The Wanderlust guide to the best of Singapore and Malaysia

South-east Asia doesn't get easier – or tastier – than Singapore and Malaysia. Especially with our guide to the best of bits of these under-appreciated destinations

7 mins

Famous for its shopping and its food, Singapore is also a great introduction to Asia. Clean, ordered and affluent, here you can dip your toe into Chinese, Indian and Malay culture with none of the hassle.

Peninsular Malaysia, on the other hand, stretches south from Thailand to Singapore and Indonesia, and blends the best of all three: superb beaches and idyllic islands (try the Perhentians for diving and clean sand, Langkawi and Tioman for resorts); diverse cultures – Dutch-, Portuguese- and Chinese-influenced Melaka, colonial Georgetown and the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands, richly Muslim Kota Bharu, bustling Kuala Lumpur; and superb food. You must try the food.

Either alone, or together, Singapore and Malaysia are the ideal places to dip your toe into South East Asia. Get ready to dive in.

Malaysian jungle train (

Jungle train, Malaysia (Shutterstock)

Looking for inspiration?

Boasting arguably the best airport in the world, with connections all through the region – and across the globe – Singapore is rightly regarded as one of the planet's premier stopover destinations. Mark Eveleigh's guide to your first 24 hours in the city-state will ensure you make the most of your visit.

Singapore is also a renowned shopping destination. But that doesn't mean you can't keep your hands in your pockets. The Wanderlust team have put together a handy list of ten things to do for free in Singapore, from canopy walks and Sunday birdsong medleys to Chinese temples and Indian shrines, to free up the funds for more pressing purchases.

Over the causeway and onto the Malaysian peninsula, where Roger Norum says the most enjoyable way to explore Malaysia’s laid-back islands, sizzling street food and historic towns is by train and ferry. He reveals how to do it and get still get change from £100.

If you don't want to be restricted by timetables – or want to get off the beaten track – Rodney Bolt suggests taking the self-drive. The roads are the safest in Asia, and the roads take you from languid sea shores to the heart of virgin jungle. Just remember that the elephants have right of way.

More information

First 24 hours in Singapore – Mark Eveleigh

10 things to do for free in Singapore – The Wanderlust Team

The Great Eastern: Malaysia by train and ferry – Roger Norum

Self-drive Malaysia – Rodney Bolt

Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur (

Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur (Shutterstock)

Tantalise your tastebuds

It's not too fanciful to claim that Singapore and Malaysia invented the concept of street food – tasty and largely healthy dishes made quickly from fresh ingredients, as you wait. And the cornerstone of street food in both countries are the noisy and chaotic food courts you'll find in cities and towns alike.

The good news is that you can't really go wrong. If you see something you like, just point and the 'chef' will set to work, presenting you with a dish that will blow your mind. If you'd like a little guidance, though, check out the Wondernuts' guide to the food courts of Kuala Lumpur.

Should you want to recreate that food court magic back home, Steve Parle is on hand with four tasty Malaysian recipes that will transport you back to the winding alleys of Penang in no time.

If it's a little colonial grandeur you're after, then you'll want to read our list of the most exotic places to take afternoon tea in the world. Raffles and the Eastern and Orient are both recommended. Make sure you've got a clean shirt.

More information

A guide to the food courts of Kuala Lumpur – The Wondernuts

4 Malaysian recipes – Stevie Parle

The most exotic places in the world to take afternoon tea – The Wanderlust Team

Celebrating Holi in Kuala Lumpur (

Celebrating Holi in Kuala Lumpur (Shutterstock)

Capturing it all on film

With their unique blend of India, Chinese and Malay cultures, it's no surprise that both Singapore and Malaysia are a cacophony of colours. But how do you capture that on film? Contrast, contrast, contrast, says Steve Davey, in his guide to capturing colour on camera.

If it’s inspiration you’re after, then look no further than the photos taken by our readers on their travels in Singapore and Malaysia. They are well worth a look.

More information

Photography tips: capturing colour on camera – Steve Davey

Readers' photos from Singapore

Reader's photos from Malaysia

Malaka, Malaysia (

Malaka, Malaysia (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Singapore Travel Guide and Malaysia Travel Guide are a great starting point. Make sure you drop by the Singapore Essential Info page and Malaysia Essential Info page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from Singapore and Malaysia too.

If you have a particular question about Singapore or Malaysia, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about either Singapore or Malaysia. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Singapore Travel Guide – The Wanderlust Team

Malaysia Travel Guide – The Wanderlust Team

Singapore Essential Info – The Wanderlust Team

Malaysia Essential Info – The Wanderlust Team

Travel news from Singapore

Travel news from Malaysia

Forum posts about Singapore

Forum posts about Malaysia

Community content about Singapore

Community content about Malaysia

Singapore skyline (

Singapore skyline (Shutterstock)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From budget jaunts from Bangkok to Singapore and specialist food tours to opulent adventures on the Eastern & Orient Express, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

More information

Our Trip Finder can help you find adventures in Singapore and Malaysia

Main image: Super Tree Garden, Singapore (Shutterstock)

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