What You Need to Know And Do When Traveling Throughout Malaysia
Malaysia is a country comprising two halves which is divided by the South China Sea. One half boasts bustling cities which are bound to awaken in you all of your five senses, while Malaysian Borneo is filled with wild untamed jungles and an abundance of wildlife including orangutans, with landscapes featuring granite peaks, remote tribes and a magnificent coastline.
It seems food and the love of it, is one of the themes which unite this culturally diverse country from Chinese-Malay influences, to Indian curries, unlimited Chinese cuisine, Malay food stalls and a range of Dayak specialties - meaning any traveler to Malaysia will never go hungry for taste and choice.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
Malaysia lies a little north of the equator so temperatures are warm and humid all year round. Due to the size of the country, the wet and dry tropic seasons vary from one part of the country to another.
On The west coast peninsular of Malaysia the peak season occurs throughout December and January.
On The east coast peninsular of Malaysia and the region of Borneo the peak season is throughout June and July.
The west coast of peninsular Malaysia which includes Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and the islands of Penang, Langkawi and Tioman generally experience monsoon rains between May and October where rain tends to be heaviest towards the end of the wet season.
The east coast experiences the monsoon period from November to March each year and during the wet season much of the accommodation on the eastern islands is most likely to be closed due to rough seas.
The region of Borneo experiences its monsoon between October and March, with the heaviest rains failing throughout January. Visitors can expect sudden downpours to occur at any time almost anywhere in the country, even during the dry season - that's the nature of a tropical climate.
The Cameron Highlands are the only area of the country which can become chilly with temperatures dropping to around 15°C or 59°F overnight.
Air pollution in and around the capital of Kuala Lumpur can be oppressive at any time of year however between June and October there is an increased risk of severe smoke haze which is caused by illegal land clearing in nearby Indonesia, which also spreads throughout areas of Thailand over the same period.
During the period of Ramadan which changes annually, Malaysians fast throughout the day, so visitors to the area may find some restaurants and cafes closed until the evening. The festival of Hari Raya Puasa (Eid) marks the end of Ramadan and this is the time many Muslim Malaysians take a week long holiday so visitors can expect crowded roads, high hotel prices and greater challenges when making bookings and reservations.
Chinese New Year is also a busy time, as many Malaysians identify as ethnic Chinese. Malaysian public holidays and school holidays can affect travel and accommodation bookings.
Christmas day is a public holiday and this period is classified as peak time due to the number of international visitors to Malaysia.
Malaysia is a cultural melting pot with a mix of ethnic Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures.
Over 60% of the population identify as Muslim with Buddhists, Christians and Hindus making up the remainder.
Malaysia is a conservative country, so when roaming beyond the walls of any tourist resorts showing too much skin is much frowned upon. Long sleeves to the elbow, long trousers and skirts falling at or below the knee are standard. Tight clothing is also considered inappropriate for women.
Visitors to the country should always dress respectfully and if visiting a Mosque shoes must always be removed. Women visitors are asked to wear a cloak and headdress which most mosques provide for visitors.
Public displays of affection considered inappropriate as is raising your voice or making a scene.
Typically in Asia and Malaysia included, there are a number of cultural taboos which include touching a person's head, eating with the left hand, pointing with the finger and failing removing shoes before entering a person's home and some businesses.
Many Malaysians do not consume alcohol as part of the Muslim faith so limit alcohol consumption to hotels, bars and clubs particularly during the month of Ramadan.
Chinese Malaysians do not observe Ramadan so visitors will always be able to find Chinese food during the day.
Tipping is not expected but is much appreciated. Most restaurants often add a service charge of 10% to the bill.
If you are visiting Malaysia for tourism, most visiting nationalities apply for a visa on arrival for a stay of up to ninety days. All visitors must hold a passport which much remain valid for 6 months after entry into the country.
Visitors who violate the visa conditions or overstay their visa term, can face penalties including fines, detention and/or deportation. Always check the dates on the visa stamp placed in your passport are correct and ensure to comply with all immigration rules and regulations, including visa conditions.
