5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Malaysia

Nomad Gavin shares the five things he wishes someone had told him before traveling to Malaysia. Find out what Malaysia is like, the best places to go, and why it's worth visiting.


Street food in Malaysia Photo © Getty Images/Punnawitsuwuttananun

Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures, a vibrant destination for a bit of urban exploration in one of the major cities, relaxation on the beaches, hiking in Borneo, or scuba diving around one of 800+ islands. Here's what you should know before you visit.

1. Cultural heritage in Malaysia

Malaysia may be governed by (and for) Muslim Malays, but that doesn't mean other religions and cultures don't thrive here. Chinese, Indians and Indigenous ethnicities all contribute to the cultural diversity, making Malaysia an incredibly multicultural place to travel. 

2. Is English widely spoken in Malaysia?

As Nelson Mandela said "Speak to me in a language I understand and you speak to my head. Speak to me in my language and you speak to my heart." Having said that, English is widely spoken in Malaysia; much more so than in most other Asian countries, so reasonable English is enough to get you around.

If you're venturing beyond the major cities, learn a few words of Bahasa for a better chance of connecting locally.

3. Cheap flights in Malaysia

AirAsia has made air travel easy and affordable. This budget airline based in Malaysia flies all over Asia and beyond from its two main hubs, Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. It is a low cost airline, so beware of baggage limitations and don‘t expect much sympathy if you miss your flight for any reason.

4. Food in Malaysia

Food is often regarded as one of the best things about Malaysia. From cheap roadside food stalls to deluxe fusion restaurants, there's something for everyone. Often pork is not on the menu, but just about every other protein is available – including bull penis.

Penang is considered the gastronomic capital of Malaysia, and it showcases influences from India, China, Thailand and beyond with an intoxicating blend traditions and spices.

Health standards are higher in Malaysia than elsewhere in Southeast Asia, even for street food. But, it's still a good idea to follow these simple tips for good food hygiene.

5. Don't miss Malaysian Borneo

Go beyond Penang and Kuala Lumpur on peninsular Malaysia to explore Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

In the state of Sabah, experience some of Malaysia's best scuba diving on Sipadan Island and Layang Layang Island, hike to the top of Mayalsia's highest mountain – Mt Kinabalu at 13,435ft (4,095m), or visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to see the largest sanctuary of its kind in the world. Here, illegally captured, orphaned, and injured orangutans are rehabilitated to survive in the wild – a process that could take up to seven years. 

In the state of Sarawak, explore Gunung Mulu National Park to see incredible rock formations, walk inside Niah National Park's limestone caves, or for a bit of urban exploration check out the colonial buildings and street food in the city of Kuching.

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  • Julianaky Chan said

    Hi Everyone,
    I personally haven't visit Malaysia before but I am very interest in looking forward to going to Malaysia and see for myself what is it like to live there and feel like.
    i was thinking of going there in the second half of this year if i could take my annual leave.

  • Steve Skrobot said

    Lots of lively talk about Malaysia. Well, as a foreigner who is white and western, from Canada. I was there for two months last year to visit my girlfriend and I fell in love with the place. Yes, it is authoritarian, yes, it is austere in many ways and different from the west, but why should we be silly enough to expect it to be catering to our whims as outsiders? It is their country, the good the bad and the ugly, and although I feared going, it being muslim majority, I had a very safe and lovely time there, and only on one instance in Terengganu did I feel that it was eerie, but that was because of a long ride from KL to Kuala Terrenganu, with the sun going down, being very tired, hearing the muezzin and feeling very much out of place. Malaysians were overall very nice, well-behaved people, and I recommend it as a great country to visit. I would not want to live there year-round, it is a little too autocratic for my taste, but you only notice this if you pay attention, or if you do something wrong. It has beautiful weather, and is an exotic location, my favourite places being Malacca, Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Be more open-minded, you foreign visitors. I was scared of Islam, but believe me, the place was not filthy, nor a dump, nor did anybody try to cut my head off. I recommend the place highly, just be careful and don't be stupid and you will do fine.

  • Brain Dean said

    I Iove Malaysian Food and culture. You are right dear. I love to travel in Malaysia! When i first visit Malaysia i was nervous>> But now my free time I spend in Malaysia. I got Malaysia visa from Keymalaysia website! Thanks for helping post!

  • Wong said

    Yes Malaysia is the best in Asia, low cost of living whereby you can get filled with foods less than 10USD a day! In Singapore, probably you need at least 30USD to keep yourself filled with good foods.

    Hotels and accommodation are cheap as well, petrol prices are low, you can easily rent a car using SOCAR app.

    Therefore, what are there to shout for? Malaysia is all you need, please note that foreigners are only able to purchase property in Kuala Lumpur at the price of RM1,000,000.00 above. Which means roughly 250K USD for a nice house in KL for retirement.

  • Mika said

    I've traveled around SE Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia) a few times. After visiting the Western part of Malaysia the first time, I returned to visit Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo. In my opinion, I agree with the author. I found many Malaysians spoke English and were very friendly when I asked for directions. Mass Transit around KL and using the long distance buses within the Western part of Malaysia worked well. Flying to Borneo was smooth. Transportation on Borneo was less organized in some areas, but I appreciated the taxi coupon at the airport so I didn't have to question whether my driver was overcharging me or not.

    If you want to make friends with a Malaysian, ask them about food advice! They will share which stall or even which city has the best laksa or custard tarts. I miss the food courts in Malaysia and only wish the food courts in my city were anywhere near as good.

    The national parks I visited in Penang and on Borneo were beautiful. I hope Malaysia continues to care for their national parks and protect their wildlife.

  • YO-C said

    For political bravado the Malaysian Premier just announced that he wd bar all Israeli tourists from entering his country — shame on him

    In solidarity with all tourists whose passport’s issuing state is a cause to bar them from entering another country, though they themselves are no threat to anyone, I will not seek to visit Malaysia on my next trip to SE Asia

  • Sulaiman said

    I'am really amaized of all these iinformations i had,by the will of Allah i will be coming through this year to see this beautiful Country Myself.

  • Tiki-Tok said

    In reply to Yo-C - The treatment Israel gives to tourists from all countries solely based on their religion, on their border and in their country is shameful — shame on them.

    In solidarity with all tourists whose passport’s issuing state is a cause to bar them from entering another country, though they themselves are no threat to anyone, I will not seek to visit Israel until it joins the civilized and decent world. I recommend Yo-C making the same commitment since Yo-C stands for rights of tourists.

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