From Southeast Asia

By train from Thailand

You could take the train into Peninsular Malaysia. Go for the rough and tumble ride from Bangkok, which takes about 16 hours, to the Malaysian border in the south. This option is very affordable and allows for a more acute sense of adventure.
The train departs Bangkok’s Hualamphong station four times a day for Hatyai, where the lines split – one leading to the Malaysian ‘frontier town’ of Padang Besar and on to Butterworth for the rest of the west coast journey. The train journey from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur takes the better part of 24 hours with fares ranging from £50 or US$75 one-way.

Two trains depart from Hatyai daily to the eastern Thai border town of Golok, which is just a moment’s walk from the Malaysian border crossing checkpoint at Rantau Panjang.From Rantau Panjang you could catch a bus or taxi to the first major town in the north of Malaysia’s east coast, Kota Bharu. The distance is about 30 kilometres. In all the journey to Kota Bharu from Bangkok may take around 24 hours and cost about £45/US$70.

If you don’t like trains…

Three scheduled ferry services are available daily from the Thammalang Pier near the southwesterly Thai town of Satun to the Malaysian town of Kuala Perlis and the Langkawi Island. It is advisable for passports to be stamped by the Malaysian immigration office at the pier to facilitate entry into Malaysia. Another route by ferry from Thailand is from the southern town of Ban Taba to Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan.

The easiest way overland from Thailand is to take a six-hour taxi or bus ride from Hatyai to Butterworth and Penang. Similarly, you can also take the road from Betong to the Malaysian town of Keroh.

By air from Thailand

There are regular and frequent flights from Bangkok to Malaysia. One-way fare is around £140/US$225. However, there are no direct flights to east Malaysia. About seven flights a week operate between Hatyai and Kuala Lumpur with fare at around £66/US$105. MAS flies five times daily from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and the fare is about £150/US$250 and to Penang four times a week at around £100/US$150.

By ferry from the Philippines

From the southern Philippine islands, you could cross by boat to Sabah. While overland routes allow for car, taxi or bus crossings from Indonesia’s Kalimantan.

From Indonesia

There are frequent flights from Indonesia to West Malaysia. A twice-daily ferry service plies between Medan in northern Sumatera to Penang and from Dumai in the south to Melaka. The journeys take four and two hours respectively. The ferry services from Batam in the Rhiau Archipelago (which is also accessible by air and boat from Sumatera or Jakarta) to Johor Bahru takes about 30 minutes. Another ferry crossing can be made from Tanjung Balai to Kukup southwest of Johor Bahru.

There are overland crossings from Kalimantan in Borneo to Sarawak.