Malaysia Travel Advice – A Guide for First-Timers

If you’re planning to make an epic trip around the SEA region, the journey isn’t complete without visiting a majestic and diverse Malaysia. From thick rainforests, hidden waterfalls, world-class sandy beaches, all the way to cosmopolitan cities, friendly people, and delicious food, Malaysia has it all. Keep reading if you’re visiting Malaysia for the first time, as you’ll definitely experience culture shocks in this beautiful country. Preparation is the key, and here is the essential Malaysia travel advice for first-timers. 

#1- Visa Requirements

Malaysia is one of the most developed countries in the SEA region, partly because of their visa policies. The majority of travelers won’t need to obtain a visa before arrival as more than 150 nationalities can enter the country visa-free. Unlike neighboring countries, Malaysian visa policies are very straightforward, and you’ll get a stamp that allows you to stay up to 90 days in the country (visa-free, no cost). However, be sure to have an onward ticket before heading to the airport as you won’t be able to board without proof of your travel plans. 

#2- Malaysian People Speak Excellent English

Friendly Malay people

When I landed in Vietnam for the first time, I was shocked by how hard it was to communicate with people as the language barrier is real. I had a huge struggle to negotiate a fair price for a taxi ride from Hanoi’s airport. However, to my luck, Malaysian people tend to speak excellent English, and they are eager to talk. Grab drivers, and even older generations are fluent in English, so don’t hesitate to speak to them and learn more about their culture and places to visit. 

#3- Scarce Nightlife Scene

Let’s get it straight – if you’re visiting Malaysia after the Full-Moon Party in Thailand or a crazy pub crawl in Phnom Penh, you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting the same level of nightlife in Malaysia. Did you know that Malaysia has one of the highest taxes on alcohol import in the whole world? When you combine high alcohol prices with the majority of the Muslim population, you get not such a lively and vibrant nightlife scene.

Kuala Lumpur features a very vibrant nightlife scene around the Bukit Bintang area where you can enjoy electronic music, craft beers, and some dancing. If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe where alcohol is cheaper, head over to tropical Langkawi island. 

#4- Delicious and Diverse Food on Each Step

Spicy curry

If you’re a food lover, then you’ve just found your heaven. No matter which country I go to or cuisine I try, Malaysian food is one of the best! For example, the food scene in Kuala Lumpur is so diverse, so fresh, so multicultural, and so delicious. The capital is a cultural hub of Malaysia, and you’ll notice it immediately. There are many neighborhoods around the capital, including Pakistani, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, and so on.

Explore more: What to do in Kuala Lumpur for first-time travelers?

What’s great is that you don’t have to visit any of these countries to try their delicious cuisine. I’ve really enjoyed the Indian rice buffet, the abundance of Roti varieties, Chinese dumplings, or a piquant curry. Malaysia has it all! No matter who you ask, people will always get excited when talking about their food experience in Malaysia. 

#5- Budget-Friendly Country

Malaysian Ringgit

Malaysia is not different from neighboring countries (not talking about Singapore) when it comes to the cost of traveling. The country is suitable for any budget so that you can have the time of your life on a shoestring budget, but there are options for people who enjoy luxurious experiences. Food is exceptionally affordable, especially if you eat delicacies from street vendors. Getting from one part of the country to another is very convenient and cheap as there are various transportation options.

If you’re a booze lover, expect to spend much more than in surrounding countries, but it’s still not that bad. A bottle of imported beer in a downtown bar in KL costs around 20 RM ($5) while you can get a bottle of wine in a duty-free supermarket for 40 RM ($10). When choosing the accommodation, have in mind that you’re going to pay a tourist tax of 10 RM per night (not in Langkawi or other duty-free places). The tax isn’t included in the booking price, so keep that in mind while planning your budget. 

#6- Convenient and Affordable Transportation Options

Transportation in Malaysia

It’s so easy and cheap to travel around the country. The roads are excellent, the main cities and tourist attractions are well-connected, and AirAsia is based in Kuala Lumpur. Once you’re in any major city or tourist location, avoid taxi and use Grab instead. The majority of taxi companies are out of business since high-taxi rates, constant hustle, and scams. The best (not the cheapest) way to travel around the city is by using Grab. KL has a developed and well-connected train and bus lines, which enables you to move from one part to another part of the city for just 5 RM ($1.25).

The flight fares are probably the cheapest in Asia. A good friend of mine once told – “Once you’re in Malaysia, the whole world is in your hands.”. You can find extra cheap flight deals around and outside the country. For instance, I’ve been flying from KL to Langkawi for a whopping $16 or just $45 to Da Nang, Vietnam. 

#7- Visit Duty-Free Islands for Souvenir Shopping

Langkawi beach

Malaysia imposes pretty heavy taxes on tourists, and you will feel it on your wallet. The best way to avoid it is to travel around tropical paradises that feature white powder beaches, turquoise waters, plenty of water activities, and duty-free shopping prices. The most popular duty-free islands are Langkawi, Tioman, and Labuan, where the costs will be slightly lower on almost everything.

Learn more: Adventurous things to do in Langkawi

Langkawi is a chocolate Mecca of Malaysia, where you can buy a crazy amount of chocolate for pennies. Further, you can stock yourself with decent cigars and rare bottles of alcohol while on these islands. Also, there is no tourist tax on accommodation, so you can enjoy luxurious resorts or bungalows at a reasonable price. 

#8- Bring Universal Travel Adapter

I had a struggle with power outlets and charging my gadgets since I didn’t know that Malaysia uses type-G outlets. Be sure to prepare yourself and get a universal travel adapter that will come handy no matter where you are. It’s important to mention that newer buildings already have universal outlets installed. 

#9- Left-Hand Side Driving

Arguably, the best way to explore the islands and remote places is by renting a motorbike. Be sure to have all required documents such as a valid ID, international driving license, and health insurance before renting the bike. Surprisingly, traffic in Malaysia is pretty smooth and not so chaotic, like in Vietnam or Thailand.

The roads are mostly in decent condition, so you can expect a pleasant experience. Oh, not to forget, Malay people drive on the left-hand side, so be careful. It took me a few hours to be completely comfortable with traffic since I’m not very used to left-hand side driving. 

#10- Wear Appropriate Clothes

Batu Caves

Malaysia is a very religious country featuring different religious practices and the abundance of temples and religious sights. Whenever you’re planning to visit a particular temple, be sure to wear appropriate clothes that cover your knees and shoulders. It’s not mandatory, but in some places, women are required to wear a scarf to cover the hair. Also, be sure to take your shoes off once you’re entering a religious sight or temple. You can’t miss with good old elephant pants!

I’ve been to Malaysia many times and always excited to visit again. It’s definitely one of my favorite countries! If I knew these 10 things before my first visit, I would save much money, time, and headaches.

What’s your travel advice for Malaysia? Please share your tips below.

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