Believe it or not, there’s no need to leave Malaysia to have that family road trip of a lifetime. Whether you’re planning for an easy long weekend getaway or a more adventurous drive, one of these exciting road trips in Malaysia will fit the bill.
Here’s a bonus: All of these road trips begin and end in cities with an airport, so no matter where you reside in Malaysia, you can easily hop on a flight to the start point, pick up a rental car, and then fly home from the endpoint.
Time to hit the pedals!
Road trip perfect for a 2 days 1 night trip in Malaysia
1. Johor Bahru to Malacca – best for city lovers
Total distance: 216km
Both great destinations in their own right, Johor Bahru and Malacca can be weaved into a road trip itinerary that’s as short as 2D1N – or as long as you wish.
As cliché as it sounds, Johor Bahru has something for everyone. Families with kids can spend hours in Legoland or Sanrio Hello Kitty Town; foodies can hit up highly-rated restaurants or the hipster cafes along Jalan Dhoby; the active can have rounds of indoor laser tag or paintball; while those up for relaxation can sit back and enjoy pedi, facial and massage services. And if you’re up for some shopping, you’d be pleased by the selection of malls in Johor Bahru such as City Square, KSL, Angsana and Komtar.
Malacca, on the other hand, is a food heaven with a collection of historical attractions. Soak in the atmosphere along Jonker Street in the heart of Chinatown, and pop into the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum for a dose of history. Continue your cultural immersion at St. Paul’s Church, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and Christ Church, and take a cruise along Melaka River before you leave.
Tip: The fastest road from Johor Bahru to Malacca would be the North-South Expressway, but if you have more time, you can stretch out your road trip in Malaysia by going via Batu Pahat and Muar.
Road trips perfect for a 3 days 2 nights trip in Malaysia
2. Kuala Lumpur to Malacca via Port Dickson – best for beaches & heritage
Total distance: 200km
If your family’s craving for some fun with the sand and sea, this road trip from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca via Port Dickson will be more than satisfying!
Less than an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Port Dickson is a world away from Malaysia’s capital city. You can easily find shallow beaches without any surf – perfect for swimming! Once you pry yourselves from the beaches, your family could also visit the Ostrich Farm, the Military Museum, or the Alive 3D Art Gallery.
Tip: There are plenty of accommodation options in Port Dickson, but a unique one would be the water chalet at Avillion Port Dickson.
The next morning, take on the 80km drive to Malacca where another adventure awaits. Apart from the activities in Malacca outlined in the previous point, you could ride a trishaw around the city’s main attractions, escape a kid-friendly escape room at Melaka Thousand Tales of Adventures, or enter a real submarine in the Submarine Museum. The Upside Down House Gallery is also a family favourite!
3. Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands & Ipoh – best for a cool hilltop getaway
Total distance: 297km
Another road trip in Malaysia that can be completed during a short getaway, this journey from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh has a stopover in Cameron Highlands.
You’ll want to have an early start from Kuala Lumpur so your family will have time to pick fruits in strawberry farms, marvel at lavender gardens or walk through the surreal Mossy Forest in Cameron Highlands. Don’t forget to pause just to breathe in the crisp, cool air in the rolling tea plantations and perhaps drop by the souvenir shop in Boh Tea Plantation for a few boxes of black tea and jars of strawberry jam.
Tip: As the roads leading to and from Cameron Highlands are twisting and winding, ensure that you’re well rested before the drive. Honk when turning at sharp bends to warn oncoming vehicles, and do not overtake unless you can see clearly up ahead.
The next day, your drive from Cameron Highlands to Ipoh will take a short two hours. Once you’ve reached Ipoh, check out some of the city’s jewels such as Kok Lok Tong Cave Temple, the Birch Memorial Clock Tower and Kellie’s Castle. Up for some theme park fun? The Lost World of Tambun comprises a variety of areas such as a water park, an adventure park and an amusement park, and it even comes with natural hot springs!
4. Kuala Lumpur to Penang – best for hawker food and street art
Total distance: 359km
Famed for its hawker culture and street art, Penang Island is a road trip destination in itself. Its capital, George Town, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2008, widely thanks to its multicultural heritage evident in the religious buildings, ethnic quarters, and everyday life. Some of the must-dos include visiting the Blue Mansion and hunting down beautiful graffiti paintings for an Instagram backdrop.
Further out the heart of the island, enjoy water activities at Batu Ferringhi Beach, explore wetlands and lakes at Penang National Park, find some peace in Kek Lok Si Temple, and ride the tram up Penang Hill. While you’re on this island, take the opportunity to feast on Penang’s culinary delights such as assam laksa, char koay teow, Penang rojak and teochew chendol.
