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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.

Malay language

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.

  • Alcohol in Malaysia

    Alcohol in Malaysia

    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.

  • The Orang Asli (First People) of West Malaysia

    The Orang Asli (First People) of West Malaysia

    Ask visitors who the indigenous people of Malaysia are, and I suspect the answer from the overwhelming majority would be “Malay”, which is not surprising given the sustained efforts of Malay nationalists to perpetuate this misconception. ... Read more.

  • What to eat in Sarawak

    What to eat in Sarawak

    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.

  • The indigenous people of Sarawak

    The indigenous people of Sarawak

    Other than being famed for its jungle, Sarawak is also known for its indigenous communities and for good reason; there are more than 45 recognised ethnic groups. ... Read more.

  • How to save money while travelling in Borneo

    How to save money while travelling in Borneo

    Travellers coming through Malaysian Borneo often complain that it is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia. ... Read more.

  • An introduction to Malaysian English (Manglish)

    An introduction to Malaysian English (Manglish)

    One of the near universal truths of travelling is that taking the time to learn a few words of the local language easily repays the effort. ... Read more.

  • Wesak (Vesak) in Malaysia

    Wesak (Vesak) in Malaysia

    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.


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