33 Things To Know About Malaysia Before You Go

It always amazes me that although I’d like to think I’m a pretty seasoned traveller with experience in countries all over the world, no matter where I go, there are always some things that take me completely by surprise.

Since I’m bit of a planaholic, I’m not a huge fan of things (especially financial!) sneaking up on me unexpectedly.

In Malaysia, there’s actually been quite a lot of things I wish I had known before we came here...

In order to help you be more prepared than us, here’s a list of 33 things you should know about Malaysia before you go!

Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything!

Tips For First Time Visitors to Malaysia

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Money Matters

  • There is a 6% sales and service tax charged on top of the rate you see at most restaurants and hotels
    • This includes accommodation you book online through sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com.
    • The best thing to do is to go through those sites as though you are intending to book the room (but not as far as putting in credit card details!), and it will tell you the all-in price on the next page
  • Menus will often state if the above tax is included
    • Foodcourts / hawker centers usually show an all-in price (and photos of the meal which is handy if you’re not familiar with Malaysian food!)
  • There is an RM 10 tourist tax per room per night at hotels, which is an important thing to know about Malaysia before you visit as it does impact your spending and budget somewhat
    • The tourist tax did not seem to apply at Air BnB or in guesthouses/hostels – only at hotels
  • Most hotels also require a RM 100+ deposit on check in (which is refundable upon checkout)
  • Malaysia is a largely “cash society“. Not many places take card (except some hotels, supermarkets and larger outlets)
    • Surprisingly it is also not always easy to find an ATM…
    • Make sure you check for fees with your bank and at the ATM for withdrawing cash. We almost only use Revolut now that we’re travelling, which we love. It gives very close to live market rate exchange rates and no fees for up to €200 cash withdrawals per month. If you’re travelling and needing foreign currency, it’s definitely worth checking it out!
  • If you’re spending any amount of time in Malaysia, it’s worth getting a Prepaid SIM card for your phone so that you can use data and get online
    • We use Hotlink through Maxis which works well (RM35 for 6GB data to be used in 30 days)
    • You’ll need your passport for identification purposes when you initially go to the shop to buy the SIM card
    • The SIM card will cost you RM10 to buy

Hotlink by Maxis

Food & Drink

  • In my opinion, the food in Malaysia is a bit “meh” in general… This actually really surprised me, as I tend to really like Asian food!
    • I suggest sticking to street food/hawker centres if possible as it is normally fresher and tastier (and a lot cheaper too!)
    • If you’re in the mood for fast food, you’ll find a KFC practically on every corner in every town and city!
  • At hawker centres/food courts, there may be table service!
    • If so, your table will have a number 
    • Order your food at the stall and give your table number. They will bring your food and drinks to you!
    • You’ll pay at the table when they come with the food
    • The exception to this is if the stall says “self service” in which case you pay there and wait for your food to take back to your table with you.
Joannda enjoying the Street Food in Malaysia
Street food is genuinely the best!
  • For breakfast, make sure you try Roti! I had never really heard about Roti before going to Malaysia, but this has got to be my absolute favourite breakfast food now!!
    • You can get plain roti (called Roti Canai, and comes with curry dipping sauces if you like) or banana roti, egg roti, butter roti, and lots of other variations! 
  • Most hotels/accommodations provide (hot and cold!) drinking water in dispensers where you can refill your water bottle or make yourself a coffee or tea
    • Top Tips:
      • An insulated water bottle is your friend! Trust me on this – in a country like Malaysia where it is hot and humid, having water that stays cold is so satisfying! I love mine by Balhvit but there are lots of similar options available
      • Bring some coffee sachets / tea bags! If you’re a hot-drink lover, it might pay to bring a small supply with you as cheaper accommodations don’t always offer complimentary coffee and tea
  •  Fresh fruit juices will normally have lots of ice and added sweetener
    • If you don’t want ice, it will cost you more (since there will be more juice…)
    • Other drinks, including coffee and tea will often have two prices showing – one for the hot and one for the cold version of the same drink. In these cases the cold version is often more expensive because of the ice!
  • One thing you might already know about Malaysia is that alcohol can be expensive (wine in particular, if it’s even available)
    • As Malaysia is largely Muslim, be aware that some places will not serve alcohol at all
  • Sambal in Malaysia is made with not only crushed chillis, but also dried shrimp, giving it a fishy taste. I only know sambal as a chilli paste like they have in Indonesia. Definitely something to be aware of in Malaysia if you’re not a fish fan!
  • Supermarkets put sold tape on every item you buy! Even when you get a bag and a receipt…


  • Some buses are quite old while others can be pretty comfortable and even provide free WiFi
    • There will usually be a toilet stop on longer journeys
    • The more comfortable buses will have a 2 + 1 configuration rather than the traditional 2+2. Some will be double decker.
      • Top Tip: So far, the worst bus company we’ve used was Pahang Lin Siong Motor Co Bhd. We used them from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands. The bus we got was extremely old and really struggled up hills big time!
  • In Kuala Lumpur, there are an incredible amount of different Metros including MRT, LRT, KTM, Monorail and BRT (bus)
    • It pays to know which system you’re intending to travel on
  • For travel on the metro system, you’ll buy a token from a ticket machine that you will scan on entry and enter into the slot on exit
    • Beware – the machines don’t always like coins and will either spit them back out at you or eat them 🙁
    • Ticket machines do not give change!

