The best 10-day Malaysia itinerary for the most adventurous gay explorers

A nation of smiling faces ready to host beach bums, jungle trekkers and temple hunters alike, Malaysia comes top on our post-COVID travel list for its sheer diversity of options and relaxed attitude. Ten days in the country can allow visitors to go from Petronas Towers views over the KL skyline to beachy horizons in the space of a day, while later the wildlife of Borneo comes calling from the canopies of countless national parks strewn between Sabah and Sarawak. Discover our 10-day itinerary covering the best places to visit in Malaysia along with some handy advice on when and how to travel.

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Ipoh, Malaysia | Photo: John T

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With two seasons instead of Europe’s usual four, Malaysia’s climate remains fairly predictable all year round

LGBTQ situation in Malaysia

A multicultural yet majority-Muslim country in Southeast Asia, Malaysia differs vastly from its neighbours in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance. Same-sex relations remain outlawed and Islamic Sharia law condemns sodomy and cross-dressing for Muslims. Conservative as the nation is, there is an active LGBTQ+ scene in the capital of Kuala Lumpur and a somewhat more discreet one in Penang’s George Town where the community can come together freely. Visit Utopia Asia for information and coverage of LGBT events and activities across the region.

When travelling in Malaysia, discretion is advised and public displays of affection should be kept to a minimum. You may see a fair bit of same-sex hand holding but this is largely a platonic cultural custom and not an indication of gay freedoms. Nevertheless, outward harassment or aggressive homophobia is rare and non-Muslims are seldom persecuted under the outdated penal code (a remnant of the British Colonial era). While there have been several attempts at raising awareness of LGBTQ issues through queer arts festivals, the government has so far banned such events and decriminalisation remains unlikely in the near future.

Photo: Deva Darshan

Photo: Brandan Saviour

Best time to visit Malaysia

With two seasons instead of Europe’s usual four, Malaysia’s climate remains fairly predictable all year round. Visitors arriving in either the rainy or dry season should expect high temperatures of around 30°C and humidity above 80% – both key features of the country. The highlands and mountains are exceptions to the rule – such as The Cameron Highlands – where cooler, dryer weather of around 20°C is granted, dropping even further in the winter. Atop Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu you’ll face the nation’s lowest temperatures of around 10°C, even dropping below zero at night.

Rainy season in Malaysia between September and February comes with the added risk of monsoons, particularly on Borneo’s western Sarawak coast and peninsular Malaysia’s west coast (including Langkawi and Penang islands). Though Sabah sees the most rain in September and October, the east coast is wettest between November and March. Note that boat and ferry trips between islands can be unreliable during these times and water sports reliant on clear waters are not advised. Visibility in mountain ranges can also be limited but cities remain as convenient as ever!

The period following the monsoons between March and October is considered the best time to visit Malaysia thanks to dryer (and slightly less humid) weather and clear skies throughout. The areas around peninsular Malaysia’s west coast and islands will also be drying out a little after the new year, meaning even February can be a great time for a beach retreat. One last thing to consider is the annual razing of farmland across the country and in the area along Borneo’s Indonesian border. This can create much air pollution and haze both early in the year and/or late summer and is something for asthma sufferers to consider.

Borneo, Malaysia | Photo: Deb Dowd

Get Around Malaysia

Malaysia is a cosmopolitan country with sound infrastructure and connections by flight, train and road in all directions. Peninsular Malaysia has somewhat better links, with Kuala Lumpur acting as the chief transport hub for international and domestic travel. You can travel by bus from KL to any major city or take the train for added comfort. For journeys from KL to Langkawi however, consider swapping the 9-hour land route (bus to boat) for a short one-hour flight.

10 days in Malaysia

Providing travellers with a cross-section of modern Asia, Malaysia is the perfect introduction to the Far East. The country’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities each follow their own languages, cuisines and customs, showcased within a packed calendar of festivals and religious events spanning Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian faiths. As well as rich culture, nature comes in abundance across Malaysia, thanks to its equatorial rainforest protected by numerous national parks and conservation initiatives. So whether it’s colonial adventures in UNESCO World Heritage spots or sweaty jungle treks in proximity to tapirs and orangutans that appeals, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and apply the bug repellent for 10 wild days in Malaysia.

