Malaysia on a cruise – DIY shore excursions

Let me start by saying – Malaysia deserves a lot more time than just 12 hours in every city but when you’re on a cruise, your only option is to make the most of the little time you have while your ship is docked in the port. The highlight of such a trip is the cruise itself, and several people do not even disembark on these stops. However, I wasn’t going to give up on the opportunity to explore a new country, so I chose a cruise that went to 3 cities I’ve always wanted to visit – Penang, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur. Here are my suggestions on what shore excursions to take if you visit Malaysia on a cruise.

Our cruise was for 5 days and 4 nights, from Singapore and I was very happy to find this cruise on Princess Cruises, after going through several itineraries. It was our first cruise ever and it seemed perfect – not too long, enough time to explore the cities, and covering all the cities in Malaysia that I wanted to see! 


If you're doing Malaysia on a cruise, Penang is likely to be one of the cities you will visit. We got 9 hours in Penang. Unfortunately, this was in the afternoon/ evening (from 3 pm onwards), giving us fewer daylight hours to explore the city. There are several excursions that you can purchase on the cruise itself, however, we decided to wing it and roam about the city, exploring it ourselves.

Kek Lok Si

Penang is Malaysia’s street food capital! And maybe I am biased, but Malaysian food is unmatched by any other cuisine when it comes to the flavours, the spices and the aroma. If you’re a seafood lover, you’re going to thank your good luck for landing in this little haven. Nothing ever pays like experimenting with local flavours in Southeast Asia, trying fish that you might never have heard of and picking up delicious eatables off the street vendors, even if you do not understand their names (which are usually in the local language).

Chinese New Year decorations in Penang

Unfortunately while visiting Malaysia on a cruise, we arrived in Penang only in the evening, so we decided to explore one of the two famous temples (Kek Lok Si & Wat Chaiyamangalaran) before their closing hours (5.30pm). I would’ve personally loved to visit both but decided to go with Kek Lok Si as this was also close to the area from where we wanted to take the railway to Penang Hill. We rented a taxi from the pier and it took us about 40 minutes to get to this gorgeous temple. It is known to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and stands on a hilltop, with a grand presence in its white, red and orange colours. If you visit during Chinese New Year, you will see most of the streets and temples in Malaysia come alive with decorations. This adds to the amazing colours, making it more vibrant. The prayer halls, gardens, statues, ponds with fish, perfectly manicured trees, wish-ribbons, and the courtyards are amazing. The area requires a lot of walking, so make sure you’re in comfortable shoes. Do not miss the Ban Po Thar pagoda, a 7-level temple that is built in three different styles (Chinese, Burmese and Thai). You can climb the narrow stairs to the top, from where you can catch amazing views of the city.

penang hill
View from Penang Hill

From here, we headed towards Penang Hill. Not very far from the temple, you can catch the railway to the hilltop and enjoy amazing views as you descend all the way to the top. You will notice the temperatures drop as you go up, making it extremely pleasant to walk around here. You can sit here, sip a coffee or enjoy a meal, with amazing views of George Town below. You will come across an Indian temple and a mosque, built side by side, lots of souvenir shops, historical buildings, and a viewing deck. Spend a couple of hours in this laid-back hilltop town before you head back down to George Town.

Roaming the streets of Georgetown

As night approaches, the best place to spend your hours is Georgetown. Take a walk around the streets here and you’ll be amazed at the street murals, hawker stalls selling food that will make you constantly hungry, bars and cafes, souvenir shops and little markets. Don’t be surprised if you hear Bollywood music blasting in the streets! The wall art particularly is very impressive here.

Georgetown Street Wall Art

The pier where the cruise was docked was hardly 2-km away from here. We walked, ate, took pictures and shopped before we headed back at 11 pm to continue to explore the rest of Malaysia on a cruise.

Click here to read about Backpacking Southeast Asia.


Ah, the city with the most amazing beaches! If you're doing Malaysia on a cruise, you may or may not have a stop at Langkawi. Many Star Cruises do only Penang and Kuala Lumpur however, we particularly chose the Princess Cruises because a stop at Langkawi was a must for us!

