things to know before going to Malaysia malacca

Things to Know Before Going to Malaysia – A First-Timers Guide

Boasting vibrant culture, rich history, delicious food, budget-friendly prices, and endless opportunity for adventure, Malaysia should be on every traveller’s bucket list.  Although there are some important things to know before going to Malaysia, that will not only prepare you for your trip but will guarantee you have a truly amazing time!

When you talk about travelling in South East Asia, Malaysia isn’t a country that you hear come up very often.  This intrigued us, and after spending several weeks backpacking there, we can’t help but feel it’s fiercely underrated.

The country actually has a lot to offer. You can enjoy anything from charming heritage towns and historical cities; to tropical rain forests and pristine beaches.  Furthermore, it is a country where you can experience world-class diving, encounter endangered orangutans, and sample an amalgamation of cuisines.  

Whether your a nature lover or history buff, thrill-seeker or foodie, you are sure to love all that this beautiful country has to offer.  So without further ado, I bring you a first timers guide to travelling in Malaysia.

Travelling to Malaysia soon? Check out our comprehensive 2 Week Malaysia Itinerary to help plan your trip.

Things to Know Before Going to Malaysia – A First-Timers Guide

*Before You Travel to Malaysia, have you got your travel insurance sorted?  Cover yourself for the unexpected, read why you really need travel insurance or get a quote from World Nomads.

*Have you got your travel Visa sorted? Check if you need one here and retrieve a quote. It’s simple, fast and reliable.

*Don’t leave home without any backpacker essentials with our free printable packing list.

General Things to Know Before Going to Malaysia

Ok let’s start with the basics, here’s the general things you’ll need to know before going to Malaysia.

The Best Time to Visit Malaysia

Malaysia weather tends to be hot and humid all year round; however, the best time to visit will depend on what you are looking to do.  The seasons vary drastically in the East and West coast of the country; therefore you will want to plan your trip accordingly. 

The best time to visit Kuala Lumpur and other areas of Peninsular (West) Malaysia, is between November and August.  Although temperatures rarely fluctuate from the 30-degree mark, you will avoid the worst of the monsoon season during this time.  Some rain is expected all year round – particularly in the capital where thunderstorms occur regularly.

Conversely, to take advantage of the world-class diving opportunities along the East Coast, you should plan your trip between March and September.  This is also the best time to visit the tropical rainforests in Borneo where you can encounter the endangered orangutan and other fascinating wildlife.

Festivals in Malaysia

You may wish to coincide your trip with one of the many vibrant festivals in Malaysia that occur throughout the calendar year.  

For example, Malaysia is one of the best countries in the world to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  If you travel during this time, you can expect a number of traditional celebrations taking place around the big cities. 

Another interesting event is the Tamil festival of Thaipusam.  Held annually at the Batu Caves, this event has earned itself a gruesome reputation. The festival ritual involves devotees piercing parts of their body, cheek, and tongue.

Malaysia Culture & Religion

One of the most important things to know before going to Malaysia is that it is a land of cultural diversity.  The plethora of influence present throughout the country is one of the things we appreciated most during our time travelling there.

Malay, Chinese, Indian and other ethnic groups, have lived together harmoniously in the region for generations.  The first indigenous tribes arrived during the 13th century and were closely followed by the native Malays.  Later, the significant Chinese and Indian population settled during the British colonisation in the 1800s.

Although the official religion in Malaysia is Islam, the majority of religions are practised here to some extent. In fact, it is one of few places where you can walk down the street to find a Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist temple positioned alongside each other.  It’s refreshing and heartwarming to see how these distinct cultures have unified.  

CHINESE TEMPLE KL
Vibrant Chinese temple in Kuala Lumpur – Thean Hou Temple
Malaysian Language

Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, is the national language of Malaysia.  While the majority of the population speak English, it is always beneficial to learn some key phrases in the local language.  Not only does it gain respect from the locals, but it will also enhance your travel experience.  Here are some key Malay phrases to help get you started

