Malaysia for beginners
The country in a nutshell
Malaysia's currency is called the Malaysian ringgit (MYR). One ringgit is made up of 100 sen, the later come only in coin form. Malaysians often refer to the curency in dollars (its old name) -- they're talking about ringgit -- not US dollars. It's around MYR3.5 to US$1. International access ATMs can be found across the country. You will be expected to use ringgit for all cash purchases. Credit cards are widely accepted, though small businesses may not accept them.
Malaysia is a very safe country. While petty theft is a problem in the major tourist centres, violent crime against foreigners is particularly rare. Use your common sense when out in the evening and stay in control. If you feel threatened, especially in a bar or club environment, leave. Credit card fraud is the most likely problem you may encounter -- keep an eye on your credit cards at all times and while not always feasible, try not to let them out of your sight.
Malaysia has Tourist Police who have been specifically trained to help tourists. They can be recognised by their dark blue uniforms and the letter "I" (information) on a red and blue badge on their shirt pocket. The nation-wide emergency number for the police is 999.
Malaysia's healthcare, while not as good as that of neighbouring Singapore is nevertheless pretty good -- especially in the urban centres. Upcountry and in rural areas, medical care is, not surprisingly, more basic. We certainly recommend travel insurance for travel in Malaysia.
Malaysia has a very comprehensive public transport system. Peninsular Malaysia is served by both a rail and bus network, while Malaysian Borneo has buses. There is also a comprehensive domestic flight network. Transport is cheap and safe.
Compared to ever-changing Thailand, the visa system in Malaysia for tourists is dead simple. Most nationalities do not require a visa for a stay of under one month. The one standout exception to this are Israelis, who, in most cases are not permitted to enter Malaysia.
The Malay language is Bahasa Malaysia and it is very similar to Bahasa Indoensia. The script is Roman and, well, you say it how you read it -- even the worst language learner will struggle not to pick up some local lingo while in Malaysia. In tourist centres many Malaysians will speak some English, but many will speak none. Don't expect taxi drivers to speak English.
Malaysia's weather is pretty hot and humid year round -- the hottest months being March, April and October. Malaysia is affected by two monsoon seasons -- the northeast monsoon and the southwest monsoons. The former brings most of the rain with the west coast wettest between September and October, the east coast from October to February and Malaysian Borneo between November and February.
Malaysia is almost developed
Malaysia is well developed, but it's not Singapore. The urban and tourist centres are very well developed, but in the countryside, services can still be pretty basic. This can be good as you're able to experience comfort and a bit of challenge in the same trip, but don't come expecting first world services in a remote village -- you will leave disappointed and perhaps frustrated.
Malaysia is a conservative country
A predominantly Muslim nation, Malaysia and Malaysians can be quite conservative -- especially when compared with their northern Thai neighbours. Use your comon sense -- dress appropriately, don't insist on drinking alcohol in guesthouses that would prefer you don't, don't sunbath in the nude and don't, whatever you do, bring any pot with you from Thailand -- the penalties for drug use and/or possession in Malaysia are fierce.
For any traveller to a predominantly Muslim country such as Malaysia, the rules on alcohol availability and consumption are handy to know — not only for accessibility but for insight into cultural sensitivities as well. In Malaysia, people from the various non-Muslim cultures represented throughout the country also abide by certain rules so as not to insult their Muslim friends. ... Read more.
Hugely diverse Sarawak is home to rural indigenous peoples as well as city-dwelling yuppies, with a whole range of subcultures in between. This makes for some very interesting cultural dialogues and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Sarawak’s food. Here’s a rundown of foods you should try while in Sarawak. ... Read more.
Sarawak is really quite big. It’s the largest state in Malaysia but also the most sparsely populated. This poses the question: how long should you spend in Sarawak? The answer really depends on what you want to do in Sarawak and how much money you have. ... Read more.
Malaysia is often described an Islamic country, but Muslims make up at most 60% of the population, which leaves a hefty 40% of people who practise a whole range of other religions, from animism to Zoroastrianism. The largest minority, comprising one in five Malaysians, are Buddhists, most of them ethnic Chinese. ... Read more.
Ramadan can be a mystery for many travellers passing through predominantly Muslim terrain. Messages of ‘everything will be closed’ are often passed along the backpacking word-of-mouth trail, but rest assured, besides a few inconveniences of finding some businesses closed or perhaps a ferry schedule changed, it’s not too big a deal. ... Read more.
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