Malaysia Travel Tips: The Complete Travel Guide for Malaysia & Borneo

Where should I visit in Malaysia & Borneo?

Kick-off your Malaysian journey in Kuala Lumpur to enjoy the eclectic mix of skyscrapers and greenery in a city like no other.

If you love nature, then venture to Tamen Negara National park to immerse yourself in the rainforest on the world’s longest canopy walk.

Next, jump on the bus to Cameron Highlands to hike the tea plantations in a cooler climate, then move on to Ipoh for coffee shop hopping and street art spotting.

Visit the architecture & foodie heaven of George Town Penang, before relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Langkawi.

A short flight takes you from the Malaysia peninsula over to Borneo to firstly spend a few days soaking up both coastal and mountain views in Kota Kinabalu.

Then get up close to adorable orangutans, proboscis monkeys and sun bears in Sepilok.

Finish your adventure with a spot of luxury on Lankayan dive resort, especially if you love sea turtles as you can not only swim with them but see the hatching process and release baby turtles into the sea!

You can find suggested itineraries and more detailed advice on destinations here

Best time to visit Malaysia & Borneo?

Both Malaysia & Borneo are hot and humid all year round, with a tropical climate heavy rain is possible at any time. However, a downpour will usually be over quickly and clears the air. 

The best time to visit Malaysia is between April – September to avoid the monsoon season. The sea is warm all year round but visibility while diving may be poorer during the wet season.

The best time to visit Borneo is between March – October during “dry” season. Avoid Borneo in December & January where rainfall is heavier, waters are rougher and it is harder to spot wildlife as many animals retreat into the jungle. 

Key Facts:

What is the currency of Malaysia & Borneo?

Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) is the local currency of Malaysia & Borneo and is in the form of both notes and coins.

RM5 is roughly equivalent to £1, however, a Currency Converter app for ioS & Android is available offline for more accurate conversions. RM500 and RM1,000 are no longer legal tender but are still in circulation so do not accept these.

It is recommended to withdraw cash from an ATM when you arrive using a zero fee debit card such as Starling or Monzo rather than bringing home currency to convert as you will save on commission. There are plenty of ATMs in all airports so you can get access to cash as soon as you arrive. When withdrawing within cities try to use ATMs inside or attached to banks if possible rather than standalone machines which are more commonly prone to scams. A further advantage of Starling & Monzo is that you can freeze your card if you suspect it has been compromised.

VISA and Mastercard are widely accepted in larger shops, hotels & restaurants although smaller family-run establishments may prefer cash.

Tipping is not customary, however, a 10% service charge may be added to your bill.

Which language is spoken in Malaysia & Borneo?

  • Bahasa Malaysia is the most common language in Malaysia & Borneo. Some Malaysian people speak English, and the majority of the time you can get by with a “smile and point” technique. For peace of mind, download Google Translate which gives access to chosen languages offline (discussed further in the Recommended Apps section below).

    Common phrases to learn include:
    Hello – Hello (hell-oh)
    Goodbye – Selamat tinggal (s’la-mat zha-lan)
    Please – Tolong (toh-long)
    Thank you – Terima kasih (te-ree-mah ka-seh)
    Can you speak English? – Bolehkah anda berbahasa Inggeris? (bo-le-kah an-da ber-bah-hasah in-ger-ih)
    Yes – Ya (yah)
    No – Tidak (tee-dak)

What are the entry VISA requirements for Malaysia & Borneo?

How do I access mobile data in Malaysia & Borneo?

  • The vast majority of hotels & restaurants will provide access to Wifi, however it is recommended that you purchase a local SIM card for data on the go.
    PRO TIP: Don’t forget to have an ID document for this purchase, passport preferably, because it is a legal requirement.

DiGi Tourist SIM – You can purchase it at DiGi Kiosks at KUL airport. The cheapest plan of 20 MYR (US $5) for 2GB of Data and 7GB for WhatsApp and Facebook for 7 days.

TuneTalk – Find them at Tune Talk kiosks. You can choose the plan for 20 MYR (US $5) that gives you 5GB of data for 7 days.

Maxis Hotlink Chat or Social – You can find it at Maxis Stores. Their plans start at less than 17 MYR (US $1) and 2GB for 1 day.

What type of plug is used in Malaysia & Borneo?

UK plug type is widely used across Malaysia & Borneo (240 V, 50 Hz). This universal travel power adaptor will cover you on your travels across the globe and includes 4 USB slots.

When are the 2020 national holidays in Malaysia & Borneo?

25/01/2020 Chinese New Year
26/01/2020 Chinese New Year Holiday
01/05/2020 Labour Day
07/05/2020 Wesak Day (Birth of Buddha)
24/05/2020 Hari Raya Aidilfitri (End of Ramadan)
25/05/2020 Hari Raya Aidilfitri Holiday
06/06/2020 Birthday of SPB Yang di Pertuan Agong
31/07/2020 Hari Raya Haji (Feast of the Sacrifice) 
20/08/2020 Awal Muharram (Hijri New Year)
31/08/2020 National Independence Day
16/09/2020 Malaysia Day
29/10/2020 Maulidur Rasul (Birthday of Prophet Muhammad)
25/12/2020 Christmas Day 

How much do I need to budget to spend in Malaysia & Borneo? 

