Malaysia Travel: Everything You Need To Know
Malaysia has always been one of my favorite countries to explore, both as a solo female traveler and as a mum of two young boys. The diverse culture, bustling cities, pristine beaches and incredible food have made Malaysia the destination of some of my best family vacations. Malaysia is also a very easy country to travel to on a budget, making it an even better destination for your family holiday.
One of the most incredible things about Malaysia is the diversity: the people, religion, food and culture are so diverse that you feel and see the variety throughout the entire country. Personally, I love that Malaysia offers a unique opportunity to show my kids how people from different backgrounds and religions are able to come together to live in harmony and peace. Even better, you get to relax on a white beach with turquoise waters or explore a rainforest at the same time!
I’ve put together a guide that contains everything you need to know before choosing Malaysia for your next family holiday. Keep reading for all the information you’ll need to plan your trip, including Covid-19 travel information, packing tips, currency tips, Malay food and language, best locations for families and more.
Covid-19 Restrictions (as of May 2022) in Malaysia:
Malaysia has relaxed their travel restrictions within the past few months. As of April 2022, fully vaccinated travelers can enter Malaysia without having to quarantine. If you aren’t vaccinated you can enter Malaysia after quarantining for 5 days and testing negative no more than two days before your flight.
Before traveling to Malaysia, you must have a return flight ticket, verification of your Covid-19 vaccine through Mysafetravel Portal.
Currently, wearing a mask is optional outdoors and mandatory indoors/on public transportation.
The currency of Malaysia is the Malaysia Ringgit (MYR or RM). The Ringgit are divided into 100 sen. The current conversion rate is 22.85USD to 100MYR – an easy way to do quick conversions while you’re traveling is to round down: so if something costs 50MYR you know it’s around 10USD.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted throughout Malaysian cities, but make sure you have cash on you just in cash. You should also have cash specifically for small towns or more remote locations, as they may not accept credit or debit cards.
Pro tip: when withdrawing cash from an ATM in Malaysia, make sure you choose to be charged in Malaysian Ringgit. This will save you in the long run with conversion rates.
There are 137 indigenous languages spoken throughout Malaysia, on top of the other international languages that are commonly known. You will definitely hear Malay, Thai, Chinese and English while you are in Malaysia. While most people will speak enough English for you to communicate in the bigger cities, it is polite to know a few phrases in Malay. Plus, it’s fun for the kids to learn!
Here are a few phrases to use while in Malaysia:
Yes – Ya (Yah)
No – Tidak (tee-dak)
Please – Tolong (toh-long)
Thank you – Terima kasih (te-ree-mah ka-seh)
You’re welcome – Sama-sama (saa-ma saa-ma)
I don’t understand – Saya Tak Faham (saa-yah tak faa-haam)
How much? – Berapa (be-raa-paa)
How safe is Malaysia?
Malaysia is one of the safest countries in Asia and is by far one of the safest locations in Asia for tourists. There is a very low rate of crimes against tourists.
Of course, it is always important to have your wits about you and carry yourself as a ‘savvy traveler.’ Make sure you protect yourself against pick pockets by avoiding the use of backpacks. If you’re planning on hiking through any of the rainforest or more remote areas, make sure you hire a guide from a trustworthy agency, as it can be very confusing and easy to get lost for those who aren’t familiar with the area.
Malaysia is also very strict about several other things: drug use is strictly prohibited, so make sure you aren’t brining anything that could be considered a drug when you travel to Malaysia. Also, homosexuality is currently illegal throughout Malaysia, and all forms of queer PDA is not tolerated. So in order to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, it’s best to travel discreetly.
One thing to keep an eye out for safety-wise is the haze that usually falls over Malaysia between June and October. This is due to the fires that occur in Indonesia and can create hazardous air quality.
Also, if you’re not used to hot and humid conditions, make sure you take some time to acclimatise. Drink plenty of fluids and eat at regular intervals, wear sunscreen, and cover up in light clothes where possible.
What to wear and pack
Malaysia has a very hot and humid climate as well as a conservative country, so it is best to pack with this in mind. Cottons and loose fit clothing is recommended. You will want to pack light layers so you can easily shift as the temperature or setting does. It will get slightly colder if you are traveling in the mountains, but will still be significantly humid.
There are many beautiful mosques, churches and temples that are absolutely worth a visit. In order to do so, it is important to remain respectful to the local culture and customs. This will often mean covering your hair, chest, arms and legs. In my experience, the best way to do this is to bring plenty of scarves, as well as light weight, long sleeved shirts with skirts or pants. The scarves will allow you to cover up or cool off depending on your agenda throughout the day.
If you plan on hiking, which you should, be ready to hike in humid rainforests and mountains while in Malaysia. Also bring some bug repellent for your hike in the wilderness!
It is very easy to get around Malaysia, whether you’re staying in just one city or looking to travel throughout the country. There are many forms of public transportation, from busses to taxis, that are very affordable and easy to use.
