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Malaysia...pros and cons for travelers

Posted by andreahkg on 7/9/2009 at 20:18

I suspect one of the reasons Travelfish has little info on Malaysia is because there are definite challenges to travel in this country. I am a seasoned traveler accustomed to making my own transport and hotel arrangements and have just cut my trip to the eastern beaches of Malaysia short because of the lack of transport, lack of information, lack of "welcome" shall we say from this country. Thailand has a huge advantage over Malaysia as there are travel agents on every corner in the resort areas, eager to book your transport and help with accommodations, sightseeing etc. I tried three agents in Kuala Lumpur and was basically told they don't "offer" this kind of service and that if I wanted to go to Cherating I would have to buy a bus ticket and figure it out on my own. And I should mention that they are all "sleepy" at the moment due to Ramadan...I did not make this up, but was told it by a Malaysian. Suffice it to say the only PRO for going to Malaysia during Ramadan is that I got a ticket for Petronas Towers within one hour of the time I arrived. The cons are more than this space allows but I am now back in Thailand where they are happy to see visitors and my 3 star hotel is far better (well maintained, FREE wifi) than a 4 star hotel in KL at half the price. Sadly I don't see any need to go back to Malaysia.

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Posted by hokasch on 8/9/2009 at 04:17

I suspect one of the reasons Travelfish has little info on Malaysia is because there are definite challenges to travel in this country.

On the opposite, would this not be a reason to cover Malaysia? I guess it has more to do with scare resources vs. loats-of-work needed to add a new country.

I think you are a bit general in your judgement. Personally I am used to getting my tickets where everyone else is buying them, this would not bug me. So it depends a lot how you travel, what you are looking for, etc. I have not been to many places in Malaysie, apart from forced KL-stayovers, but fellow travellers loved it.. especially the "smaller" places. KL has one advantage, though: great food. After 4 months in the boondocks of Kalimantan, this becomes a major attraction!

About Ramadan, yes this is a "sleepy" time... but wait until they get liburan. Everyone is moving around the whole country like crazy. Maybe this was the case when you have been in KL, everyone is visiting their relatives etc. Maybe this was also the reason for the agencies not offeering bus tickets - everything booked out? Just speculating.

#2 hokasch has been a member since 24/12/2008. Posts: 45

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Posted by BruceMoon on 8/9/2009 at 05:46


I know what you mean. Outside the main tourist centres, Malaysia is definitely inward looking. And, no, it's got nothing to do with Ramadan. The 'attitude' is year round.

But, as hokasch points out - that becomes the challenge of the journey.

I've been thinking lately that westerners are so addicted to consumerism that they appear to have an expectation that every possible thing is readily and easily available to 'consume'. Your description of the Thai approach to travel options (and contrasting this to the Malaysian approach) is a case in point. (please, I am not criticising you - rather, using your observations to talk about all of us westerners).


#3 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by somtam2000 on 8/9/2009 at 08:21 admin

We have little info at the moment because we're busy and understaffed -- adding a new country is a lot of work and takes time. No other reason.

In my travels in Malaysia (only talking about the mainland here) I've always found it to be very easy to get around -- great and comprehensive bus network, comfortable trains, an easy to read language and a very accessible population -- so OP's comments come as a surprise to me -- not my experience.

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Posted by BruceMoon on 8/9/2009 at 11:07

Stuart (somtam)

Like you, I also find that the public transport system quite well organised, and the British language 'base' helps me. But, more like andrea than you, I found the help provided by the population very hit'n'miss. Yes, west and south coasts are better than the east coast (esp northern part) and centre.

It was/is this contrast that I referred to in my intro to my Melaka contribution - which has yet to be published.


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Posted by smash on 8/9/2009 at 15:18

I quite like KL. Love Bintang Walk for shopping. Starhill Gallery is awesome as is Pavilion just across the street. Also have very fond memories of the Premier Suite at The Ritz-Carlton (although I remember their breakfast being rather horrendous for a five-star hotel).

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Posted by Nokka on 8/9/2009 at 18:44

I rather enjoyed Malaysia when I went there; especially Borneo. We found the country to be sort of 'Thailand -Lite'. ie not as full on as Thailand, the food not as spicy, the nightlife not as frenetic.

Part of the enjoyment for me was that there are generally LESS tourists than in Thailand and that you need to work a little bit harder to do stuff. For me, that was a plus point, not a negative one. Sometimes in Thailand it seems everything is soooo easy, there's always someone who will do things for you and you don't have to think or problem solve much. That can be nice, of course; but the danger is that you trip along in a tourist bubble doing everything with other tourists.

I confess, though, that I didn't travel along the east coast as it was monsoon season when I was there, so can't comment on there.