  • Good/ Morning – Selamat Pagi (s’la-mat pag-ee)
  • Good /Afternoon – Selamat Tengah hari (s’la-mat teen-gah har-ee)
  • Good/ Afternoon/Evening – Selemat Petang (s’la-mat puh-tong)
  • Good /Night – Selemat Malam (s’la-mat mah-lahm)
  • Goodbye – Selamat jalan (s’la-mat zha-lan) –
  • Thank you – Terima kasih (te-ree-mah ka-seh) –
  • Please – Tolong (toh-long)
  • Yes / No – Ya (yah) / Tidak (tee-dak)
  • You’re welcome – Sama-sama (saa-ma saa-ma)
  • I don’t understand – Saya Tak Faham (saa-yah tak faa-haam)
  • Where is the bathroom? – Di mana tandas (dee ma-na tan-das)
  • How much? – Berapa (be-raa-paa)
  • Expensive – Mahal (maa-hal)
  • 1 – Satu (saa-too)
  • 2 – Dua (doo-aa)
  • 3 – Tiga (tee-gaa)
  • Beautiful – Cantik (chan-tek)
Food in Malaysia

Malaysia is a country obsessed with food.  And to be honest, they have every right to be.  This multi-ethnic society has created one of the most diverse and exciting cuisines in all of Asia.  The endless dishes of Malay cuisine means you can try something different every day for a month. Here is a list of foods that you MUST try when travelling in Malaysia.

Nasi Lemak – You could say that Nasi Lemak is the ‘national’ dish of Malaysia.  Traditionally, the dish is served with coconut rice, dried anchovies, a boiled egg, cucumber slices, and a spicy sambal sauce. 

Banana Leaf Rice – A dish inspired by South Indian cuisine, this celebrated rice dish is served atop a green banana leaf.  Traditionally, the rice will be accompanied by a selection of vegetarian curries, poppadom, and a spicy sambal sauce.  

Roti Canai – A simple yet delicious dish in Malaysia, is the iconic Roti Canai.  A light, crispy, flatbread is served alongside a selection of spicy sauces or a curry.

Malaysian Street FoodMalaysian street food is a cheap and easy way to sample all the delicious flavours of the local cuisine.  You will find the best street food in Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

KL Street Food

Things to Know Before Going to Malaysia

Money, Visa, & Travel

OK, now let’s look at money and how you to go about entering the country and so fourth. Here’s the things you’ll need to know regarding money, visa, and travel.

Malaysia Currency

The Malaysian currency is the Malaysian Ringgit denoted as MYR.  At the time of writing 5 Ringgit is equal to £0.93/1.23$.

Budget for Backpacking Malaysia

Travelling West Malaysia is suitable for all budgets and if you are sensible with your cash you can comfortably live on £20/25$ a day.  Decent hostels can be found for as little as £5/7$ and often include breakfast, while budget private rooms are available for £10-20/15-25$.  

Food costs in Malaysia can also be very cheap.  Noodles or fried rice can be picked up at hawker stalls for as little as 5 MYR, while a good meal at a food court will set you back 10-15 MYR.  If you want to dine at restaurants, expect to pay between 30-50MYR for a meal.

Entry prices for attractions will heavily depend on your interests.  Most of the mosques/temples, museums, and nature areas, are very cheap if not free to enter.  But if you wanted to experience the view from the KL Tower, for example, it would set you back around £15/$20.

Alcohol in Malaysia can be almost prohibitively expensive for budget-conscious backpackers.  It’s best to limit your consumption if you want to keep your daily spends down.  

If you are thinking of heading East to Borneo, you should consider that your daily spend will double if not triple, if you want to make the most of the attractions in the region.

Malaysia Visa Requirements

Malaysia has a very laidback policy when it comes to tourist visas. Many nationalities including all European, United States, Australian and South African Citizens are granted visa-free entry into the country for 90 days. Check if you need one here and retrieve a quote. It’s simple, fast and reliable.  

For more information regarding visa requirements for your country, please check with the Immigration Department of Malaysia ahead of travel.

Getting Around in Malaysia

Public Transport – In our experience, the easiest way to explore the big cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang is the bus and rail networks.  As well as being reliable, they are also super cheap.

The metro system in Kuala Lumpur puts the London Underground to shame with comfortable, air-conditioned carriages and boasting routes to all the must-see spots across the city.  There are even ladies-only carriages for female travellers who may feel uncomfortable in the mixed.

Taxi – Grab Taxis operate in the bigger cities and are a safer, cheaper alternative to a local taxi.  If you do take a local taxi, be sure they use the meter.  Or agree on the fare in advance to avoid being ripped off.

