Malaysia is one of my favorite countries in Southeast Asia, with a vast majority of different regions and topography you can spend months exploring mainland Malaysia and you’ll always discover something new. For nature lovers Borneo is a must, the entire island is a mecca for rare wildlife and should be on everyone’s itineraries in Southeast Asia. From visiting Orangutans in Borneo, to spending time hanging out on picturesque islands, or hiking in incredible National Parks and exploring rich cultural cities Malaysia continues to amaze us each and every time we visit.
Malaysia is well geared towards backpacking, with excellent budget accommodation across both the peninsula and Malaysian Borneo. Hostels start at 20 MYR a night, expect to pay an average of about 30 MYR with places like Kuala Lumpur being closer to 50 MYR. A double room with fan can be as cheap as 30 MYR, with an air conditioned room around 50 MYR. In larger cities you’ll struggle to find budget accomodation: in big cities such as Kuala Lumpur the cheapest double room you’ll find is 80 MYR. In smaller cities and island towns camping is free or inexpensive, and can help to balance the budget for the more expensive cities.
Money Saving Tips
Camping is a great way to save money, Monkey beach in Penang National park is completely free to camp on and a beautiful spot along with top destinations like the Cameron Highlands and Kuala Selangor also offering great camping options.
Long nights of drinking are best saved for the islands with duty free shops: Langkawi, Tioman and Perhentian Islands are among those islands. Drinking here is cheaper than most part of SE Asia with a can of beer costing as little as 2 MYR. On the mainland, due to Malaysia being a Muslim country, it is possible to drink but you’ll pay much more, so take a break on the mainland.
Uber is widespread in the major cities and much cheaper than taxis, so whenever you aren’t using the public transportation system order an Uber to save yourself having to haggle for unmetered taxis.
Use discount codes whenever you can. If you sign up as a new user for things like Uber, AirBnB, Booking, Redbus you’ll receive a welcome bonus if you are referred by someone. If travelling as a couple refer each other using different email addresses every time (you may have to spend 5 minutes setting up new email addresses each time), travelling solo use the referral codes on this website to get free bonuses for everything useful!
Make the most of all the free activities there are to do in each city; temples, malls, street art and markets. National Parks and usually inexpensive and some cities have walking tours which are free as well. Every free thing we’ve found is documented on this website in our maps and destination guides.
Buses are the main form of transportation all around Malaysia, they are generally inexpensive and for the most part incredibly comfortable. As a general rule of thumb expect to pay 10 MYR per hour you travel. The 2 hour ride from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka is 11 MYR. Bus prices vary depending on the operator you use, compare prices on www.easybook.com and www.redbus.my
Internal flights are as cheap as 50 MYR, if you time it right you can fly from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching (Borneo) for as little as 40 MYR.
There are international buses running to and from Thailand and Singapore, from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur buses can be found as cheap as 60 MYR.
Hiring a motorbike is more expensive in Malaysia than most places, on Langkawi you can get it as cheap as 30 MYR but in most places on the peninsula you’ll be paying 60-80 MYR for 24 hours.
Where To Eat
Food in Malaysia is budget friendly with dishes rarely costing more than 8 MYR for a hearty meal. Street food is often cheapest, with meals starting at around 4 MYR, if you have a decent appetite you may need two as they can be on the small side for some of the plates offered. If you’re looking for a restaurant check out the Indian Buffet style restaurants, here you can pile your plate up with rice and vegetables for 4-6 MYR (which is often enough for 2 to share) add meat or fish and it jumps to 8-10 MYR.
Best Time To Visit
The east and west coasts on the peninsula have distinctive seasons, when one side is dry and sunny the other tends to be wet. The east coast has monsoon season November to February, when the west is dry and sunny. April to July is wet on the west coast and drier on the East coast.
For Borneo the best time is between May and October, which is the dry season, although there are still the occasional downpours.
4G coverage in Malaysia is for the most part excellent, if you buy a Sim card on the peninsula it will also work in Borneo. There are lots of different providers who vary slightly in quality, 2 that I’ve used that I can recommend are:
Maxis: 30 Days Internet, 4GB for 30 MYR
Digi: 30 Days internet, 5GB for 30 MYR
European and U.S. Citizens are given a free 90 day visa to Malaysia allowing for plenty of time to get around peninsular Malaysia and fly over to visit Borneo. If you want to spend more than 90 days then border runs to Thailand, Singapore or Brunei are quick and simple.
Prices vary wildly in Malaysia due to it being a predominantly Muslim country, if you save the drinking for the duty free islands it’s very cheap. Borneo is also slighlty less expensive than the peninsula.
Beer: Tiger/ Heineken/ Carlsberg in a shop – Mainland 8-15 MYR, Duty free 2 MYR
In a bar on the Mainland: 20+ MYR, Duty free 5-10 MYR
Local Spirits: Vodka / Whisky in a shop 35-50 MYR a bottle.