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Posted by MADMAC on 11/9/2009 at 17:01

I like the Malay Army. Reasonably competent and capable and I owe them a debt. Traveling there holds no appeal for me however. I have grown weary of Muslims and Islam.

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Posted by MADMAC on 11/9/2009 at 17:06

Given that you ARE a tourist when you come here, why would acting like a tourist be an issue? Hmmmm, not following on this one.

But if you don't want to be with other tourists, that's easy here. Just move off the main roads and spend your time in the small "Ampurs" and you won't see any tourists. Nor will people speak hardly any English.

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Posted by Nokka on 11/9/2009 at 19:51

Sorry, Mac; I have no idea what your point is.

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Posted by MADMAC on 16/9/2009 at 22:26

My point was it's easy to get away from the tourists. Just go inland to small provinces where tourists don't go. Take the road along the Mekong from Nakhon Phanom to Nong Khai, spending a night in each town along the way, and you will see narry a tourist.

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Posted by exacto on 17/9/2009 at 07:29

I thought the point Nokka was trying to make is that travelling in Malaysia can be an extra plus exactly because there are fewer tourists, meaning the tourist infrastructure is less developed and getting from place to place requires more effort and is much more of an adventure as a result. Stop me if I'm wrong Nokka.

I've enjoyed that part of travelling too in many places, including, as MADMAC says, northeast Thailand. The Isan doesn't get that many tourists yet, but I bet it eventually will. It can be pretty charming, particularly that lengthy section of the Mekong that MADMAC and Tilapia recommend visiting. I plan to do that strip this January.

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Posted by Nokka on 17/9/2009 at 15:34

Yes, that's exactly the point I was making, Exacto.

Plus, we also found that even the more tourist-obvious places had less tourists than they would if they were situated in Thailand. It was rather nice to be treated more as a novelty with people actually interested in you, rather than just yet another tourist.

However, I do take Mac's point; if you wish to, it is still pretty easy getting away from the tourist masses in Thailand too.

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Posted by tezza on 26/9/2009 at 12:32

I'm a bit of a fan of Malaysia. As pointed out, the transport is brilliant and I have never suffered from lack of service and advice about forward travel. I'll be back in November.

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Posted by williamtaylor on 26/9/2009 at 23:11

I have been in Malaysia for the past 2 months or so and I have met quite a few travelers who don't like it very much here. It’s not as much of a party as Thailand and it’s not as cheap as Indonesia.
It is different, it’s not Thailand, it's not Bali. That doesn't mean there are not wonderful things to experience here. I think Kuala Lampur is now a much better travel hub for SE Asia than Bangkok.

1. The food: Unlike every other country in Asia, you will never get sick of the local food, even in smaller towns. This is because there are three types of local food: Chinese, Malay/Indonesian, and Indian. No getting sick of the local food and having to shell out big bucks for McCrap or poor imitations of western food at the guesthouse restaurant (though if you must KFC and all the others are available).
A good food stall culture also exists.
Indian food in Malaysia is more consistently of good quality than Indian food in India.

2. Transport: The main Air Asia hub is in KL. This makes it cheaper to fly to any other country in SE Asia from KL than from virtually anywhere else in Asia (if you have a rough plan of where you are going and you buy in advance). Domestic flights are also dirt cheap. You now have no excuse not to visit Borneo as it only costs about 30 MY to do so if you keep your eyes open for deals in the Air Asia website.
The budget airport is 9 MY ride on a comfortable bus from central KL. You can then ride the train or take a coupon taxi to your hotel without much hassle.
This is a big contrast with the new airport in Bangkok, conveniently constructed in the middle of nowhere and a boon for taxi touts to prey on jet-lagged tourists.

3. Visas: You need to do absolutely nothing to get a FREE 3 month visa on arrival (unless you are Israeli). You want 3 more months? No problem. Go to Thailand, Singapore, or Brunei for a day, walk right back in and you get three more months, end of story. No visa fees, bribes, corrupt officials, zilch.
This is a big contrast from what seems to be a regional trend of tightening visa restrictions. Indonesia gets cut back 2 months to a month. You can now only get a 15 day extension of the Thai visa overland. To get a Chinese visa now you have to apply in your home country or go through an agent and hope you are lucky.
No corrupt officials to deal with as in Cambodia or Laos.

4. Touts, beggars, riffraff: The above mentioned and other people selling stuff you have no use for are not very persistent and are very easily brushed off. I have never been told that the temple is closed by someone wanting me to buy elephant statues.
There are no massive slums and while homeless people and beggars exist, they are very rare in comparison with the neighboring countries.

5. Islam: Not a big deal for tourists. I like to get drunk sometimes. I experienced Malaysian during Ramadan and this was no problem.
Chinese like to get drunk as well and they make up about a third of the population and will happy to sell you beer. The ethnic groups living in longhouses and national parks are mostly animist/ Christian and will also be happy to do business with you.