Travelling Across the Country in Malaysia

Backpacking Malaysia? Don’t risk missing out on bus tickets by leaving them to the last minute! Book yourticket in advance with 12 Go Asia for the best prices, a guaranteed seat, and peace of mind. We booked all of our transport with 12 Go and it made our lives a hell of a lot easier. Click the link to book your tickets now.

By Bus – After covering most of Peninsular Malaysia, we found the easiest way to travel from place to place was by tourist bus.  It is by no means the quickest way; however, the buses are comfortable and you do get to see some pretty epic scenery along the way.  

It is worth noting that the road conditions are generally very good in the tourist regions of the West.  Although, once you start travelling East to Borneo, they become more treacherous.  We recommend avoiding bus travel in these areas as there is a history of accidents on the roads.  

By Train – There is also a cross country rail network, although the prices tend to be more expensive and we have no personal experience using it.  

By Air – If you are on a tight timeframe and money isn’t too much of an issue, you can also travel via domestic flight to most parts of the country.  We always use Skyscanner to ensure we are getting the best deals on flights.

things to know before going to Malaysia Kuala Lumpur SCOOTER

Things to Know Before Going to Malaysia

The Best Places to Visit

When planning your Malaysia Itinerary, the places you will want to visit will highly depend on your interests. However, with equally diverse landscapes as there is culture, you can be sure there is something for everybody.

If you seeking a cultural experience, you should consider heading to Penang and Malacca.  If adventure and nature is your thing, perhaps Borneo or the Cameron Highlands would be more suited.  For quality beach time and world-class diving, you won’t want to miss the islands on the East Coast.  

Related Read: 2 Weeks in Malaysia – Itinerary & Travel Guide

Kuala Lumpur

Your Malaysian adventure will inevitably begin in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, and here you are immediately welcomed by the enthralling amalgamation of culture and ethnicity. 

The nation’s capital has vivacious energy, encouraged by striking architecture, creative street art, bustling markets, and verdant nature.  In short, walking the streets of the bustling metropolis is a show-stopping delight.

The capital city boasts a diverse realm of activities for tourists to enjoy, including religious landmarks, architectural wonders, blissful nature, hidden gems and Instagram spots. 

For a full list of things to do in Kuala Lumpur, you can check out our articles:  2 Days in Kuala Lumpur and Unique Things to do in Kuala Lumpur.

SOUTHEAST ASIA CITIES
One of the awesome things to do in Kuala Lumpur

Penang

If you are even slightly interested in Malaysian history and culture, you should make Penang a priority on your itinerary.  The city is located along the coast and once served as a major trading hub; however, it is the beautiful colonial district of George Town, which attracts most visitors to the city.  

Renowned for its fascinating heritage houses, vibrant street art murals, and unrivalled street food, George Town is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.  While meandering around the city is a perfectly acceptable way to spend the day, visitors can also enjoy the local beaches, vibrant temples and beautiful hiking spots.

things to know before going to Malaysia - Penang street art

Malacca City (Otherwise known as Melaka)

In the years before Georgetown prospered, Malacca City served as the historical hub of Malaysia.  A UNESCO heritage, riverside town, the city is oozing with culture and charm, yet many travellers erroneously miss it off their itinerary.   

From ambling the colonial streets and cruising along the river; to visiting engaging museums and sampling the local cuisine; Malacca City offers the perfect blend of serene and educational exploration opportunities.  See our perfect Malacca Itinerary to help plan your trip.

malacca

Langkawi

Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands located off the west coast of Malaysia.  Famous for its endless natural landscapes, the main island hosts some of the best beaches in Malaysia.  In 2007, Langkawi was declared a UNESCO World GeoPark as a reward for its pristine beaches, majestic waterfalls, mysterious caves, lush rainforests and verdant mangroves. 

sunsets in langkawi
sunsets in Langkawi

The Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands is a picturesque region in the West of Malaysia.  Hosting verdant nature, scenic views, and a bunch of adventure opportunities, nature lovers and intrepid travellers will not want to miss it.  

The highlands are most famous for their striking tea plantations, although visitors can also enjoy jungle treks, strawberry picking, and traditional English cream teas! 

