Traveling in Malaysia

Everything You Need to Know About Malaysia Travel

Traveling in Malaysia
••• Traveling in Malaysia begins with Kuala Lumpur. Fakrul Jamil Photography / Getty Images

Traveling Malaysia is easy, affordable, and exciting! Malaysia's generous visa policy gives travelers plenty of time for free to explore Kuala Lumpur, the rainforests (including a side trip to Borneo), and the many beautiful islands on both sides of the country.

Although Thailand — Malaysia's big neighbor to the north — gets a lot of attention from tourists, Malaysia welcomes travelers with a diverse mix of culture that is different from anyplace else.

General Information

  • Time Difference: GMT + 8 hours (12 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time)
  • Country Phone Code: +60
  • Capital City: Kuala Lumpur (population: 1.77 million)
  • Primary Religion: Islam

What to Expect from Malaysia Travel

Traveling in Malaysia is a unique opportunity to sample culture from a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous people all in one place. Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and many other cultures on hand. You'll get to experience food, festivals, and traditions from many different ethnic groups in Malaysia.

Malaysia is very easy to travel. English is widely spoken; communicating rarely poses a problem in the top destinations around Malaysia. Roads and travel infrastructure are in excellent condition.

Malaysia can be traveled on a budget, although accommodation costs are slightly more expensive than those found in neighboring Thailand and Indonesia.

Eating is cheap at street carts and in food courts, however, consuming alcohol is significantly more expensive than in Thailand.

Accommodation in Kuala Lumpur can be pricey and comes at a lower standard of cleanliness than comparable places in Thailand. Bed bugs have even made a resurgence in the cheaper places to stay.

Couchsurfing and AirBnB are good choices in Kuala Lumpur. See TripAdvisor's best deals for hotels in Kuala Lumpur.

The People in Malaysia

  • Population: 31.29 million
  • Ethnic Groups: 50.1 percent Malay; 22.6 percent Chinese; 11.8 percent Indigenous; 6.7 percent India; 8.8 percent Other
  • Life Expectancy: 75 years (both sexes combined)

While traveling in Malaysia, travelers get to interact with people from a diverse mix of different ethnic backgrounds. In any given situation, you'll often find Malay, Indian, and Chinese socializing and speaking English together.

The indigenous people in Malaysian Borneo, collectively referred to as the "Dayak" people, are made up of over 200 tribes and subgroups. Many have their own languages and customs.

Money in Malaysia

  • Currency: The Malaysian ringgit (MYR)
  • Abbreviation: The local abbreviation of "RM" is often placed before the amount.
  • Division: Each Malaysian ringgit is divided into 100 sen.
  • Nominal GDP Per-Capita: US $12,127

ATMs on all the major networks are reliable and can be found throughout Malaysia. All major currencies can be exchanged in cities and tourist destinations. Credit cards are accepted only in large hotels and shopping malls, although a fee may be added; Visa and Mastercard are the two most accepted types of credit cards.

The use of traveler's checks is becoming more and more obsolete.

Malaysian ringgit is available in denominations of RM1, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50, and RM100 notes. ATMs usually only dispense denominations of RM50 and RM100. Breaking large denominations can sometimes be a hassle; when possible, opt for machines that give smaller banknotes.

Tipping is not customary in Malaysia, however, a small tip may be expected in luxury hotels.

Language

  • Official Language: Bahasa Malaysia (simply called "Malaysian" or informally just "Bahasa" in Malaysia)
  • Secondary Language: English

Bahasa Malaysia doesn't use tones, and the rules of pronunciation are very straightforward. Also, Bahasa Malaysia makes use of the English alphabet. For these reasons, learning Bahasa Malaysia is relatively easy compared to learning tonal Asian languages with unfamiliar scripts such as Thai, Mandarin Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Although the official language is Bahasa Malaysia, a majority of the population also speaks English due to the large mix of ethnic backgrounds. Business is often conducted in English with heavy doses of regional slang thrown in.

Travelers can have fun learning how to say hello in Malay and some useful phrases in Malaysia. Using your new knowledge of the local language is a sure way to get a smile.

Visa Requirements

U.S. citizens and most nationalities are granted free entry for up to 90 days upon arrival. After those 90 days, if you wish to stay longer, you can simply exit the country for a while and then return to receive 90 more days.

Unless there are special circumstances, no need to apply for a travel visa before visiting Malaysia.

Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian states in Borneo, maintains its own immigration controls. Although a visa is free, travelers receive a separate stamp for Sarawak that may be of a shorter duration.

Popular Places to Visit in Malaysia

  • Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia's capital city can be a little hectic and appear grungy to the uninitiated, but it has a unique character that will definitely win you over.
  • Penang: A UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the colonial history, the large island off the west coast of Malaysia and settlement of Georgetown are famous for a thriving food scene and multicultural heritage.
  • Cameron Highlands: If you're getting burned out from sweating through urban sprawl, the much cooler Cameron Highlands are a green, peaceful escape with trekking through tea plantations.
  • Malacca: Colonial history and a pleasant charm draw visitors to this small and clean UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Holidays and Festivals

Ramadan — the Muslim holy month of fasting &mdash is observed throughout Malaysia, as is Chinese New Year and Hari Merdeka, the Malaysian independence day on August 31.

The Rainforest World Music Festival held each summer in Sarawak, Borneo, is one of the largest music festivals in Asia. The three-day event is a celebration of indigenous culture and daily workshops followed by bands from around the world.

Because of the large Indian population, some big Indian festivals such as Holi are observed in parts of Malaysia.

Getting to Malaysia

A majority of international flights come through Kuala Lumpur International Airport (airport code: KUL) into either KLIA or the new KLIA2 terminal, AirAsia's hub and home to other budget airlines. A shuttle service connects the two terminals, however, you should from which terminal you'll be departing before you arrive for a flight.

Comfortable five-hour buses run daily between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, allowing you to visit both cities without the need to fly!

The Best Time of Year to Visit Malaysia

The best time to visit Malaysia depends upon where you are going. Weather often differs between the islands on either side of the peninsula. Kuala Lumpur is pretty much hot and wet throughout the year, however, traveling during monsoon season there really isn't a big problem.

The best time to visit Langkawi is during the dry months of December, January, and February. On the other hand, the Perhentian Islands are best during the summer months of June, July, and August.