When traveling Southeast Asia it is the country of Malaysia that is often overlooked by travellers, while in fact it has so much to offer. Malaysia is a beautiful and diverse country where you will not only find lively cities but also stunning rainforests and beautiful architecture. It doesn’t matter if you are a culture seeker, nature lover or simply travel to find the most delicious food across this globe, Malaysia truly has it all. And then we haven’t even talked about the people yet, do we really need to give you any more reasons to book your flight to Malaysia? Nonetheless, before you do, there are a couple of things you should know before going to Malaysia, just so you can enjoy your travels stress free. So to fully help you prepare for your trip here are 19 things you need to know before traveling to Malaysia.
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1. Malaysia has a tropical climate
Malaysia’s temperature stays quite consistent around 27 degrees Celsius throughout the year, with some places reporting colder or warmer temperatures. And while this might not sound very warm, due to the high percentage of humidity these temperatures can feel a lot warmer. These temperatures are paired with the most stunning flora and fauna, but also comes with a high chance of rain fall, the tropical kind where it is pouring down. So be sure to bring a rain jacket and a bag than is water proof to protect your gear and valuables should it suddenly start raining. On top of that you should also take into account that Malaysia’s is split into two regions, each having their own monsoon season that affects the weather.
2. Malaysia consists of two regions
As mentioned above, Malaysia is actually split into two parts: Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. The two parts are not connected by land and are incredibly different from each other. You will find the main cities located on Peninsular Malaysia while most of the natural sights are located on Malaysian Borneo. Visit Peninsular Malaysia to awe at Petronas Towers in Malaysia’s capital, to see some of the most beautiful temples and enjoy some of Malaysia’s most delicious foods. Or go to Malaysian Borneo to go diving at Sipadan, see the orangutangs or to climb Mount Kinabula, Borneo truly is an adventure paradise. The reality is though that you don’t have to pick as it is definitely possible to visit both parts during your vacation. The easiest way to get between the two parts are to fly, and luckily flight are cheap and frequent. If you are looking for the best deals be sure to check out Skyscanner for the most affordable flights!
3. Check if you need a visa for Malaysia
Malaysia has a very easy immigration process for travellers, especially compared to most other countries in Southeast Asia. In January 2020 it was possible for 63 nationalities to enter Malaysia visa free for 90 days. On top of that there are another 97 nationalities who can enter Malaysia visa free for 30 days. So while this covers a large amount of nationalities it does mean that there are still over 30 nationalities who will be required to obtain a visa in advance. Just to avoid any issues at immigration it is best to check in advance what policy applies to you. You can find a quick overview on the Wikipedia page here to see what visa policy applies to your nationality, or if you are still unsure then contact your local Malaysian consulate/embassy for more information.
4. Internet and Wifi are widely available
If there is one thing that you don’t have to worry about then it must be finding internet. You will find that internet and wifi are widely available. Hostels, hotels, cafes, shopping malls and airports, free wifi is almost everywhere. However, if you don’t want to rely on wifi networks to find an internet connection then you can also get a prepaid sim card. They often cost around 20-50 MYR depending on the plan you pick and which provided you pick your plan from.
If you are planning on using any wifi connection on your trip then it might be smart to get a VPN as with traveling you are never sure how secure the wifi network is. You can read a bit more about how a VPN works and why should use a VPN on ExpressVPN here!
5. You might need vaccinations
While getting sick on the road cannot always be prevented, there are a couple of things you can do the minimize your risk of getting sick, and one of those things is to make sure you have all the necessary shots. Depending on what regions you have traveled before and your home country you might need vaccinations before coming to Malaysia. We would strongly advise you to visit your GP or travel clinic at least half a year before your vacation to Malaysia to get a consult. They will have the best knowledge and advise regarding your upcoming travels. Plus, depending on where in Malaysia you are planning on traveling you might even be prescribed malaria pills.
6. Don’t drink the tap water
Besides vaccinations and malaria pills there is one more major thing that you can do that will help to minimize your risk of getting sick: don’t drink the tap water. Tap water in Malaysia is not safe to drink unless it has been filtered. Bottled water can be bought on every street corner for roughly 0.50$ per 1.5L. And besides that most hostels, guesthouses and hotels have options for filtered water nowadays. You can simply fill up your water bottle here, which is more budget friendly and environmentally friendly. So be sure to pack a reusable water bottle when packing your suitcase!