Langkawi Port, from the cruise

We had 9 hours in this city which was a pity because there was so much to do and so little time. I had a hard time while leaving, with a promise to myself that I’d return one day. However, here’s what we did to make the most of our Langkawi day trip.

Luckily, we docked here at 8 am, giving us the entire day to enjoy activities in this beautiful green place. This is also where the famous Eagle Square is and luckily, it was hardly 2 km away from the pier. This needed to be ticked off from our list so we went here and then quickly took a taxi to take us to the Langkawi Cable Car.

Eagle Square

Langkawi Cable Car

My favourite part of taking the cable car, apart from the gorgeous coastal views, was the Skybridge. The walk to the bridge, however, is steep, long and tough., so take it up only if you’re in good shape! It can also get very hot so make sure to carry some water with you (I was severely dehydrated by the time I reached the bridge).

Skybridge Langkawi

After we got back down from the cable car, we decided to go on a 1-hour ATV tour, something we always love doing, it’s an amazing way to explore the nature and forest areas of a town. The tour was amazing as we went through immensely green areas, amidst small forested lands with streams of water, hidden in the middle of nowhere. We then proceeded to our final destination for the day, Tanjung Rhu.

Always the driver seat 😉

Before visiting Langkawi, we had heard a lot about the Tanjung Rhu beach, which is said to be one of the prettiest ones here. Although Tanjung Rhu was far from the Cable Car, we decided to go for it because had rented a taxi for the entire day. It took us 40 minutes to get there but it was totally worth it! We were greeted by gorgeous blue waters, powder-fine white sands and lovely views. We were lucky to find very few people on the beach; we quickly grabbed a sun-lounger, stripped into our swimwear, got ourselves cocktails and relaxed for a few hours.

Beautiful Tanjung Rhu Beach

The souvenir shops right outside the beach have a lovely collection of beachwear clothes and accessories, and the most refreshing coconut water I’ve ever had! The drive back to Kuah Town (or the cruise pier) is about 30 minutes, so if you do plan to visit this amazing beach, make sure to head back in time.

Click here to read about the Best Time to visit Malaysia.

Port Kelang (Kuala Lumpur)

After visiting the street food capital and the beach-haven of Malaysia, it was now time to visit the urban centre, the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. The last destination on the cruise was Port Kelang, which is more than an hour’s drive away from Kuala Lumpur city. This gave us lesser time than we would’ve liked but we quickly grabbed a taxi as soon as we got off our cruise and headed towards the iconic Petronas Towers, to make the most of our Kuala Lumpur day trip.

Petronas Towers

If you're visiting Malaysia on a cruise, this is likely to be one of the cities where you'll have a stopover. We decided to spend a chill-out day in Kuala Lumpur, walking around the downtown, grabbed breakfast with a view of the towers and then headed to KL Tower and its observation deck, which offered sweeping views of the entire city, famous for its skyscrapers.  The tower is a bit far from Petronas but we decided to walk to it, taking it easy and exploring the sights and sounds of the city. There’s also a revolving restaurant at the top of the tower. However, since had just had our breakfast, we decided to skip it and move on to do some shopping.

KL Tower

From there, we headed to Central Market. Very much like New York’s SoHo flea market, this air-conditioned, covered market had souvenirs, handcrafted items, embroidered scarves, Malaysia's famous Batik designs, art and craft. After picking up a few gifts for our friends and family back home, we decided to head out to the next marketplace – Chinatown. This was probably the best time to visit (it was Chinese New Year) as the already vibrant market had come even more to life with hanging red and gold lamps all over. There is no dearth of imitation goods here, and you can strike a good bargain many accessories and clothes. Amazing street food complemented with a great vibe, this was a fun place to be!

Central Market

Chinatown Petaling Street

It was now time for lunch so we headed to a popular place we had read about – Lot 10 Hutong. A massive air-conditioned food hall which has some of Malaysia’s best hawkers, this is the best way to enjoy authentic, delicious local flavours. You’re not in the sun because the hall is covered yet you have access to ‘street’ food., which, without a doubt, is better than eating in a fine-dining or proper restaurant in Malaysia. If you’re looking for recommendations on food to try – go for the Hokkien Mee, Fried Oyster Omelette, and of course, Curry Laksa.