Photo: Sadie Teper

Kuala Lumpur (2 days)

An ultra-convenient first stop on our Malaysia trip is the capital of Kuala Lumpur. Here you can acclimatize to the heat in style, booking in at a luxury hotel and sightseeing from the cool depths of your rooftop pool. When you’re ready to begin, street-level KL has something special for you, presenting glitzy commercial districts back-to-back with authentic marketplaces and centuries-spanning monuments. The interplay between ancient cultures and modern lifestyles can be dizzying at times as you pass from ornate mosques to frenetic sky bars, but the longer you stay, the more you’ll find appreciation of its contradictions. If the chaos does become too much, take a day trip out to Batu Caves, reachable by train via KL Sentral, where you can climb the brightly painted staircase into a dramatic cave complex that serves as both Hindu place of worship and Macaque residence (keep your possessions close!).

Founded by Chinese and Malay tin prospectors and colonised by the British thereafter, Kuala Lumpur is home to much impressive colonial architecture concentrated around Merdeka Square, an area which has played a central role in Malaysian history, most notably in 1957 at the Stadium Merdeka when the nation’s first prime minister declared independence. Catch this history writ large across the city, all while engaging in the popular local pastimes of shopping and eating. Add air-conditioned malls such as Pavilion KL, Suria KLCC or Mid Valley Megamall to your Kuala Lumpur itinerary, or go independent in the areas around Bangsar and Publika. For souvenirs and handicrafts, go hunting in Central Market or choose Chinatown to find artisan pieces and antiques vendors. Due to all the road traffic in the city, travelling on foot is the best way to explore KL, refuelling at one of many hawker stalls and traditional kopitiams (coffee shops) on your way to key attractions such as the Petronas Towers (or Exchange 106 which is actually taller!), National Art Gallery and KLCC Park.

Petronas Twin Towers | Photo: Izuddin Helmi-Adnan

Sultan Abdul Samad Building | Photo: Najua R

Malacca (1 day)

Malacca once reigned as a key trading port in the 15th century and now serves as a top travel destination two hours from KL, prized by UNESCO for its ancient architecture compacted into a bustling historic centre on the water’s edge. Morphing from small fishing village to international trade hub filled with Portuguese, Dutch and British traders, Malacca has undergone much change over the centuries, reverting back to a quieter way of life after losing favour to neighbouring Singapore. Now, Malacca remains a great place to wander, taking in church ruins and multi-national forts before covering quaint old streets by trishaw – including the famed Jonker Street – where the weekend night market takes place. In the evening, the river cruise is a top choice for sunset drinks, anchoring finally for local Malaccan specialities at any of the waterside restaurants. With time on your hands, you might also wish to venture to nearby towns such as Alor Gajah and Ayer Keroh, breaking off into the countryside for deserted beaches, farmland and forest trails.

Malacca Mosque | Photo: Jeniffer, Wai Ting Tan

Cameron Highlands (2 days)

For a cooler time of it, venture upwards into the Cameron Highlands where you can embrace a leisurely pace amongst tea-laden countryside hills. Developed to meet the preferences of British colonialists in the late 1800s, the Cameron Highlands has since become one of the best places to visit in Malaysia for its European style gardens, golf courses and hillside agriculture, allowing for all the tea and strawberries you could want. Tourism is a key industry across the various townships – from Kampung Raja and Tringkap to Brinchang and Ringlet – meaning that you may find the stunning views somewhat spoilt by megaresorts and ongoing construction, but, nevertheless, there’s always a quiet spot to be found on Malaysia’s largest hill station. Cooled by the breeze, it becomes much easier to get outside and explore the jungle surrounds for either one or two days, trekking and hiking towards authentic Malay communities for afternoon tea and panoramas.

