Malaysia is the odd man out of the South East Asia countries! From almost any angle, Malaysia doesn’t seem to fit in with its neighbors. Malaysia is hugely diverse, and any generalization is probably even more dangerous than most other places.
However, we will take the risk and present you with the 50 things to know before going to Malaysia. From the religion and local culture to tourists and food, passing through transportation and money, this is one of the most comprehensive travel lists about traveling in Malaysia!
Malaysia is formed by Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo Malaysia! However, this post is mostly about Peninsular Malaysia, where we traveled for 21 days. As it’s easier to write and read, we will always say “Malaysia” and not “Peninsular Malaysia”!
Malaysia And The Locals
#1 Malaysia is a tropical country, which means it’s hot and humid. Sometimes, it’s just impossible to walk around or do some of the hikes! Tip: always bring water with you!
#2 Although this also means that green is the prevailing color! Either because of the rainforest, the palm trees, or the grass… But almost everything is covered in green…
#3 Malay and Malaysian are two different things. Whereas Malay is an ethnic group in Malaysia (and neighboring countries), Malaysians are the inhabitants of Malaysia. Note that only about half of the Malaysians are Malay.
#4 There’s a huge variety of races and people. Malays, Indians, and Chinese mostly… And then expats and tourists!
#5 English is one of the official languages, so it’s widely spoken, which is great for us travelers. However, Bahasa Malaysia is the most widely spoken language.
#6 In general, people aren’t the most likable… they aren’t arrogant or anything, but they don’t give you that Thai smile or have the unique way of being of the Lao.
#7 Malays are very passive and usually very slow-paced! The very opposite of what we said about the Thais!
#8 Malaysia is an Islamic country, probably one of the most open and free Islamic countries, but it still follows Islamic laws.
Note: Officially, Malaysia is a secular country.
Malaysia Travel And Tourists
#9 There are way fewer backpackers than in any other South East Asian country we have been to! Though we are pretty sure it’s related to the price and the difficulty in buying alcohol… unfortunately it became obvious to us that some (many) people only travel to get wasted!
#10 Penang National Park is the smallest in the world, but these things aren’t measured by size! The Park has one of the best trails we have ever done!
#11 Penang’s beaches are average at best. They have little sand and aren’t very clean, both water and sand. Furthermore, to make things even worse, most of the time, you can’t even swim because it’s full of jellyfish.
#12 The big exception is turtle beach in Penang National Park! It has beautiful sand and clear turquoise water, but you aren’t allowed to swim…
#13 3D Street art in Georgetown is cool! However, that was everything we liked about it… Note that other Malaysian towns also have nice 3D street art!
#14 If you have to choose between Georgetown and Malaka, go to Malaka. Although they are both UNESCO world heritage sites, Malaka is much more interesting, with old ruins, buildings, and a very pleasant riverside. Furthermore, historically Malaka is also much more relevant than Georgetown.
#15 Penang Hill felt like a touristic trap. We waited 2 hours to get up there… It has a nice view, but that’s about it… We suppose that if you don’t have to wait, it’s worth it, but after 2 hours, we weren’t really in the mood anymore.
#16 The Beaches in Langkawi are better than Penang’s, but they aren’t the paradise you may believe. We would rate them on the level with the Thais we have been to. Though they aren’t even close to Koh ta Kiev in Cambodia or the ones in the Perhentian Islands referred to below.
#17 However, Langkawi’s best attractions aren’t the beaches. That title belongs to the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, which is famous for mangrove swamps, and vertical karstic hills jutting out towards the Andaman Sea.
The Langkawi mangrove tours are one of the highlights of any trip to Malaysia.
#18 Malaysians really know how to make parks! Every single national park and city park we have been to in Malaysia was amazing! So, if you are going to Malaysia, do yourself a favor and visit as many parks as you can!
#19 Kuala Lumpur quickly became our favorite big city in South East Asia! It’s even better than Bangkok! And we really enjoyed Bangkok.
#20 Buy the tickets to the Petronas towers beforehand because they sell out quickly. Also, It’s one of the most expensive things to do, but it’s worth it! It’s an amazing building with an amazing view.
#21 If you are looking for paradisiac beaches, go to Perhentian Islands Resort and Turtle Beach on the big Perhentian island!
#22 The Perhentian islands also have great places for snorkeling and diving. We snorkeled quite a bit, and it was wonderful. Malaysia is a great place for snorkeling. Check this post on snorkeling in Borneo!
#23 The oldest tropical rainforest in the world is in Malaysia, in the Taman Negara National Park. This park is an obvious choice for nature lovers. It’s great for those wanting multi-day trekking or smaller, pleasant hikes through the forest.
If you only have a week to spend in Malaysia, look at this itinerary, it includes some of the best sights!
Eating And Drinking In Malaysia
#24 There’s a huge variety of food… Malay, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Arabian, and Western.
#25 Malay food is very influenced by Indian cuisine. Thus, many delicious Malay dishes like nasi lemak, roti canai, chapati, or biryani are all influenced or variations of Indian dishes.