Although you will see occasional stories in the news about Islamic couples getting caned for attempting car sex, overall Malaysian society is pretty tolerant.
On a more positive note, the simplicity of Islamic art and architecture is quite beautiful, as well as different from the 1,000 temples you have probably already seen. If you have chance, Ramadan buffets are also awesome.

6. Clean: Much cleaner and less stinky than much of Thailand and the Philippines. I think this has something to do with the government providing trash cans for the public to use and actually servicing them in a timely fashion.

1. Beer is expensive: A can of Tiger or Carlsberg bought at a 7-11 cost about 7.5 MY (around $2US). I entered Malaysia from the Philippines, which has some of the cheapest beer prices in Asia, so this came as a bit of a shock. A way around this that works for Borneo is buying pirate beer (smuggled?) at Chinese restaurants, imported from Myanmar and China (like Oranjeboom and Myanmar Beer ) at around 2 or 2.5 MY a can. I have yet to see pirate beer in mainland Malaysia, but maybe I haven't looked hard enough. Arak is also cheap but as horrible as Lau Kau.
There are also a few duty free zones where you can stock up on cheap booze.

2. Transport: The taxi drivers in some smaller cities are controlled by what is essentially a cartel. There is usually a boss type guy who watches over the whole lot of them and sets prices. If you don't like the price he sets, you can't just ask someone else. This is especially infuriating at long distance bus terminals. Borneo seems worse in this aspect than in the mainland.
NONE of the taxi drivers in Borneo seem to know what a meter is or does, despite nearly all of their cars being equipped with one.
In KL some taxi drivers will use the meter, but very few within the Chinatown area and other areas backpackers are likely to stay. However they are not Satan worshipers like the taxi drivers in Manila.
Inner city and local buses do exist but they run nearly as often as in other SE Asian countries. There are not many bemos, jipneys, tuk-tuk, etc either for short trips. Many of the locals have money and it's much more a car-oriented culture.

3. Toilets: Toilets are mostly pretty dirty compared to the rest of the country, even in posh shopping malls. It seems that the populace has not been trained with basic toilet etiquette, such as not peeing on the seat.

Really nothing else major to gripe about, you should have a good time if you approach it with an open mind and don't come looking for the local equivalent to Khao San or the full moon party.

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Posted by SBE on 27/9/2009 at 01:36

This is a big contrast from what seems to be a regional trend of tightening visa restrictions. Indonesia gets cut back 2 months to a month.

Can't you get a 2 month tourist visa in a consulate any more??? Or are you talking about the VOA?

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Posted by furneburner on 27/9/2009 at 06:56

Can't get sick because of the food?

My friends family ALL got sick in from food in Melacca, as in hospitalised.

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Posted by Almanach on 23/12/2009 at 13:11


I'm from Hungary, but i'm living in Malaysia, Kuantan since last 6 months. Malaysia is a wonderful place for traveling but it's very different from Thailand or Indonesia. Thailand is famous from partys, nightlife and Indonesia from cheap prices. In Malysia you can find both, if you are searching in the right place. Kuala Lumpur is a very interesting, beautiful, modern and big city. You can find some old places if you are interested in history of Malaysia, you can go shopping everywhere. Malay ppl love shopping! Usually the shopping centers are expensive and also the branded things are in same price as in Europ or USA, but if you have time to go around in Kuala Lumpur, you can find everything very cheap. Example in Time Square (shopping center) the first 5-8 floors are expensive, but if you go up till 10th-11th floor you can find the "everything for 10RM" shops. ( 1$ = 3,33* RM . And if you want to have nightlife, KL is perfect for you. Kuala Lumpur has many discos, pubs, Shisha bars and good places and the nightlife is noisy and awesome. Trust me... ;)
Penang is almost same with the Europian countries. It's a big, modern city, with a nice beach. But you should know, that not only the environment is same, the prices also. (And the night life also by the was) It's a nice place :)
Langkawi is awesome! Beatufil place, beautiful beach, a lot of things what you can do and enjoy. Free duty everywhere (that means, it's not cheapper, but bigger choice)
Melaka is a great place for visit. There is many places for visit. Museums, old houses... It's interesting, big city.

But real Malaysia and the real muslim world is not in the big cities.
In Malaysia you can find 3 type of culture:
1. Malay
2. Chinese
3. Indian

This mix in every day life is very interesting, and you can learn a lot of things about the ppl and them life style, what is a way different from western ppl culture.

By the way, i'm here 6 months already, and i didn't have any problems with food...

If you have any questions just find me on my e-mail:


#18 Almanach has been a member since 23/12/2009. Posts: 1

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