Essential Tips For Visiting Malaysia

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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 enjoyable.

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10 Tips for travel to Malaysia


I’ve travelled to Malaysia more times than I can count, visiting friends and relatives there, and have been to both sides of the country, Peninsula Malaysia (West Malaysia/Mainland) and Malaysian Borneo (States of Sabah and Sarawak of East Malaysia). The two sides are separated by the South China Sea. 

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Map of East and West Malaysia - credit World Atlas

Located in Southeast Asia, Peninsula Malaysia is sandwiched between Singapore and Thailand on the Malay Peninsula. Being centrally located on the world map is one of the reasons West Malaysia is such a popular tourist destination, and a convenient stopover for many travellers. 

Malaysia has enormous appeal with 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 perfect for short and long vacations.

Visiting Malaysia

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

When visiting Malaysia for the first time, a little preparation on what to expect goes a long way. So, the following information will help you on your travels there. 

1 – The Culture

Firstly, it’s important to know that Malaysia is made up of a blend of several cultures. The 4 main ethnic groups are Malay, Chinese, Tamil Indians and indigenous people.

The country celebrates all of the respective religious festivals and has public holidays for everyone 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. However, English is also an official language, widely spoken in the bigger cities of Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and 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.

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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.

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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. However, 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. I suggest you choose lodging with airconditioning, as it is rather warm at night all year round.

Snazzy Tip: I don’t recommend hostels. Instead, I suggest opting 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.


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Sama-Sama Hotel, Kuala Lumpur Airport

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.

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 customs in 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, and no cutlery.

  • 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, nor can you bring your own.

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, which 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.

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Western cuisines 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.


Now, 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.

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Visiting Malaysia


Berjaya Hills Resort, Bukit Tinggi

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16 thoughts on “Essential Tips For Visiting Malaysia

  1. josypheen says:

    I looooove Malaysia! We only stayed for two weeks so I feel like I have soooo much to see if we ever go back. I would really love to climb up Kinabalu next time, as Borneo was soooo fun (I mean, apart from the sadness of seeing the miles and miles of plantations on the way to Sarawak. Poor rain-forest.)

    I totally agree with you about the food. That has to be one of the main attractions to this fantastic country.

  2. Zarina Rimbaud-Kadirbaks says:

    Thanks for these valuable tips! I’ve wanted to travel to Malaysia about 20 years ago already, but then life events messed up my plans and it still hasn’t happened :-S I did make it as far as Singapore last year so got very close! But I’m hoping to go within the next few years, fingers crossed 🙂

  3. Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions says:

    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!

  4. Sally says:

    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.

  5. nancywill2017 says:

    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!

  6. pinkcaddytraveloguegmailcom says:

    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!!

  7. Yukti says:

    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.

  8. Sage Scott says:

    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?

  9. Annick says:

    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!

  10. Andi says:

    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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