When I bought my plane ticket to Malaysia it wasn’t really in my plans. It was a sweet surprise, because I leave the country after two weeks of amazing landscapes, great culture and delicious food. To be honest, Malaysia never popped into my mind as a tourist friendly country, and yet it that’s exactly what it is.

Actually, Malaysia seems to be the next step for a perfect introduction to South East Asia. After Singapore, which compared to Kuala Lumpur seems just another European capital, the cities of Malaysia are the perfect destination to get fully used to the Asian way of living.

That is: heat, always heat. And rain, you never know when it will come. But it’s ok, you’ll sweat so much that rain isn’t actually going to make you wet. Malaysia has everything to offer: tropical islands, tiny cultural hotspots, incredible mountains, the jungle and a busy capital such as KL.

Kuala Lumpur Skyline from Thean Hou Temple, Malaysia. All pictures by Guille Álvarez

KL, chaos and diversity

Let’s begin with KL, because the truth is that, although it’s a great city, it’s not as enjoyable as Singapore, which is really close if you open the world atlas. Anyway, my judgement might be unfair because I had enough of concrete jungles after one week in Singapore. The Petronas towers are nice and packed with locals and tourists, but this city is really enjoyable from the rooftops with a cold beer. I went to a place called Heli Bar (where Helicopters actually land), and you should do it too. Also, if you stay for a few days, a visit to the Batu Caves is well worth it (you can there by Metro)

To be fair, KL has a lot to offer, but just be sure to have some space in between conurbations. Again, in Malaysia’s capital you’ll find a peaceful and satisfying mix of cultures –although  that will introduce you to all Asia, as a continent, has to offer.

Hipster coffees and street art

What I really loved about Malaysia was the first stint in Penang and Cameron Highlands. The first is one of the cultural cities in the northern regions. It actually has an International Airport, so I skipped KL to begin with. Penang has everything to offer from street art to natural wonders. One day you’re enjoying art galleries and the next one you’re walking 2 hours into the jungle to find a stranded beach on the other side of the island.

Let’s just leave it in here: you’ll wanna stay a bit more in Penang. And something I didn’t do, Langkawi is pretty close by and you can get by ferry. Apparently it’s worth it.

High on tea

Sweating all day long is just the thing in SEA. So that’s why Malaysia is perfect for a break from the heat. A five hours bus ride from Penang and you’re in the middle of the country (the western part of it) and almost 2000 feet high. The cool breeze is just amazing. It’s not really cold, but it’s chilly enough after the usual 30 some degrees and humidity. The tea plantations, which are beautiful by themselves, combined with the jungle treks, are just a feast for the senses. This is, by far, a must stop during your trip through Malaysia, just as the one coming right up.

Portuguese, Dutch and English, all in one

Melaka is far south western Malaysia, but only two hours away from its busy capital. It’s again a hotspot for hipster coffee shops and art galleries. The city, though, it’s more beautiful by itself if we compare it to Penang. The main reason is history: this was once the epicenter of a powerful sultanate. Then it was a Portuguese colony, and then the Dutch came in, and then the Brits… and finally, after a short period of Japanese occupation, Melaka became a city of the newly founded Malaysia.

The good thing is that, all that occupation, actually left an imprint in the city that you can visit today. Colourful colonial buildings merge perfectly with Chinese themed houses and just a bit of local tourism massification. You’ll notice that when you see a horde of anime-themed bikes that pump up ‘Despacito’ (yes, you even listen this song here) with their loudspeakers. That’s one of the locals favourite pastime.

You’ll get used to it. And you’ll fall in love with Malaysia because it’s beautiful, cheap and, most importantly, people is so nice to each other.