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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 in this order because 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
  • 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

Singapore

  Singapore   3-4 Days

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.

Malaysia

Singapore  Malacca, Malaysia  Bus | 3.5 hours | 250 km / 155 miles

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.

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Malacca, Malaysia 2 Days

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.

  Malacca Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia   Bus | 2 hours | 140 km / 86 miles

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).

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 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia   2-3 Days

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.

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 have become an interesting religious place.

It is easy to get around Kuala Lumpur with the metro system and the Komuter trains.

Kuala Lumpur Penang, Malaysia  Bus | 4 hours | 350 km / 217 miles

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.

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Penang, Malaysia 2-3 Days

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.

Penang Langkawi, Malaysia Ferry | 3 hours | 115 km / 71 miles

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, Malaysia 4 Days

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.

Thailand

Langkawi Satun, Thailand Ferry | 1:15 hour | 40 km / 25 miles

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 | 5 hours | 288 km / 179 miles

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.

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Krabi (Ao Nang Beach), Thailand 3-4 Days

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.

Krabi Phuket, Thailand 3 hours | 180 km / 112 miles

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!

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Phuket (Patong Beach), Thailand 2 Days

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.

Phuket Surat Thani, Thailand Bus | 4:30 hours | 217 km / 135 miles

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.

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Surat Thani Bangkok, Thailand Night Train | 9-12 hours | 655 km / 407 miles

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.

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Bangkok, Thailand 3-4 Days

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.

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).

20 Comments
  1. Pedro 2 months ago

    That’s a very cool itinerary. I did part of it, starting from Singapore to Malacca many years ago – that was my first taste of Asia. Recently I did KL to Penang. I still want to explore a bit more of Malaysia. It’s such an underrated country, but it has sooo much to offer.
    Pedro recently posted…Top 10 Things To Do in Langkawi, MalaysiaMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thanks for your comment! I agree, I have been 3 times to Malaysia – it is full of incredible places!

  2. Amanda Kendle 2 months ago

    This is a gorgeous itinerary. I’ve been to a few of these spots on individual trips but to put it all together would be marvellous (one day in the child-has-grown-up future I will have time to do it!). Just went to Singapore again recently after not being there for many years and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, too.

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      You should definitely go for the whole trip one day, it’s a wonderful adventure. Singapore looks a little artificial at first glance but has a lot to offer!

  3. Marion Halliday 2 months ago

    Some friends of ours recently returned from a few days in Singapore and raved about it, so we’ve been thinking about a trip to the area too. But we’re slow travellers who like to get the best value for money from our air fares so this extended itinerary has a lot more appeal, as does seeing a variety of attractions and destinations, so we’d probably take the whole four weeks. Thanx for the tips!

    Marion Halliday recently posted…See Australia Month-by-Month Part One: January to June Travel Teasers!My Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      If you have the time, go for it! It’s true that Singapore and the region deserve much more than a few days, it’s when you go beyond scratching the surface that it gets interesting

  4. Anna Faustino 2 months ago

    Oh wow! I love this. I’ve been to most of the places you suggested in your itinerary. I also love how you included transport option for each! What a huge time saver. Will definitely be bookmarking this to recommend to others.

    Anna Faustino recently posted…Great Wall of China: The Complete Travel GuideMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thanks Anna, happy that you find it useful. It’s a really cool one-month adventure that I recommend to anyone!

  5. Indrani 2 months ago

    Very well planned itinerary… the kind that comes with lot of experience and planning.
    And yes I do agree with you that Singapore is not a bunch of skyscrapers.

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thank you, luckily this part of the world is fairly easy to travel in, so you can cross the whole peninsula in only one month. As for Singapore, it just has so much to offer, it’s totally worth staying for a few days or a week and dive into its culture.

  6. Anna Johnston 2 months ago

    Now this is one awesome itinerary, I’ve spent ages on this post as I’ve done quite a lot of the stops you have, although I’ve reached them by ship or plane, I think your way is so much better, you’d get a much cooler feel for each region by bus. Great memories of many of these wonderful Asian stops.
    Anna Johnston recently posted…A Tip-Top Tour with Thundercat WhitsundaysMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thank you Anna! A beautiful region to explore indeed 🙂

  7. Adelina 2 months ago

    You’ve just described my perfect itinerary that I had been planning in my head. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Singapore and Malaysia that I’ve been planning this trip even without a flight book. Will have to bookmark this for when I finally head over!
    Adelina recently posted…Surprises and First Impressions of IndiaMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thanks for your comment! Singapore and Malaysia are awesome, lots of nature and history to discover.

  8. Mei and Kerstin 2 months ago

    What a nicely detailed itinerary! We’ve never been to Malaysia, Singapore, or Thailand, so this post of yours comes in handy. Although, 3-4 days in Bangkok would probably be too much for us, since we prefer going to quiet places and small villages in the mountains. But we’ll pin this for inspiration when we start planning our trip.
    Mei and Kerstin recently posted…Exploring Cambridge University with a prospective studentMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, I’m happy that this itinerary inspires you, and of course it is always possible (and recommended!) to adapt it to your own wishes

  9. Ami 2 months ago

    Brilliantly laid out itinerary. I love the way you have shared the various options even within the places to visit. That makes it easy to customize as per your needs. I have been to a few of these places but not all. So, shall be using your suggestions for the rest.
    Ami recently posted…Celebrating Indra Jatra festival in Kathmandu, NepalMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thank you Ami, glad my suggestions are useful to you 🙂

  10. This is a great guide. I so appreciate itineraries like this because even if not used exactly, they’re such great starting points for planning a trip. I’d actually really love to do the Singapore-Malaysia part of this trip, as I haven’t been before. Malaysia, in particular, has such a range of things to see and do and I love the mix of Asian and European influences on the culture and cuisine.
    Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie recently posted…The 3 Best Ways of Getting To Ecuador with Airline MilesMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 2 months ago

      Thank you Jackie, indeed this itinerary is primarily for inspiration and should be adapted to everyone’s wishes! Malaysia is a great choice, there is so much to discover!

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