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Are you considering solo female travel in Malaysia but unsure whether to take the plunge?
Maybe you already have your flights booked and want to know how to make the most of your Malaysia solo travel adventure!
You’ll be reassured to know that I had a fantastic solo trip to Malaysia. In fact, it’s one of my favourite places in the world to travel alone as a woman! I’ll share my tips for everything from safety to the pros and cons of travelling alone in Malaysia and the best solo travel destinations in Malaysia.
Read next: 101 solo female travel tips
Is Malaysia good for solo travel?
Yes, Malaysia is a fantastic destination for solo travel. Malaysia is such a varied country, from skyscraper-strewn modern cities to historic old towns brightened with recent street art, breathtakingly beautiful paradise islands and lush jungles to explore.
Malaysia is a popular destination for solo travel in Southeast Asia, despite the fact it tends to get missed by some of the crowds that take the Thailand-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia route.
This can work in Malaysia’s favour. The country still has a thriving tourist scene, making it easy for solo travellers to get around, but can feel more authentic than solo travel in Bali, for example, where it can be challenging to avoid the tourist scene and get immersed in the culture.
Read next: solo female travel in Thailand and Vietnam
With several types of tourism, Malaysia can also be a preferable environment for older solo travellers as it’s not so densely packed with young travellers on their first SE Asia backpacking adventure. However, there are plenty of brilliant younger folk backpacking alone in Malaysia too! (In fact, I’ve made friends with some of them).
Malaysia has a big ex-pat culture, especially in Kuala Lumpur, and many locals speak English and are happy to help. You’ll blend into many cities, which can be favourable if you’re a solo female traveller in Malaysia – standing out from the crowd can be great, but not always ideal when solo travelling!
If you’re still wondering, ‘is Malaysia safe to travel alone as a woman?’ read on for more solo travel Malaysia safety tips below.
Read next: the ultimate Malaysia itinerary
Best things about solo travelling Malaysia
As a solo female traveller, Malaysia is one of my favourite countries! Here are some reasons why I enjoyed backpacking this fabulous country:
The low cost of travelling alone in Malaysia is definitely a bonus. Admittedly, it’s a touch more expensive than backpacking in Vietnam or Cambodia but cheaper than Bali. Still, it’s very comparable to Thailand with travellers unable to make their minds up over which country is cheaper.
Experience luxury for less with stunning hotel rooms or hostels overlooking the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, or stay in a beautiful beach hut in the Perhentians without breaking the bank. True budget backpackers will be happy with the vast number of cheap hostels dotted around the country.
There is SO much to see in Malaysia! Experience award-winning street food in Georgetown, explore jungle scenery in vast Taman Negara National Park (or just in Kuala Lumpur city eco-park) and learn to scuba dive or snorkel for a low cost in the Perhentian Islands. And there are many small historic towns and natural attractions to stop at along the way.
Many locals speak English, especially in touristy areas and hostels, so help and advice is more manageable.
The transport system is easy to use and cheap, with both local buses and tourist-specific mini buses going between key cities and attractions.
Malaysia is a DREAM destination for FOODIES! Malaysian cuisine is one of the best in the world, known for its rich and spicy flavours and combination of Malay, Indian and Chinese influences.
Malaysia is also generally a good travel destination for vegans and vegetarians – perfect for solo travellers in Malaysia with dietary requirements. Kuala Lumpur and Penang now have several high-quality vegan restaurants, with Western offerings or vegan versions of Malay classics like nasi lemak and laksa.
Malaysia has world-class healthcare – so while I hope you never have to use it, it’s good to know that there are international hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and beyond in case of an accident.
Challenging things about solo female travel in Malaysia
Traffic and air pollution are problems in the main cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. However, in my experience, it’s nothing compared to Bangkok, Hanoi or Bali.
On that note, be prepared for some dangerous driving. Like much of Southeast Asia, traffic rules work differently here! If I’m unsure, I always just cross the road with the locals!
The infrastructure often needs to be more wheelchair-friendly, with drains and potholes in the roads, even in the capital city.
Like everywhere else in the world, pickpocketing and other petty theft do happen. So be aware of your belongings, and don’t walk alone at night.
