Survival Guide: Top 10 Tips For Travelling To Malaysia

View of Kuala Lumpur from Batu Caves © wales_gibbons/Flickr
View of Kuala Lumpur from Batu Caves © wales_gibbons/Flickr
Photo of Lu Yin Wai
21 November 2017

Travellers frequently visit Malaysia for many reasons – sunny beaches, lush rainforests, mouth-watering food and vibrant culture. Read our survival guide to make the most out of your trip to Malaysia.

Learn the local language

Not all locals speak the same language as travellers from around the world. Although most of them speak in English. In rural areas, locals can say simple phrases like ‘How are you?’ and ‘Thank you’. To communicate better with them, try to learn to say basic words in Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. You could also use body language (and a smile) so they understand what you are trying to say. They will appreciate that you did your best to talk to them. Some of them might become your friends and would be willing to share their stories with you.

Join local communities before arriving

There are many travel enthusiasts and locals who share their love for Malaysian culture through events and programmes. We recommend looking at hostels that organise special programmes such as food tours, city tours, hiking, night life, and many other fun activities. Couchsurfing is also another great option to befriend locals to show you around and experience great fun, Malaysian style. If you are into arts and culture, we recommend engaging on the social media pages of local art markets and galleries such as Riuh in The City, Zhongshan Building, The Bee and Publika.

Know duty-free rules

Malaysia is serious about duty-free concession. There is a limit for buying certain items. Wine, spirits or malt liquor cannot exceed one litre per person. While only 200 cigarettes can be brought into Malaysia. Perfumes and cosmetics cannot cost more than RM200 (USD50). Travellers are required to go to the Red Lane to declare their goods. If they have nothing to declare, they can move on to the Green Lane.

No drugs allowed

Taking drugs into Malaysia is a serious offence, regardless of quantity. The punishment for these cases will be high fines and jail time. Before travelling, make sure to double check your luggage and bags to be sure there are no questionable substances that may appear among your belongings.

Be adventurous in trying hawker stalls

Hawker stalls can look hot and stuffy due to thick crowds, but the local delicacies may just be worth it. Authentic local food is prepared and cooked at stalls before serving. Try as many local dishes as you want because these are more affordable than fancy restaurants. A single dish costs about RM7 – 10 (around USD1 – 2). You can even order huge dishes to share with your friends, which are even cheaper. Most of the hawker stalls are kept clean so you can enjoy your meal at the tables or along the streets.

Hawker food stalls in Penang | © Davidlohr Bueso/Flickr

Prepare for hot and humid weather

Malaysia offers lovely tropical weather, with temperatures roughly between 28 – 31ºC. The weather can be extremely hot on certain days, though, and more humid on rainy and sunny days. Have back-up plans to enjoy indoor activities to avoid sweating under the sun or getting soaked from the rain. Spend your time in malls, browsing through the stores and enjoying your meals at lovely cafes. Be sure to put on some sun screen and drink plenty of water as well.

Avoid the haze

The severity of haze in Malaysia changes on a yearly basis. In 2015, alongside Singapore and Thailand, Malaysia suffered a month-long haze due to mass illegal burning of forests in Indonesia. Last year, the haze blanketed Malaysian skies for a few days. It is advisable to monitor the conditions before travelling.

Haze in Malaysia | © musimpanas/Flickr

Make use of public transport

Public transport has become more convenient for visitors travelling around Malaysia. There are many lines – including the LRT, MRT and Monorail – to be used to go out and about in Kuala Lumpur. Also, you can still hop onto buses to get to your destinations. Charging by the distance starts at 80 cents. In other states of Malaysia like Penang, Melaka and Ipoh, you can move around via public buses. To save on travelling costs, it would be best to walk around. Although you might want to avoid walking in the afternoons to prevent heat strokes. Map out public transportation routes to your destination before heading out.

Monorail in Kuala Lumpur | © Christian Haugen/Flickr

No extra tips

There is no tipping in Malaysia. Many cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars charge a 10% service charge and 6% Goods and Services Tax on top of your bill. These are mentioned on the menu. You cannot give extra tips to taxi drivers and hotels as you only need to pay the exact amount. If they provide you great service, ask them before giving tips.

Malaysian coins | © Vincent Chow/Flickr

Prepare equipment for hiking in rainforests and mountains

Malaysia has plenty of stunning tropical rainforests and mountains. Appropriate clothing is recommended in order to enjoy your adventures here. Wear comfortable sports or hiking shoes. Take insect repellent with you and bring some healthy snacks in case you get hungry along the way. Most importantly, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Ulu Kenas Recreational Forest | © musimpanas/Flickr

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