Things To Know About Malaysia - Metro Tokens

  • Many trains, metros and buses have a “Ladies Only” section – keep an eye out for the pink signs

Things to Know About Malaysia Before You Go - Ladies Only Coach in KL Metro

  • One key thing to know about Malaysia, or Asia in general really, is that Grab is definitely the way to go for fast and reliable transport! (It’s like Uber, if you’re familiar with that)
    • It pays to download the Grab App ahead of time
    • You’ll need to be online in order to book one
    • Note that if road tolls are part of your journey these are additional and not included in the fare you see on the App initially. We got caught by this on our way from downtown Kuala Lumpur to the airport, which added another RM7.80 to the fare
    • You’re able to book a multi-stop ride, similar to Uber, in case you need to pick something up on the way to your final destination, which can often work out cheaper than two individual rides
  • There is a distinct lack of proper footpaths. So you’ll be walking on the side of the road more often than not. There doesn’t seem to be any real concern for pedestrians though… So watch out!
  • Traffic lights don’t necessarily mean anything. Especially in KL but also in other cities like Penang and Kota Kinabalu. This is especially true for scooters. Green light or not, look before you cross!
    • At some point, you’ll just have to go. If you wait for a break in traffic, you might be waiting a while. Go slow and steady and the scooters and cars will work around you.


  • Malaysia has a really mixed culture – primarily Chinese and Indian
    • The main religion is Islam so there are lots of mosques around (be prepared for loud, regular prayers)
  • Due to the religion, there is quite a lot of tourism from Arabic countries. You’ll often see women in full burkas and many Malaysian women will wear hijabs
    • While it is totally fine to wear shorts and bikinis, be mindful of covering up when appropriate, such as at temples. It’s useful to carry a sarong or similar for these instances!
  • If you’re travelling as a male/female couple, get used to the man being addressed and you (as a woman) being mostly ignored… Everywhere we go it’s “Hello, Sir!” “Welcome, Sir!” “Dinner, Sir?”
  • It’s common to take your shoes off before going inside, or even before entering common areas outside. There will normally be a sign up if the expectation is that you remove your shoes

Things To Know About Malaysian Culture - take your shoes off

  • Rubbish and plastic is unfortunately still a big problem in Malaysia. It is absolutely everywhere
    • You get plastic bags for everything – at markets and in supermarkets. Even take-away drinks are often put in a plastic carrier bag
    • Some supermarkets do seem to have one “no plastic bag” day a week. Either way, be kind to the environment and bring your own reusable bag!
Rubbish and plastic problem in Malysia
Rubbish dumping seems to be a real problem in Malaysia


  • Malaysia gets crazy rain! We experienced this especially in Kuala Lumpur. It will soak you to the bone in seconds if you get caught out. It’s pretty epic though 😅But, if there’s one thing you should know before coming to Malaysia it’s to make sure you bring a raincoat or poncho!
  • As you travel through Malaysia by bus or train, you’ll see palm trees absolutely everywhere. Sometimes, palm tree plantations stretch as far as the eye can see
    • Malaysia seems to view this as a positive though, and advertisements promote the “benefit” of these plantations and how they “help” conservation efforts for endangered wildlife…
  • There are snakes! And quite a bit of other wildlife like monkeys, of course! You might come across them so just be aware. I got a massive fright when a snake slithered onto me while I was innocently sunbathing at our hotel in Batu Ferringhi… Eeek!
    • There are a lot of wild dogs too, most are totally fine and not aggressive but there are a lot
Snakes in Malaysia
The snake in question!

Other General Things To Know About Malaysia

  • Public toilets
    • There will usually be a few western style toilets and a number of Asian style ‘squat’ toilets
    • There is usually no toilet paper in the stall
      • You can sometimes find toilet paper by the sinks so grab some before you go in
      • Or, try using the “bum gun” water spray.
    • There may be a charge for using public toilets, but this is normally no more than RM 1
  • There is so much construction!!! Especially in KL but really all over Malaysia. At the same time, there seem to be a lot of abandoned buildings…
  • Beds tend to be hard… We’ve had very few really comfortable beds (or pillows for that matter). Some of you might like your mattress firm, in which case this might not be an issue. But, adding it here, just so you know!
  • Taps often only have cold water. Even at AirBnB apartments and the like, the kitchen tap is cold only
    • Which reminds me – some cheaper accommodations will have showers with cold water only! Normally this will be specified on the booking site.


Have you been to Malaysia?

Did I miss any important things to know about Malaysia that you should be aware of before going there?

Let me know in the comments below!


Things You Need to Know Malaysia


2 thoughts on “33 Things To Know About Malaysia Before You Go”

  1. Wonderful post ! Thank you for sharing your solo travelling experiences to Malaysia it is motivational and inspiring to me.


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