Malaysia itinerary: the ultimate itinerary for 3 weeks of backpacking in Malaysia!

Are you going to travel through Malaysia? In this blog, you will find the ultimate itinerary for 3 weeks of travelling in Malaysia! Including useful tips for backpacking in Malaysia. We describe a backpacking itinerary of 3 weeks in Malaysia, where you partly travel over the mainland of Malaysia and then visit the tropical island of Langkawi. The last part of this tour of Malaysia goes via Sabah, the northern part of Malaysian Borneo.

With the itinerary in this blog, we try to inspire you as a traveller and help you determine your own itinerary in Malaysia! Have fun!

Thean Hou Temple wandering around Kuala Lumpur

Backpacking in Malaysia!

After having been to Malaysia several times for stopovers in Kuala Lumpur, it was finally time to discover the rest of the country. And after a month of backpacking in Malaysia, we really realize how diverse and beautiful Malaysia is! Yes, it has wary competition from neighbouring countries such as Thailand or Indonesia, but Malaysia itself is really worth it!

The country is large, versatile and diverse. From the ultra-modern city of Kuala Lumpur to old colonial cities such as Melaka. From the beautiful beaches of Langkawi to the dense jungle of Borneo. In any case, Malaysian Borneo was one of the highlights of all our travels through South East Asia. If you are in for an adventure, Borneo is the ultimate addition to your Malaysia itinerary. With ancient tropical rainforests, a high diversity of plants, insects, reptiles and of course the beautiful (but unfortunately endangered) orangutans in the wild!

Yes, backpacking through Malaysia is really worth it! The country is also easily accessible by public transport, and you will find cheap hotels and fellow travellers everywhere. Let’s go to Malaysia!

Wondering if Malaysia is an expensive country to travel in? Then read our blog about prices and budget in Malaysia!

Wild Orangutan in the Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Itinerary Malaysia in 3 weeks!

This Malaysia itinerary in 3 weeks is a perfect combination of cities, culture, beach and tropical rainforest. The distances between the destinations are sometimes longer (8 hours) and sometimes shorter (1-2 hours). This of course also depends on which means of transport you choose. We often opted for public transport (bus) where we could have taken the plane. Depending on your travel pace, this itinerary takes about 3 weeks and takes you to the most fantastic destinations in Malaysia.

The Malaysia itinerary in 3 weeks:

Kuala Lumpur – Melaka – Cameron Highlands – Langkawi – George Town – Kota Kinabalu – Mt. Kinabalu – Danum Valley – Kuala LumpurMalaysia 3 week itinerary

Kuala Lumpur

You start your journey in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. This bustling metropolis has a lot to offer. We have been to Kuala Lumpur multiple times and it remains nice to spend a few days here. You have gigantic shopping arcades, delicious street food and the iconic Petronas Towers. Just outside KL, you have the Batu Caves (cave temple) with its famous rainbow stairs. It is also highly recommended to do a food tour. And then there is the Federal Territory Mosque with its baby blue domes, also recommended.

In short, Kuala Lumpur is a wonderful city to spend some days. Click here for the travel guide of Kuala Lumpur with eight cool free activities!

Hotel tip: Oakwood Hotel and Residence

City view Thean Hou Temple Kuala Lumpur


This city, also called Malacca or Malacca, is an old colonial town in the south of Malaysia. Here you will find culture, street art, good food and you can clearly see the influence of the Netherlands on Malaysia. A few highlights of Melaka are the Dutch Square, the beautiful street art and the floating mosque! Melaka is known for Nyonya cuisine. This is a fusion between Chinese and Malaysian dishes that are quite spicy and well worth a try. The highlights of Melaka are centrally located and are often within walking distance of each other. Two days is enough for Melaka. Click here for Melaka tips!

Hotel tip: Rosa Malacca

Travel time Kuala Lumpur to Melaka: 2 hours by bus

Malaysia Melaka Canal view

Malaysia Melaka Dutch Square red houses

Cameron Highlands

You will find a completely different side of Malaysia in the Cameron Highlands. No beaches, skyscrapers or scorching heat here. No, the Cameron Highlands are covered with rolling green hills, a cooler climate and traditional English-style houses. This is the place to visit tea plantations and taste tea. Rent a scooter and create your own DIY (do it yourself) tour through this beautiful landscape. There are also beautiful hiking trails that you can walk. Two full days is enough for the Cameron Highlands. Find our in-depth travel guide to the Cameron Highlands here!

Hotel Tip: Cameron Highlands Resort

Travel time Melaka to Cameron Highlands: 8 hours by bus via Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia Cameron Highlands Thea plantages


In the meantime, you are probably craving some beach time! Then Langkawi is the place where to be. This island has white beaches, turquoise bays, natural parks and a climate that is pleasant almost all year round. In Langkawi, you pay no tax on alcohol, perfect for budget backpackers! Cool activities you can do here are: take the steepest cable car in the world to the Skybridge; island-hopping, and visiting waterfalls. We recommend that you stay in Langkawi for a minimum of four nights. The island is quite large and there is more than enough to do besides relaxing. Read our extensive travel guide about Langkawi with useful tips here.

Hotel tip: The Smith House

Travel time Cameron Highlands to Langkawi: 5 hours by bus to Penang Airport + 35 min flight. Alternative: by bus to Kuala Kedah + ferry to Langkawi (total journey time 8 hours).

