For the mobility impaired, Malaysia can be a nightmare. In many cities and towns there are often no footpaths, kerbs are very high, construction sites are everywhere, and crossings are few and far between.
While the 2008 Persons with Disabilities Act recognises the rights of people with disabilities to have equal access to public transport, among many other social goods, there is no penalty for noncompliance. The government does not mandate accessibility to transportation, and few older public facilities are adapted; new government buildings are generally more likely to be accessible.
Malaysia's National Council for the Blind has some online information about tourism initiatives for the sight impaired across the country – see www.ncbm.org.my/index/tourism-in-malaysia for details.
Ace Altair Travels (03-2181 8765; disabledtravelinmalaysia.weebly.com) Based in Kuala Lumpur, this is the only specialist accessible travel agent and tour operator in Malaysia. In addition to tours and hotel bookings, they offer wheelchair-accessible transfers (from the airport or door-to-door) and equipment rental.
In Singapore, government campaigns have seen ramps, lifts and other facilities progressively installed around the island. The footpaths in the city are nearly all immaculate, all MRT stations have priority lifts, tactile wayfinding, easy-to-follow signage, visual and audible indicators in lifts and on platforms, and wheelchair-accessible toilets. More than half of public buses are wheelchair-accessible, with the whole fleet due to be wheelchair-accessible by 2020; almost all bus stops are already barrier-free. Wheelchair-accessible taxis can sometimes be flagged down, but Ezylimo (http://ezylimo.com/) can be contacted to book wheelchair-accessible maxicabs for airport transfers or transport around the island.
The Disabled People's Association Singapore (www.dpa.org.sg) can provide information on accessibility in Singapore.
Many buildings, tourist destinations and public transport in Brunei Darussalam are not wheelchair accessible. Blind and vision impaired visitors – and those using a cane or mobility aid – will struggle with extremely high kerbs, lack of tactile paving and completely unplanned wayfinding.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel. Before setting off get in touch with your national support organisation (preferably with the travel officer, if there is one).
At pasar malam (night markets) and other street markets a certain amount of bargaining is fine for souvenir-type goods, but avoid being too aggressive as that's not part of the region's shopping culture. Smile, be polite and don't get stuck on small differences of price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are generally safe countries to travel in and, compared with Indonesia or Thailand, they are extremely safe.
- Theft and violence are not particularly common, although it pays to keep a close eye on your belongings, especially your travel documents (passport, travellers cheques etc), which should be kept with you at all times.
- Credit-card fraud is a growing problem. Use your cards only at established businesses and guard your credit-card numbers closely.
- The main thing to watch out for are animal and insect bites.
Connect to the reliable electricity supply (220V to 240V, 50 cycles) with a UK-type three-square-pin plug.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Most visitors will receive a 30- or 60-day visa on arrival for Malaysia, 90-day visa for Singapore and 30- to 90-day visa for Brunei. It's possible to get an extension at immigration offices, but often simpler to exit the country and re-enter, ie hopping back and forth across the borders with Thailand or Singapore. Tourists must also go through passport control and have their passports stamped whenever they arrive in Sabah or Sarawak from Peninsular Malaysia or the federal district of Pulau Labuan.
Generally not required for stays of between 60 days (Malaysia), 90 days (Singapore) and 30 to 90 days (Brunei).
- Visiting mosques Cover your head, arms and legs.
- Eating Use your right hand only if eating with your fingers.
- Modesty Don’t embrace or kiss in public.
- Greetings A salam involves both parties briefly clasping each other's hand then bringing the same hand to touch their heart. Malay women don't shake hands with men – smile and nod or bow slightly instead.
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are blanketed with hot spots for wi-fi connections (usually free). Internet cafes are much less common these days, but do still exist if you’re not travelling with a wi-fi enabled device. Only in the jungles and the most remote reaches of the peninsula and Malaysian Borneo are you likely to be without any internet access.
In any dealings with the local police it will pay to be deferential. You’re most likely to come into contact with them either through reporting a crime or while driving. Minor misdemeanours may be overlooked, but don’t count on it. Police in all the countries have broad powers and you would be unwise to refuse any requests they make of you. If you are arrested, you will be entitled to legal counsel and contact with your embassy.
Drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. A number of foreigners have been executed in Malaysia, some of them for possession of amazingly small quantities of heroin. Even possession of tiny amounts of classified drugs can bring down a lengthy jail sentence and a beating with the rotan (cane). Just don’t do it.
In May 2014 Brunei began phasing in a new criminal code based on sharia law. Prayer for Muslims on Fridays became compulsory and, consequently, all businesses and restaurants tend to be shut between noon and 2pm. However, plans to introduce more severe penalties, including the severing of limbs for theft and stoning to death for adultery, have come to naught; it seems they are not popular with Bruneians. Still, make sure you're up to date on Brunei's laws in order to ensure you're on the right side of them.
Under colonial-era laws still on the books in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei it’s illegal for men of any age to have sex with other men. In addition, Islamic sharia laws (which apply only to Muslims) in Malaysia and Brunei forbid same-sex sexual relations and cross-dressing. Outright persecution of gays and lesbians is rare but not unknown.
LGBT+ travellers should avoid behaviour that attracts unwanted attention. The locals in the region are conservative about all displays of public affection regardless of sexual orientation. Although same-sex hand-holding is fairly common for men and women, this is rarely an indication of sexuality; an overtly gay couple doing the same would attract attention, though there is little risk of vocal or aggressive homophobia.
There’s actually a fairly active LGBT+ scene in KL and Singapore with a slightly more discreet one in George Town. Start looking for information on www.utopia-asia.com which provides good coverage of LGBT+ events and activities across Asia.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted by most businesses.
Tipping is not generally expected, but leaving a small contribution for exceptional service is appreciated.
- Hotels Tipping is most common for services in top-end hotels.
- Restaurants Many restaurants in the major cities add a service charge of around 10% onto the bill.
Pos Malaysia Berhad (www.pos.com.my) runs an efficient postal system. Singapore Post (www.singpost.com) is very reliable, as is Brunei Postal Services (www.post.gov.bn).
- Malaysia Banned in most public places including air-conditioned restaurants and on public transport. Smoking is, however, still allowed in bars and nightclubs.
- Singapore Prohibited in most indoor locations. Fines for smoking in prohibited places range from S$200 up to S$1000.
- Brunei Completely smoke-free since 2017. Tough anti-smoking laws ban puffing in all public spaces, and you're not allowed to import any tobacco into the country either.
The country code for Malaysia is 60, for Singapore 65 and for Brunei 673
In Malaysia, landline services are provided by the national monopoly Telekom Malaysia (TM; www.tm.com.my). In Singapore, Singtel (www.singtel.com) controls over 80% of the fixed line market. In Brunei the leading service provider is Telekom Brunei (TelBru; www.telbru.com.bn).
Local SIM cards can be used in most phones. Other phones must be set to roaming.
Although there are still some places with Asian squat-style toilets, you’ll most often find Western-style ones these days. At public facilities toilet paper is not usually provided. Instead, you will find a hose which you are supposed to use as a bidet or, in cheaper places, a bucket of water and a tap. If you’re not comfortable with this, remember to take packets of tissues or toilet paper wherever you go.
Travel with Children
Travelling with kids in this region is generally a breeze. For the most part, parents needn’t be overly concerned, but it pays to lay down a few ground rules – such as regular hand-washing – to head off potential problems. Children should especially be warned not to play with animals, as rabies occurs in Malaysia.
Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children contains useful advice on how to cope with kids on the road and what to bring along to make things go more smoothly, with special attention paid to travelling in developing countries. Also useful for general advice is www.travelwithyourkids.com.
There are discounts for children for most attractions and for most transport. Many beach resorts have special family lodgings. Cots, however, are not widely available in cheaper accommodation. Public transport is comfortable and relatively well organised. In Malaysia, pushing a stroller around isn’t likely to be easy given a general lack of level footpaths and kerbs that tend to be high; Singapore's city streets are more stroller-friendly.
Baby formula, baby food and nappies (diapers) are widely available. However, it makes sense to stock up on these items before heading to remote destinations or islands. When breastfeeding a baby in public be sure to be discreet, covering your breasts with a scarf or towel.