Lot10 Hutong

We were now ready to head back to our cruise; we had been warned by our taxi driver that the traffic gets very heavy during the evening hours and we must leave at least 2 hours before our cruise is set to sail. I was so disappointed!

A visit to Batu Caves would’ve required at least a couple of hours more so we decided to skip it. However, that is probably one of my biggest regrets! I have so many reasons to return to visit the many stunning places in Malaysia! And although I totally recommend visiting Malaysia on a cruise, I wish we could have had a lot more time to explore these lovely cities.

113 thoughts on “Malaysia on a cruise – DIY shore excursions”

  1. Malaysia has so much to offer and of course, the food is something especially right for spice accustomed palates like ours. Penang is one place that we would love to explore in Malaysia. A quick recent visit that we did covered only KL and Genting Highlands. The street art of Georgetown is fascinating and is what we look forward to exploring. Langkawi is another place to head to for some relaxing time.

  2. Gosh, you really packed so much in every time you went to port! I love Penang and Georgetown and you’re right, it really is the food capital of Malaysia. Love the twin towers. I can never get sick of looking at it whether it is during the day or at night! And I haven’t been to Langkawi in years. Must go back.

    1. I feel like I want to go back to Malaysia as well! And this time, spend more than half the day in each of these cities. Maybe even visit the Perhentian Islands!

  3. Loved the pictures from shore excursions in Malaysia. I loved Penang, particularly. Lovely little place. I did not know there is Port Kelang close to KL from where cruises depart. Very cool!

  4. I’ve yet to go on a cruise, but am getting more intrigued by the idea. Malaysia is a beautiful country, and I’d like to discover more. Honestly, the food is too spicy for me (!) so my wimpiness stopped me from trying a lot of the good stuff! The 7-level temple sounds amazing! Would love to see that.

  5. I have been to Singapore and Malaysia so any times but never on cruise. This does seem to be quite interesting. I also agree for some cities 12hrs is just too short. For instance in Penang we stayed for 2 nights but we found it short. Looks like you enjoyed the cruise to the hilt!

  6. I’ve been wanting to explore these places in Malaysia too. I understand the short duration in each place is a bit of a bummer, but the cruise is a pretty great way to see all three in a short span of time. I think I might look into that. Even with only a few hours to explore, it looks like you saw a lot!

  7. A friend of mine lived in Malaysia for a while and kept telling me about how great it was. To be honest I never realized there is that much to see and do in Malaysia. Thanks for sharing, it really does look like a place well worth visiting!

  8. The colors in your photos are amazing! You were so lucky to visit Tanjung Rhu Beach when it wasn’t crowded, I have only been to one beach in SE Asia and it was packed! I had seriously considered doing one of those Princess Cruises this year but we decided to spend 3 weeks in China instead. I would still really like to do a cruise someday soon!

    1. I am thinking of doing another one! Maybe the next one I’ll do will be Caribbean Islands or Alaska 🙂

  9. Malaysia is on our short list for 2018. I did not know it was a cruising destination and was not familiar with Langkawi. You’ve given me more to think about. Thanks for sharing your lovely trip.

  10. Unfortunately, cruises don’t seem to be the best way to explore a place in an unhurried manner. You seem to make excellent use of the time you had in each of the ports: Langkawi, in particular! I’ve been to Malaysia many times, but never to Langkawi – it’s now on my list. I’ve taken a liking to the views you can get from cable cars after recent experiences in the mountainous city of Medellin.

    1. If I had to pick one city to visit in Malaysia, I’d go for Langkawi. It’s so amazing!

  11. I’ve never been on a cruise in Asia. But I experienced a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea. You’re right, the opportunities to visit the towns, where the cruise ship is docking, are very short but worthwhile. I’d always leave the ship to explore the shore.

  12. I never imagined Malaysia like that, it looks incredible and very interesting to visit. I bet you have a keen for it, isn’t it? 🙂

  13. This is such a great way to explore the cities. Thank you for putting up such an exhaustive itinerary. I think I would love going around the Georgetown and watching the wall art on the streets.

