If you’re thinking of bike touring Malaysia, we say, get ready for an adventure! From remote islands with sandy beaches, to captivating colonial towns, and high mountain passes, Malaysia never gets boring. Read on to find out if cycle touring Malaysia is right for you.
What’s in our guide to bike touring Malaysia?
1. Food & Drink in Malaysia
2. Accommodation & Camping in Malaysia
3. Malaysian Roads & Traffic
4. Dogs & Other Dangers in Malaysia
5. Cycle Touring Budget for Malaysia
6. Malaysian People & Culture
7. Supported Bicycle Tours in Malaysia
Our 22 country, 16,000 km bike tour around the world included three weeks in Malaysia. We started at the northern border with Thailand and cycled down the west coast, stopping off on the island of Langkawi before visiting charming George Town.
We then headed inland through Ipoh, up up up into the Cameron Highlands, down to Taman Negara, and finally to Kuala Lumpur.
We love the variety in the country, couldn’t get enough of George Town, and were pushed to our limits climbing to the Cameron Highlands.
If you’re coming to Malaysia from the neighbouring countries, you’ll notice a marked difference. Malaysia is richer than Thailand or Indonesia, so you’ll see fewer signs of poverty and experience modern infrastructure and better roads!
If you can’t wait to experience all of this on your own Malaysian cycle tour, here’s…
Everything you Need to Know Before Bike Touring Malaysia
Use our complete bike touring packing list to make sure you take the right stuff on your adventure!
Food & Drink in Malaysia
Because of the multicultural make-up of Malaysia, the food is a delicious combination of cuisines from around the world. Inexpensive south Indian food is everywhere and very similar to the food we ate on our trip to Tamil Nadu. There is lots of traditional Chinese food too, plus an exotic and flavourful cuisine that is particular to Malaysia.
Food courts (AKA hawker courts) are everywhere, offering an excellent selection of authentic local food at budget prices. In the cities, you can splash out on all kinds of Western foods too. We promise, there is so much variety here that you will never get sick of Malaysian food.
Malaysia is amazing for vegans and vegetarians, too!
It is much easier to find veggie food than in Thailand, which is funny because Buddhism is traditionally a vegan religion, whereas Islam is not. In the cities, there are almost always a few vegetarian restaurants (usually of the Chinese Buddhist variety) and always Indian restaurants that have a vegetarian menu.
(Related: Here’s how to spend 2 weeks in Malaysia) →
The only place it was hard for us to eat was the famous Hawker courts of Penang. Then again, in the hawker court in Taiping, there were five vegetarian stalls!
Accommodation & Camping in Malaysia
We didn’t camp in Malaysia because we sent our tent home before we got to Asia. There are some campgrounds in Malaysia and you can fairly easily get away with wild camping, especially on beaches or tucked away at the end of dirt roads. Most people speak some English, so at least you’ll easily be able to explain what you’re doing!
Overall, hotels in Malaysia are more expensive than in the neighboring countries. In general, quality of accommodation was poor; our rooms were often dirty and disappointing compared to those we’d enjoyed in southeast Asia.
(Related: Read this post by Bookmundi if you’re wondering what to do in Malaysia) →
It was in Malaysia that we got our one and only case of bedbugs, too. Yuck!
The big exceptions are the hostels we stayed in in Penang and Kuala Lumpur. They were both fantastic!
If you’re going to George Town, we highly recommend Old Penang Guesthouse, which is spotless, comfortable, and quiet, with friendly staff and excellent amenities.
In Kuala Lumpur, we can’t say enough good things about BackHome, where we’ve stayed about five times now. It has great dorm rooms (including rooms with huge double beds for couples) and lovely private rooms too. The location is perfect and the staff are wonderful, too.
(Related: If you’re headed to Borneo, don’t miss this cycling guide to Borneo by our friends at Cycloscope) →
Roads & Traffic in Malaysia
We had heard nightmare tales of the traffic in Malaysia before we got there. And in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, those reports were true. People drive aggressively, but not well, which is always a terrible combination.
