For those with mobility issues, 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.
The rights of air passengers were improved in 2016, meaning that people with a disability cannot be discriminated against and no longer need to notify an airline unless they are travelling with an electric mobility device, in which case 48 hours’ notice is required. The only exception is if an aircraft’s size or doors prevent boarding.
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, it offers wheelchair-accessible transfers (from the airport or door-to-door) and equipment rental.
Disabled Holidays (www.disabledholidays.com) This UK-based specialist accessible travel agent and tour operator has a range of offers covering both mainland and East Malaysia.
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.
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 Malaysia's shopping culture. Smile, be polite and don't get stuck on differences of price of small amounts of ringgit.
Malaysia is hot and steamy year-round, with temperatures rarely dropping below 20°C, even at night.
Although Malaysia is monsoonal, only the east coast of the peninsula has a real rainy season – elsewhere there is just a little more rain than usual. Rain tends to arrive in brief torrential downpours, providing a welcome relief from the heat. During the monsoon it may rain every day, but it rarely rains all day. Humidity tends to hover around the 90% mark; escape the clammy heat by retreating to the cooler hills.
Dangers & Annoyances
Malaysia is generally a safe country to travel to.
- Theft and violence are not particularly common, although it pays to keep a close eye on your belongings, especially your travel documents, 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.
Theft & Violence
Muggings do happen, particularly in KL and Penang, and physical attacks have been known to occur, particularly after hours and in areas of cities with limited infrastructure. Thieves on motorbikes particularly target women for grab raids on their handbags. Also don't drop your guard on holiday islands such as Langkawi and the Perhentians – never leave your belongings unattended while on the beach, for example.
A small, sturdy padlock is well worth carrying, especially if you are going to be staying at any of the inexpensive huts found on Malaysia’s beaches, where breakable padlocks are the norm.
Government Travel Advice
For the latest travel advisories check the following websites:
- Australia (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- New Zealand (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- USA (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html)
A Hostelling International (HI) card is of limited use in Malaysia, as only a handful of places accept it (see www.hihostels.com/destinations/my/hostels for the list). The card can also be used to waive the small initial membership fee at some YMCAs and YWCAs. Bring it if you have one.
An international student identity card (ISIC) is worth bringing. Many student discounts, such as for train travel, are available only for Malaysian students, but some places do offer discounts for international students.
Connect to the reliable electricity supply (220V to 240V, 50 cycles) with a UK-type three-square-pin plug.
Embassies & Consulates
For a full list of Malaysian embassies and consulates outside the country check out www.kln.gov.my. Most foreign embassies are in Kuala Lumpur and are generally open 8am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Malaysia's country code||60|
|International access code||00|
|Tourism Malaysia toll-free number||1-800-88-5546|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Most visitors will receive a 30- or 60-day visa on arrival. It's possible to get an extension at Malaysian 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.
The following can be brought into Malaysia duty free:
- 1L of alcohol
- 225g of tobacco (200 cigarettes or 50 cigars)
- souvenirs and gifts not exceeding RM200 (RM500 when coming from Labuan or Langkawi)
Cameras, portable radios, perfume, cosmetics and watches do not incur duty. Prohibited items include weapons (including imitations), fireworks and ‘obscene and prejudicial articles’ (pornography, for example, and items that may be considered inflammatory or religiously offensive) and drugs. Drug smuggling carries the death penalty in Malaysia.
Visitors can carry no more than the equivalent of US$10,000 in ringgit or any other currency in and out of Malaysia.
Nationals of most countries are given a 30- or 60-day visa on arrival.
Visitors must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry into Malaysia. The following gives a brief overview of other requirements – full details of visa regulations are available at www.kln.gov.my.
Depending on the expected length of their stay, most visitors are given a 30- or 60-day visa on arrival. As a general rule, if you arrive by air you will be given 60 days automatically, though coming overland you may be given 30 days unless you specifically ask for a 60-day permit. It’s possible to get an extension at an immigration office in Malaysia for a total stay of up to three months. This is a straightforward procedure that is easily done in major Malaysian cities.
Only under special circumstances can Israeli citizens enter Malaysia.
