before the bridge to get your exit stamp on the passport, and get off again after the bridge at the Malaysian checkpoint to get your passport stamped to enter Malaysia. Of course, the bus will wait for everybody to be back on board before continuing its journey.
After that, you will have about 2.5-3 hours of highway to Malacca.
Malacca is a very pleasant city full of history that deserves a couple days. Its rich patrimony is the result of successive Portuguese, Dutch and English colonizations; plus influences from its large Chinese population. A walk in Chinatown is a must-do! You will be amazed by the richly decorated temples.
Take the time to have a walk along the Malacca River and visit the Portuguese heritage like the remains of the A Famosa fortress, and the Saint Paul’s Church. As for the Stadthuys, built by the Dutch, it is one of the most famous places in Malacca – and surprising by its Dutch architecture and red walls. The Stadthuys building can found of Dutch Square, also called Red Square.
For an aerial overview of the city, try a fun ride on the Taming Sari Tower.
Hotel Options in Malacca
Malacca → Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Bus | 140 km (86 mi) ⁝ 2 hours
There are once again various bus companies doing this route with similar level of service and pricing. The journey should take around 2 hours. Chances are that you will arrive at the TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan) bus station, in the south of Kuala Lumpur. You can then take the LRT or even KTM trains to downtown (KL Sentral Station).
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
You are now in Malaysia’s capital city! With its mix of modernity, tradition and various architectural influences, Kuala Lumpur totally deserves at least a couple days. It is easy to get around Kuala Lumpur with the metro system and the Komuter trains.
As soon as you arrive, you will be attracted like a magnet to the impressive Petronas Towers, that remained the tallest buildings in the world for a long time. Cross the Suria mall to access the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center) Park, a welcomed oasis of greenery in the heart of the city.
If you like a little jungle walk, follow the trail at Bukit Nanas (Nanas Hill) all the way to the KL Tower. From there, you can enjoy and unbeatable view over the whole of Kuala Lumpur. Don’t miss it! I particularly recommend sunset time.
Want some shopping? Walk along Jalan Sultan Ismail and you will find various modern shopping malls.
For a more traditional atmosphere, you can stroll in the Central Market (try the fish spa experience!), around the pretty Masjid Jamek mosque and in the Little India area.
Escape the busy downtown by visiting the KL Bird Park and the Perdana Gardens, stopping at the National Mosque (Masjid Negara) on the way.
If you feel like taking some time away from the city, take the train from KL Sentral station to the Batu Caves, north of the city. The caves are impressive by their size and they are an interesting religious place.
When you arrive at the caves, you will be welcome by a huge golden statue of Murugan, an Hindu deity, and 272 stairs to climb! Be careful of the monkeys, they like to steal stuff from people, but they are really fun to watch.
Inside the gigantic caves were built two Hindu temples with their typical features such as a small gopuram (the pyramid shaped part on the roof with many statues).
Hotel Options in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur → Penang, Malaysia
Bus | 350 km (217 mi) ⁝ 4 hours
Penang is a beautiful island off the western coast of Malaysia. To go to there, you have two options. You can either take a bus or train to Butterworth and then a ferry to Penang, or take a bus from Kuala Lumpur directly to Penang (the island is linked to the main land by two bridges).
I chose this option as I felt it would be more comfortable. Once again, there are various bus companies that will most likely offer you the same level of service. I can recommend a bus service called Nice Coaches – they have nice modern coaches and they leave from the KTM station in downtown Kuala Lumpur, which is really great.
In Penang, you will arrive at the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, south of Georgetown – the main city on the island. If you don’t feel like paying for a taxi, it is easy to use the cheap local buses. From the bus terminal to Georgetown, take the bus 401. It will take you to the Komtar terminal in Georgetown.
You have a few options concerning where to stay in Penang. The island is quite big and there are several towns and beaches you can stay at, such as Batu Ferringhi for example. If you are craving some nice seaside holiday, it would be a good options.
