Malaysia travel advice
Malaysia is a great introduction to Southeast Asia, and can be easily explored by hire car.
We get to the heart of the country, utilizing experienced local guides and our own knowledge in the careful planning of your itinerary.
Accommodations in Malaysia ranges from some of the most sophisticated beach resorts in the world through atmospheric colonial buildings to the small jungle lodges we have discovered on our research trips.
To discover some of the unexplored regions that you might otherwise miss, we can arrange a private car with chauffeur guide for a similar price to a self-drive (see below). This way you can visit some of the more remote Orang Asli villages in the Cameron Highlands, sample the local delicacies of Penang’s night market and experience the more relaxed and traditional way of life in the atmospheric fishing villages of the east coast.
At the end of the trip your chauffeur guide can leave you to enjoy one of Malaysia’s stunning beaches.
Good roads in Malaysia make it a great option for a self-drive holiday. The main cities are busy and not always clearly signed, but expressways and older trunk roads tend to be quiet and easy to navigate. The expressways have good, frequent rest stops whilst traveling on the older roads allows the opportunity to stop at local villages and roadside stalls where children sell seasonal fruits fresh from their family farms.
Rented cars are of good quality and the road maps are some of the best in Southeast Asia.
Bahasa Malaysia is the national and official language but English is widely spoken. Other languages are Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Iban and Tamil.
Food and drink
In multi-racial Malaysia, every type of cooking from Southeast Asia can be tasted. Malay food concentrates on subtleties of taste using a blend of spices, ginger, coconut milk and peanuts. Sambal (a paste of ground chili, onion and tamarind) is often used as a side dish. Blachan (a dried shrimp paste) is used in many dishes and ikan bilis (dried anchovies) are one popular snack. Popular Malay dishes include satay, which consists of a variety of meat, especially chicken, barbecued on small skewers with a spicy peanut dipping sauce and a salad of cucumber, onion and compressed rice cakes. The best sauce often takes several hours to prepare to attain its subtle flavor.
There are many regional types of Chinese cooking including Cantonese, Peking, Hakka, Sichuan and Taiwanese. Indian food is also popular, with curries ranging from mild to very hot indeed. Vegetarian food, chutneys and Indian bread are available. Indonesian cuisine also combines the use of dried seafood and spiced vegetables with the Japanese method of preparation with fresh ingredients cooked to retain the natural flavor. Japanese, Korean and Thai food are available in restaurants. Western food is served throughout the country, particularly in major hotels which have continental menus and international coffee shops. Drink: although the country is largely Islamic, alcohol is available. Local beers are Tiger and Anchor.
Tipping: 10% service charge and 5% government tax are commonly included in bills. If you would like to reward good service we recommend tipping your chauffeur guide 20-30 Ringgit per day. Obviously this is very much a rough guide and you are completely free to give whatever you feel is appropriate. For porters in hotels (and at airports where appropriate) we recommend that you give a couple of Ringgit.
Money and expenses
Ringgit (R) = 100 sen. Notes are in denominations of R100, 50, 10, 5 and 1. Coins are in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 sen. There are also a large number of commemorative coins in various denominations which are legal tender.
Automatic cash dispensers are widespread, especially in the major cities. Most machines take all credit cards, as well as Cirrus and Plus cards. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, as are bank debit cards. Please do remember that most banks charge a fee for cash withdrawals whilst abroad. It is recommended that you call your bank a few days prior to traveling to Malaysia and provide them with your dates of entry and exit to the country. Due to a recent change in bank policy, many people have encountered problems trying to withdraw cash from ATMs around the country as they have not informed their bank of their trip. If you want to bring traveler's checks, they can be taken in either UK sterling or in US dollars.
Social conventions and etiquette
Malaysia's population is a mixture of diverse cultures and characters. In general, the racial groups integrate, but keep to their individual traditions and lifestyles. Malays still form more than half of the total population and lead a calm life governed by the authority of elders and a strong sense of respect and etiquette. Hospitality is always warm, lavish and informal. Visitors should follow Malaysian example and respect religious beliefs, such as taking off footwear at the door and wearing appropriate clothing. Dress should be informal, but not over-casual. Within towns, smoking has now become the subject of government disapproval and fines are levied in a number of public places. You should avoid touching food with your left hand. Shaking hands, although European, has become common place.
Our certified country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the State Department website.
When to go to Malaysia
You'll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to Malaysia.
22¾ hours (New York to Kuala Lumpur)