Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 3.80 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
Standards in Malaysia were higher than many other countries we’ve visited so far and comparable to the Philippines and Indonesia. All of our hotels were private rooms with ensuite bathroom, clean, comfortable with working amenities:
Kuala Lumpur (12 nights) – We visited Kuala Lumpur on three separate occasions and always stayed at the Sunbow Residency Hotel (USD 24.62 / night) for a total of 12 nights. Our room was spacious, modern and comfortable with good amenities. The hotel was also located at the heart of Kuala Lumpur right at Imbi station on the Monorail.
Melaka (3 nights) – We stayed at the AL33 Leisure Hotel (USD 25.72 / night), which was a bit outside of the main attractions of the city, but with lots of food options around us. Our room was small, but clean and neat. The internet also worked well.
Johor Bahru (5 nights) – As means of saving up while visiting Singapore, we stayed at the Belllo Hotel (USD 32.73 / night) in Johor Bahru. It was one of the nicest hotels we’ve stayed in during this trip and we were glad we made this decision. Our room was just perfect and the hotel well located – right at JB Sentral across the customs checkpoint. We highly recommend this hotel.
Kota Kinabalu (6 nights) – We had an overnight layover in Kota Kinabalu during which we stayed at the Le Hotel (USD 26.94) for that night. The hotel was alright but not great. During our second stay, this time for five nights, we stayed at the Century Hotel (USD 19.69), which despite being cheaper, was better, with bigger rooms.
Sandakan (4 nights) – We stayed four nights at the Sandakan Central Hotel (USD 17.58 / night). It was a decent hotel and cheaper than most places in Malaysia. We ended up stayed longer than originally planned because it was of such good value.
Tanah Rata (2 nights) – Cameron Highlands didn’t have that many accommodation options, so after browsing pretty much the entire selection, we settled for a room at the Eight Mentigi Guest House (USD 19.43 / night). The room was OK for the short stay and had the fastest internet we had in a very long time!
George Town (6 nights) – Our room at the G Times Hotel (USD 22.23 / night) was great. The hotel was clean and well kept, our room was pretty comfortable and had a nice view of the harbour. It was also right across the ferry terminal, bus terminal and within walking distance to most attractions and food stalls. We even overlooked the incident where the fire alarm went off at 6am one morning.
Langkawi (7 nights) – Cenang Beach in Langkawi was expensive for accommodation and the options weren’t great. We initially booked one night at the Mali-Mali Beach Resort (USD 30.39 / night), which had some decent beach front bungalows, but because of Merdeka Day, the hotel was fully booked thereafter. We then got a room for six nights at the Melati Tanjung Motel (USD 41.90 / night). Our room was spacious and had a big balcony overlooking the beach and the ocean, which we really enjoyed.
Money Saving Tips
- You are better off booking hotels online in Malaysia. The cities are not only big, making walk-ins impractical, but the rates are also higher. We found that most hotels are not willing to negotiate the walk-in rates, the only exception was in Langkawi when we stayed for six nights.
- The location of the accommodation was important in Malaysia, as most cities were pretty widespread. Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu were especially big. Sometimes it’s worth paying more for a centrally located place to sleep than to spend time and more money commuting to sightsee.
Food & Drinks
With influences of other major cuisines, such as Chinese and Indian, Malaysian food was truly diverse and the best possible goodbye to Asian food. We spent an average of USD 8.92 per person per day and felt like we were eating constantly and pretty well. In fact, for the week we spent in Penang, we did more eating than sightseeing. Char kway teow and assam laksa were must-tries there.
Malaysian food had a little bit of everything. Dishes like nasi lemak that reminded of Indonesian food; Hokkien mee originating from the Chinese province Hokkien; rotis and murtabak with a decidedly Indian influence. My favourite was a steaming bowl of curry laksa.
Money Saving Tips
- Eating local dishes is a lot cheaper than Western ones, especially in super touristy areas. Not to mention they make for a fun culinary experience! Malaysian food has so much to offer that there was always something new to try.
- Hawker centers are common and often serve the most authentic dishes. Join the locals for an incredibly cheap but unforgettable meal!
- We found Langkawi to be especially expensive for food, particularly around the Cenang Beach area. While we splurged on one seafood meal, the affordable way to eat there is to go to local food trucks run by locals. You’ll find burgers, sandwiches, and even Malaysian specialties like laksa.
Coming from Indonesia, Malaysia had far more manageable dimensions and we explored some of the most famous stops in the peninsula and Sabah state in Borneo. Our flight from Bali into Kuala Lumpur (KL) cost USD 73.95 per person and from there we made our way down the peninsula, into Borneo and then back up north in the peninsula, ending once again in KL. It was pretty easy to travel in Malaysia and we used a variety of transportation options to do so:
Monorail / KL Komuter – Inside KL, we made extensive use of the monorail line and the KL Komuter trains to get to places. The trains were new, clean and efficient, while the rides were super affordable.