#26 It’s usual for a restaurant not to allow alcoholic drinks inside! Instead, they serve tea and coffee as staple drinks.
#27 We discovered something called Ipoh white coffee, which is made by roasting coffee beans with margarine, brewed, and served with sweetened condensed milk in a creamy form. It tastes amazing!
#28 They have some wild deserts, but not in a crazy sweet way as in Thailand. Just crazy, as in a “Why are you putting corn, beans, and green peas in my ice cream” kind of way…? Seriously, check Cendol or ABC…
#29 It was great having a normal “European breakfast” in Malaysia (with a Malay touch). Coffee and toast with butter and kaya. Kaya is a Jam made of coconut, eggs, and caramel. It’s delicious, you must try it!
#30 However, the real staple breakfast is the Nasi Lemak, a Malay fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf.
This is the true Malaysia National dish and can also be eaten throughout the day. It’s usually served with a spice paste and beef or fish flavor. A Nasi Lemak bought from a hawker can cost less than 50 cents!
#31 In Malaysia, street food is mostly sold in hawker food centers. These are open-air complexes of permanent stalls that sell a variety of inexpensive food. Instead of mobile food hawker carts, this is a more sanitary option. In short, it was very cheap and usually very good!
Money And Costs Of Traveling In Malaysia
#32 The official currency of Malaysia is the ringgit. We suggest you always use local currency for payments, which is much cheaper.
#33 Malaysia is an inexpensive country to travel to! We have spent 1064 Euros in 21 days, or 50 Euros per day (25 per person)… Furthermore, apart from flying in/out, this includes everything – from food, accommodation, and transportation to banking costs, visas, and even gifts!
#34 On the other hand, Alcohol is expensive, which makes absolutely no difference for us, but it can be a weighing reason for you!
#35 Food is very cheap! Even using South East Asia standards… We ate several full meals for 1 Euro.
#36 There are no ATM fees when withdrawing money with foreign cards. Although paying with a card directly can be tricky! Some places don’t charge anything, others charge 3%, and in others, “the machine isn’t working…”
#37 Also, many destinations don’t have ATMs… even some very touristic ones like Taman Negara and Perhentian Islands… Be aware of this and always have money with you.
#38 Be aware of possible service charges in Malaysian restaurants, usually in the more upscale, not in fast food chains.
Furthermore, sometimes prices include a GST 6% tax and sometimes don’t… It doesn’t seem to have a rule which makes it very annoying…
Transportation In Malaysia
#39 Roads are generally good, which helps you travel faster and more comfortably.
#40 If you are considering driving, please note that in Malaysia, you drive on the left. This isn’t a major problem, but you’ll need to focus more on the road, particularly if you aren’t used to it. On the other hand, Malaysians aren’t the most patient drivers…
#41 Public transportation has quality and works well! Better than any other South East Asian country! And they are very cheap. Although, they are much better in Kuala Lumpur than in the rest of Malaysia.
#42 Also, the transports are fairly well organized and located close to each other. It’s very different from the other Southeast Asian countries where they drop you outside of the city and are ready to be hunted by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers!
But not in Langkawi! In Langkawi, there is no collective public transportation! Just taxis… why? It’s a mystery and honestly ruins the experience of traveling on the island! As a traveler, you depend on taxis and rentals. There are no other options…
#43 There are no tuk-tuks in Malaysia, but then there are these… bright, colorful, insane rickshaws in Malaka. You don’t get stunned easily after three months on the road, but these blew our minds! 🙂
Other useful info about travel in Malaysia
#44 In Malaysia, the power sockets are type G (the same as in the UK), the standard voltage is 220v, and the frequency is 50Hz.
If you need to buy a universal adapter, we recommend one of these.
#45 Malaysian markets are great places to buy electronics and sports jerseys.
#46 Things close very early and open very late… So you will never have any problems buying groceries or eating out.
#47 Although Malaysia is clearly the richest of the countries we visited in the region, it also has much more people living in the streets, or at least they are much more visible.
#48 Kuala Lumpur is a very developed and organized city, but don’t be fooled the rest of the country isn’t even close to the capital’s standards. Sometimes looks like they spend all the money in Kuala Lumpur and forget about the rest of the country.
#49 Be aware that if you go to Malaysia during the school holidays, you must plan ahead because big attractions get really crowded!
#50. Langkawi is a duty-free area, which means that most of its shops look like airport stores selling chocolates, bags, perfumes, and, naturally, alcohol.
Bonus tip: Malaysia is pretty safe! However, you don’t want to risk having a problem and not being insured! So, always Remember to Buy Travel Insurance Before Your Malaysia Trip!
Our Recommended Malaysia Travel Guide Books
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia & Singapore – if you only travel to Malaysia and Singapore!
- Alternatively, Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring (Travel Guide) – if you plan to travel to more than one country in South East Asia.
All in all, Malaysia is an incredibly diverse country, both in culture and natural beauty. Besides, these peculiarities make it even more interesting and a great option for your next trip!
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