Backpacking in Malaysia on a Gap Year

Countries  »  Malaysia

Malaysia has earned its place as one of the most popular gap year and backpacker destinations in South East Asia. It's home to brilliant beaches, unspoilt rainforests, a ludicrous amount of wildlife, and bustling cities packed with cultural attractions. Seriously, you want to spend some of your gap year in Malaysia.

In a way there are two Malaysias - one on a peninsula of the Asian mainland and one more than 600 miles away across the South China Sea on the island of Borneo. Malaysia is an exotic melting pot, with indigenous Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences mixed together in a country that is part shiny modern and industrial and part developing nation. 

The Kuala Lumpur skyline, Malaysia

The cities

Phwoar, Kuala Lumpur. Few cities balance futuristic splendour and majesterial history like Malaysia's capital. The skyline is dominated by the spectacular Petronas Towers, and puncutated by minarets, huge shopping malls, and clubs and bars that seem to never shut. In between there's sprawling markets, delicious street food stalls, and beautiful parks. Kuala Lumpur encompasses everything travellers love about South East Asia. 

Elsewhere there's Kuching on Borneo, a sophisticated city full of Chinese temples and Indian mosques, all of it close to incredible wildlife, and the lesser known Johor Bahru that's quickly making a name for itself with its pounding nightlife. There are plenty of options when backpacking in Malaysia.

Orangutans in Borneo, Malaysia

The scenery

Bloody hell, Borneo. The largest island in Asia is covered in rainforest that houses the endangered Bornean orangutan, one of the most incredible wildlife sights in the world. There are also Asian elephants, Sumatran rhinoceros, and the Bornean clouded leopard, not to mention incredible views and landscapes like Mount Kinabalu. 

You can also visit the Cameron Highlands, a temperate range of blue peaks, tea plantations, and roaring waterfalls. It's the perfect place to escape the heat and trek across dreamy scenery. If you're in the mood to relax you can head to Pulau Pangkor ('Beautiful Island'), a quiet former pirate hideout covered in jungle still largely untouched by foreign tourists.

A lot of backpackers do volunteering in Malaysia to have the opportunity to work with animals like the orangutan, and see the incredible scenery while also helping to preserve it.

Pulau Pangkor in Malaysia

Malaysia is a great place to travel. It's got all the amenities you could want, and most things work. But it's still a lot cheaper than Singapore and there's enough fascinating traditional culture and wilderness left to keep anyone happy. All-in-all, it’s a amazing gap year destination, so get your planning hat on!