Malaysia Travel Tips

Having lived in Malaysia for a year, I learned a lot of random things about the country. It’s a really great place to visit with many interesting things to see and do. If you’re not from Asia, chances are you don’t really know what to expect on your trip, so here is some information to help you have the best experience possible.

  • Most countries don’t need a visa to get into Malaysia – Malaysia allows residents of most countries to come into Malaysia without a visa. This includes the US, EU nations, Australia, Canada and most African countries. When you arrive in Malaysia, you will be given a stamp in your passport that tells you how long you can stay. This ranges from 7 days to 90 days. The countries that DO require a visa before departing to Malaysia include: Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Myanmar / Burma and Eritrea.
  • Currency – Currency in Malaysia is called Ringgit (RM). One ringgit is about 30 cents USD. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 sen and RM1, though they are phasing out the 1 sen coins. Currency notes are in RM1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. Foreign currency and traveler’s checks can be converted to Malaysian Ringgit at banks or money changers all over the country. International credit cards are widely accepted at shops, restaurants, bars and ATMs. Just be sure to carry ringgit when you visit smaller towns and remote areas.
  • Water – It is safe to drink tap water in Malaysia in the cities. If you go to a more rural village, you may want to stick to bottled water or take water filtration tablets. You may also want to check online or a local emergency preparedness store for water filtration bottles that you can carry around with you.
  • Power Plugs – Electric supply is on a 240-volt 50-cycle system. If you get a Type G power adapter, you’ll be just fine.
  • Vaccines – If you’re staying in a city the entire time you are in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca, Kuching, Langkawi, Port Dickson), you will most likely be fine without getting any vaccines. But if you plan on  trekking or spending a lot of time in less developed areas, you will want to consult with a travel doctor about what vaccines are recommended.
  • Weather & Climate – Being in a tropical zone, Malaysia is almost always hot and humid, even when it rains, so bring light clothes on your trip. You should also bring 1-2 pairs of pants and a light jacket because it does get a little chilly in the evenings in some areas. Mostly, though, the temperatures fluctuate between 22 °C (72°F) and 33 °C (91°F).
  • Attire – Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country where dress is conservative. You won’t get arrested for wandering around in a tube top and booty shorts, but you won’t be allowed in any of the religious sites or some of the memorials. Some establishments may deny service to you or give you bad service if you are scantily clad.
  • Etiquette – Remove shoes when entering homes and places of worship. Dress modestly when visiting places of worship. Handle food with your right hand. Do not point your foot at someone. If you have to point towards something or someone, do so with your thumb. When giving or receiving money gifts to/from a Malaysian, do so with your right hand.
  • Public Transportation – The bigger cities have a pretty good system: trains, buses, taxis. You can buy a prepaid pass for the trains, but the buses are pay-per-ride. For more information on what it’s like to use the trains in KL, read this post.
  • Taxis – Taxis are required by law to use the meter, but half the time they don’t. It is more likely that you will find someone who will just give you a price and expect you to accept or negotiate a little. No matter what you agree to, they will be overcharging you. If you ask them to use the meter, most of the time they will. To schedule a taxi, you can get an app for your phone called MyTeksi. It will tell you how far away taxis are, how long it will take to get to your destination and the approximate price. That app can also be used in Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
  • Food – They have got some really awesome food in Malaysia, but there is also some really awful food. If you are sensitive to smells and don’t like strange flavors, I’d recommend avoiding Malay food. The most common foods in Malaysia are Malay, Indian and Chinese. You can also find a few Western restaurants at the malls and some local establishments will have a handful of Western choices.
  • Fast Food – Western fast food is very common in the cities. The taste is a little different, but the menus are pretty much the same. Another bonus is that many fast food places will deliver to the areas around them.
  • Food Panda – Food Panda is awesome. It is a restaurant delivery site. You order your food online and they bring it to your house or hotel. It’s really nice for those days when you spend the entire day out and about and are too tired to go out to eat.
  • Bacon – Islam forbids the consumption of or contact with bacon, so you won’t find real bacon in very many places. It’s more likely that you will find turkey bacon or chicken bacon on the menu.
  • Ramadan – Ramadan is the month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The start and end dates vary by year due to lunar cycles, so if you’ll need to check online for the current dates. If you travel to Malaysia during Ramadan, you will still be able to eat and do all the activities you would during the rest of the year. After dark, though, there will be plenty of extra pop-up places to eat outside of local mosques.
  • Interacting with Muslims – Most of the Muslims we came across were really nice. They were friendly and enjoyed talking with us. The only real ‘rules’ you need to observe when interacting with Muslims is that persons of the opposite gender don’t touch if they aren’t married or related.
  • Nightlife – You will find quite an abundant nightlife in the cities in Malaysia. There are plenty of bars, clubs and party spots in the cities.
  • Visiting Beaches – While Malaysia is a modest country, they don’t prohibit bikinis at the beach. Some of the more devout Muslims will move away from you, but most will just ignore you. Swimming topless, though, is not allowed.
  • Tipping – Tipping is not common in Malaysia, but most people won’t turn it down. If you don’t tip, nobody will bat an eye.
  • Souvenirs – If you want to get souvenirs or cheap knock-offs, you will find a great selection in Chinatown. In Kuala Lumpur, there is also a place called Central Market next to Chinatown that has a wide variety of unique gift ideas.
  • Chinatown – Chinatown has a lot of ‘brand name’ items, but keep in mind they are all 100% fake. The price the hawkers want to sell it for can be negotiated down 30-50%, depending on how friendly you are with the seller.
  • Personal Safety – Pickpockets and ‘snatch thieves’ are common. Keep wallets in inside pockets and purses under your arm or across your body. If you stick money in your pocket, be sure to push it all the way down. Keep big bills separate from small bills so people won’t see you handling large amounts of money. If your hotel has a safe, keep excess money and your passport in there with a copy of your passport info page and entry stamp in your wallet or purse.
  • Expect to be Photographed – When you are visiting tourist spots, there is a high possibility that locals will either take pictures of you or ask to have pictures taken with you. Most of the time it is innocent, but you should keep aware of your personal belongings.
  • Racism – Unfortunately, Malaysia is an openly racist country. Persons of African descent are not viewed pleasantly there. Most people won’t treat black people too differently, but there are places that won’t serve or will give lower quality service to black people. There is also an amount of racism against white people. Some taxis will pass by white people to pick up Malays while some will make while people wait longer in line and charge white people higher prices.
  • Visiting Mosques – Muslims are completely welcoming to those who choose to visit their mosques. If you plan on visiting a mosque, be sure to respect their religion by dressing modestly and removing your shoes. To see how my visit to a mosque went along with guidelines for your visit, read this post.
  • Food allergies – if you have a food allergy, make sure you have several slips of paper with a statement expressing your food allergy in Malay as well as Hindu and Chinese. Still, though, you need to be cautious. They understand some allergies, but not all. Troy is allergic to wheat and flour and nobody there seemed to understand that, so we had to be extra careful with the foods we selected. If your allergy requires medication if you come in contact with that food, be sure to bring extra medication in case you have more than one instance of being given that food on accident.
  • Wildlife – There are a lot of monkeys in Malaysia. Most of them are friendly and will take food from you. Be careful, though, because you will need to get a rabies shot if any animal bites you.
  • Hygiene – Unfortunately, the local men don’t always practice good hygiene and have a certain………………stink. It can be a little overwhelming at times, so if you are sensitive to smells, be aware of that.

Is there anything I missed? Add your own tips and any questions in the comments!

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