Both Sabah and Sarawak retain a certain degree of state-level control of their borders. Tourists must go through passport control and have their passports stamped on the following occasions:
- arriving in Sabah or Sarawak from Peninsular Malaysia or the federal district of Pulau Labuan;
- exiting Sabah or Sarawak on the way to Peninsular Malaysia or Pulau Labuan;
- travelling between Sabah and Sarawak.
When entering Sabah or Sarawak from another part of Malaysia, your new visa stamp will be valid only for the remainder of the period left on your original Malaysian visa. In Sarawak, an easy way to extend your visa is to make a ‘visa run’ to Brunei or Indonesia (through the Tebedu–Entikong land crossing).
- Shoes Before entering homes or places of worship such as mosques and temples, shoes should always be removed.
- Visiting mosques Most mosques provide robes and scarves for covering up – women should cover their heads, shoulders and legs; men should also cover their legs.
- Photography Ask permission before taking photographs at places of worship.
- Pointing Avoid using the forefinger to point; instead use the thumb with the four fingers folded under.
- Public shows of affection Avoid touching anyone of the opposite sex in public.
- Hands Use your right hand to eat, pass things and touch people.
It’s always a good idea to take out travel insurance. Check the small print to see if the policy covers potentially dangerous sporting activities such as caving, diving or trekking, and make sure that it adequately covers your valuables. Health-wise, you may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure that you keep all documentation. Check that the policy covers ambulances, an emergency flight home and, if you plan on trekking in remote areas, a helicopter evacuation.
A few credit cards offer limited, sometimes full, travel insurance to the holder.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Malaysia is 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 (some of the big cities in Malaysia have tourist police stations for this purpose) or while driving. Minor misdemeanours may be overlooked, but don’t count on it.
Drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty. 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.
Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country and the level of tolerance for homosexuality is vastly different from its neighbors. It’s illegal for men of any age to have sex with other men. In addition, the Islamic sharia laws (which apply only to Muslims) forbid sodomy and cross-dressing. Outright persecution of gays and lesbians are rare.
Nonetheless, LGBTIQ+ travelers should avoid behavior that attracts unwanted attention. Malaysians 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 LGBTIQ+ scene in KL and a slightly more discreet one in George Town. Start looking for information on www.utopia-asia.com, which provides good coverage of LGBTIQ+ events and activities across Asia.
Periplus (www.peripluspublishinggroup.com) has maps covering Malaysia, Peninsular Malaysia and KL. Tourism Malaysia’s free Map of Malaysia has useful distance charts, facts about the country and inset maps of many major cities.
For accurate maps of rural areas contact the National Survey & Mapping Department.
- Newspapers English-language newspapers include the New Straits Times (www.nst.com.my), the Star (www.thestar.com.my) and the Malay Mail (www.malaymail.com).
- Radio Listen to Traxx FM (90.3FM; http://traxxfm.rtm.gov.my), HITZ FM (92.9FM; www.hitz.com.my) and MIX FM (94.5FM; http://listen.mix.fm) for music, and BFM (89.9FM; www.bfm.my) or Fly FM (95.8FM; www.flyfm.com.my) for news.
- TV You can watch the two government TV channels, TV1 and TV2, and the four commercial stations, TV3, NTV7, 8TV and TV9, as well as a host of satellite channels.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
ATMs & Credit Cards
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted brands of credit card. You can make ATM withdrawals with your PIN, or banks such as Maybank (Malaysia's biggest bank), HSBC and Standard Chartered will accept credit cards for over-the-counter cash advances. Many banks are also linked to international banking networks such as Cirrus (the most common), Maestro and Plus, allowing withdrawals from overseas savings or cheque accounts.
If you have any questions about whether your cards will be accepted in Malaysia, ask your home bank about its reciprocal relationships with Malaysian banks.
The ringgit (RM) is made up of 100 sen. Coins in use are 1 sen (rare), 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen and 50 sen; notes come in RM1, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100.
Older Malaysians sometimes refer to ringgit as ‘dollars’ – if in doubt ask if people mean US dollars or ‘Malaysian dollars’ (ie ringgit).
Be sure to carry plenty of small bills with you when venturing outside cities – in some cases people cannot change bills larger than RM20.
Travellers Cheques & Cash
Banks in the region are efficient and there are plenty of moneychangers. For changing cash or travellers cheques, banks usually charge a commission (around RM10 per transaction, with a possible small fee per cheque), whereas moneychangers have no charges but their rates vary more. Compared with a bank, you’ll generally get a better rate for cash at a moneychanger – it’s usually quicker too. Away from the tourist centres, moneychangers’ rates are often poorer and they may not change travellers cheques.
