Malaysia is the odd man out of the South East Asia countries! From almost all angles, Malaysia doesn’t seem to fit in with its neighbors. Malaysia is hugely diverse, and any generalization is probably even more dangerous than in most other places. However, we will take the risk and present to you 50 travel tips you need 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 complete 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. At times 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 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.
What is the best destination in Malaysia? Langkawi or Penang
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 liked Bangkok.
20. Buy the tickets to the Petronas towers beforehand because they sell out very 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. Additionally, 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 to do multi-day trekkings or those doing smaller pleasant hikes through the forest.
If you only have a week to spend in Malaysia, have a 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 of the 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 “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 “Portuguese 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, as it 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, 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 thinking of driving, please note that in Malaysia, you drive on the left. This isn’t a major problem, but you’ll need to be more focused 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 the 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 public collective 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. After three months on the road, you don’t get stunned easily, 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…
47. Although Malaysia is clearly the richest of the countries we visited, 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 are going to Malaysia during the school holidays, you will need to 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 are only traveling to Malaysia and Singapore!
Alternatively, Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring (Travel Guide) – in case you are planning 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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Did you enjoy this Malaysia travel guide? Have a look at our other 50 things guides
22 thoughts on “50 things you need to know before a trip to Malaysia”
Great post, thank you for the valuable information ! I’m planning to visit Malaysia next month, and I’m wondering what is the best way to go from Kuala Lumpur to Perhentian Islands, then to Langkawi and finally back to Kuala Lumpur, what do you recommend?
Hello, we have roughly done that, but also included Taman Negara and Penang. You can easily do KL-Besut-Kuala Perlis-KL
From Besut and Kuala Perlis you just need to take the boat to the Perhentians and Langkawi respectively.
Note that it will take you a full day, during each leg of the trip! Also, you can easily add Penang to the trip as there are boats from Langkawi to Penang. hope you have a nice trip and tell us how it went 🙂
Ive been forced to live in malaysia for 7 years this country is bullshit people , please dont travel they will disrespect you and rob your money, they worship to money thats it, weather is shit, culture is shit and everywhere is dirty as hell , honestly the most hated region ive been in my lifetime is Malaysia and the people are far from humanity.
We are sorry that your experience was bad. We know that being a tourist and living in a country are two distinct experiences. We liked Malaysia, but it was from a tourist perspective.
Thank you. We are very happy that you found the guide useful 🙂 We are making this kind of guide to every country we visit now 🙂
Malaysia is not an Islamic country. Malaysia is a secular country where Islam is the official religion and others are free to practise their own religion.
I have been to Malaysia but not to most of this amazing places.. Makes me regret now not getting this much info before my trip 🙁
I am going to pin this post as I am planning a trip to Malaysia in 2018. I think you put a great effort on this,well done to you!
I love how detailed this post is! I’d love to go to penang national park – it’s on my list for the future!
Great help! I’m planning to visit Malaysia soon
wow that is such a comprehensive article !I am on like info overload! I totally want to go to Malaysia now!
Thank you 🙂 we were aiming to make people wanting to go to Malaysia 🙂
A great detailed list with handy tips. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for sharing! Great list and this will be very helpful when i get to travel in Malaysia.
Wow those are some useful tidbits. Good to know in advance about the alcohol in restaurants! incidentally they’re looking for a marketing manager to help drive tourism to Malaysia if you or your viewers are interested in actually working and spending more time there
I love this list. Going to Malaysia early 2018 so this is useful. I didn’t know the difference between Malay and Malaysian but glad I do now!
Quality info about Malaysia travel and quite helpful too!!
This is a great list! Gonna be helpful to my friends who are traveling to Malaysia next week! Thanks.
You are welcome. If you have any doubt feel free to contact us 🙂
What a comprehensive list! I learned quite a few things!
So much info you guys have written … No need to look anywhere else… Very nice pictures… Hope you had a nice time there. 🙂 Great 🙂
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