  14. I agree, Malaysia deserves much more time! However, I know that when you are on a cruise you only get a chance for a small taste. I’m glad you got to taste the street food in Penang, it’s one of my favorite places in the world when it comes to food. Chinatown in KL is also really fun – did you get any souvenirs there?
    By the way, where did you get the pink dress you are wearing in the Langkawi Port photo? It’s gorgeous!

    1. I love Chinatown and always pick up souvenirs wherever I go (I’ve been to Chinatown is several cities across the world), their accessories and clothes are so colourful! And the nail art, so creative! My pink dress was a purchase from Thailand 🙂 Thank you for the compliment!

  15. This is a different experience. I did not know that we could travel around Malaysia on a cruise. I usually like to travel extensively in cities on foot, but this looks like a different option. Would love to try it out.

    1. I also usually love to spend more time in cities and explore by road or on foot, but the cruise was a very unique experience and I absolutely loved it 🙂

  16. It sucks that you only had time to visit one of Kek Lok Si & Wat Chaiyamangalaran. That is my main issue with cruises is you don’t get to decide how long to spend in locations, you are at the mercy of the ship. It looks like you made the most of your trip.

  17. Oh I’ve always wanted to visit Langkawi. Your photos look amazing! I loved eating all the delish food in Malaysia

  18. How cool- I’ve visited all of these places but never from a cruise like this. It’s so interesting to see a different way to see these places. I loved Georgetown and KL was cool but it’s such a big city it’s almost intimidating!

    1. KL is a big city and I’m sure I didn’t get to see even half of it, considering that I had hardly a few hours. I’m sure I’ll visit again someday 🙂

  19. As someone who would rather take a cruise than do about any other type of travel, this post is SO helpful. I never thought of Malaysia as a cruise destination but I will absolutely look for itineraries that include it (specifically Langkawi) in the future. Those beaches are just too gorgeous to pass up!

  20. This is one of the most unique discussions I’ve seen on visiting Malaysia. I would like to do a small ship cruise and take off on my own as well. Loved reading about the cable cars, the skybridge and the indoor market especially (love being out of the sun.)

    1. I love cruises not only because of all the fun & activities on board but also because of the cities that you get to visit while cruising. The whole experience is amazing!

  21. I didn’t know it was possible to do Malaysia on a cruise. I did a road trip there and must say that Penang and mainly Georgetown where my favorite destination. As you show, the street art is just mindblowing and I loved visiting the temple on the hill. Referring to Pulau Langkawi, I find it’s one of S E Asia’s best beach destinations: as beautiful as the beaches in neighboring Thailand, but sooo much less crowded.

    1. I agree, Thailand is a more popular beach destination but Langkawi has equally great beaches which are luckily, lesser crowded!

  22. Malaysia on a cruise – sounds so interesting.It is touch and go at several towns but definitely worth doing. 9 hours in Penang is too short, I am sure it must have left you craving for more. Loved your Langkawi tour and it has left me craving for a visit there.

    1. Oh yes 9 hours in each of these cities seemed less! But it was also a great way to see the best Malaysian cities and their highlights 🙂

  23. My husband used to live in Penang and has such fond memories of it and is dying to go back and show it to me. Your post is giving me even more motivation to go!! 🙂 Oh and can we discuss the colour of that water? My goodness, how gorgeous.

  24. I can’t understand the people who go on a cruise and never actually leave the ship. It seems to be such a waste of experience! I think you did very well with getting the most with the little time you had on your hands. Penang is very high on my Bucket list, especially because of it’s street food. The Kek Lok Si temple looks really beautiful and definitely lands in my travel notes! Georgetown sounds fantastic as well, especially all the beautiful street art! Thank you for the tip with the Tanjung Rhu beach in Langkawi, it looks so stunning! I love the concept of food halls, and as we’ll be in Kuala Lumpur in March, the Lot10 Hutong lands definitely on my list as well. Thank you for this cool article, I really enjoyed reading it 😀

  25. You saw quite a lot even just for having day excursions there! I’d love to go to Penang Hill at night and take pictures of the city from there.

