Malaysia travel guide: what you need to know


Best time to go, culture, language, health, safety, laws, watchouts, emergency contacts and more.

Need to know


When to get the best weather and avoid the crowds, and why you shouldn't touch a person's head or eat with your left hand - download the Malaysia travel guide.

Travel-size tips

  • Flights from Australia to Malaysia take as little as five hours.
  • Australians can visit for up to three months without a visa.
  • The weather is hot and humid, with different wet seasons in different parts of the country.

Know before you go

  • Most areas of Malaysia are relatively safe, but smartraveller.gov.au advises against traveling to some areas of East Malaysia, where there is a risk of kidnapping.
  • Your doctor may recommend vaccinations before traveling to Malaysia.
  • Malaysia is a majority-Muslim country with conservative values and some aspects of Sharia law in place.

Best time to go

Malaysia sits just north of the equator, so temperatures are warm and humid all year round. The wet and dry seasons vary from one part of the country to the next. Check the average temperature and rainfall in the area you're planning to visit.

Peak seasons:

December/January: West coast Peninsular Malaysia.

June/July: East coast Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Borneo).

  • The west coast of Peninsular Malaysia (including Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and the islands of Penang, Langkawi and Tioman) generally experience their monsoon rains between May and October. The rain tends to be heaviest towards the end of the season.
  • The east coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiences its monsoon from November to March. During the wet season, much of the accommodation on the eastern islands (including the Perhentian Islands) is likely to be closed or inaccessible due to rough seas.
  • East Malaysia (Borneo) generally experiences its monsoon between October and March, with the heaviest rain in January.
  • Sudden downpours can come at any time, anywhere in the country - even during the dry season.
  • The Cameron Highlands are the only area of the country that gets particularly chilly, with temperatures dropping to around 15°C overnight.
  • Air pollution, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, can be bad at any time of year, but between June and October there's an increased risk of severe smoke haze caused by illegal slash-and-burn land clearing in nearby Indonesia.
  • During the month of Ramadan (dates change each year), many Malaysians fast throughout the day. Some restaurants and cafes may be closed, at least until the evening.
  • The festival of Hari Raya Puasa (Eid) marks the end of Ramadan and is when many locals take a week-long holiday. Expect crowded roads, higher hotel prices and more difficulty getting bookings.
  • Chinese New Year (dates change each year) is also a busy time as many Malaysians are ethnic-Chinese.
  • Malaysian public holidays and school holidays can affect travel and accommodation bookings.
  • Christmas day is a public holiday and the season is a peak time due to the number of international visitors.

Culture

  • Malaysia is made up of a diverse mix of ethnic Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures.
  • 60% of the population is Muslim, with Buddhists, Christians and Hindus making up most of the remaining 40%.
  • Malaysian people dress and behave conservatively. Outside of tourist resorts, showing too much skin is frowned upon. Long sleeves (at least to the elbow) and long trousers/skirts (at least to the knee) are standard for both men and women. Tight clothing is also considered quite risqué, particularly for women. Dress standards are more relaxed in the cities than in rural areas.
  • You should dress respectfully and remove your shoes when visiting mosques. Women will be asked to wear a cloak and headdress, which most mosques are happy to provide to visitors.
  • Public displays of affection (anything more than holding hands) are not appropriate.
  • Raising your voice or making a scene is considered extremely embarrassing for all involved, so try to keep your cool if you have a disagreement with someone.
  • Other cultural taboos include touching a person's head, eating with your left hand, pointing with your finger, and not removing your shoes before entering a person's home.
  • Many Malaysians don't drink alcohol, so limit your drinking to hotels, bars and clubs, particularly during Ramadan.
  • Many Muslim Malaysians fast from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan ( dates change each year). Some cafes and restaurants will shut during the day but the streets usually liven up in the evenings when people break their fast. Tip: Chinese Malaysians don't observe Ramadan, so you'll always be able to find Chinese food during the day.
  • Tipping is not expected, but it's appreciated. Restaurants often add a service charge of 10%.

Official language: Bahasa Malaysia

Most Malaysians are multilingual, with English, Mandarin, Cantonese or Tamil likely to be their second language. In cities and tourist areas you should have no trouble finding people who can speak English.

The Malaysian language is written in the same alphabet as English, so you'll be able to read street signs and maps.

Health and safety

  • Most areas of Malaysia are relatively safe, but smartraveller.com.au advises against traveling to some parts of East Malaysia (Borneo) and to the region beyond the Thai border, where violence and kidnapping are a risk.
  • Public hospitals are run by well-trained staff, but wait times are likely to be long. Quality health care may be hard to find in remote areas. Private hospitals with English-speaking staff are available in the cities and tourist areas (see contacts below). You'll need to pay a deposit up-front or show proof of travel insurance.
  • Medical tourism, particularly for dental and cosmetic procedures, is becoming increasingly popular because of the lower hospital fees in Malaysia.
  • The tap water in Malaysia is not safe to drink. Stick to bottled or boiled water and ask for no ice in your drinks.
  • To avoid traveller's diarrhoea, opt for fresh, fully cooked food, wash your hands regularly and pack anti-diarrhoeals just in case.
  • Mosquitoes can spread dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis. Take steps to avoid bites and speak to a travel doctor about whether or not you need a vaccination or prophylactic. The risk of malaria is greater in rural areas than in the cities or coastal areas.
  • Air pollution can be a problem in Kuala Lumpur. Smoke haze caused by illegal slash-and-burn land clearing in nearby Indonesia sometimes creates dangerous conditions across the whole country, particularly between June and October. Check the Malaysian Environment Department website for air quality reports.
  • Safety standards aren't always up to scratch when it comes to buses, cars, motorbikes, jet-skis, boats and scuba diving equipment.
  • For the latest health and safety advice about Malaysia, including disease outbreaks, natural disasters and civil unrest, check smartraveller.gov.au

Do I need vaccinations to travel to Malaysia?