Although Malaysia is incredibly multicultural, racism does happen. It’s unlikely it will be directed at you but rather at other locals. However, this is still uncomfortable to witness. That said, my understanding of racism is limited as a white woman so read this account of being an ex-pat in Malaysia for a more well-rounded perspective.
Is Malaysia safe for solo travellers?
Yes, Malaysia is safe for solo travellers. I felt very safe while solo travelling Malaysia, but that’s not to say there aren’t things you should be aware of.
Like anywhere, pickpocketing happens in crowded areas and on public transport. So keep valuables safe (not in your back pocket!) and have bags zipped up. Don’t leave valuables unattended, for example in the luggage hold of a bus.
Scams: these are rare in Malaysia, but always buy tour or transport tickets from reputable vendors, as fake ticketing happens occasionally. Buy tickets at ticket machines and ticket offices or online from reputable websites like 12go, and not from touts outside the property or transport terminals.
Taxis: always ask them to turn on their meter. It’s not a scam, but you don’t want to be hugely overcharged. Or just use Grab (the Malaysian version of Uber) to confirm your fare in advance.
After dark: finally, be careful when walking around non-touristy areas, particularly after dark. Just like anywhere, stick with your hostel buddies if you plan a night out drinking, and plan how you’ll get back – just to be extra prepared!
Read next: all my tips for Asia travel
Assault: this is extremely rare, and minor harassment is as likely to happen from a local in your own country than a Malaysian local. Another tip is to keep an eye on your drink (although I’ve heard fewer instances of drink-spiking than in my own country) and be particularly aware in rural areas.
These safety tips for Malaysia aren’t unique to the country – just things to be aware of when solo travelling anywhere in the world, even in your own country!
Packing tips for solo travel in Malaysia
Getting a SIM card in Malaysia is super affordable. Data makes it easier to find your way around and book Grab taxis, plus easy access to Wi-Fi can be an extra safety reassurance, too.
Unlike other countries, you can get a good deal on a SIM card at Kuala Lumpur airport, or get one in the city. If you don’t want to waste time when you arrive, you can book this E-sim data plan in advance.
Pack in preparation for a tropical climate. Don’t forget your reusable water bottle, mosquito repellent, sunscreen and hand sanitiser.
As always, travel insurance is a necessity when solo backpacking in Malaysia. For backpackers, I recommend True Traveller (European travellers only) and Hey Mundo (all nationalities). Safety Wing is a great option for digital nomads and long-term stays.
How to make friends during a solo trip in Malaysia
For more tips on making friends, read my guide on how to meet people while solo travelling.
- The best way to make friends in Malaysia is to stay in a hostel. If you need your privacy, many hostels have private rooms as well as dorms, and you can meet people in the social spaces, at breakfast, or during social activities. Use Hostelworld for booking hostels in Malaysia and around the world.
- Go on a free walking tour. This a great way to get orientated and meet people in a new city and learn about the culture from a local. Many hostels run free walking tours or other social activities; you can usually join them even if you’re not staying there.
- Use Facebook Groups. Kuala Lumpur Girl Gone International is an approachable group of female ex-pats and travellers in Malaysia. It can be an excellent way to meet people for coffee or find friends to hike with if you plan a female solo travel Malaysia adventure.
- Join group tours. Many backpacker-friendly tours in Malaysia are a fantastic way to see things you wouldn’t spot without a local guide. Whether it’s a snorkelling tour, jungle hike or street food tour of Penang, group tours are a great way to enjoy local attractions while making friends.
Getting to Malaysia
By air: Most solo backpackers in Malaysia arrive by plane. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (or KLIA) is a fantastic transport hub, with many flights arriving worldwide daily. It’s a clean, modern airport that’s easy to navigate. I use Skyscanner to book flights.
If you fly into Kuala Lumpur, you can take a bus or the KLIA Express train into the city centre. However, for a leisurely trip following a long flight, you can just book a Grab taxi from the airport using the app. Then, head to Doors 3 and 4 at Level 1 in KLIA (or Door 5 on Level 2 of the transportation hub if you arrive at KLIA2) to wait for your taxi.
Alternatively, pre-book your KL airport-to-city transfer for a stress-free arrival into Malaysia.
You can also fly to smaller airports, such as Langkawi or Penang. If you plan to visit Malaysian Borneo, you can get a flight from KL to Kuching.