To make matters worse, the roads are narrow, winding, and not equipped for two-wheeled vehicles – most people drive cars, not motorbikes.
When we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur, we learned that a bike tourist had been killed riding into the city a few weeks before.
We opted to take a bus from a town on the outskirts into the centre. We did ride around the city though, and with no infrastructure for cyclists, it was pretty hair-raising experience!
Outside of the cities, the roads were a pleasant surprise. We encountered very little traffic and when we did, there was usually enough room for drivers to give us a wide birth. Road cycling is pretty big pastime for middle-class Malaysians, so I think drivers are used to navigating around the odd cyclist on the road.
Aside from climbing to the Cameron Highlands (a ride which has broken many a cycle tourist), the landscape is relatively flat, too.
Need some new bike touring gear? We use (and love!) these:
(Related: This guide to things to do in Langkawi will help you make the most of your time on the island) →
Dogs & Other Dangers in Malaysia
Great news! I don’t have anything to write in this section. Well, not much of significance anyway.
We didn’t have any bad dog encounters in Malaysia and most of the ones we met were pets.
As for personal safety, we always felt welcomed and never once felt unease. At the time we were there, the people we encountered seemed to be practicing a liberal form of Islam, with Muslim women happily approaching us for a chat and many not wearing headscarves.
The biggest danger might come from the weather. When we were there it was almost unbearably hot and we had a tough time staying hydrated. We countered that by drinking lots of electrolyte drinks from the frequent 7-11s.
I also had our first experience of “cyclist butt” in Malaysia — painful red welts appeared on my butt and thighs from rubbing inside my cycle shorts. Not fun. I managed to deal with it by stopping wearing my padded shorts and just wearing a thin loose pair of moisture wicking shorts instead.
Since this was near the end of our tour, my glutes were hard as rock and could handle the direct contact with my saddle.
Malaysian People & Culture
In Malaysia, were greeted warmly and with smiles everywhere we went, and received lots of waves and thumbs-up from passing cars. People spoke English almost everywhere, making it very easy for us to get around and find things.
We had lots of interactions with Malaysian people, especially women who were apt to stop and ask us about our trip. This surprised us a lot, since in our previous forays into Muslim countries (Syria and Jordan in 2006), we very rarely encountered women and only ever got a chance to talk to men.
At the time of our visit in Malaysia, the culture seemed quite liberal and accepting — which makes sense for a country that has a huge percentage of immigrants who come from different religious backgrounds. Aside from Muslims, there are Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians living in Malaysia.
Now, after decades of one-party rule, the opposition have recently united and come to power – bringing a new possibility for a real democracy to the people of Malaysia.
Cycle Touring Budget for Malaysia
Unfortunately for budget travellers, Malaysia is one of the more expensive countries in this part of the world. Everything just costs a little more, especially accommodation.
You can budget about $50/day for a couple if you’re eating at street stalls and small restaurants and staying in decent but not fancy guest houses. If you decide to camp in Malaysia, you can get that down to around $30/day!
Supported Bike Tours in Malaysia
If you prefer to go on a supported bicycle tour of Malaysia, we recommend checking out these tours.
Intrepid 9-Day Hike, Bike, & Kayak in Borneo
How does adventuring from sandy beaches, to soaring mountain-tops, and steamy jungles sound to you? If you love wildlife, being active, and becoming part of the local culture, check out this Borneo adventure. It sounds like the perfect way to make the most of a short time in Malaysia.
Spice Roads 15-Day Thailand to Singapore by Road Bike
If you want to explore the Malaysian peninsula by road bike, this tour looks pretty great. Especially since you get to work in some of Thailand’s most beautiful areas and end your trip in one of the world’s most fascinating cities. In between, you’ll stop in Malaysia’s most charming small cities — like George Town, Ipoh, and Malacca. Of course, you’ll spend plenty of time in the beautiful Malaysian countryside, too.
So, is bike touring Malaysia right for you? Are you planning a trip soon or just dreaming? Have you cycle toured in Malaysia before? Let us know in the comments!
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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