  26. This looks like a great way to see a little bit of many parts of Malaysia – much easier than trying to arrange lodging and transit all on your own!

  27. I LOVED Malaysia when I visited back in 2000. I felt so at home in penang and I know what you mean about the seafood! It’s sooo good! I find Langkawi to be very serene. Thank you for sharing this post. It brought good memories!

  28. Malaysia is stunning, and I’d love to see more of it on this kind of cruise. I didn’t get to see Penang, so would love to see all the wonderful sights and the temples too. Langkawi looks incredible and so does that cable car! Yes please!

  29. I’d never thought of Malaysia on a cruise, but of course it makes perfect sense! I’d be so happy to visit – I grew up in Ipoh and your pictures of Penang and KL really make me want to go back. Plus, I’d just want to stop on the beach at Langkawi

  30. I can see why Langkawi was a must, it would be for me as well! I’m definitely a fan of street food and market, but those beaches…. I am also a huge fan of gondolas and hiking, so that part would’ve been right up my alley. I will definitely put this on my Malaysia Bucket list.

  31. I’ve only ever taken one cruise and I loved it! I definitely plan on taking more in the future…Since I love short trip itineraries this is perfect for me. I think I would find Georgetown in  Penang interesting as I’m a huge fan of street art. I like how the mix the art with actual objects to give it a 3D feel. Even though you could have seen more I’m surprised at how much you did see!!! Awesome

    1. That’s why I like DIY trips, you can visit what you like and spend time as per your liking. You don’t have to be stuck with a group and forced to spend a certain amount of time in a place you may not even like much!

  32. We were just in KL for a layover. How I wish we had time to explore the urban center and even the street food capital and the beach haven! But it was just overnight. Had the famous chicken rice at the airport though!

    1. I was actually thinking the other day that I wish we had been in KL at night (our cruise left in the evening so we only had the day) because the city lights up beautifully at night and has some great spots to enjoy the nightlife, from what I’ve heard. I would’ve loved to capture the skyline with the night lights 🙂

  33. You got some great shore excursions in! We’re visiting Malaysian Borneo in March, and are looking for things we can tack onto the end of the adventure, I like the idea of adding a cruise. Sounds like the cruise company could have planned your 9 hours in Penang a little better to coincide with daylight hours, but you still got some great sightseeing in, and I’ll never say no to awesome street food for dinner!

    Langkawi looks right up my alley – so much amazing nature and adventure, I think it’s going to be a must for us if we’re booking a cruise. Seems to be a theme with shore excursions that there’s not a great deal of time for exploring, but knowing that in advance, I think I would approach it with the mindset to scope out the places we would like to return for proper time 🙂

  34. First of all great post like always. Malayasia on a cruise will be super fun. The Kek Lok Si picture is really beautiful and I am sure the views from penang Hill too will be amazing. Langkawi surely has one of the great beaches and the cable car and skybridge is quite exciting. Kuala Lumpur is so vibrant. Loved your pictures

  35. Hey, I was in Penang for Chinese New Year this year too! Georgetown is so amazing with all its street art. I still have to make it to Langkawi, and I’m really jealous of your photos. Looked like you had a blast there. I hope you get to make it to the Batu Caves sometime. They were my favorite part of KL.

    1. Next time I visit Malaysia, I’d probably just go to KL for the Batu Caves and spend the rest of the time exploring other cities 🙂

  36. Wow! This looks like a fascinating (and very diverse) trip! I’ve yet to visit this side of the world, but I will one day, for sure. I am gonna add Penang to my bucket list, as I’m on a mission to visit as many Unesco World Heritage sites as I can x

  37. I just did Penang a month back and I absolutely loved it . You are right when you say that you need more time here for even 5 days here were not enough. As for Langkawi – I dream of that clear water for scuba and snorkeling. I have been hoping to get there sooner. Even in that brief time that you were here, you did make the most of the places

  38. I want to go to Penang so much – as it is a Unesco world heritage site. It has been on my list for a long time. I agree Malaysians are obsessed foodies.

  39. Winging it is almost always a good idea! 😉 BTW, Chinese New Year at Chinatown is always pretty interesting! Glad you got to experience that!