All foreigners entering Malaysia are required to provide biometric fingerprints of both thumbs and index fingers on arrival, although children under 12 years of age together with visitors with finger disabilities are exempt from this procedure.
Malaysia regulates the import of prescription and non-prescription medication with some medications requiring a letter from the prescribing doctor. Contact the Malaysian High Commission before you travel to check the rules regarding any medicines you intend on taking into the country and always keep medication in its original packaging when in Malaysia.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the date you intend to leave the country, in the event you arrive in Malaysia with less than six months validity remaining on your passport visitors could be denied entry and deported, even if you intended staying for just a few days.
Always carry suitable photographic identification with you at all times while in Malaysia and be aware that passports are required for travel between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia - Sabah and Sarawak.
Be aware also of attempts to obtain access to your passport by means of deception. If you are forced to handover your passport, contact the your High Commission or Embassy for advice.
Health And Safety
Most of Malaysia is relatively safe however in some parts of East Malaysia including Borneo there is an ongoing threat of violence and kidnapping of tourists and visitors to the region.
Public hospitals are modern and run by well trained staff however waiting times can be long in duration. Private hospitals with English speaking staff are readily available in the cities and most tourist areas however you will likely be required to pay a deposit up front, or show proof of travel insurance. In remote and regional areas health care of a high quality may be difficult to find.
Much like Thailand and Singapore medical tourism in the areas of dental and cosmetic surgery is becoming increasingly popular due to the low hospital fees in Malaysia, when compared with western countries.
Tap water in Malaysia unsafe to drink so stick to bottled or boiled water and refrain from ordering drinks containing ice.
To avoid traveler's diarrhea and select only fully cooked food and wash your hands regularly.
Mosquitoes spread dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis. Take steps to avoid getting bitten, and consider whether or not you need a vaccination, in consideration of the areas you plan on visiting. The risk of malaria is greater in rural areas than in the cities or coastal areas.
When it comes to transport the safety standards may not be up to scratch when it comes to buses, cars, motorbikes, jet-skis and boats.
Personal Safety And Security
Drugs are illegal and traffickers face a mandatory death penalty. It's even illegal to have drugs in your system and travelers have occasionally been subjected to urine tests on arrival in the country.
Some aspects of Sharia (Islamic) law are in place throughout Malaysia and are particularly enforced in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu. Some of the religious laws only apply to Muslims only while others apply to all people visiting the areas, including foreigners.
Anyone caught preaching a non-Islamic faith or distributing non-Islamic religious materials can and likely will be imprisoned.
Homosexual acts are illegal, and convictions may result in prison time and/or corporal punishment. Fortunately for the most part this law is rarely enforced however, gay travelers should still be cautious.
Alcohol can only be purchased by non-Muslims over the age of 18, with restrictions on the sale of alcohol in areas which have a high Muslim population.
Visitors are less likely to be scammed in Malaysia than they would be in some other south-east Asian countries however theft can present a problem for tourists, particularly in the cities.
'Snatch and grab' robberies are committed by thieves driving motorbikes so in order to avoid being targeted walk on the inside edge of the footpath and carry bags on the arm which faces away from the road.
'Smash and grab' attacks are also made on slow-moving vehicles. Keep doors and windows locked and don't leave valuables on the seat.
By law all taxis are required to have a working meter however many drivers refuse to use them and will insist on negotiating a flat (inflated) fare. If your taxi is metered be on the lookout for taxi drivers who may take the scenic route.
When visiting an ATM always shield your hand when inputing your PIN and never let your credit card out of your sight when paying at restaurants.
Some tourists have previously reported being searched by 'tourist police' only to discover their money has gone missing or worse - they have had drugs planted on them and are made to pay a bribe in order to be released. In the event you are approached and directed to be searched, insist that you are taken to a police station or make contact with police nearby immediately.
Finally a number of inexperienced tourists have fallen prey to gambling scams after being convinced by friendly card sharks that they can't lose.