All major brands of travellers cheques are accepted across the region. Cash in major currencies is also readily exchanged, though like everywhere else in the world, the US dollar has a slight edge.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping is not generally expected, but leaving a small contribution for exceptional service is appreciated.
- Restaurants Many restaurants in the major cities add a service charge of around 10% onto the bill.
- Hotels Tipping is most common for services in top-end hotels.
Banks 10am–3pm Monday to Friday, 9.30am–11.30am Saturday
Bars and clubs 5pm–5am
Restaurants noon–2.30pm and 6pm–10.30pm
Shops 9.30am–7pm, malls 10am–10pm
Malaysians are generally happy to be photographed, although of course it’s polite to ask permission before doing so. Also ask before taking pictures in mosques or temples. For advice on taking better photos, Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography: A Guide to Taking Better Pictures is written by travel photographer Richard I’Anson.
Pos Malaysia Berhad runs an efficient postal system. Post offices are generally open 8.30am to 5.30pm from Monday to Friday, and until 1pm on Saturday.
Aerograms and postcards cost 50 sen to send to any destination. Letters weighing 20g or less cost RM1.40 to Asia, Australia or New Zealand, and RM2 to all other countries. Parcel rates range from around RM30 to RM80 for a 1kg parcel, depending on the destination. Main post offices sell packaging materials and stationery.
In addition to national public holidays, each state has its own holidays, usually associated with the sultan's birthday or a Muslim celebration. Muslim holidays are 10 or 11 days earlier each year. Hindu and Chinese holiday dates also vary, but fall roughly within the same months each year.
As well as fixed secular holidays, various religious festivals (which change dates annually) are national holidays. These include Chinese New Year (in January/February), the Hindu festival of Deepavali (in October/November), the Buddhist festival of Wesak (April/May) and the Muslim festivals of Hari Raya Haji, Hari Raya Puasa, Mawlid al-Nabi and Awal Muharram (Muslim New Year).
Fixed annual holidays include the following:
- New Year’s Day 1 January
- Federal Territory Day 1 February (in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya only)
- Good Friday March or April (in Sarawak and Sabah only)
- Labour Day 1 May
- Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s (King’s) Birthday First Saturday in June
- National Day (Hari Kebangsaan) 31 August
- Malaysia Day 16 September
- Christmas Day 25 December
Schools break for holidays five times a year. The actual dates vary from state to state but are generally in January (one week), March (two weeks), May (three weeks), August (one week) and October (four weeks).
- Smoking Banned in most public places including air-conditioned restaurants and on public transport. It is, however, still allowed in bars and nightclubs.
Taxes & Refunds
There is a tourism tax of RM10 per room, per night – this is usually levied on arrival at your accommodation and not included in the stated price.
Landline services are provided by the national monopoly Telekom Malaysia (TM; www.tm.com.my).
The easiest and cheapest way to make international calls is to buy a local SIM card for your mobile (cell) phone. Only certain payphones permit international calls. You can make operator-assisted international calls from local TM offices. To save money on landline calls, buy a prepaid international calling card (available from convenience stores).
Local calls cost eight sen for the first two minutes. Payphones take coins or prepaid cards, which are available from TM offices and convenience stores. Some also take international credit cards. You’ll also find a range of discount calling cards at convenience stores and mobile-phone counters.
If you have arranged global roaming with your home provider, your GSM digital phone will automatically tune into one of the region’s networks. If not, buy a prepaid SIM card (passport required) for one of the local networks on arrival.
The rate for locals calls and text messages is around 36 sen.
There are three main mobile-phone companies, all with similar call rates and prepaid packages:
- Celcom (www.celcom.com.my) This is the best company to use if you’ll be spending time in remote regions of Sabah and Sarawak.
- DiGi (http://new.digi.com.my)
- Maxis (www.maxis.com.my)
Malaysia is eight hours ahead of GMT/UTC (London). When it's noon in Malaysia it is:
|Los Angeles||8pm previous day|
|New York||11pm previous day|
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.
