Essential Tips For Visiting Malaysia

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A GUIDE FOR FIRST TIME TRAVELLERS

Visiting Malaysia

Visiting a new country can be a bit daunting, so if you’re thinking of visiting Malaysia, here is my guide for first time travellers to this beautiful country. These 10 essential tips will help make your stay seamless and amazing.

I’ve travelled to Malaysia more times than I can count, as I have friends and relatives there, and I visit almost every year. I have been to both sides of the country, Peninsula Malaysia (West Malaysia/Mainland) and Malaysian Borneo (East Malaysia).

Located in Southeast Asia, Peninsula Malaysia is sandwiched between Singapore and Thailand. Being centrally located on the world map is part of the reason Malaysia is a very popular destination for travellers.

Sabah and Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo, are the best places in the world to see Orangutans in the wild.

Here you have ultra modern architecture, historic and cultural attractions, beaches, boating, jungles, mountains, adventure activities, wildlife, world famous cuisine and loads more. All of this coupled with year-round warm weather and affordable prices, makes visiting Malaysia a must for short and long vacations, or a pleasant and convenient stopover.

Visiting Malaysia
Kuching, Sarawak River, Sarawak, East Malaysia – photo credit

1 – Culture

Malaysia’s population is a blend of several cultures, made up of 4 main ethnic groups – Malay, Chinese, Tamil Indians and indigenous people.

The country celebrates all of the respective religious festivals and has public holidays for all to observe. These include, Hari Raya, Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Buddha Day and Christmas.

Visiting Malaysia

2 – Languages

The official language is Malay (Bahasa Malaysia). This is taught in mainstream schools.

English is also an official language, widely spoken in the bigger cities of Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru, particularly in business districts and tourist areas. This makes visiting Malaysia easy for most westerners.

Chinese languages, such as Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese are common.

Indian Tamil is also spoken.

Native tribes have their own dialects, which are in steady decline.

Markets

Interesting fact: There is also a language known as Manglish, which is a combination of Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil spoken on the streets About 60% of the population can speak it. However, the government is apparently trying to discourage its use.

Batu Caves Temple, Kuala Lumpur

3 – Currency & payment options

Currency is the Malaysian Ringgit.

All major credit cards are accepted in hotels and large shopping centres. Many restaurants take cards also. Markets prefer cash, especially if you’re haggling, but some vendors do take cards.

4 – Accommodation

When visiting Malaysia you have a plethora of accommodation available to choose from. From luxury resorts and major hotel chains, to boutique hotels, homestays like Airbnb, and also hostels.

Snazzy Tip: I don’t recommend hostels. Instead, I suggest going for a budget hotel in Malaysia, where the cost is very reasonable. For as little as A$50 per night, you can be sure of air conditioned privacy.

5 – Transport

The national train system is KTM in Peninsula Malaysia. There are 3 types of train services – Intercity, Komuter for KL and surrounding areas, and the new electric train.

Intercity has two lines. A westcoast line going all the way from top to bottom of the mainland, which joins Thailand in the north and Singapore in the south. And an eastcoast line, which is a jungle route and shorter.

In East Malaysia on the island of Borneo, the only train is North Borneo Railway, which is a tourist steam train.

Throughout Malaysia travelling between cities by bus/coach is a comfortable and cheap option and there are many bus companies to choose from. Given that the freeways in Malaysia are very extensive, it’s often preferable to take a bus, particularly if you choose an express one. Only book online or at the counter.

Driving is on the left hand side, as per all Commonwealth countries.

Snazzy Tips:

  • Ditch the taxis and use GRAB. Download the app for free. UBER doesn’t exist.
  • For navigating your way around, and if hiring a vehicle, use WAZE. Download the app for free.
Kuala Lumpur Station

6 – Etiquette & Customs

When greeting locals it is best to avoid physical contact and simply say ‘hello’ and a nod of the head, unless they extend a hand to shake.

The right hand is used for greeting, passing things, eating and everything else, except going to the toilet.

Public displays of affection are not acceptable, other than holding hands. So no kissing.

It is customary to remove shoes when entering homes and places of worship, as a sign of respect.

Being gay (in public) is illegal.

Clothing should be modest, covering the body and upper legs, especially in places of worship and during Muslim celebrations. Females may need to cover their head with a scarf in mosques.