However, I think it is more convenient to stay in Georgetown. You can’t miss the visit of the old town and its historical treasures. Just like Malacca’s Historical Center, the Old Town of Georgetown is in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Beautifully decorated Chinese temples, elegant mosques, colorful shophouses and an enchanting atmosphere are awaiting you as you stroll around the town.
If you are ready for some trekking, spend a day on the trails of the Penang National Park. You can take the bus 101 to the park’s entrance. There are two paths you can choose. One is shorter and easier and follows the northern coast of the park to a lighthouse. The other one crosses the jungle to secluded beaches. That’s the one I chose.
Bear in mind that this is real jungle and the paths can sometimes be uphill and challenging. Don’t go too far if your level of fitness doesn’t allow it! But if you can, the wild beaches and the strange Meromictic Lake will be beautiful rewards. Before leaving, make sure to buy a lunch box and water from the small shop across the road at the park’s entrance.
Hotel Options in Penang
Penang → Langkawi, Malaysia
Ferry | 115 km (71 mi) ⁝ 3 hours
It is easy to reach Langkawi from Penang by ferry. The trip takes around 3 hours depending on the weather conditions. In Langkawi, you will arrive at the jetty in Kuah, Langkawi’s main city.
Langkawi, jewel of the Malaysian state of Kedah, is definitely a highlight of this itinerary. Beyong its large main island, Langkawi is an archipelago of no less than 104 islands. Its karstic scenery is truly spectacular, particularly as seen from the cable car.
You will get off the ferry in Kuah, Langkawi’s main city. Take some time to walk or ask a taxi to take you to the nearby Eagle Square, famous for its big statue of a fishing eagle, symbol of Langkawi.
You can of course choose to stay anywhere on the island but I would recommend staying around the popular Cenang Beach (pronounced “tchenang“) as it is where most touristic activities are located, and most points of interest of Langkawi are easily accessible from there.
To go around, you can rent a car for the length of your stay, or you can rent scooters directly on the spot. I found it to be a really pleasant and fun way to explore the island.
As for things to do and see, the #1 attraction not to miss is definitely the cable car. It the touristy “Oriental Village” (from which u get on the cable car) can feel a little soulless and totally artificial, the views to the wild mountains that you get from the mountain tops are unforgetable. The Sky Bridge is pretty cool too. Try to plan this attraction on the sunniest day of your stay.
Other tours that are worth doing are the one exploring the Kilim Geoforest Park and the Dayang Bunting Island.
Hotel Options in Langkawi
Langkawi → Satun (Thailand)
Ferry | 40 km (25 mi) ⁝ 1:15 hour
It is now time to leave Malaysia behind and enter the third and last country of this trip, Thailand. Instead of crossing the border by land via Hat Yai (not the most interesting nor the safest), it is much easier to do it by ferry.
In order to take your ferry, you will need to go back to Kuah, at the same ferry terminal as when you arrived from Penang. At your arrival in Satun (at Tammalang Pier, to be precise), you will get your passport stamped with no difficulty at all.
Satun → Krabi, Thailand
Bus | 288 km (179 mi) ⁝ 5 hours
Once you have officially entered Thailand, you will quickly find a bus for your next destination: Krabi! The trip feels a little long, specially when you already just had a ferry transfer. But take it as a necessary evil for the severals days in paradise that await you!
The bus will take you to the bus terminal in the town of Krabi. But what you want to do is reach Krabi’s little tourist heaven, Ao Nang Beach. It is located only about 18 km / 11 miles away, and will be very quick to do with a taxi.
Krabi (Ao Nang Beach), Thailand
I personally really enjoyed Ao Nang Beach for its very laid-back, holiday atmosphere. Everywhere is packed with hotels and restaurants. It is easy to spend 3 or 4 days (or more!) there without being bored. There are tons of islands to explore in the region and they are all so beautiful that no matter which ones you choose to visit, it will be a delight!
Not much to visit in Ao Nang, it is pure relaxed holiday time, enjoying the beach and the dream islands if you are into that.