7. Don’t Forget to Pack The Essentials
Before you head to Malaysia, we thought we would share some of our travel essentials, items that after three years of full time travel we don’t travel without anymore. So besides that guide book, camera to document your travels and your clothes be sure to pack these items as well:
- Power Bank – With a power bank we never have to worry about empty phones anymore, this way we always have enough power to find our way around town and to watch movies on our phone during those long bus rides.
- Travel Adaptor – Having a travel adaptor means that wherever we go we know that we will be able to charge our electronics. This is one of our favourite travel adaptors so far as it has two USB ports built into it. This way even if you have only one plug you will still be able to charge multiple devices.
- Money Belt – There is nothing worse then being robbed or losing your documents during your travels, and for that reason we always travel with a money belt.
- Quick Dry Towel – Not only do these towels dry quick, they are also extremely compact and light taking up barely any space in your backpack. We use quick dry towels as gym towels, pool towels and beach towels and honestly would not travel without them anymore.
8. Shop till you drop
But be sure to not overpack that suitcase or backpack because Malaysia is a true paradise for people that like to shop! In Kuala Lumpur you will find large malls, some only a stone throw away from each other. From name brands to local stalls, especially in Kuala Lumpur you can shop until you drop. Wander the markets or get lost in the massive shopping malls, this activity alone can keep you busy for days. Be sure to buy a couple of souvenirs, may it be large or small, for friends and family back home or simply to keep as a memory of your unforgettable trip to Malaysia.
9. Large variety of things to do in Malaysia
There is something in Malaysia for everyone no matter if you love diving or prefer to relax at the beach, in Malaysia you can find it all. So if you are still not sure if Malaysia is the destination for you or what to do in Malaysia, here are a couple of ideas of things to add to your Malaysia itinerary:
- Nature: Go diving in Borneo, relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands, or explore the rainforest of Taman Negara.
- City: Find street art in Penang, admire some of Kuala Lumpur’s most beautiful sights or go to the off the beaten path destination of Ipoh.
- Culture: Explore the Batu Caves, the Thean Hou Temple or some of the most stunning mosques in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia truly is a country of diversity, not only in the sights that you can see, but also in its culture and that was one of the reasons we fell in love with Malaysia, but a bit more on that in the next section.
10. Try all the different cuisines of Malaysia
With the diversity in cultures within Malaysia, you will also find a large variety in food. Taste local Malay dishes such as Nasi Lemak, Mee Goreng, Satay, Roti Canai, Teh Tarik or White Coffee but also enjoy Indian cuisine or Chinese cuisine. You can find dishes similar to the cuisine of Singapore and Indonesia, due to its close proximity and historical ties. Traveling between cities will allow you to taste different local cuisines as well making Malaysia a perfect destination for every food lover. Walking through cities such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur you will see all kinds of street food stalls ranging from selling pisang goreng (fried banana) to hokkien mee, in Malaysia you can find it all.
11. English is widely spoken in Malaysia
The official language of Malaysia is Malay, also known as Bahasa Malaysia. However, as Malaysia is such a multicultural society it is not uncommon to hear other languages such as Tamil, Mandarin and of course English. You will notice that signs, information stands, ticket machines, food menu’s are almost always available in English, leaving you not to second guess if you have ordered the right food or bought a ticket to the right destination. We never had any issues getting around by just speaking English in Peninsular Malaysia, especially not in the bigger and more touristic cities.
12. Dress appropriately
A diverse culture also translates into many beautiful religious sights that you can visit. However, don’t forget that these religious and cultural sights often have a strict dress code. Depending on the religion you will be asked to cover your knees and shoulders, take your shoes off before entering and perhaps, as a woman, to cover your hair with a scarf. So be sure to pack some conservative clothing with you and to dress appropriate for the occasion. I always like packing a light scarf in my day pack that I use either to cover my shoulders or even my hair if necessary.