CAMERON HIGHLANDS

Malaysian Borneo

Borneo, the worlds 3rd largest island, is divided among 3 countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.  Hosting pristine rainforest, world-class dive sites, towering mountain ranges, and some of our planets most unique wildlife, it is a location that screams adventure.  

While 73% of the island is dominated by Indonesian territory, Malaysian Borneo (otherwise known as East Malaysia) comprises of 2 states – Sawarak and Sabah.  In these states, visitors can enjoy some of the countries wildest attractions, including world-class scuba diving, intrepid mountain treks, and encountering wild orangutans.

ENDANGERED ORANGUTAN IN BUKIT LEWANG SUMATRA INDONESIA

Perhentian Islands

Located off the East Coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are famous for their pristine beaches, azure waters, and spectacular diving conditions. The largest island, Perhentian Besar, is the quieter and less crowded island.  While Perhentian Kecil is more lively and popular with backpackers.  

Other than diving and snorkelling, there isn’t much else to do on the islands other than to immerse yourself in the tranquillity that such conditions provide. 

TURTLES AT THE KOMODO NATIONAL PARK

Things to Know Before Going to Malaysia

Travel Advice

Finally, I want to talk about safety, social etiquette, and any other things you might need to know before going to Malaysia.

Is Malaysia Safe?

Despite certain media stigma attached to Malaysia and other Islam countries; Malaysia is, in fact, a very safe country to travel.

Of course, that doesn’t mean to say that there are no risks at all.  Petty theft offences such as pickpocketing aren’t uncommon.  And it pays to adopt extra care and vigilance when you are out enjoying the country.

Furthermore, you should consider rabies among stray dogs, weather extremities, and local laws.  We recommend reading this article for more information on how to stay safe in Malaysia.

Oh, and don’t forget to take out travel insurance!

Is Malaysia Safe for Women?

As 2 females travelling throughout Malaysia, we personally never felt unsafe.  We would advise respecting the Islam tradition of covering knees and shoulders to avoid unwanted attention.  Although, the dress code is generally relaxed in big cities such as Kuala Lumpur & Penang  

Furthermore, if you are a solo female traveller in Malaysia, we would recommend to avoid isolated areas and travelling alone at night.

Travel Insurance

While Malaysia is generally a very safe place to travel, you should still have travel insurance to cover you for the unexpected. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. If the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you’ll want the best cover money can buy.

For this reason, we always recommend World Nomads for travel insurance. They are affordable, offer a variety of packages and add ons, and allow you to make amendments to your policy while travelling. 

What to Wear in Malaysia

Generally, Malaysia is a hot and humid country, so you are going to want to pack plenty of cool attire.  At the same time, bear in mind that it is a Muslim country, and in many places, it will be respectful, if not required, that you are covered up.  For women, covering legs below the knee and shoulders is recommended.  For men, it’s more relaxed; however, would avoid revealing tank or vest tops.

You can expect to encounter rain at any time of year, and it often hits unexpectedly.  It is therefore recommended you carry a lightweight rain jacket and waterproof cover for your bags at all times. 

If you plan to visit the Cameron Highlands or areas of the rainforest, you will want some warmer clothes for cooler temperatures.

LGBT in Malaysia

There are laws applying to LGBT travellers in Malaysia that are important to be aware of.  With the primary religion of the country being Islam, LGBT is still very much a taboo subject.  And sadly, acts of homosexuality are still illegal.  

Unfortunately, the LGBT community have little political or social support, and there is little hope of change in the near future.  That said, we were pleasantly surprised to find an active gay scene in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.  

To summarise, LGBT travellers should not be put off visiting Malaysia; however, it’s important to be conscious of your behaviour in public.  See our articles regarding LGBT Travel in Malaysia and LGBT travel in Asia, for more information.

Be Aware of Scams

In all touristy areas, there are many travel scams you should be aware of so consequently, you can avoid them.  There are also known to be skilled pickpockets operating in some areas so be sure to keep your valuables secured at all time.  We use either a small padlock or compartmental bag to keep our valuables safe.

Vaccinations for Malaysia

You should always consult with your healthcare practitioner at least 6-8 weeks ahead of travel, as the vaccinations required will be dependent on the individual.  As a guide, here is a list of the recommended immunisations for Malaysia.