Overland travel to arrive in Malaysia from Thailand or Singapore: Daily buses run from Singapore to KL, or you can get to Langkawi (North Malaysia) from Koh Lipe (Southern Thailand) by ferry. Speaking from experience, the ferry option is very bumpy so be prepared! Use 12go to book buses, boats and more.
How to get around during solo travel in Malaysia
Getting around by bus, train or tourist transfers (usually minibuses) is easy when it comes to solo female travel in Malaysia. Use 12go to get local prices on buses and trains around the country. Most highly-rated hostels can also help you book transport around the country.
Boat: a prominent form of transport in Malaysia is travelling by boat, especially if you visit any of the tropical islands.
Domestic flights are a cheap way to get between cities, especially if you don’t have long in the country and want to save time on lengthy bus journeys.
For inner-city travel, use the Grab app for cheap taxis at local prices. For solo travel in Kuala Lumpur, the world-class MRT train system makes it easy to get around the city.
Best solo travel destinations in Malaysia
Here’s where to go and what to see, do and eat while there! As a woman travelling alone in Malaysia, I can vouch for all these places, first-hand.
With flashy skyscrapers and gorgeous city parks, Kuala Lumpur is a great – and relatively straightforward – place to orientate yourself in Malaysia.
From the modern Petronas Towers – once the tallest buildings in the world – to the historic Merdeka Square, there are endless things to see. The colourful Batu Caves Temple and the beautiful Thean Hou Temple make for stunning additions to any 2 day KL itinerary.
Alternatively, enjoy the canopy walk in KL Eco Park for dazzling city views between the luscious trees.
It’s a fantastic city for food with a mix of authentic Malay meals as well as authentic Indian and Chinese food prepared by the country’s ethnic groups. Due to being more Westernised than some places in Asia, you’ll get great fusion food, international cuisine, brunch, and coffee served in cute cafes.
While true jungle explorers might want to visit Malaysian Borneo, this island adventure is a destination for those who don’t have time to fly to this untouched island.
Instead, Malaysian’s mainland jungle, Taman Negara, is a wonderful, much more convenient alternative.
You can visit this 130 million-year-old rainforest via a tour or travel there independently from KL and book accommodation in Kuala Tahan, from where you can join a huge variety of budget-friendly half or full-day excursions. Nature walks, canopy bridges, river swims and jungle hikes are all available.
On a tight schedule, you can even visit as a day trip from KL!
Melaka & Ipoh
Melaka: Halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore lies this small historic city with windmills and buildings from the Dutch colonial rule of Melaka. Other attractions in Melaka include heritage buildings, vibrant night markets and colourfully painted alleyways.
Ipoh: A comparable destination for solo travel in Malaysia is the quaint city of Ipoh known for its fascinating Ipoh cave temples. My highlights included the kaleidoscopic Mural Art’s Lane street art, Panglima Kinta Mosue, and strolling through the heritage buildings and markets.
If you have time, tick both places off your Asia bucket list!
Ipoh is just 90 minutes from Cameron Highlands (below), so combining the two solo destinations in Malaysia is easy.
The Cameron Highlands is known for being one of the most beautiful places in Malaysia; it’s a place of endless rolling hills and tea plantations. Visit the plantations and strawberry fields or hike through the highlands.
It’s a relaxing location that feels worlds away from many busy Southeast Asia backpacking hubs. Perfect for sitting back with a cup of locally-produced tea and enjoying the scenery, reading a good book, or simply enjoying some downtime during a busy Malaysia solo travel itinerary!
Perhentian Besar (the larger island known for quieter accommodations and resorts) and Perhentian Kecil (the small, backpacker-friendly island) are perfect for beach lovers visiting Malaysia.
Both Perenthian islands are ideal for sunbathing, spotting turtles and snorkelling, but Perhentian Besar is better if you want a more relaxing stay.
Perhentian Kecil is the best place to travel alone in Malaysia if you want to learn to scuba dive. It’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get a PADI Open Water Diver certification. I used Turtle Bay Divers who were amazingly professional and made sure I got certified and confident underwater (despite a few panic attacks along the way)!
Penang is a brilliant island for solo female travel in Malaysia because it’s safe and friendly with natural and cultural attractions. Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang National Park are two of the highlights.
However, staying in George Town is the best option for solo travellers in Penang. Across the city, you’ll find temples, museums and world-famous street art murals, many by artist Ernest Zachervic. There’s loads to keep you busy.