Cameron Highlands | Photo: Ravin-Rau

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As well as a food-centric itinerary Penang can also offer a diverse picture, at large in UNESCO-listed George Town, Penang Island’s largest and most cosmopolitan city

Penang (2 days)

Foodies everywhere will want to pack in at least a couple of days in Penang where three meals a day is nowhere near adequate to taste everything on offer, from Malay laksas and authentic Indian curries to sweet cendol treats at any of the city’s vibrant street markets, you’re bound to leave with a satisfied stomach. As well as a food-centric itinerary Penang can also offer a diverse picture, at large in UNESCO-listed George Town, Penang Island’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. Here’s where you’ll find worn Chinese shophouses beside heady Indian spice markets as well as a range of boutique guesthouses perfectly placed for an easy few days touring around. Tap into the local art scene easily by walking mural-painted streets or viewing one of the city’s many gallery exhibits, continuing on to the historic jetty in the late afternoon for souvenirs and more sweets.

The locals here are a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western cultures, making not only for some fantastic feasts (did I mention the street food yet?) but also some harmonious multiculturalism. After one day of eating everything in sight, work off the extra calories with a visit to Penang Hill, accessible by funicular for those not feeling the challenging hike. After taking in the view from the top, move onwards to Kek Lok Si, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Malaysia, or go off-guide with a visit to one of the lesser-known fishing villages or countryside nutmeg or durian farms away from the city centre.

Photo: Moto Moto

Photo: Pixabay

Langkawi (2 days)

From Penang Island, it’s not far to neighbouring Langkawi, the tropical paradise of choice for many upmarket visitors to Southeast Asia. Comprised of a series of 100 islands and islets, the Langkawi archipelago has more than its fair share of white-sand shores and jungle in-roads across almost 500 square kilometres of land. Duty-free is another big lure, but if you didn’t come to shop for low-cost kitchenware then the beach bars and seafood restaurants can keep you amused. Pantai Cenang or Pantai Tengah are both favoured stops for beach seekers, the island’s busiest (yet still endearingly slow) beach towns. If searching for a less touristy spot, try staying around Tanjung Rhu Beach or visit a jungle outcrop between the hills where you’ll find a number of traditional kampung villages.

The best way to see more of Langkawi is to take an island-hopping boat tour towards the remote islets and beaches dotted through the area. Once back on the mainland, take the cable car up to the Langkawi Sky Bridge which connects two of the island’s highest peaks as a remarkable feat of engineering and site of the best panoramas over Langkawi and nearby Thai islands. For evenings, the bars around the main beaches come ready to entertain, though not before the sunset on Cenang Beach has a chance to dazzle you with its peachy hues.

Langkawi | Photo: Izuddin Helmi Adnan

Langkawi | Photo: Ilyuza Mingazova

Last day in Malaysia, or extend your holidays

Enjoy a long, winding journey back by boat and bus or hop on a domestic flight back to the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Depending on your homebound departure times, Kuala Lumpur is more than ready to satisfy any last-minute shopping sprees or hawker market banquets before the time comes. If however, you’re not yet ready to head home, now is a good time to instead fly east towards Malaysian Borneo, for rainforest experiences like nowhere else on earth. Borneo is where the world’s last remaining orangutans live alongside a whole host of other primates, reptiles, mammals and insects, best found within the national parks of Sarawak or Sabah. Kuching is the main city connecting the region of Sarawak, while Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah. In addition to trekking in the wilderness or cruising through rainforest-flanked rivers, visitors to Borneo can also take advantage of prime diving experiences off the tropical coast or hiking up the highest peak in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu.

Want a fuss-free trip? 

We have a dedicated team of trip design experts whose job is to collate information and guide you through the top things to do in Malaysia, including the sights and nightlife offerings. As well as a tailor-made itinerary, we recommend lodgings, restaurants and top day trips based on your interests and budget. What’s not to like? Sign up to Trip Design today.

Photo: Wengang Zhai

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