From zip-lining over waterfalls to batik painting and dining on epically fresh seafood, here are five hidden gems in Malaysia you should be escaping the beaten path for! Fly from S$57!
When it comes to Malaysia, the few places that instantly pop up in Singaporeans’ minds are JB, KL, Ipoh, Penang, and Malacca. While these highly popular cities make great day trips and impromptu getaways, you could say they’re almost done to death. 💀
If you’re itching to get away (literally) from the usual haunts that Singaporeans typically flock to, just look a little differently!
We’ve found five alternative places in Malaysia to explore — Kuching, Kuantan, Kota Bharu, Kota Kinabalu, and Langkawi. Each is filled with natural beauties, adventurous things to do, and some pretty damn good food. The best part is that they’re all less than 2.5 hours from Singapore.
You know what they say: Sometimes, the things you’re looking for are right in front of you, so bite the bullet and go somewhere new! From nearest to near, here are five lesser-known hidden gems in Malaysia you should escape to for your next getaway. 🛫
1) Kuantan (60 minutes from Singapore)
Located by Malaysia’s east coast, the Kuantan District is both a quaint coastal city and a sleepy tin mining town. The city is a mere 60-minute plane ride from Singapore, and is packed with many things to do — a pleasant complement to the city’s slow pace of life and laidback atmosphere.
My personal favourite was chilling out at the Sungai Pandan Waterfalls. It’s popular weekend hangout amongst locals, who head there to have picnics and have a good soak to beat the heat. For us, we had a fun time “showering” in the refreshingly cold waters.
When in Kuantan, be sure to enjoy some of the freshest seafood at Ana Ikan Bakar Petai! Like its namesake, the eatery specialises in ikan bakar, or Malay-styled grilled fish. The dish is similar to sambal stingray, only it’s cooked with a tender fish of your choice. Come hungry as the portions here are generous.
For more recommendations on what to eat in Kuantan, check out our insider’s guide.
Kuantan also has a good number of entertaining family-friendly activities. At the Natural Batik Village, people can walk-in and try their hand at traditional batik painting. It’s a fun and surprisingly therapeutic experience, great for young children and adults who claim they’re “not good” at art. Our advice: Don’t overthink — just have fun with it!
How to get to Kuantan: Scoot operates direct flights from Singapore to Kuantan three times a week — Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Flights can go as low as S$68!
2) Langkawi (85 minutes from Singapore)
Located on Malaysia’s west coast, Langkawi is an idyllic getaway perfect for beach bums. It’s a 85-minute flight from Singapore, and offers a heck lot more things to do than visiting the beach (or beaches, considering Langkawi is an archipelago made up of 99 islands!).
Boujee your beach getaway up by hopping on a fancy sunset cruise! You’ll get luxe experiences such as sailing out to the Andaman Sea, enjoying a lavish buffet spread, watching the sun sink into the horizon, and ending the night with a dance party.
Once you’ve conquered the seas, head for the skies! Langkawi also provides nature-filled adventures that are bound to get your heart racing.
Overcome your fear of heights with the Big Waterfall Adventure, which leads you on a zip-lining journey over Langkawi’s beautiful Seven Wells Waterfall. There are also many other high-elements courses like sky bridges waiting for you to clear.
To find out what other exciting things there are to do, read our Langkawi guide!
You can’t deny that roaming around Malaysia to find hidden food gems is one of the best things to do. In Langkawi, chow down on the locally-recommended Roti Canai Black Pepper. For a mindblowing price of RM6 (~S$2), the Malay flatbread is stuffed with meat and topped with a deluge of thick, spicy black pepper sauce. Oof. 😛
How to get to Langkawi: Scoot flies directly from Singapore to Langkawi five to six times a week, with flights starting from ~S$57.
3) Kuching (1.5 Hours from Singapore)
Located in East Malaysia, Kuching is a nature lover’s playground that doubles as a food paradise. The city is surrounded by Borneo’s lush rainforests and rivers that lead to the sea, perfect for travellers who want to enjoy nature in its entirety.
One of the must-visit places in Kuching is Bako National Park, the oldest national park in Sarawak. The park has numerous walking and hiking trails that cater to visitors’ fitness levels and amount of free time. The Telok Pandan Kecil trek is the most popular, as it ends at a cliffside with gorgeous views.
Outdoor enthusiasts can also get even closer to nature with a guided kayaking experience through the rainforest. It’s not just endless paddling, though. Your guide may lead you on a detour to waterfalls and shallow pools for a well-earned dip. Lunch at a local village is also included.
Too busy to plan your Kuching adventure? We’ve got a 3D3N Kuching itinerary that you can easily follow!
