The French poet, Charles Baudelaire, once said: “What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”
We couldn’t agree more. What better way to a explore a new destination than on your own two feet?
Wandering the streets of a city offers a more intimate insight into its character. Instead of whizzing from tourist site to famous landmark, you get to experience a city’s local side, get a feel of its unique atmosphere whilst appreciating the delightful concept of serendipity. Whether you stumble across a quaint café, be lured into a restaurant by a fragrant smell or discover a hidden oasis, walking allows you to peel back the layers and look beneath the surface of a city. Add to the pot that walking is not only good for your health but also friendly to the environment, there are multiple benefits of putting on your best walking shoes and going for a stroll.
Unfortunately, in Asia, not every destination was built with pedestrians in mind. Whether it’s the extraordinary heat, pollution or the broken, crammed or non-existent pavements, many major Asian cities are not exactly well-known for being walkable.
Thankfully, Malaysia is home to more than one city, district or neighbourhood that are comfortable to explore on foot. What’s more, the country’s vibrant urban areas teem with fascinating street art, mouth-watering street food and gorgeous architecture that range from diverse religious structures to colonial buildings and modern skyscrapers.
To inspire you to put on your walking shoes, we’ve listed six of the best walkable cities in Malaysia with guided tours to help you maximise your adventure on foot.
Discover the capital with a guided tour in Kuala Lumpur
Let’s be honest, on an international scale, Malaysia’s capital won’t win any prizes for its “walkability”. However, compared to other big cities in the region, this modern metropolis is comparatively pedestrian-friendly. Famous for its towering Petronas Towers and the sacred Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur (KL)’s old city centre is both compact and easy to navigate, which makes it ideal to discover on foot.
Dotted with colonial-style landmarks and a bustling Central Market, the area comprising Chinatown and Little India is home to many historic and religious sites, including Meredeka Square where the country’s independence was proclaimed; the imposing Sultan Abdul Samad Building; the Chinese Sin Sze Sie Ya Temple; and the pristine Jamek Mosque. Renowned for its cultural diversity, KL was formed through a variety of influences, ranging from Malays, Chinese, Indians, Peranakan and the British, into a multicultural and modern city.
Travel back in time and get a glimpse of KL’s heritage on a guided tour of the Malaysian capital and learn more about this fantastically vibrant city.
The cultural diversity is also expressed in the city’s broad culinary scene, that spans Chinese dim sum, spicy curry laksa and everything in between. Don’t know where to start? Dive into Malaysia’s culinary scene with a foodie walking tour and sample some of the best (and often hidden) street treats, whilst plunging head first into the energetic atmosphere of bustling Chinatown.
Explore the streets of Georgetown, Penang
Whilst KL might not be an obvious choice as a pedestrian-friendly city, Penang’s Georgetown, however, is an all-time-favourite for intrepid wanderers. Lined with magnificent colourful shophouses and British colonial monuments, the city’s historic centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for its distinctive architecture style. It’s also home to a series of mosques, temples and churches, a testament to the city’s eclectic cultural mix. Wander the narrow streets and learn more about Georgetown’s rich heritage on a guided walking tour of Penang’s capital.
In addition to the city’s architecture, Georgetown is also known for its ubiquitous street art. Often called the Malaysian Banksy, Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic’s iconic and light-hearted murals capture the essence of the city and have become a tourist attraction in their own right. Adorning the crumbling facades of heritage buildings, these playful and often whimsical murals can be found throughout the city. Why not track them down on a Georgetown street art walking tour, explore the city and take a photo with the iconic ‘Children on a bicycle’ or the ‘Children on the Swing’.
If architecture and street art wasn’t enough, Georgetown has also made a name for itself as the food capital of Malaysia. Hardly any other Southeast Asian city can compete with the diversity and quality of its street food, which combines the best from a wide range of cuisines, including Indian, Malay, Chinese, Peranakan, Thai and European. Hawker stalls abound, no trip to Penang would be complete without digging into a delectable meal at one of the ever-present mobile restaurants. To make sure you don’t miss any of the city’s delicacies, join a guided foodie tour and find the hidden spots where locals go to eat.
