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Land of food so good you’ll never want to leave, home of beautiful landscapes, Malaysia may well be Southeast Asia’s best kept secret.
While the hordes may head for Bangkok, give the Thai’s a rest and search out another paradise (a better paradise if you ask me) on one of Malaysia’s exquisite beaches, or perhaps on top of Mount Kinabalu, and everything, everywhere, in between.
But before you head out and pack up, make sure you take heed for getting a couple of things out of your way before touching down—Malaysia, and anywhere you travel, is always better with a little extra prep. Between dodging the rainy season to figuring out currency exchanges, take my tips to heart and you’ll never find yourself down and out (at least not while taking my advice!).
- Pick the right time to go.
There are two monsoon seasons in Malaysia, and you certainly don’t want to plan a rainforest trekking, beach lounging, cocktail drinking vacation whenever they’re scheduled to make landfall. Going by the very special names of Southwest Monsoon and Northeast Monsoon, there’s torrential downpours scheduled from May to September, and then again from November to March, making the times you should head to the country very specific. Better to be prepped and not end up wearing a poncho your whole vacation!
- Multiethnicity is a great thing to remember.
Outside of speaking great English (seriously, colonization left it’s mark with excellent English speaking skills), a lot of Malaysians can be anything from Chinese to Indian, and even these multiethnicity vary between East and West Malaysia. It means there’s plenty of great food, excellent cultural experiences, and the rich diversity means there’s a lot of languages floating around all at once. All in all, it’s an incredible place to be every way you look at it.
- It may be surprising, but Malaysia is a Muslim country.
While there are a larger number of Christians in East Malaysia, it’s predominantly Muslim, meaning you’ve got to keep yourself on your toes when it comes to what is proper (and frowned up) in terms of politeness. First, public displays of affection are considered very rude if you’re out in public, so refrain from kissing or holding hands while out in the streets. And while you can wear whatever you want, don’t go out topless gents, it’s just not considered good taste!
Another hint: this affects their drinking habits a bit as well, liquor can be expensive if you can find it. But there is some good news: there’s plenty of beer!
- Eat your fill of the cheap, great food.
Restaurant service can be spotty and underwhelming at best, but it’s not a problem because the food is excellent, in the shop or on the street. From Filipino to Chinese, Indian to Singaporean, the cuisine is built with many different flavors, and the Nasi Lemak, the national dish of Malaysia, is the greatest thing you can probably order. Outside of the fruit—it’s fresh, perfect, and excellent snack to have absolutely whenever.
- Stay away from cheap electronics.
You may see vendors selling Blueberrys (not to be confused with Blackberrys) or iPhones that look above board, but what you might be purchasing at those tiny shops can range from cheap knockoffs to stolen phones (if it’s got an iCloud lock on it, definitely stolen) so it’s better to skip these stalls and head for handmade arts and crafts. Handmade baskets or Malaysian batik are better alternatives, so just stick to things that don’t require battery power.
- Public transport is the way to go.
Taxis can be astronomically expensive in Malaysia and they don’t have tuk tuks like Thailand, but never fear, the buses are easy to use and will definitely help you get around. Usually the service is pretty quick, the equipment modern, and it’s mostly pretty uncrowded (nothing like Tokyo or Bangkok). The underground in Kuala Lumpur is specifically spectacular, but you can always grab a car if you’re really set on going exactly where you want whenever you want. A word of warning though: Malaysian drivers almost never follow street signs so don’t expect anyone to stop!
- Internet is going to be a problem.
While Kuala Lumpur is generally pretty good with internet, the rest of the country is sadly very, very far behind the city so don’t plan on taking your work on vacation with you, it’s just going to work. To get the best service in the country, try working with Maxis. But even with this company (which to me, is the best in the country) you can expect the service to be stronger and faster in West Malaysia than East Malaysia so plan accordingly!
For the intrepid smartphone traveller, here’s a great list of apps that can make or break your trip, so consider checking them out before heading out.
- The people are friendly (and honest).
A lot of touristy places can be a little on the seedy side, in that they are actively trying to dupe tourists out of a couple of bucks whenever they can get the chance to. But in Malaysia, that would definitely not be the norm; as a whole, the people are incredibly polite and very honest. No one but the taxi drivers are likely to overcharge you so you can trust that you’re getting the best deal wherever you go. The people are also really laid back in addition to being friendly, so make sure you’re on island time—it means don’t try to be in a hurry!
- Prepare for the bathrooms.
Malaysia has an interesting bathroom situation, sometimes in Kuala Lumpur, and certainly in the rest of the country, and it goes like this: the bathroom amenities can be both squat toilets and Western style toilets, or one or the other. And another note to make is that you can often, like in Europe, pay for access to toilets in malls, high tourist areas, or museums and the like. What does it mean? Not much, except you can practice squatting in your yard with the dog before you leave if it suits you. Only kidding!
- Learn the exchange rate.
Malaysia can be an incredibly affordable place to be, but it’s still no reason not to make sure you know exactly how many ringgits equal a dollar. It’s constantly changing so my suggestion to stick to a budget (if that’s what you’re trying to do) is to keep a currency calculator app on your phone that doesn’t require wifi (refer to #7 for further discussion on why). As it is now, it’s a little over 4 ringgit per $1, and you can spend about 10 ringgits on a meal from McDonalds (which is some of the more expensive food available).
If you’re headed to Malaysia for the first time, you’re really in for a treat, and everywhere you turn is another adventure. So don’t waste time on any of these mistakes—take my tips to heart and be prepared early on! It’ll save you a lot of time, money, hassle, and you can get back to what you really want to do—enjoying Malaysia!
This post was written by Claire Lovesti; traveler and chief blogger at www.traveltio.com.
All images via shutterstock
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