Hotel Options in Ao Nang Beach, Krabi
Krabi → Phuket, Thailand
Bus | 180 km (112 mi) ⁝ 3 hours
It is now time to move on and get to the world-famous island of Phuket. In order to do that, you can arrange with your hotel a taxi that will take you the bus terminal, from which you will be able to wait for a bus to Phuket. Depending on where you stay on the island, you will need to take another taxi to reach your hotel.
If you want to save you some hassle, there is a company called Krabi Shuttle that allows you to rent a car with a driver for a door-to-door service, from your Krabi Hotel to your Phuket Hotel. It will obviously be more expensive than local buses, but if you are several persons sharing the cost of the car it can be worth it!
Phuket (Patong Beach), Thailand
Phuket is a large island and you have quite a few options to choose from when deciding where to stay. I personally chose Patong Beach because it’s the most touristic part and I thought it would be a good introduction to Phuket.
The atmosphere is a little different from Ao nang Beach in Krabi, still laid-back but quite dynamic at the same time, with a rich nightlife that you won’t find in Ao Nang Beach.
Patong Beach itself is beautiful and lined with coconut palms and gardens. Get a hotel with a balcony with view to the beach! There are very affordable ones.
At night, the random-looking Bangla Road wakes up – It get closed to the cars and becomes the Bangla Walking Street. All the bars come to life, illuminated by colorful lights. You do not need to be a customer of prostitution to enjoy it. I believe such places are interesting to experience once for any traveler in Thailand, because it’s quite unique!
If you couldn’t make it to the Phi Phi Islands from Krabi, it is also very easy to visit them from Phuket.
Hotel Options in Patong Beach, Phuket
Phuket → Surat Thani, Thailand
Bus | 217 km (135 mi) ⁝ 4:30 hours
Once you have got a little overview of Phuket, it is time to go to the last stop of this trip, Thailand’s capital city – Bangkok. In order to do that, you will first need to reach the city of Surat Thani on the other side of the peninsula.
From Patong Beach, take a Songthaew to the Phuket Bus Terminal 2. It should take about 40-45 mins. From there you will be able to find buses that go directly to Surat Thani Train Station.
Surat Thani → Bangkok, Thailand
Night Train | 655 km (407 mi) ⁝ 9-12 hours
That’s the second part of your trip to Bangkok. It is a very long trip, so the most comfortable option is to get a bed on a night train. I was very pleasantly surprised at the level of comfort provided by the Thai night trains. The beds have a good size, a little curtain for privacy, and an employee will install clean bed sheets on each bed when it’s time to sleep.
There are various timings for the train, you can choose the one that suits you best.
After a good night of sleep, you will conveniently arrive at the heart of Bangkok in the morning.
How to summarize Bangkok? Sprawling and lively metropolis, with a fascinating mix of mess and modernity, busyness and peacefulness. You will be amazed at some of the biggest jams you have seen in your life, from the elevated foot bridges. Another famous feature of Thai cities is the incredible mishmash of electric cables along the roads.
You will find here good options for shopping with modern shopping malls like Central World or the famous and massive MBK Center. Closer to the Chao Phraya River, you will find a more historial Bangkok, with all the must-see monuments – Wat Pho, Grand Palace… or the Wat Arun on the other side of the river.
More towards the north, in the Mo Chit area, take a few hours to stroll in the amazing Chatuchak Market. You will find there any item you can think of, but you will have to brave the crowds!
A little like for Singapore, I would say that 3-4 days is good to have a first introduction to Bangkok and its main places of interest. But you can easily stay for a week without being bored, if you like exploring less obvious places.
Hotel Options in Bangkok
Last Thoughts About This Itinerary
This itinerary is very easy to do from either Singapore or Bangkok. Here, an open jaw plane ticket totally makes sense because of the geography of the region and the shape of the itinerary, and opting for a loop would force you to buy an extra one-way ticket back to Singapore – waste of time and money!
Of course, inevitably, many things get missed along the way. But unless you have months ahead of you, as for any itinerary, you have to make choices! The itinerary is well balanced between major cities, beach/islands time and cultural discoveries.
Although it might feel a little rushed, the itinerary is doable in 3 weeks, but it is more comfortable to plan it over a month (following the durations given on this page, between 21 and 26 days).
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