George Town is also famous for its delicious street food. More recently, an array of trendy cafes have joined the party. Not just for gluttonous reasons, Georgetown is one of my favourite places in Southeast Asia, if not the world!
Read next: what to do in Penang
Relaxing in Langkawi (accessible from Penang by ferry) is a great way to wrap up a Malaysia solo travel adventure. You’ll find endless beaches, native wildlife and stunning views across the island.
For the best scenic views in Malaysia, soar over the island on the Langkawi Cable or walk over the Langkawi Sky Bridge.
Accommodation for solo travel in Malaysia
Hostels are the ideal accommodation for women travelling alone in Malaysia. They’re cheap, cheerful, safe and an excellent way to make friends.
- Hostels: stay at Sunshine Bedz in Kuala Lumpur for a comfy, social hostel and La Vista @ Regalia Residence for a boujee rooftop pool hostel! In Penang, stay at EZ Social or The Frame. Brownstone is the best hostel in Ipoh.
- Budget-friendly hotels: I recommend Hotel Aman in Kuala Lumpur, Savv Hotel or Carnarvon House in Penang, and Jindagu Hotel in Ipoh.
- Splash-out hotels: don’t miss The Face Suites in KL for an infinity pool with views of the Petronas Towers. The Blue Mansion is an excellent treat for visiting Penang.
How to dress for solo female travel in Malaysia
Cover shoulders and legs when travelling in rural regions or visiting spiritual places. Female travellers to Malaysia should pack a sarong to quickly cover up when unsure how to dress.
Otherwise, it’s normal to see travellers walking around in shorts and a vest top.
Food & sanitation
Water: As you might expect, you cannot drink tap water in Malaysia. I use a reusable water bottle (and reusable straw) or a purifying water bottle.
You should also brush your teeth using bottled water and avoid non-filtered ice cubes. They’re usually safe if they have holes in them.
Street food is a big part of Malaysian culture and travel. When it comes to solo travel in Malaysia and elsewhere, street dining is an informal dinner option if you feel self-conscious eating alone in a restaurant. Eat at busy places, and don’t leave food out for long periods – especially if you eat meat.
In my experience, I’ve had fewer food safety issues and stomach upsets in Malaysia than anywhere else I’ve been in Southeast Asia! I also don’t know anyone with particularly nasty tummy issues in Malaysia, which I can’t say about anywhere else nearby besides Singapore.
That said, if you’re not used to spicy food, it might take your body a few days to adjust.
Kuala Lumpur in particular takes sanitisation pretty seriously, particularly following the recent global events. Just pay attention to which hawkers and food court restaurants are busy, and check recent reviews if you’re unsure.
Healthcare: If you encounter any health issues, the healthcare in Malaysia is high-quality with many English-speaking doctors and international medical clinics, especially in Kuala Lumpur. Just make sure you have decent insurance like True Traveller or Hey Mundo.
Toilets: Be warned that there are only squat toilets in some of the small town service stations, which you’ll likely only encounter during stops on long bus journeys. Every destination I visited had a mix of clean western and squat toilets, but I saw some horrifyingly poopy sights along the way!
On that happy note…
Malaysia solo travel wrap-up
Honestly, I loved my time solo travelling in Malaysia. I actually had a better time backpacking alone in Malaysia than I did in most other countries in Southeast Asia – perhaps because everything was so unexpected!
Thousands of people have stress-free and beautiful holidays in Malaysia every year, so you can be assured that you’re likely to feel the same way.
Read more of my solo travel blogs
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Malaysia useful links
Flights – I use Skyscanner to find the best-value flights, using the ‘search by month’ tool to find the cheapest dates. You can also use the ‘to anywhere’ feature if you’re flexible on where you’re going.
Stay connected with E-sim data plans that don’t require delivery or collection; just scan the QR code.
In my opinion, Lonely Planet offer the best guidebooks. Get the latest Copy of Lonely Planet Malaysia.
For Malaysia buses and trains, I use 12GoAsia. The search feature allows you to compare prices and durations.
I use Booking.com for accommodation. They have the best range of hotels and self-catering apartments, plus you can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
For activities, I use GetYourGuide and Viator as they both have a huge range of affordable tours.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s affordable but covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and tips!