Terrorism and Kidnapping in Malaysia: Safety Tips Travelers

Terrorism has made its mark in recent years in Malaysia, with some incidents involving foreign nationals. Find out what you need to know to stay safe while traveling.

Sabah on the island of Borneo, Malaysia Photo © Getty Images/Nora Carol Photography

Terrorism in Malaysia

There is a real risk of terrorism in Malaysia. Stay up to date with local news reports if there has been civil unrest leading up to your visit. As of July 2019 more than 500 people had been arrested for being involved in activities that the government consider as terrorism.

There is no need to be paranoid, and government advisories have not issued any warnings for travelers to Malaysia, so the risk is minimal. Just be aware terrorism is a threat in the country.

Kidnapping risk

There is a kidnapping risk in the southern region of the Philippines, which meets with Malaysia near the coastal areas of Sabah, but in particular the islands close to the Sulu Archipelago or in the Sulu Sea.

Avoid the area, but chances are you will not be on any charter boats to these islands. Don't try to be adventurous and explore the region near the southern Philippines – it just isn't safe.

Piracy in Malaysia

Strait of Malacca

This 500mi (805km) stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra has been known for piracy. Piracy and kidnapping in this area is something travelers should be aware of. Since 2003 the number of kidnappings has dropped more than half, thanks to increased patrols in this area.

Lahad Datu

Lahad Datu is located on the island of Borneo. There are still some reports of speed boats in these waters armed with machine guns, so the best advice would be to stick to the land if traveling in a small group or alone. Lahad is flooded with tourist resorts – making it a target. Don‘t visit deserted ATMs on the waterfront at night if you don‘t want to chance being a pirate's treasure.

Sabah Waters

In the past, particular concern was for isolated resorts which can only be reached by water. This includes the islands of Sipadan and Mabul. While still a risk, the increased patrol in this area will put travelers minds at rest to let them soak up the sun, pirate free.

What to do if you run into pirates in Malaysia

If you do run into some unlucky trouble, keep the following in mind:

  • The pirates may in fact not have a talking parrot
  • Do not make any violent threats – they might have weapons, you definitely don't
  • Remember that each kidnapping situation is different, so what you‘ve seen on TV may not apply to you
  • Attempt to relate to the kidnappers by speaking their language (if you can), this may help build some kind of rapport
  • Keep track of time. You may be held for a considerable amount of time, so its best not to become confused about the time of day
  • Maintain your dignity
  • Build a rapport with anyone who is captive with you. They may be useful for an escape and so that's a friend you want to keep
  • Attempt to maintain your physical condition. It's important to keep your legs moving
  • Attempt to maintain your mental health. Daydreaming, running through daily routines – these activities will help you keep hold of your grip on reality
  • Take notes on your captors and where they are holding you. This information may be valuable when you have been rescued or are able to signal for help.

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