Anyone coming to Malaysia after spending time in other parts of Southeast Asia, with the exception of Singapore and Brunei, will be struck by how expensive it is. While it is relatively easy to get by on less than 20 US dollars a day in much of the region, doing so in Malaysia is next to impossible. This is particularly true of Kuala Lumpur, where (like most capital cities) everything from accommodation to food costs that much more. Despair not though, it is possible to have an enjoyable time in KL, and not bust your budget too badly.
Think small. KL has a growing number of decent guesthouses, and they provide reasonable value for money. Many include a simple breakfast, free WiFi and comfortable chill-out areas. And none charges the dreaded plus plus (10% service, 6% tax). For larger hotels, it really pays to book ahead, online. Hotel rack rates are to be avoided at all costs.
Eat local. The best advice for food in KL is to follow the crowd. It is nearly always possible to have a tasty, filling meal for under 10 ringgit, if you opt for shopping centre food courts, street stalls or open-air eateries. South Indian food is an especially good bet.
Cut down on booze. Alcohol is punitively taxed in Malaysia, not for moral or religious reasons, but because it’s a great source of revenue. It is possible to drink cheaper in KL, but it’s never cheap, particularly when it comes to wine. Follow this link for top tips about drinking on a budget in KL.
Take public transport. The main accommodation areas are all within striking range of the Monorail and/or LRT. Use them wherever possible. While not a bargain, taxis are reasonable value, so long as it’s on the meter, the fare is shared by more than one person, and you avoid rush hours.
Shop during sales. Thanks to the appreciation of the ringgit, the vast majority of name brand goods are more expensive in KL than they are in Western countries. As a general rule, if something is not heavily discounted, it’s not worth buying.
Free is good. Many sights are free in KL, including places of worship, public open spaces, and even some museums and galleries. Others charge a nominal fee, such as 5 ringgit to get into the National Museum.
Don’t be stiffed by double pricing. Most commonly, the worst tourist rip-offs in KL are also the ones that charge more for tourists than Malaysians. The Bird Park, for example, charges an astonishing 45 ringgit for foreigners (equivalent to a whopping 15 US dollars), while locals pay 20 ringgit.
It should be remembered that even if you stay in the cheapest dorm bed, eat only street food, spurn all booze and always use the cheapest available transport, you will still struggle to get by on less than 60 ringgit or 20 US dollars a day. If you’re on a budget that’s lower than this, you may want to skip KL altogether and head elsewhere in Malaysia, where prices are generally lower.
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 26th July, 2011.