Take the road less travelled in Ipoh
Once home to the richest tin mines in the world, Ipoh’s wealth now lies in its heritage and its charming streets and alleys are ready-made to discover on foot.
Nowadays, many of its old shophouses are being restored, whilst cafes and small boutique shops are breathing new life into historic buildings. Wander the city’s picturesque old town and you’ll pass most of its grand colonial landmarks, such as the town’s Railway Station and Birch memorial, whilst keeping an eye out for a series of murals decorating the crumbling walls. This attractive and charismatic town also boasts an exciting culinary scene. Second only to Penang, some of the local delicacies include chicken and bean sprout and kopi putih (white coffee) – the town’s signature drink. Whilst droves of travellers flock to Penang every year, Ipoh remains, at least for now, an ideal destination for off-the-beaten-track ramblers.
Walk and chill in Malacca
Along with Georgetown, the historic centre of Malacca (or Melaka) was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008. Merging elements of Portuguese, Dutch, British and Peranakan into a unique architecture style, the capital of the eponymous state has always been one of tolerance and cultural exchange, as shown by the many religious sites that stand in close proximity. Thanks to its beautiful crimson red buildings and a series of museums and palaces, the city’s historic centre has turned into a cultural attraction. It’s easily explored on foot as most landmarks, such as the stately Stadthuys, home to several museums, and the iconic red-bricked Christ Church, are only a short distance from each other.
Stroll along the charming alleyways and delve deeper into the city’s heritage on a guided tour of Malacca before sampling some of the local specialities, ranging from Asam fish and devil curry to coconut milk with sticky rice, at Jonker Street Night Market.
Discover Kuching on foot
Locally referred to as the ‘Cat City’, the capital of Sarawak state is an ideal base for travellers to experience Borneo’s breathtaking countryside. And, with a bustling culture scene and a fascinating history, complete with numerous cafes, markets, heritage shophouses and a splendid waterfront, Kuching is one of the island’s most attractive cities to visit. Whilst the multicultural town continues to grow, most attractions, ranging from museums to a colourful Chinese temple and a stunning mosque, are concentrated in a compact area, with narrow alleyways that are best explored on foot.
A walk along the vibrant Carpenter Road, the heart of the city’s Chinatown, reveals a series of antique and handicrafts shops. A visit to the Chinese History Museum, located in the building of the former Chinese Court, provides insight into the many different communities that call the city their home, whilst the imposing General Post Office and the Brooke Dockyard recall the city’s colonial past under the Brooke family, who ruled as the White Rajas of Sarawak until the Japanese occupation in WWII. There’s a lot to discover on a guided tour of Kuching!
Look beneath the surface in Kota Kinabalu
At first glance, Sabah’s capital won’t seem like a particularly beautiful city. However, start scratching the surface and you’ll soon discover the many allures of Kota Kinabalu (KK). Whilst most people come to the city to book nature tours – get some inspiration for your Sabah adventure here – Kota Kinabalu (KK) is the home to amicable people, a rich culinary scene and a buzzing cultural landscape. The city centre is easy to get around on foot, however, some of the city's main attractions involve transport.
History buffs can learn more about the tragic events of WWII at numerous important war memorial sites in and around the city. Alternatively, discover the city and its surrounding area on a guided tour of Kota Kinabalu, combining walking and driving, and take in the hidden charms of the inner city whilst delving into its rich history and culture at some of its fascinating landmarks, including the beautiful State Mosque and the Sabah State Museum.
We hope this article has inspired you to get out on your own two feet. Whether you want to explore its history, art or food scene, Malaysia is home to a number of eclectic destinations that are easily explored by walking. If you’re interested in any of these or many more walking tours, reach out to Buffalo Tours and let our travel experts craft your tailor-made Malaysia guided tour. All you need to do is put on your hiking shoes and take in the thriving atmosphere, whilst our professional guides will make sure you don’t get lost, take you to hidden places and share their expert-insights with you.