You should also consider using the Trishaws at least once while traveling in Malaysia. It is a great way to directly support a local while having a fun experience with your family. Trishaws are colorful and decorated bikes that will get you where you need to go in whatever city you find yourself.
There are some incredible festivals that happen each year that you may want to schedule your trip around. Why not enjoy the local culture and festivities with your family? Here are my favorite festivals to consider attending in Malaysia:
Thaipusam: Late January/Early February
Chinese New Year: February
The Malaysia Water Festival: April
Wesak Festival: May
Rainforest World Music Festival: July
Hakka Stalls/Street Food in Malaysia
Malaysia is absolutely known for wonderful street food. While you’re traveling throughout Malaysia, you will be able to try both familiar and brand new food. You absolutely need to try the street food! Hakka stalls can be found in any of the larger cities in Malaysia. You will rarely pay more than $5 for a plate of food. Even better, you will be able to try both Malaysian cuisine and international cuisine at the local Hakka stalls. Most of the Hakka stalls have clean tables so you will have plenty of space to enjoy your food as well. You can even buy larger platters for your family and friends and save even more money.
It is important to note that the majority of Malaysia is Muslim. This means drinking alcohol is not as socially acceptable as here in Australia. Because of this, alcohol is heavily taxed. This means alcoholic beverages are not as cheap as you’d expect in other parts of Asia.
Check out my Complete Penang Food Guide where I dive into the best way to eat your way through Penang.
My Favorite Destinations in Malaysia
Most of you will land in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city. There are many wonderful things to see in this melting pot of a city before continuing your journey. From shopping in the golden triangle to eating everything along Jalan Alor, you won’t be bored in Kuala Lumpur.
I have also put together an Ultimate Guide to Kuala Lumpur. This should answer all your questions about Malaysia’s frenetic capital.
Just two hours outside of Kuala Lumpur, the entire city of Melaka is a UNESCO world heritage site. Melaka’s history is long and complicated, containing periods of Malay, Dutch, English and Portuguese rule. You can absolutely feel the cultural diversity as you wander through churches and structures dating back to the 13th century.
Make sure you taste some of the incredible local, Nyonya cuisine as you explore the city. Especially since Melaka is also known for its street food!
The next spot you should visit while you are in Malaysia is Penang. Penang’s city of Georgetown is also UNESCO Heritage listed. Georgetown beautifully blends old world charm with the modernity of the new world. Not only is Penang food famous, so is it’s breathtaking nature and filled with remarkable history. Check out my Ultimate Guide to Penang for more tips on how to spend your time in this wonderful city. You will absolutely want to spend at least a day in George Town to experience the best things this city has to offer.
For those of you looking for the perfect beach vacation, it’s time to head towards Batu Ferringhi. A small coastal town, Batu Ferringhi is approximately 30 minutes outside of Penang and has beautiful beaches, lively night markets, and endless activities.
Batu Ferringhi does have some incredible beaches, but it simply cannot compare to an archipelago of 140 islands. Many struggle to choose between visiting the islands of Langkawi and Penang. If you’re currently experiencing this dilemma, readmy article on choosing between Penang and Langkawi. If you do decide to spend some time in Langkawi, read my four day Langkawi itinerary.
If you and your family are ready for even more adventure, then you definitely need to make your way to Borneo. There are many incredible things to explore on the Malaysian portion of this island (Indonesia and Bunei also have territory on Borneo), but my favorite is by far Bako National Park.
Complete with waterfalls, rainforest, streams, wildlife and winding trails, your options for adventure are endless. There are also several wildlife sanctuaries throughout Borneo where you can see orangutans, elephants, crocodiles and so much more. For example, the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is a wonderful experience.
On top of the jaw-dropping nature and wildlife, you actually have access to extremely comfortable and modern hotels, resorts and hostels, so your family will be very comfortable, entertained and happy.
A trip to Sandakan is also a must to understand Malaysia’s World War II history. However, this one’s for adults or those with kids who are old enough.
Made up of two islands, Perhentian is one of the best destinations for a remote, quiet beach vacation. The islands are known for both scuba diving and snorkeling. However, the crystal clear waters allow you to see right through to the ocean floor from the beach itself.
One of my favorite parts of relaxing on these islands? There aren’t any international resorts, so we got to support the local community throughout our stay. It is important to note that Perhentian is closed to all travelers during the monsoon season from October to March. This means you need to plan your trip in the dry season.
Talang-Satang National Park
If you want an experience your kids will never forget, I really recommend Sarawak’s Talang-Satang National Park. This small archipelago of four islands is a turtle sanctuary, and therefore maintain protected status. Visiting between July and October is particularly special. This is when you’ll have the opportunity to witness giant sea turtle mothers making their way to their nesting spot. It is simply an incredible experience that I was so excited to share with my family.
From wonderful food, beautiful culture, deep history and incredible people, Malaysia is an incredible family holiday option. If you’re thinking of expanding your travel even more, read about our last Malaysia holiday. We took our two kids under four to both Malaysia and Singapore!
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