Summary: What to expect while traveling in Malaysia? Check out our list of observations after three months in this wonderful country.
We were in Malaysia from October to January 2014. Though we didn’t visit many places in order to stay within our budget, we did make it to East Malaysia, and have a more complete idea about the country in its whole.
1-The currency is the Ringgit (MYR), which is 3.28 for $1(2013–2014).
2-Malaysia is a multicultural country.
Many Malaysians have a Chinese or Indian background. There is also a huge number of different ethnicities (especially on the island of Borneo) who all speak their own language. Malaysia has a rich cultural diversity.
3-People usually speak good English.
As a result of the linguistic diversity, many people speak English pretty well, in addition to Malay (the official language) and sometimes their native language. However, you will need to make an extra effort with those who don’t speak English. Learn a few Malaysian words—locals will love it!
4-East Malaysia is different from West Malaysia.
The population distribution is different in East Malaysia, where many people come from indigenous ethnicities and a Chinese background. Christians are also represented in a bigger percentage compared to West Malaysia.
5-Food is good and cheap.
Thanks to the rich cultural diversity, food has been influenced by other countries’ cuisines, such as Indian, Chinese, Filipino, and Singaporean cuisine. Nasi Lemak, the national dish is one of our favorite foods. You will find as well a lot of Indian restaurants which serve very good roti and nan.
6-Service in restaurants is pretty unusual and not standardized.
Food is delicious, but don’t expect much from the service. First, each restaurant has its own system that you have to figure out on your own. Second, the waiter arrives at the table with the menus, ready to write your order before you have even sat or opened the menu. Third, they bring the plates one by one once they are ready, instead of bringing everything together. Thus, when your party has two or more people, you rarely eat together.
7-People are very friendly.
8-There are a lot of environmental issues in the country.
This is the first thing you will see even before putting your foot onto Malaysian soil, especially if you arrive by plane and during the daytime. You will see the devastating palm tree plantations all around the city, and everywhere all over the country (which has already logged 90% of its rainforest). There are a lot of plastic issues as well, and people in general are more focused on the growing economy than on the environment. We felt that what is done is very superficial and doesn’t have a real impact on the ground level.
9-Wildlife is incredibly unbelievable.
Despite the environmental issues, the remaining wildlife is amazing and you will find many natural parks and reserves.
10-Kuala Lumpur is a very modern city.
11-Weather can be different from one area to another.
You have to check the weather before you plan your travel to Malaysia. This is very important. For instance, we were planning to visit the Perhentian Islands in October/November, but we discovered that during the rainy season almost everything closes over there (which is not the case elsewhere).
12-Malaysia is a Muslim country.
Islam represents 62% of the population. The second religion is Buddhism, and then Christianity. You should avoid some kind of behaviour such as kissing your spouse in public. You can wear whatever you want, but be considerate and don’t go out topless.
13-Taxis are expensive.
14-It is easy to take the bus.
Public transport is usually modern, cheap, and not too crowded. Beware that you should always arrive before the departure of trains and buses, as they sometimes leave before the scheduled time. Kuala Lumpur has a subway/underground system.
15-People are very laid back.
Don’t be in too much of a hurry in Malaysia.
16-Car drivers rarely respect signs.
This means that in Malaysia the red light sign (where cars should stop) is just another shade of green! Usually you will have one or two cars not stopping at the red light, so you have to be careful.
17-Lush vegetation is everywhere, even in cities.
18-Most cats have small tails.
After seeing all those cats with small tails—though not all the same size—we finally decided to ask someone about the reason for that. This person kindly assured us that people don’t cut cats’ tails in Malaysia, but that this was a special race of cats. Phew!
19-Internet is not very good, except in KL.
The company we dealt with was Maxis, and they are the best in the country. West Malaysia seems to have a better speed than East Malaysia.
20-Malaysia is a good shopping destination.
So many choices and good prices—this is a paradise for shopaholics (but definitely not a good cure!). We bought our Mac in Malaysia it was cheaper than anywhere else.
21-In restaurants you will rarely get a knife, even if you order a steak.
Malaysians usually eat with their hands (like in India), which explains the lack of knives in restaurants. But you will always have a spoon and a fork to cut your meat!
22-There are no tuk-tuks like in Thailand.
23-There are a lot of foreign workers coming mainly from the Philippines.
24-They have very nice drinks and fresh fruits.
We had very nice fresh cut fruits, especially in Kuching. The Teh Tarik is a must-try.
25-People are honest and don’t try to overcharge you.
Except for the usual painful bargain with taxi drivers—which seems to be a worldwide phenomenon—you won’t have troubles with transactions.
26-Bathrooms almost always feather half squat toilets and half normal toilets.
Toilets are usually clean. In shopping malls they charge you one or two Ringgit at the ground floor, but it is usually free at the other floors.