  40. I didn’t know you could visit Malaysia on a cruise! Very handy tips for short trips to those cities.

  41. Yessss I love this! I used to live in Singapore and I definitely recognised some of these places! 😉 This is making me miss home and Malaysia so much! And there are some new places I want to check out now, too!

    1. If you were in Singapore I’m sure you would’ve visited Malaysia very often ! Don’t you just love their food 🙂

  42. I also could not visit many places during my first tour. I’ll love to visit next George Town and Langkawi. I had no idea Malaysia really got so much to explore 🙂 All lovely photos and pleasure to read!

  43. Goergetown seems like the place to be 😀 – During my extensive stay in South East Asia, Malaysia is a place I’ve not been to yet, however seems as I’ve not been in Asia for a couple of years now, I think it’s time I head back that way haha. The Longkawi Cable cart looks like a definite must do 😀 – The views must be breathtaking as you come down 😀

    1. Malaysia has the best food in the entire South east Asia in my opinion. Georgetown is definitely a nice place to hang out and Langkawi has a gorgeous coast 🙂

  44. I’ve never considered doing a cruise to Malaysia, but sounds perfect to be able to explore 3 places. I’ve heard that Penang is a foodie paradise which is an ideal place for me! Oh I’ve seen the George town street art all over instagram! We loved Langkawi, great for relaxing. Seeing the Petronas Towers in KL is a must see!

    1. A day in each city seemed a bit less but we did manage to see a lot of things so it worked fine 🙂 Princess cruises are amazing by the way, in case you plan to take one sometime 🙂

  45. Eating the street food and seeing all of those beautiful wall art graffiti in Georgetown sound right up my alley! I have Penang on my Malaysia bucket list but maybe I should consider a cruise too that way we can see the other smaller cities and towns

      1. Since you just had a flavor of all the cities, which one would your return to then for a longer trip of several days if you could only choose one?
        I mean you did the adventurous stuff in Langkawi like the skybridge and gondolas. So would you return to Penang or Kuala Lumpur?

        1. I love beaches so I’d probably go back to Langkawi 🙂 I’m not much of a city person, so probably not KL. Penang had great food no doubt but I’m sure I’ll find that in Langkawi too. Maybe I’ll try some rainforest hiking in Langkawi this time and indulge in water sports.

  46. I have visited Malaysia and Singapore Several times, never thought about taking a cruise till I read your post, from the sky-bridge in Langkawi to China Town in KLL, real fun and amazing trip you had there.

    1. Yes Arvin, I chose this cruise because it was the only one going to all the three cities of Malaysia which I really wanted to visit 🙂

  47. I have been to Kuala Lumpur more times than I care to remember, as my mother is from there! However, its appeal remains strong – so glad you have spotlighted Petaling Street and the central market, which are far more appealing places to shop than the glitzy mega malls. Penang and Langkawi are both, of course, great destinations too. Absolutely agree that Penang is unsurpassed when it comes to street food 🙂

    1. I love markets like Petaling street way better than the malls! Maybe because I live in a city which has too many glitzy malls and not enough street markets!

  48. Wow! That wall art is incredible. I love how they included the bike and motorcycle right into the art. This is a great guide; thanks for sharing!

    1. The street wall art in Georgetown is pretty cool and it’s scattered here and there so you really have to keep an eye out for it 🙂

  49. How exciting. I hadn’t realized Princess Cruises offered cruises that focus solely on Malaysia! What a great way to explore the country. Langkawi is on my bucket list, thanks for the heads up about Tanjung Rhu beach.

    1. I was initially thinking of booking a Star Cruise which is more popular in Asia. However, I liked Princess cruises itinerary a lot more and I’m so happy I went ahead with them!

  50. This blog post is so beautiful!! I really love your pic for the Kek Lok Si Temple – just wonderful.
    I was in George Town too, what a pity that i missed this fantastic street art…
    Thanks for sharing this with us,
    have a nice day

  51. Medha you are really great , your posts are fascinating and really an eye opener for future tourists. Very exhaustive coverage coupled with complete picture and description of places to visit. Keep it up!

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