13. Malaysia is a great budget destination
Traveling in Malaysia does not have to be expensive and it is a great destination for backpackers who are traveling on a budget. We have traveled on a budget of $50 a day for the both of us in Malaysia on multiple occasions which included transportation, accommodation, food and sightseeing. We have written in detail in our Malaysia travel budget post how much we spent exactly on what so you an get a better idea of how much it actually costs to travel Malaysia. However, if you are planning on going diving, do jungle trekkings and stay in more luxury accommodation then be prepared to budget a bit more.
14. Use AirBnB to save money
AirBnB must be one of our favourite travel apps to use to book accommodation on the road. We have used it in New Zealand, Vietnam and now Malaysia and have never been disappointed. You can find great accommodation, in any price range, for a much smaller price then by booking a hotel. Depending on your needs (kitchen included, no kitchen, washing machine, parking space for example) there is something for everyone. And to make it even better if you sign up here now for AirBnB you will get a 30$ credit that you can use for a future booking! We have booked almost all our accommodation in Malaysia through Airbnb as it often allowed us to save tens if not hundreds of dollars.
15. Public transport is the way to go
When it comes to traveling around Malaysia public transport is definitely the way to go. Public transport if widely available in Malaysia, affordable and very easy to use. From monorails, to buses and trains, you can find them in the bigger cities or take buses between towns. Google Maps can help you plan your route in the city itself (although not always up to date) and with websites such as Red Bus Malaysia and Easy Book you can easily book bus and train tickets between cities. If you are planning on visiting Malaysian B0rneo and Peninsular Malaysia I would recommend using Skyscanner to find the best flight deals.
16. Skip taxi’s, use grab instead
While public transport is widely available, it might not always be possible to take public transport, or it takes too long. Sometimes it is a lot more convenient to take a taxi (especially if you carry 20kg of luggage around), however, they can get quite expensive. So the best solution, download the Grab app! Grab is kind of like the Uber of Southeast Asia, and is available in countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. As long as you have access to the internet you can easily order a Grab taxi to bring you to your destination, you can simply pay the driver in cash upon arrival. We have used Grab motorbikes and grab taxi’s all around Asia and could not recommend it more. Taking a grab is often a lot more affordable then taking a taxi, and this way you never have to negotiate about the price, you will simply be able to see it up front.
17. They drive on the left hand side in Malaysia
Quite important for your own safety, in Malaysia they drive on the left hand side. Which means you will have to look right, left and then right again before crossing a road! And when you rent a scooter or car be sure to not get confused and to drive on the left side of the road. I have personally made the mistake of taking a turn where I switched back to driving on the right hand side, oops! It was definitely some getting used to on my first trip to Asia as it just felt very unnatural, luckily this happened on an empty road in Thailand and not on the busy streets of Kuala Lumpur. This is something many people seem to forget or perhaps are even a bit surprised about when traveling to Malaysia.
18. Not your average party destination
Malaysia is surrounded by countries such as Thailand, Indonesia (Bali) and Vietnam, countries that are all well known on backpackers there Southeast Asian itinerary since most offer the possibility of a good party. Malaysia, however, is not known as being a party paradise. While cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang have bar streets, clubs and rooftop bars, alcohol is significantly more expensive then some of the other neighbouring countries. And in smaller cities you will find some bars, but they might not be open till the late late hours such as in Thailand. That doesn’t mean you should leave it out of your itinerary, it just means that you might have to up your budget a bit, or leave the drinks and go out and explore Malaysia beautiful nature and cities instead!
19. No drugs allowed
Talking about partying, there is one more thing we would like to mention very briefly before ending this article. While drugs are available to be bought (although not legal) throughout Southeast Asia some of these countries have a very strict law should you be caught in possession of drugs. One of these countries is Malaysia where the drug law is not only very strict, it also comes with severe penalties, definitely something you will want to be cautious about when traveling Malaysia.
And there you have it, everything you need to know before going to Malaysia. Before you go be sure to check out some of our other articles on Malaysia filled with tips, tricks and inspiration to fuel your wanderlust:
Planning on exploring more of Malaysia? Why not take a flight to Borneo! Borneo is great for adventure lovers, as there are many adventurous and off the beaten path things to do in Borneo. Have you been to Malaysia before? Be sure to share your favourite destinations of Malaysia with us down in the comment section!