I’ve created an entire website about Thailand, but don’t be fooled: I love the Kingdom’s southern neighbor as well. From underrated Kuala Lumpur, to tasty Penang, to off-the-beaten path Borneo, Malaysia is a place that many travelers overlook, but no one who visits ever forgets.
At the same time, it can be confusing to know precisely how to fit Malaysia into your Southeast Asia trip, in particular as it relates to Thailand. Whether we’re talking about Bangkok vs KL or any other destinations, you want your trips to each country to complement one another, not replicate one another.
More importantly, you need to be able to chart the best course from Thailand to Malaysia, which isn’t always a flight between their capitals. Continue reading to learn all your options.
Why You Should Continue to Malaysia
If you’re planning on traveling to Malaysia from Thailand, then congratulations: You’re in a relatively small minority. Most travelers head from Thailand to Cambodia or Vietnam, which makes sense. Whether because of the overwhelming popularity of Angkor Wat, or the desire for foodies to chase weeks of Thai food with the familiar eats of Vietnam, both of Thailand’s Indochinese neighbors are logical next steps for a Southeast Asia trip. Laos, too.
However, what Malaysia lacks in terms of big-ticket attractions and world-famous food, it makes up for in other ways. For one, with the exception of KL and Penang, most destinations in Malaysia are off-the-beaten-path, relatively speaking. You simply won’t see the throng of tourists in Borneo that you will in Siem Reap or Saigon. Likewise, Malaysia’s cuisine (which fuses Indian, Chinese and Muslim flavors) may be low-key, but it’s high-flavor.
All the Ways from Thailand to Malaysia
Fly from Bangkok
There are multiple flights per day from both of Bangkok’s airports to Kuala Lumpur (KUL), both on full-service airlines like Thai and Malaysia, to any number of low-cost carriers. You can also fly from Bangkok (BKK—or—DMK) to Penang (PEN) if you want to bypass KL and instead get an oyster omelet on the streets of colonial George Town.
Fly from the North
Another option from Thailand to Malaysia? Starting not in Bangkok, but in the country’s north. Specifically, AirAsia offers daily flights from Chiang Mai (CNX) to Kuala Lumpur, in case you finish your Thailand trip there and don’t want to have to backtrack or connect.
Fly from the South
There are more options for flying to KL from southern Thailand, which makes sense: These destinations tend to be more popular among Malaysian travelers than those in Thailand’s north. Specifically, it’s possible to fly nonstop from Phuket (HKT), Krabi (KBV) and Hat Yai (HDY) to KL.
Ride the train from Bangkok to KL
The bad news? The most luxurious way to Malaysia from Thailand—the four-day rail journey on Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express—can cost as much as $10,000 per person, or enough to travel in Southeast Asia for a year. The good news? If opulence is no object, you can ride local trains between the cities in less time than that.
Take a ferry between Langkawi and Koh Lipe
If, like me, you tend to end your trips to Thailand in the south, you may feel tempted to get from whatever island you’re on to Phuket or Krabi in order to fly to KL. If that island happens to be Koh Lipe, however, you can take a ferry directly to Malaysia’s Langkawi island, from whose airport (LGK) you can fly to KL.
Is Malaysia Worth Visiting?
This blog might be about Thailand, but I absolutely love Malaysia. In particular, my 2017 trip to the country—my first substantial one, and my most comprehensive one to date—was one of the most fulfilling two weeks I’ve ever traveled. After three days in KL and two each in the Cameron Highlands and Penang, I went off-the-beaten path, from the “crystal mosque” of Kuala Terengganu to the orangutan forests of Borneo.
What’s especially fulfilling about the Thailand to Malaysia is just how different the countries are, in spite of being neighbors. Whereas Bangkok is brash and sometimes even taboo, Kuala Lumpur is reserved and controlled, in spite of being larger than life. Malaysia’s beaches are mostly understated, as compared to the over-the-top beauty of Thailand’s. And then, of course, there are the culinary contrasts I described above.
Other FAQ About Visiting Malaysia After Thailand
Can I go from Thailand to Malaysia?
It’s easy to go from Thailand to Malaysia, whether you take one of the many daily flights, or instead go overland or even by water. The only possible impediment could be if you end up needing a visa but don’t have one, so please make sure you meet all the entry requirements in advance.
How much does it cost to travel from Thailand to Malaysia?
Assuming you don’t need to obtain a visa, the cost of traveling from Thailand to Malaysia should be less than 100 USD per person. You may pay more than this if you fly in business class (or at the last minute), or if you go via the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express, rather than via local train.
Can you get a ferry from Thailand to Malaysia?
You can take a ferry between Lipe Island in Thailand and Langkawi Island in Malaysia. Do note, however, that you will need to first take a ferry from the Thai mainland to Lipe; once on Langkawi, most travelers fly from there to Kuala Lumpur.
The Bottom Line
What is the best way to travel from Thailand to Malaysia? For some travelers, it’s simply wrapping up in Thailand, then returning to Bangkok and flying from one of the capital’s two airports to Kuala Lumpur. Other travelers will go overland, or even by ferry between the tropical islands of Lipe and Langkawi, while still others will fly from Thai airports like Chiang Mai and Phuket to ones in Malaysia. Ultimately, the optimal way for you will depend upon what the rest of your trip looks like. Need personalized help putting your Southeast Asia trip together? Consider hiring me to plan it for you!