Kuching is famous for one of the most unrivalled comfort foods: kolo mee. A favourite amongst locals, Ta Wan Kung serves simple but yummy kolo mee. Each bowl contains chewy noodles mixed with aromatic pork oil, topped with generous slices of char siew. One bowl may not be enough!
That said, we recommend conserving your stomach space to experience the rest of Kuching’s food scene with these 13 things to eat!
How to get to Kuching: Scoot flies directly from Singapore to Kuching daily, with one way flights starting from ~S$64.
4) Kota Bharu (75 minutes from Singapore)
You know things are gonna be good when you visit Kota Bharu. Just 1 hour 15 minutes from Singapore, it’s both a cultural hub and a gateway to the astonishing Perhentian Islands, nicknamed the “Maldives of Malaysia”! 🩱🌴
This goes without saying, but one of the absolute must-dos is to snorkel in Perhentian Kecil’s waters. There are three prominent points you can snorkel in: Fish Garden, Shark Point, and Turtle Point. On clear days, you might spot the magnificent sea creatures in their corresponding areas!
For shopping and/or photography enthusiasts, the Siti Khadijah Market in Kota Bharu’s city centre is a wonderful place to fulfill your needs. The huge market sells a wide range of fabrics, dried goods, and fresh produce. It also has strikingly colourful pillars that make it a unorthodox photo spot. Hidden gems sure are everywhere in Malaysia!
Food-wise, head to Yati Ayam Percik to savour authentic Kelantanese cuisine: ayam percik, or Malay grilled chicken. The no-frills eatery serves ayam percik alongside nasi kerabu (butterfly pea rice). The result is a dish that’s as delicious as it is Instagrammable.
How to get to Kota Bharu: Scoot flies direct from Singapore to Kota Bharu three times a week — Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. Flights start from S$74.
5) Kota Kinabalu (2.5 Hours from Singapore)
Similar to Kuantan, Kota Kinabalu is a charming coastal town located in Sabah, East Malaysia. The city is most famous for Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malay Archipelago. But hiking aside, the city centre has plenty to do for those who want a holiday that’s significantly less active (we’ll get to that soon).
For a fulfilling adventure away from home, challenge yourself to climb Mount Kinabalu! At 4,096m, the mammoth peak is one of the toughest in Southeast Asia to summit — which makes victory all the more sweeter.
The climb is no easy feat as it takes two days to summit. That said, it can be done by beginners with zero mountaineering experience. We highly recommend having a good fitness level for this expedition though!
Besides climbing Mount Kinabalu, check out 10 things to do in our Kota Kinabalu city guide. They’re a lot milder, we promise.
Immerse yourself in the Mari Mari Cultural Village, an interactive museum that showcases tribal life in Early Borneo. On top of learning about how five ethnic tribes used to live, hunt, and cook food, you get to put your survival skills to the test by trying their hunting blowpipe and starting fires with bamboo!
Whether you conquered Mount Kinabalu or not, you’ve still got to eat! Make your way to the Kedai Makan Restaurant to indulge in roti cobra. No snakes here — just a flavourful mix of roti with steamed veggies, egg, chicken or lamb, and a glorious heap of curry.
How to get to Kota Kinabalu: Scoot operates direct flights from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu daily, with one way flights starting from ~S$67.
*Flights to Kota Kinabalu from Singapore starts on 3 December!
Explore the Lesser-Known Sides of Malaysia
A few years back, I chatted with some foreign travellers during a backpacking trip. Though we were from different parts of the world, we shared an odd similarity. We believed that the closer places were to us, the less likely we were to visit them. The rationale was that since they’re close to us, we can technically go there anytime, right?
It’s a pseudo-theory that’s relatively true (to me anyway). I realise now I barely travelled anywhere beyond the usual JB, KL, or Malacca. But having travelled to Kuantan, it occurred to me how much of Malaysia I’ve missed out on.
Thankfully, there’re almost unlimited chances to visit these five hidden gems in Malaysia! Whether you’d like to spend your days kayaking in Kuching’s lush rainforests or partying till the sun sets in Langkawi, Scoot operates direct flights to each of these five laidback destinations.
The frequency of flights ranges from three times a week to daily. On top of being less than 2.5 hours from Singapore, flights typically start from ~S$57. If you strategise well and play your booking cards right, you could easily make your super-quick getaway a low-budget one too!
So skip the usual haunts and give a chance to these five lesser-explored cities in Malaysia! You might just find yourself a new favourite to visit every time you want a well-deserved (or not) break away from your daily routine. ✌
Have you explored any of these lesser-known hidden gems in Malaysia? Tell us what you liked about them in the comments below!