The fastest route to Penang, along the AH2, would take a good four hours, but should the highway be too monotonous for you, switch the scenery by taking the coastal road where you can stop by little towns like Sungei Besar and Sekinchan.
Tip: If you have even more time to spare, make a detour to Cameron Highlands and Ipoh as outlined in the previous point. You’d be completing two of the best road trips in Malaysia at one go!
Road trips perfect for a 5 days 4 nights trip in Malaysia
5. Penang to Kota Bharu – best for a mix of city and nature
Total distance: 344km
Following this road trip itinerary, you’ll spend a night or two in Penang before crossing the Penang Bridge, heading northeast and cruising into the East-West Highway 4. Break your trip for a night at Belum Rainforest Resort where you can embrace the wilderness in the Royal Belum State Park or join a boat trip to spot the elusive Rafflesia. You could also choose to do nothing apart from marvelling at the resplendent lake views from the infinity pool.
The next day, brace for a three-hour drive to your final destination, Kota Bharu. The state capital of Kelantan, Kota Bharu oozes charm. Compare the city’s street art to that of Penang’s at Streetart Gallery, and then take a self-guided tour at Istana Jahar and Grand Palace. It’s also a must to see the local life at the Central Market, which is one of the main attractions in Kota Bharu.
Tip: Add a day to your trip and drive further out of the city and to the coast. While beaches may not be the first thing to mind when you think of Kota Bharu, the city is in close proximity to coastal gems like Irama Beach and Pantai Cahaya Bulan.
6. Kota Bharu to Kuantan via Kuala Terengganu – best for beautiful mosques
Total distance: 397km
Take the chance to see three Malaysian states – Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang – and a bucketful of sea views along this road trip itinerary.
Starting from Kota Bharu, it’s a three-hour journey via T3 to Kuala Terengganu. The royal capital of Terengganu, Kuala Terengganu is home to jaw-dropping mosques such as Masjid Kristal and Masjid Tengku Tengah Zaharah, both of which have a gorgeous river backdrop. You’ll want to stop for a night to have a full tour of Pasar Payang, the colourful streets of Chinatown, and sites where you can learn about history, such as Kota Lama Duyong and the Islamic Civilisation Park.
Kuantan may not be on the well-trodden tourist path, but it surely has its fair share of interesting attractions, from beaches and waterfalls to mosques and malls. Take a trip to the beach at Teluk Chempedak, get soaked at Sungai Pandan Waterfall, visit Masjid Sultan Ahmad Shah, and have a round of shopping at East Coast Mall. You could go on a firefly watching tour along Kuantan River at night, and as dawn breaks, catch a breathtaking sunrise from Bukit Panorama. Oh, and foodies should definitely try the famous mango cheesecake at Kula Cakes!
Tip: If you’re up for a quirky stay, book a night in Time Capsule Retreat. This unique family-run accommodation is tucked in the middle of Sungai Lembing, some 40 minutes from the town centre of Kuantan.
7. Bintulu to Miri – best for cave explorations
Total distance: 231km
A coastal town in Sarawak, Bintulu is where you can wind down amidst nature. Of course, there’s a smattering of malls and plenty of eateries, but really, much of Bintulu’s attractions are outside town. After visiting Kampung Jepak, a Melanau fishing village by the Kemena River, put that rental car to good use and drive to Similajau National Park where you can embark on hikes, or to Uma Belor Leo Dian Longhouse where you can stay with the Kayan people.
Some 150 kilometres away from Bintulu is Niah National Park, the site where human remains dating back 40,000 years were discovered. Other signs of ancient life here are iron-age cave paintings, as well as Palaeolithic and Neolithic burial sites. Visitors come to explore Niah Caves Complex which comprises the Traders’ Cave, the Great Cave and the Painted Cave.
After your caves exploration, continue northeast to Miri. Along the Bintulu–Miri Road, make a left turn towards the coastal road (Q642) so you can stop by stunning beaches such as Tusan Beach. Some of the things to do in Miri include scaling Canada Hill, sipping cocktails at Miri Sky Bar and visiting the Petroleum Museum. You could also make a trip to Lambir Hills National Park and trek to waterfalls while keeping an eye out for gibbons and flying squirrels.
Tip: Can’t get enough of national parks? Add Gunung Mulu National Park, which is known for its karst formations and caves home to millions of bats into your itinerary. To get there, return your rental car at Miri and take a 30-minute flight to Mulu on Maswings, a rural air service provider.
8. Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan via Kundasang – best for a taste of Borneo
Total distance: 332km
Kota Kinabalu needs little introduction. Apart from being the gateway to the 4,095m-high Mount Kinabalu, Kota Kinabalu is the hop-off point to the islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park where you can go diving and snorkelling in pristine waters. Within the city itself, visit the Atkinson Clock Tower, snack on seafood at the Filipino Market, and check out the bars along the City Waterfront.
Once you’re ready, cruise along the roads for two hours to Kundasang, which is sometimes referred to as the New Zealand of Borneo. Sounds enticing? Stay overnight so you can take your time to explore Kinabalu Park, which sprawls on the base of Mount Kinabalu, and feed calves at the Desa Dairy Farm. Steeped in natural beauty, Kundasang is perfect for those needing much-needed rest and relaxation.
After a day or two in Kundasang, gear up for a four-hour drive towards Sandakan, located on the northeast coast of Borneo. Just 25km from your destination, make a detour from Route 22 to look at orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. This centre, which has been operating since 1964, rescues orphaned baby orangutans and allows them to live freely within the reserves. In Sandakan, head up the hilltop Pu Ji Shi Temple to get a bird’s eye view of the city and visit Agnes Keith House, a museum with colonial-era furnishings and antiques.
Tip: If you’re planning to climb Mount Kinabalu, prepare well in advance. Apart from its physical demands, this trek requires you to have a climbing permit, a mountain guide and climbing insurance. This can be arranged with local tour operators.
9. Sandakan to Tawau – best for caves, river cruises and city life
Total distance: 319km
Those with more vacation days can choose to continue their journey towards Tawau upon reaching Sandakan. Otherwise, fly straight to Sandakan if you’d like to opt for this route.
Following a sightseeing tour of the fantastic attractions in Sandakan, make a loop from Route 22 to Route 13, heading towards Gomantong Caves. This cave system inside Gomantong Hill is not for the faint-hearted; it’s home to an immense population of bats and roaches – yikes! It’s also an ancient source of swiftlet nests, the highly-valuable main component of bird’s nest soup. After the visit to the caves, stay a night in Bilit Rainforest Lodge, from which you can go on a cruise along the Kinabatangan River.
The next day, start the drive to Tawau early. The third-largest town in Sabah, after Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, Tawau has many exciting things to do. Peruse through Malaysia’s largest indoor market, Tawau Market, where there are over 6,000 stalls selling all kinds of products including dried seafood. You could also step into the world of cocoa at Teck Guan Cocoa Museum, and buy some souvenirs at the Tawau Handicraft Market. Be sure to conclude your last evening in the city by catching the Sabah sunset at the Tawau Waterfront.
Tip: Are you a diving enthusiast? If so, make a stop at Semporna. This region is home to over 1,000 dive sites, the best of which are concentrated in the triangle between the islands of Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai.
10. Kuching to Sibu – best for a glimpse into the culture of Sarawak
Total distance: 314km
Kuching is undoubtedly one of Malaysia’s most charming towns with its cat statues, rows of beautiful shophouses and friendly population, so don’t be in a rush to leave. Once you’ve had your fill of local kueh lapis and Sarawak laksa and checked out the Cat Museum, drive out to the Damai Peninsula on the 1101 for a visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village where kids can learn to shoot a blowpipe, explore the typical houses of Sarawak’s ethnic minorities and watch beautifully choreographed performances of local dance and music.
After Kuching and Miri, Sibu is Sarawak’s third largest town. Get acquainted with the history of Sibu at the Sibu Heritage Centre, where entrance is free of charge. Browse through the vast number of stalls at Sibu Central Market while keeping a lookout for the famous Sibu olive, and see old medical equipment on display in the Lau King Howe Hospital Memorial Museum. Your family could also escape to nature at one of Sibu’s parks, such as Bukit Lima Forest Park and Taman Jubli Bukit Aup.
The road from Kuching to Sibu involves ferry crossings at Batang Lupar and Pusa. When you reach Pusa, make a stop to hunt down the famous ikan terubok (Chinese herring) and gula apong (palm sugar). The riverside town of Sarikei is also worth a stopover for its succulent pineapples which can be bought in the farmer’s market near the town’s Pineapple Statue.
Tip: Get your family mentally prepared for a potentially long waiting times at the border crossing.
Feeling inspired to commence your road trip in Malaysia? Remember to start your search for a rental car on Skyscanner to find the best prices offered by various car rental companies. Once you’ve found the best deal, you can book with your company of choice. It’s that easy!
Ready for family fun? Also, check out the 10 road trips in Australia for a time of fun down under or head north for an epic road trip in Europe. Whichever you prefer, you can always book cheap flights, hotels and car rental via Skyscanner or check out and download our free mobile app for easy browsing and booking on the go.
Originally published on April 2016 and updated in June 2019. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.