Tourism Malaysia (www.tourism.gov.my) has a good network of overseas offices, which are useful for pre-departure planning. Unfortunately, its domestic offices are less helpful and are often unable to give specific information about destinations and transport. Nonetheless, they do stock some decent brochures as well as the excellent Map of Malaysia.
Within Malaysia there are also a number of state tourist-promotion organisations, which often have more detailed information about specific areas. These include the following:
- Kelantan Tourism (http://tourism.kelantan.my)
- Pahang Tourism (www.pahangtourism.org.my)
- Penang Global Tourism (www.mypenang.gov.my)
- Perak Tourism (www.peraktourism.com.my)
- Sabah Tourism (www.sabahtourism.com)
- Sarawak Tourism (www.sarawaktourism.com)
- Tourism Johor (http://tourism.johor.my)
- Tourism Selangor (www.tourismselangor.my)
- Tourism Terengganu (http://tourism.terengganu.gov.my)
- Visit Kedah (www.visitkedah.com.my)
- Visit Kuala Lumpur (www.visitkl.gov.my/visitklv2)
Travel with Children
Travelling with the kids in Malaysia 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. Pushing a stroller around isn’t likely to be easy given there are often no level footpaths and kerbs are high.
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.
Sights & Activities
Some beach destinations suitable for families with younger children include Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Kapas and Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Those with older children might enjoy some of the jungle parks of the country, including Taman Negara and, over in Sarawak, the Bako and Gunung Mulu national parks. For more animal encounters also consider the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah.
Larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, George Town and Melaka offer many activities and sights that will please kids of all ages.
There are myriad volunteering organisations in the region, but be aware that so-called ‘voluntourism’ has become big business and that not every organisation fulfils its promise of meaningful experiences. Experts recommend a minimum commitment of three months for positions working with children. Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisations that we do not work with directly, so it is essential that you do your own thorough research before agreeing to volunteer with any organisation.
All Women’s Action Society Malaysia (www.awam.org.my) Aims to improve the lives of women in Malaysia by lobbying for a just, democratic and equitable society with respect and equality for both genders.
Ecoteer (www.ecoteer.com) Offers various volunteer projects including ones relating to turtle conservation in the Perhentians.
Free Tree Society This organisation is always on the lookout for green-fingered volunteers to take care of its plants.
The Great Projects (www.thegreatprojects.com) Organisation that places paying volunteers at the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak as well as on other wildlife conservation projects around Malaysia.
Lang Tengah Turtle Watch Help safeguard the turtles that come to lay their eggs on this east-coast peninsula island.
LASSie (www.langkawilassie.org.my) Dog and cat lovers can help out at the Langkawi Animal Shelter & Sanctuary Foundation.
Malaysian Nature Society (www.mns.my) Check its website or drop them a line to find out ways you can get involved in helping preserve Malaysia’s natural environment.
Miso Walai Homestay Program (www.misowalaihomestay.com) Gets travellers involved with local wetlands restoration projects.
PAWS (www.paws.org.my) Animal rescue shelter in Subang, about 30 minutes from central KL.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre Has one of Malaysia’s best established volunteer programs for animal lovers.
Wild Asia (www.wildasia.org) A variety of volunteer options generally connected with the environment and sustainable tourism in the region.
Zoo Negara It is possible to arrange to spend a day volunteering at Malaysia's national zoo.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Be mindful of what's culturally appropriate by taking your dress cues from the locals who wear tops over the shoulder and trousers below the knee. When visiting mosques, cover your head and limbs with a headscarf and sarong (many mosques lend these out at the entrance). At the beach, most Malaysian women swim fully clothed in t-shirts and shorts – while you might not want to follow suit, choosing a modest bathing suit will keep you in line with social customs.
Malaysia is generally a safe country but it is prudent to be proactive about personal safety. Treat overly friendly strangers, both male and female, with a good deal of caution. Take taxis after dark and avoid walking alone at night in quiet or less busy parts of town.
There are possibilities for those who seek them out, from professional-level jobs in finance, journalism and the oil industry to temporary jobs at some guesthouses and dive centres in popular resort areas. Those with teaching credentials can find English-teaching jobs in Malaysia, though pickings are slim compared to Japan and Korea.
Depending on the nature of your job, you’ll need either an Expatriate Personnel Visa or a Temporary Employment Visa. For details and requirements, check the website of the Immigration Department of Malaysia (www.imi.gov.my/index.php/ms).