Good morning: Selamat Pagi
How are you? Apa Khabar
Thank-you: Terima Kasih
Yes / No : Ya / Tidak
How much? Berapa Harga
Malaysia can be easily traveled on a budget with solo travelers able to budget $15 -20 a day and with couples traveling on a $15 – 30 a day budget. There are so many free attractions that most days can be traveled quite inexpensively. I’d recommend $25 a day, as long as you stay in a hostel, eat local street food and don’t do too many extravagant activities, below is a rough guide:
Hostel: $7 (30 MYR)
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner: $6 (25 MYR)
2 x 1.5 litres of water: $0.70 (3 MYR)
Transport: $3 (12 MYR)
Misc (beer, snacks, soft drinks): $6 (25 MYR)
Entrance fees / activities: $5.30 (22 MYR)
The predominant religion is Muslim, with over 60% of the country practising Islam, 20% are Buddhist with small minorities of Christian and Hinduism.
Malay & English
Discover Malaysia’s rich culture in Melaka
About 2 hours south of Kuala Lumpur, Melaka is an awesome place to chill out and escape the hustle of KL. The city is an UNESCO Heritage City, with influences from both the English and Dutch colonization. The city is covered with trishaws, which are elaboratly decorated rickshaws with loud colors, bright lights and pumping techno music, definitely take a ride on one of these.
Chances are you’ll fly in and out of KL multiple times, flights tend to be cheapest from here in all of SE asia, in fact we flew through KL seven times in 9 months! Kuala Lumpr offersplenty to do, shop in the markets, eat great street food, visit the Batu Caves and marvel at the height of the Petronas towers, the iconic symbol of KL.
Amazing street art in Georgetown
Georgetown on the island of Penang is a must visit, the city is bursting with culture and is the perfect place to spend time exploring. Famed for it’s street art, there are so many different styles of street art all over the city, most hostels will give you a map and you can do your own free walking tour to see them all. The city is also filled with culturally diverse temples dating back hundred of years.
Explore Langkawi by motorbike
The island of Langkawi is stretche out and best explored by motorbike. The beaches are sensational, the scenery magical and there is so much to explore. Hang out on the beach, swim in one of the waterfalls, and take the Langkawi sky gondola to get fantastic views over the island.
Party on the Perehentian Islands
The Perehentian islands are two small islands of equal natural beauty. Peaceful during the day with a nice party scene at nighttime and a great place to have a few drinks and socialize after a lazy day spent on the beach. Snorkelling around the islands is incredible and there are plenty of boat trips to explore every inch of the islands.
Chill out on Tioman Island
One of our favorite islands, Tioman has had a recent economic boom and now has an airport and more high end resorts, but still maintains its laid back and relaxed charm. Beer is incredibly cheap as it’s duty free and the island offers basic beach bungalows which are cheap with incredible hiking nearby.
Drink tea in the Cameron Highlands
As an Englishman I love tea and tea doesnt get much better than in the Cameron highlands, you can explore several of the tea plantations completely free or buy a box of delicious tea for 5 MYR. If you’re an afternoon tea lover then Jim Thompson’s afternoon tea is a must visit, tea, cakes, scones and finger sandwiches in a beautiful tea room setting, what more could you want
Wildlife spotting down Kinabatangan River
Malaysia’s second biggest river runs almost the entire length of Borneo, head to the small village of Sukau on the river and you can do a 3 day, 2 night river cruise experience. Staying in a homestay on the banks of the river and cruising the river 3 or 4 times each day in search of Borneo’s Big 5: Crocodiles, Orangutans, Hornbills, Proboscis, Elephants. A must do for wildlife lovers!
Discover Chinese influence in Ipoh
Often overlooked, Ipoh is Malaysia’s 2nd largest city and well worth a visit. Visit the Hakka Tin museum where you can learn a lot about the history of tin mining in Malaysia, sounds boring but it was awesome. There are plenty of amazing temples around the city which are nearly all free and if you’ve got the budget they’ve just opened a large theme park.
Camp with monkeys in Penang
About an hour outside of Georgetown is Penang national park, worth visiting for a day to hike to a couple of beautiful beaches, Monkey and Turtle beach. Even better is camping for a couple of nights for free on the beaches, quite often you can find a completely secluded spot for some peace and quiet.
Island hop around Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu is a favorite Borneo starting point for climbing Mount Kinabalu or visiting the Wildlife Sanctuaries in Sabah and Sarawak. The city boasts 5 Islands integrated into Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park featuring amazing snorkeling and sandy beaches, spending a day island hopping and exploring is an absolute must to jump start your trip in Borneo.
Explore the National Parks around Miri
The 2 most notable National Parks are Niah and Lambir. Niah is incredible and well worth visiting for an entire day, the cave system within the national park is huge and you can freely explore without a guide. Make sure you take a flashlight as the caves are pitch black and are slippery and host creepy dark crawlers like Cave Crickets.
Visit Rare Wildlife Sanctuaries in Borneo
Due to deforestation several species found in Borneo are on the decline, support rehabilitation programs by visiting some of the sanctuaries. In Sepilok there is the largest Orangutan sanctuary, as well as a Sun Bear sanctuary directly opposite both cost 30 MYR entrance fee. In Kuching you’ll find another excellent Orangutan sanctuary where the entrance fee is only 10 MYR.