Mid-range (4 on a scale of 1-10 with 1 as super cheap). There is plenty of choice within Malaysia & Borneo for any travel style and budget. From 5* luxury hotels to basic hostel dorms, cheap street food to fine-dining and a variety of transport options, you can tailor your Malaysian adventure to your budget. 


Accommodation – a private double room with ensuite on peninsular Malaysia averages at £20.50 per night, with Borneo coming in higher at £28 per night. A shared dorm bed is a lot cheaper, around £6 per night, and more luxurious is also available across each region for a higher price.
TOP TIP: Grab a day-pass for Shangri-La in Kota Kinabalu for a day enjoying the luxury of the resort without the price-tag of actually staying there.
Further advice on how to book accommodation in Malaysia & Borneo can be found below

How do I book accommodation in Malaysia & Borneo?
For booking hotel rooms or hostel dorms, agoda.com is a fantastic website with the lowest prices available. You can filter to find the right accommodation for your preferences.

If you want more of your own space, then use airbnb.com.

This blog post gives recommended accommodations for each destination.

Food – street food from hawker centres can be picked up for as little as £1 a dish, and is super tasty. These outlets are more hygienic than outdoor street vendors for a similar price and have designated seating areas. That’s not to say you can’t get awesome traditional street food though!
A meal in a restaurant will be priced at around £5-6 per person. Alcohol is rarely served in local restaurants which brings down the bill. 


Alcohol – alcohol is more expensive in Malaysia & Borneo than in other countries in SE Asia due to low local demand. Expect to pick up a bottle of beer in a bar for around RM12 and a cocktail in a rooftop bar in Kuala Lumpur for RM40. 


Excursions – many attractions within Malaysia & Borneo are free or less than RM20. Expect to visit temples, hunt down street art murals, relax in parks, hike up to incredible viewpoints and learn in museums all for much less than neighbouring Singapore.
More detail on day trips can be found in the detailed suggested itinerary post found here.

Transport – local buses and trains are very reasonably priced for the high level of comfort provided. Further info is provided in the transportation section below.

Things to know before you go:

What should I pack to visit Malaysia & Borneo?

Check out this detailed blog post listing the essentials for any trip to Asia.

Do I need travel insurance to visit Malaysia & Borneo, and where should I get it from?

Yes, yes and once again YES YOU MUST GET TRAVEL INSURANCE!
Worldnomads.co.uk is recommended to provide you with exhaustive cover for your specific travel needs. 

What is transportation like in Malaysia & Borneo?

  • Travel infrastructure is more developed than other countries in SE Asia, and there are plenty of comfortable travel options to get around Malaysia & Borneo:

Air – you will likely enter Malaysia via Kuala Lumpur airport (KLIA), find the best deal on flights at skyscanner.net. KLIA is 28 minutes from KL Sentral station via the KLIA Ekspres train and costs RM55. It takes half the time and is half the price of getting a taxi – a no brainer!

The only way to get from Malaysia peninsular to Borneo is by air into Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur or George Town. The 2.5hr AirAsia flight can be picked up from as little as £27.

Inner-city transport – Kuala Lumpur has several transport systems to get you around the city (Monorail, MRT, LRT, KL City Bus) with journeys costing as little as RM1.20. Use Google Maps to plan your route which will pick the best combination of transport options to get you there in the quickest, cheapest way possible.

Bus/Rail – to get between cities 12go.asia/en is a great tool for booking a train or a bus. You can see different modes of transport options, the facilities available on board, and read reviews of operators. Prices are very reasonable in Malaysia, for example, a 5hr coach journey from Kuala Lumpur to George Town with air conditioning and snacks costs just £7!

Taxi – the best way to use taxis in Malaysia & Borneo is via the Grab app. Much like Uber in the UK or America – you input your journey details where you’ll be given a price, wait for a driver to accept then jump in! There is an option It works out much cheaper than metered taxis, just be sure to double-check that you have the correct car/bike

Recommended apps to download before visiting Malaysia & Borneo

Link to another post

What should I know about local culture in Malaysia & Borneo?

Malaysia & Borneo are predominantly Muslim populations, so please dress respectfully with shoulders covered to avoid causing offence. If visiting mosques or temples, women may be required to cover their knees and tie back their hair. Furthermore, most local restaurants don’t serve pork products but use alternatives such as turkey bacon or chicken sausages.

There isn’t a huge drinking & partying scene in Malaysia, however, there are plenty of bars & clubs in bigger cities if you look for them (discussed below). 

During Ramadan, there is no expectation for tourists and non-Muslims to withhold from eating/drinking/smoking during the fasting times. However, discretion is appreciated in public places and you may find that Muslim run restaurants will change their opening hours. Param Ramadan Bazaar markets will open at night for the end of each day’s fast at sundown. 