Laws and watchouts

Laws

  • Drugs are strictly illegal and traffickers face a mandatory death penalty. It's even illegal to have drugs in your system, and travellers 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 Kelantan and Terengganu states. Some of the religious laws only apply to Muslims, others apply to all people, including foreigners.
  • Anyone caught preaching a non-Islamic faith or distributing non-Islamic religious materials could be imprisoned.
  • Homosexual acts are illegal, and convictions can result in prison time or corporal punishment. Fortunately, the law is rarely enforced, but gay travelers should still be cautious.
  • Public acts of sex are highly illegal.
  • Prostitution is illegal (despite being quite readily available).
  • Possession of pornographic material is illegal, but there are no laws (currently) against viewing it online.
  • Alcohol can only be purchased by non-Muslims over the age of 18. There are restrictions on the sale of alcohol in areas with a high Muslim population.

For road rules, see Driving in Malaysia.

Watchouts

  • You're a little less likely to be scammed in Malaysia than you would be in some other south-east Asian countries, but theft is still a problem, particularly in the cities.
  • 'Snatch and grab' robberies are committed by thieves driving motorbikes. To avoid being targeted, walk on the inside edge of the footpath and carry your bag on the arm that's away from the curb.
  • 'Smash and grab' attacks are also made on slow-moving cars. Keep doors and windows locked and don't leave valuables on the seat.
  • By law, all taxis should have a working meter. Unfortunately, many drivers refuse to use them and will insist on negotiating a flat (and often inflated) fare. If your taxi is metered, watch out for unscrupulous drivers who may take the scenic route or even have a hidden button that adds a few extra ringgit to the fare.
  • Always cover the keypad when using ATMs, and never let your credit card out of your site when paying at restaurants.
  • Some tourists have reported being searched by 'tourist police' only to discover their money has gone missing, or worse - they've had drugs planted on them and are made to pay a fine (ie. bribe). If anyone tries to search you, insist that they take you to a police station or get straight on the phone to the actual police.
  • Some not-so-street-smart tourists have fallen victim to gambling scams after being convinced by friendly card sharks that they can't lose.
  • Tourist traps are many and varied, and often quite creative. Read our article on scams around the world, or search travel forums such as Tripadvisor for the latest warnings from travelers to Malaysia.

Making a complaint

If you fall victim to theft or any other serious crime, contact the police (numbers below).

If you have a dispute with an accommodation or tour provider and you're unable to come to an agreement, you can lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

For complaints about other goods and services, try the National Consumer Complaints Centre (you'll need a Malaysian-speaker to help you with the website).

If you have a problem with a taxi driver, take down their ID and licence plate number and contact the taxi company.

If your gripe is with an Australian or international tour operator, airline, or booking site, follow the usual procedures for making a complaint or seeking compensation.

Emergency contacts

Malaysia country code: +60

  • Police/Ambulance: 999 (112 from a mobile)
  • Fire: 994 (112 from a mobile)
  • Tourist police hotline: + 60 3 2149 6590 / Enquiries +60 3 2149 6593

Operators may not speak English. If you don't have an interpreter, call your hotel, your insurance provider, an English-speaking hospital or the tourist police. Public ambulances may be slow and ill-equipped so consider catching a taxi to hospital if you can.

Hospitals and clinics

Public hospitals have well-trained staff, some of whom may speak English, but wait times are likely to be long. There are many private hospitals and clinics throughout Malaysia you'll find one in most cities and tourist centres.

Kuala Lumpur

Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur
286 Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
+60 3 4141 3000
Emergency: +60 3 4141 3131

Columbia Asia Hospital - Setapak
1, Jalan Danau Saujana, Off Jalan Genting Klang, 53300 Kuala Lumpur
+60 3 5521 5151 / +60 3 4145 9999

Global Doctors Clinic
B1-C6, Jalan Kiara 3, Mont Kiara
+60 3 6203 8999

See more private hospitals and clinics in Kuala Lumpur.

Penang

Gleneagles Penang
1, Jalan Pangkor, 10050, Penang
+60 4 227 6111
See more private hospitals and clinics in Penang.

Langkawi

Langkawi Hospital (public hospital)
Bukit Tekuh, Jalan Padang Mat Sirat, Kuah 07000, Langkawi
+60 4 966 3333

Private clinics are also available on the island.

Sarawak

Columbia Asia Hospital Bintulu
Lot 3582, Block 26, Jalan Tan Sri Ikhwan, Kemena Land District, Tanjung Kidurong,
97000 Bintulu, Sarawak
+60 86 251 888

See more private hospital and clinics in Sarawak

Sabah - Private hospitals and clinics

Johor - Private hospitals and clinics

Malacca - Private hospitals and clinics

The US embassy has a full list of English-speaking doctors and hospitals in Malaysia, which includes some public hospitals.

Australian High Commission - Kuala Lumpur malaysia.highcommission.gov.au
6 Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
+60 3 2146 5555
Email: ahckl.consular@dfat.gov.au 

Australian Consulate - Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Suite 10.1, Level 10, Wisma Great Eastern, 65 Jalan Gaya, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
+60 88 267 151
Email: andrewsmk@yahoo.com 

Australian Consulate - Sarawak
E39 Level 2, Taman Sri Sarawak Mall,
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak
+60 82 230 777
Email: philipting66@gmail.com

24-hour Australian Consular Emergency Centre: +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 or SMS +61 421 269 080

Got a travel tip about Malaysia? Or spotted something in our guide that needs updating? Add a comment below.


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