Alternative to Langkawi: The Perhentian Islands

Depending on when you visit Malaysia, you will visit one of the islands on the west or east side of Malaysia. All this has to do with the rainy season. If you want to visit the Perhentian Islands, go in the dry season between March and November. The Perhentian Islands have beautiful white beaches to unwind. Not all accommodations on the Perhentian Islands have a high review score. Therefore, book on time so that you are in a nice hotel!

Hotel tip: Ulunan Resort

Pentai Kok Beach Langkawi Malaysia

Langkawi Skybridge Malaysia

George Town, Penang

George Town is a large city on Penang Island in northwestern Malaysia. The city is known for its special cuisine (a mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay), but also for the street art and the beautiful buildings influenced by the Baba-Nyonya culture. We recommend that you stay in George Town for at least three days. We have written a travel guide for 3 days in George Town with 15 fun activities.

Hotel Tip: Victoria Garden Hotel

Travel time Langkawi to George Town: 35 min by plane + 30 minutes bus / taxistreets of George Town Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

Kota Kinabalu is a large city in western Malaysian Borneo, located in the state of Sabah. KK (Kota Kinabalu’s nickname) is used as a base for Malaysian Borneo. From here you can climb Mount Kinabalu (4095m high), or go island hopping in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. You can also easily travel from KK by bus or plane to other parts of Sabah (for example to Sandakan, Kuching or Lahad Datu). Two days is enough time for Kota Kinabalu. Unless you are going to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, you will need more time (2-day trek). Click here for the free travel guide about Kota Kinabalu in Borneo!

Hotel tip: Bed&Breakfast@21

Travel time George Town to Kota Kinabalu: 3 hours by air

Mt Kinabalu Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Danum Valley, Borneo

Danum Valley is one of the oldest rainforests in the world and chock-full of wildlife. In this magical paradise, we went in search of wild orangutans. A trip to Danum Valley is a great adventure where you go back to basic. It is a beautiful area for hikes and to spot birds, animals, reptiles and all kinds of insects. Before you go to Danum you often stay overnight in Lahad Datu. This is also the place where you travel by bus or plane and then continue on to Danum Valley. We recommend a minimum of 3 days for this dense paradise on earth. If you want to know more about orangutans in Danum Valley on Borneo, read our blog!

Hotel tip: Bike & Tours B&B

Travel time Kota Kinabalu to Danum Valley: 7 hours by bus or 55 min flight to Lahad Datu. From Lahad Datu, it is a 2-hour drive to Danum Valley.

Travel time Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur: 2.5 hours by air

Read more: The ultimate Borneo itinerary for 2-3 weeks travelling in Malaysian Borneo!

Curious male Orangutan Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

More time? Other destinations in Malaysia!

Do you have time left, or are you making a Malaysia itinerary for 4 weeks or more? Then definitely consider adding Tip of Borneo, Semporna or Sepilok and the Kinabatangan River to your itinerary!

Tip of Borneo!

Long stretched beaches, towering palm trees and green dense jungle. The northernmost part of Malaysian Borneo, called Tip of Borneo, is an unexplored area where you feel like a real explorer. Away from busy cities, this is Borneo as you imagine it: an oasis of peace and nature. Here you will find the best beaches in all of Borneo. A nice place to relax. You can also snorkel and surf here. Read all about Tip of Borneo in this blog.

Hotel tip: Hibiscus Villa Borneo

Note: Tip of Borneo is not that easy to reach. We recommend that you rent a car and drive there yourself via the well-maintained roads of Sabah.

Tip of Borneo drone Sabah Malaysia

Sepilok & Kinabatangan river

Sepilok has an orangutan rehabilitation centre. A place where you have a very high chance of seeing the beautiful orange monkeys. The orangutans that live here have been rescued from the wild. The main reason for this is the deforestation of their habitat. Especially during the feeding time of these monkeys, there is a big chance that you will see them. Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre is a half-hour drive from Sandakan. A few hours are enough for this activity. Then you can continue your journey towards the Kinabatangan River.

The Kinabatangan River is about 2 hours from Sepilok. Kinabatangan River is the second-longest river in Malaysia and is surrounded by many palm oil plantations. The river is known for its immense biodiversity. This means that you can spot a lot of wildlife here. In addition to the famous proboscis monkeys, you can see crocodiles, gibbons, the Borneo dwarf elephant and many bird species here. Here you can do cool treks, but the best way to see and photograph all the animals is by boat trip. There are several villages along the river. But Bilit and Sukau, these are the villages with plenty of accommodation options.

Transport Tip: Sandakan is easily accessible by bus (7 hours) or plane (45 min) from Kota Kinabalu. The Kinabatangan River is more difficult to reach.Malaysian Borneo Kinabatangan river Malaysia droneshot


The Semporna archipelago is a great dive spot. This reef still has a great bio-diversity. You will find here colourful coral, turtles and sharks. In short, an ideal place for scuba diving or snorkelling. Near Semporna is also the famous island of Sipadan. This island is a perfect base for all your diving trips.

Transportation tip: Semporna is accessible by bus (10 hours) or plane (1 hour) from Kota Kinabalu. From Sandakan, there are also good bus connections to Semporna.

Super handy: the best hostels, hotels and lodges per destination at a glance. Read our guide to the best hotels in Malaysia!

Malaysia itinerary of 2 weeks

Do you only have 2 weeks for your trip through Malaysia? Then you will have to shorten our suggested itinerary. For example, you could skip Borneo. In this way, you still get beautiful beaches, green tea fields and beautiful (old) cities. If the adventure of Borneo appeals to you, consider focusing entirely on Malaysian Borneo and visit both the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

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Click here for all my blogs about Malaysia.

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