Visiting Malaysia
Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Government offices, Kuala Lumpur

Quirky things about Malaysia

During my time here I have noted many quirky or unusual practices that are commonplace or normal in Malaysia and not to be questioned, just accept them. Such as:

  • Being well dressed for a function, but wearing slippers or thongs on the feet. This is totally normal. As shoes are then removed when entering an abode, people remain at the do in bare feet.
  • Indians often eat their meals of rice, curry, chicken etc., with their right hand.
  • Many homes have sinks in the dining rooms for washing hands at mealtime.
  • Breakfast often consists of Nasi Lemak, a rice dish.
  • Do not give alcohol as a gift.
  • Malaysians are often late to things.
  • Walking and physical exercise is not something they usually do for fun, probably due to the heat.
  • Most Malaysians don’t swim, even though the country has huge coastlines and extensive rivers.
Visiting Malaysia
Melaka River

7 – Alcohol & Drugs

Being a Muslim country, alcohol is quite expensive. Do not drink in public, only in licensed hotels, bars and restaurants. Muslim owned establishments do not serve alcohol at all.

Drugs could mean the death penalty. Enough said.

Visiting Malaysia
Putra Mosque, Putrajaya

8 – Food

Amazing cuisine is one of the main attractions of Malaysia in my opinion, and has become world renowned. The beauty about the food here is that it is a combination of Asian and Indian style cooking, full of flavour.

Some favourites include, Satay, Nasi Lemak, Beef Rendang, Roti Canai, Char Kway Teow, Curry Laksa, Curry Puffs, Mee Goreng, Nasi Goreng, Wonton Mee, Butter Prawns, Steam Boat Hotpots, and so many more tantalising dishes. Try as many as you can, but be aware, many have chilly or sambal. You can of course ask for ‘mild’ when ordering.

Other types of cuisine are available, such as pizza, pasta, KFC, Maccas, Starbucks, as well as other Asian cuisine like Korean and Thai.

9 – Climate

Malaysia sits on the equator and as such has a tropical climate, which makes it hot and humid all year round. Best time to go? Any time really. You will get a little more rain in the Monsoon rainy season, which is October to March, but it’s usually just a short downpour each day. Not too much to worry about.

Visiting Malaysia
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

10 – Tipping

Tipping is not required, but it’s entirely up to you. It’s common to tip in 5 star hotels.


You’re good to go. I hope these essential tips help you when visiting Malaysia. Enjoy your time in this wonderful country.

Any questions or comments for me, you can leave below.

Thank you.

Visiting Malaysia
Durian, the smelly fruit of Malaysia – try it if you dare!

Malaysian Tours you may enjoy

Visiting Malaysia
Berjaya Hills Resort, Bukit Tinggi

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13 thoughts on “Essential Tips For Visiting Malaysia

  1. I’ve been to KL and Penang and am going on my third Malaysian trip to Port Dickson this upcoming weekend! I’ve loved it so far and this is a great guide for what visitors can expect. The multiculturalism is definitely my favorite part. I also hope to return again and again in the coming years. I’m hoping to make it to Borneo sooner than later!

  2. We love Malaysia, we have been there so many times over the last few years. We loved Borneo, Langkawi and KL. The kids loved Legoland Malaysia. I am hoping to return to Malaysia next year and visit the Perhentian Islands.

  3. Having meals with locals are some of the hardest things to figure out before visiting a different country. Great tips. I think I want to visit Malaysia for the food alone!

  4. I haven’t been to Malaysia, so these tips will be really helpful for whenever I do go. How do you eat rice dishes with your hand?! But all the food sounds amazing!!

  5. Your guide is very helpful as I have not visited Malaysia yet and looking for some first timer tips. Good to know some culture tips and also that tipping is not mandatory. Thanks for all tips.

  6. If I ever visit Malaysia, it will be my first time in that part of the world, so these tips are especially helpful. Question for you: If Manglish is spoken by roughly 60% of the population, why is the government trying to discourage it? Is it because it’s not a “pure” language like Mandarin or English?

  7. I have to admit Malaysia is not my favourite Asian country although I hear great things about Penang which everyones seems to love. Perhaps I’ll need to consider another visit!?

  8. Malaysia has been on my go-to list forever! This post was really helpful in explaining what to expect. I have found Malaysians very friendly in the past. Good to know not to give alcohol!

  9. I have visited once, a business meeting to KL, loved the food and sights, but didn’t get enough time to really enjoy it, I definitely need to go back!

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