  • MMR 
  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis B (optional)
  • Rabies (optional)
  • Japanese Encephalitis (optional)
Internet in Malaysia

WIFI is extremely reliable in the big cities in Malaysia.  However, in the more rural areas, you should be prepared for there to be no internet at all.  

If, like us, you rely on the internet when you travel (let’s face it, who doesn’t anymore), we have the perfect solution. TravelWifi’s portable pocket wifi allows us to quickly and securely connect when we need it the most. Click the link for more information on coverage, packages, and the latest offers.

Or your other option is to purchase a tourist sim card.  We have used U Mobile in the past and experienced good signal throughout West Malaysia.  

Oh, and don’t forget a VPN. Using a VPN is very important these days to make sure that all your data is safe and secure. Also, it helps while travelling not only for safety reasons but also it unlocks geo-restricted content such as Netflix and helps to avoid demographic price discrimination while looking for a flight or a hotel.

We use Surfshark VPN to keep us safe and secure.  Register here and use promo code: ourtasteforlife for 85% off and 3 extra months free!

Tap Water in Malaysia

There seems to be some incoherence whether the tap water in Malaysia is safe to drink, and so we advise not to take the chance.  When booking accommodation, endeavour to choose somewhere that has a distilled water refilling station.  This way you avoid buying too many plastic bottles.

What to Pack for Malaysia

Unsure of what you might need to pack for your adventures in Malaysia? Don’t worry, we have got you covered.  Check out our backpacker essentials, for a packing list of items that we carry with us on every adventure.

Here are some items that we recommend taking to make your visit to the beaches & waterfalls more comfortable:

  • Comfortable shoes for the hike down
  • Water shoes to wear in the water – We Recommend2 in 1 Water/Hiking Shoes.
  • Waterproof Bag to protect valuables – We Recommend: Waterproof Dry Bag-10L/20L/30L
  • Bathing suit & towel for the obvious – We Recommend: Microfiber Travel Towel
Travel Responsibly

As travellers, it should always be a top priority to travel responsibly.  We already leave a substantial carbon footprint just by flying to our travel destinations, so that’s even more reason to make a positive impact when we get there.  There are many small steps you can take to becoming a responsible traveller, and we highly encourage you to educate yourself before travelling to Malaysia. Here are some things you can do to minimise your footprint:

1. Do not leave any rubbish on the ground: You would think this would go without saying;  however, there are some questionable humans who think it’s ok to throw trash on the ground.

2. Carry a Steripen or iodine tablets to sterilise water: This not only limits your usage of single-use plastic but also saves you money too!

3. Respect the local culture: Be courteous of the local culture and act in such a way that leaves a good impression.  Learn a little of the local language (hello and thank you is the minimum), greet the locals in a polite manner, and respect dress codes & traditions

More on Malaysia

Planning a trip to Malaysia? Check out our other articles to help plan your trip.

Did you enjoy our First Timers Guide to Malaysia?

Well, that concludes First timers guide to Malaysia – things to know before going to Malaysia.  We hope you enjoy your time in this magical country. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below, through our contact us page. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here where we share further travel advice & inspiration.

Stay adventurous and Happy travels.

Charlotte & Natalie x

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That means that if you purchase through these links, we will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. And we can continue bringing you free travel tips and advice. If you found the content helpful and are kind enough to use our affiliates – you are awesome, and we thank you! 

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36 Responses

  1. Malaysia is in our bucket list from very long time. We are planning to visit Malaysia soon. Will definitely going to remember all the point which you mentioned above.Thanks for the useful instructions and suggestions.

  2. I would love to visit there someday. It looks like an amazing place to travel to! SO many beautiful things to see and do!

  3. Malaysia is very attractive to me, but I did not have the opportunity to go there. It’s great that you shared your journey. I am intrigued and definitely want to be there! The photo is just super!

    1. Hi Tori, thank you for taking the time to connect with us! We hope one day you get to visit Malaysia, we really enjoyed the country. Do get in touch if you have any questions planning to go there, we are happy to help!

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Charlotte & Natalie

Hi There!

We’re Charlotte & Natalie, a British lesbian couple with a passion for travel and adventure.
Here you will find everything from LGBTQ+ travel & lifestyle advice, to comprehensive guides and itineraries designed to make your travel planning easier.
We want to inspire you to live the life of your dreams.

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