Quick Guide to Backpacking Malaysia
Malaysia is Southeast Asia’s underrated little gem. Sandwiched between Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, it boasts steaming jungles, a mixture of religions and some of the prettiest scenery in the world. There are steep mountainsides to climb, miles of pristine coastline and some of the friendliest people on earth.
Whilst not quite as popular and ready for tourism as Thailand and Vietnam, Malaysia is fast emerging as an unmissable destination in its own right and is capturing the hearts or countless visitors each year.
Why Go To Malaysia?
Malaysia’s major attractions are its ancient temples, the luxury resorts around Penang, the UNESCO site of Maleka and the capital city of Kuala Lumpur is not to be missed. There are watersports on offer in Penang, cycling tours throughout mountain trekking in Sabah. The Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang is also not to be missed!!!
Travel To Malaysia
Several major airlines, including Malaysian Airlines and Emirates, now operate flights to Kuala Lumpur and the major connection hub from Europe is Bangkok. A flight from Bangkok to KL can usually be picked up for as little as $30 or you can fly direct from Aus for $100 – $200. The land border with Thailand can be accessed by minibusses at both ends and the crossing is painless.
Visa’s requirements are almost non-existent and most passport holders will get a 3 month Visa on arrival for no charge! If you intend on staying longer than 3 months then discuss the Malaysian Diplomatic mission to arrange an extension.
The language in Malaysia is Malay and like most oriental languages will test English speakers. Mercifully, English is spoken in the major cities and destinations popular with tourism but the wider population will most likely have only a basic grasp. The locals are however very helpful and patient so will do all that they can to help you if you get lost or need a ride. I always recommend learning some basic phrases in any language and there are some great resources out there to help you learn a bit of Malaysian in the form of audio courses and smartphone apps.
Language in Malaysia
To get you started here are a few basis phrases;
Hi Friend! – Hi!
Kwan Apa Khabar – How are you?
Sangat Bagus – Very Good
Siapa nama anda? – What’s your name?
Nama saya … – My Name Is….
Selamat malam – Goodnight
Selamat tinggal – Goodbye
Berapa harganya ini? – How much Is This?
Di mana tandas? – Where’s the toilet
Currency and Costs In Malaysia
The currency in Malaysia is the Ringgit and the current exchange rate is around $1.00 to 3.5MRT. The currency is available outside of the country but exchange rates can be unfavourable. Our recommendation is to bring a few hundred dollars to change at your entry point to get you started. ATM’s can found throughout the country but become scarce in rural areas and all major credit cards are accepted although, again, reliability does vary once you get into the rural areas. In summary, always bring cash when heading out of the big cities.
The cost of living and traveling in Malaysia is cheap and you if you budget properly you can easily manage on around $15 per day.
To give you an idea of costs we have provided some examples of basic living costs in Maleka (they vary slightly from region to region);
Room – $5 – $15 per night
Meal – $1 – $5
Long Distance AC Bus – $3 – 410
Entrance to attraction – $0 – $25
Haggling for all gifts and goods is recommended and will generally get you a 20% reduction.
Transport in Malaysia
Whilst the rail tracks in Malaysia are under wide-scale scale reconstruction, the main form of Public transport in Malaysia for now is its bus network. The main routes between are very well serviced with numerous services a day running. Our advice is to buy bus tickets a day in advance to avoid disappointment and where possible to always buy them directly from the bus station to avoid needless broker costs. The cost for a busses differ on distance, season and grade of transport.
Services vary in quality and it may be worth paying a little extra to ensure some comfort for longer journeys.
Hitchhiking is quite painless in Malaysia as the locals are generally very curious about foreigners and will be glad to give you a ride. To avoid any embarrassing situations though be sure to make it clear up front whether or not you intend to pay for your carriage using our helpful phrase guide.
Where are you going? – Di Mana anda akan pergi?
I am going to.. – Saya mahu pergi ke….
Please stop here – Sila berhenti di sini
I have no money – Saya Tidak Ada Duit
Thank You – Terima Kasih (Treema- Kahseh)
I am Hitchhiking – Saya sedang hitchhiking
Hotels in Malaysia
Like in most countries, accommodation options vary wildly in Malaysia from backpacker hostels, humble home stays to luxury hotels. One of the best places we stayed at was the Holiday Inn Melaka. Melaka is a UNESCO heritage site packed with crazy museums, narrow canals and a great outdoor market and definitely well worth spending a few days.
Whatever accommodation option you go for our advice is to seriously consider paying the little extra for an AC room during hotter the months.
Health & Wellbeing
Malaysia is a safe destination although the usual precautions should be exercised. Keep your valuables safe, avoid darkened, unfamiliar streets at night and watch your pockets in crowded areas.
Bear in mind that this is Southeast Asia so please ensure you see a travel health specialist who can advice you about vaccinations and whether anti-malarial are necessary for your trip. Also be sure to take out comprehensive backpacker insurance in case the very worst happens.
I hope you found our Guide To Malaysia useful. All that is left to say is to enjoy your trip!