Both Malaysia & Borneo are widely safe places for tourists with low crime rates, however you should exercise the standard caution as when visiting any other countries (don’t walk alone at night, keep valuables out of sight, only use registered taxis, always wear a seatbelt in a car or helmet on a moped). There are laws around homosexual acts in Malaysia & Borneo, and same-sex couples are advised to be discreet in public places.

There have been kidnappings of local fishermen in Malaysian waters on the east coast of Sabah near Filipino waters. There have been no incidents in the last few years, and trips to Lankayan island include military presence to ensure the safety of tourists. Follow the latest Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice here https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/malaysia 

Must eat & drink in Malaysia & Borneo

Food
Prepare for your tastebuds to tingle as you try all the culinary delights Malaysia & Borneo have to offer.

First up – breakfast! The national dish of Malaysia is Nasi Lemak, and although it’s traditionally a breakfast dish, it can be eaten at any time of day. Rice cooked in coconut cream and pandan leaves is served with a selection of chicken, fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumber, boiled egg and sambal chilli sauce. Expect to pick up a portion for as little as RM10. 

Another alternative for breakfast is a curry (again, this is an option for any time of day but a popular choice for locals to eat first thing). There is a strong Indian & Chinese influence on Malaysian cooking. Enjoy a roti on the side to dip into your curry sauce, and wash it down with a creamy mango yoghurt lassi

Malaysian laksa is a noodle or vermicelli based dish with a spicy coconut curry soup, topped with chicken or fish, beansprouts, lime and prawn crackers. You can usually specify how spicy you would like it, but even mild will have a kick! 

Known as the “king of fruits”, a must-try Malaysian dessert is durian. The creamy textured fruit is very popular across Asia but due to its unpleasant odour (a mixture of rotten cheese, sewage and onions) many hotels and public transport providers have banned durian and you can be fined for eating it. If you can overcome the smell, the taste and texture is very moreish.

Finally, if you’ve been travelling in Asia for a while, you might want to treat yourself to a cheeky Nandos!! There are over 70 branches to pick from across Malaysia & Borneo, and it is much cheaper than in the UK, for example, you can pick up a Chicken Butterfly meal + 1 side for just RM23.90 (£4.40!).
 

Drink
As mentioned above, there isn’t a massive drinking and partying culture in Malaysia. Despite this, there are some pretty cool drinking spots to check out. Love Lane in George Town, Penang has a row of bars with a great backpacker vibe. Marini’s On 57 rooftop bar gives you a great view up-close to the Petronas Towers. Or head to Heli Lounge Bar where you can enjoy the ultimate view of Kuala Lumpur from a helipad! Yes…each evening, tables & chairs are put out onto the helipad for an incredible sunset view. Be sure to book a table to get the best spot.

Aside from alcohol, another must-try is Boh Tea in the Cameron Highlands. Enjoy a warm or iced tea with a slice of cake while overlooking the incredible tea plantations that look like a real-life Window’s screensaver.

While in Ipoh, ensure to try a white coffee whereby coffee beans are roasted with margarine and served with condensed milk.  A very sweet drink to be enjoyed warm. 

Other Useful Info:

What should I do if I have a medical problem in Malaysia & Borneo?

If your problem is not an emergency, then use Google maps to find your nearest pharmacy or doctors surgery (avoid Googling your symptoms as it will only scare you!) Check the reviews to see whether English is spoken, and if you are unable to find an English-speaking doctor then use Google translate to describe your symptoms.

The emergency number in Malaysia & Borneo is 999 if an ambulance is required. If possible please make your own way to A&E in a taxi in order to free up resources for local people.

The Malaysian peninsula has some excellent hospitals – so much so that travellers from Thailand, Cambodia & other nearby countries will fly into Malaysia in order to receive the necessary care. If you are unwell in Borneo and require hospital treatment, you may need to travel back to the Malaysian peninsular where the facilities are better.

If visiting a hospital or doctor’s surgery your passport details may be required for their records, so ensure to take your passport or a copy with you or you may not be able to receive treatment.

As mentioned above, it is of the utmost importance that you have comprehensive travel insurance which covers any activities whereby you may injure yourself such as watersports, hiking and diving. Call your insurance company as soon as possible to explain the situation and check whether you are covered. Keep records of all appointments, treatment and payments made in order to make your claim as smooth as possible – there may be a form you need to sign in the doctor’s/hospital giving permission for your medical records to be shared directly with your insurance company. 

If you are hiring a moped, ensure that you have an International Driver’s Permit (which can be picked up from a post office before you leave on your trip) and ALWAYS wear a helmet, as it may void your insurance cover if you injure yourself while riding
.

How to do laundry in Malaysia & Borneo?

There are less drop-off laundry services available in Malaysia & Borneo than in, for example, Vietnam. Usually a self-service coin-operated system is more popular and your nearest one can be found on Google maps.