Taxi – We avoided taxis as much as we could in Malaysia, not because their service was bad (even though we had a heated discussion with a driver in Sandakan), but because it was much more expensive than the available network of public transportation. Short cab rides cost around USD 5, while a public alternative would cost around USD 1.50 for the same distance.
Bus – Bus stations in Malaysia were organized and the buses were comfortable and nice. We used the bus to transfer from the airport in KL to the city (USD 2.88 per person, 1h), to get from KL to Melaka (USD 2.6 per person, 2.5h) and then Melaka to Johor Bahru (USD 5.50 per person, 4h). In Borneo, we used the bus to get from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan (USD 11.26 per person, 7h) and back. Bus rides from KL to Tanah Rata (USD 9.16 per person, 3.5h) and then onto George Town (USD 10.48 per person, 3h) were also not bad.
Ferry – We took a ferry from George Town into Langkawi which cost us USD 18.33 per person and took around 3 hours. Again, the process of buying tickets and boarding was organized and seamless. The ride was smooth with calm waters and we arrived at the expected time.
Flight – We flew from Johor Bahru to Kota Kinabalu (USD 38.32 per person) and then from Kota Kinabalu to KL (USD 31.62 per person). We then took another flight from Langkawi to KL for USD 18.52 per person. AirAsia was super affordable in Malaysia and was our airline of choice.
Overall, we ended up spending an average of USD 6.08 per person per day in transportation.
Money Saving Tips
- AirAsia is your best friend in Malaysia. KL is by far AirAsia’s biggest hub – KLIA2 pretty much runs exclusive AirAsia flights – so they pretty much have their own terminal. They may be a budget airline and have a coloured reputation elsewhere, but in Malaysia, AirAsia runs like a well-oiled machine. They fly absolutely everywhere, both within the country and anywhere in Asia from KL. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly than to take a bus in Malaysia, that’s how cheap AirAsia can be.
- Book flights in advance with AirAsia, usually two weeks will do. Most destinations have several flights a day and it shouldn’t be a problem to find a flight that serves your needs. We’ve never paid so little to fly.
- Use public transportation! It is cheap and serves pretty much the entire country with comfort and convenience. In the big cities, traffic can often be at a standstill, so trains allow you to save time.
- Bus tickets can be bought online at www.easybook.com. However, tickets can always be bought once you show up at the bus station. It’s often works on a first-come, first-serve basis, so just because you bought a ticket for a particular time, doesn’t mean you won’t end up waiting anyway.
- Though we rarely ever took taxis, taxi apps are popular in Malaysia and work well. MyTeksi is a good one; you can find a driver, track his route, and have an agreed upon fare in the app without haggling (and be confident you’re not getting ripped off!). It takes away all the negative aspects of the typical Asian taxi experience, so give it a try.
We only visited maybe half of all the numerous activities and entertainment options in Malaysia:
- Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center (Sepilok) – Entrance fee USD 9.17 per person
One of the main attractions in Sabah, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center does great work taking care of these amazing endangered animals. We spent a whole day watching them playing in the nursery and then being fed in the wild.
- Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary (Labuk Bay) – Entrance fee USD 17 per person
For USD 17 per person, we spent the whole day surrounded by silvered leaf monkeys and the weird looking proboscis monkeys. We learned a lot about them and got really close to the biggest noses in Borneo!
- Diving at Tunku Abdul Raman Marine Park (Kota Kinabalu) – USD 69.39 per person
For only USD 23.13 per tank, we dove at the beautiful Tunku Abdul Raman Marine Park off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. It was a wonderful to experience the smaller life forms of the ocean and have fun with fellow divers.
- Tea Plantation + Mossy Forest Tour (Cameron Highlands) – USD 13.88 per person
We booked a half day tour to take us to the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands and the infamous mossy forest, where we trekked through the evergreen Malaysian jungle.
- KLCC Aquaria (Kuala Lumpur) – Entrance fee USD 16.76 per person
This was my first aquarium experience! In the underwater world of the KLCC Aquaria, we learned a lot about all sorts of fish worldwide (including some from the Amazon).
- Petronas Twin Towers (Kuala Lumpur) –Entrance fee USD 22.20 per person
The ticket includes going to the Skybridge on the 43rd floor and the observatory on the 86th floor. We had a nice view of the KL skyline and the twin tower right across from us.
Money Saving Tips
- Visiting the orangutan and proboscis monkey sanctuaries in Sabah can be easily done by yourself without the need of a tour. There are local buses from Sandakan to both centers, ask your hotel and they will be able to provide you with times and information on where to get on it.
- Book Petronas Twin Towers tickets beforehand to get the time that you want! Unlike other towers, the trip up the Petronas Twin Towers has a set amount of time (45 minutes), with a limited number of spots per timeslot. We learned the hard way that showing up the day of is not the best idea.
- All the tour operators in the Cameron Highlands pretty much offer the same services and prices – we did a rough check around. So just go with whatever is the most convenient (for us, that was with our guesthouse).
We had a few miscellaneous expenses in Malaysia:
- SIM Card + 1.5GB Data – USD 10.55
We got a SIM card with U Mobile that included 1.5GB of data and was valid for 30 days.
Besides the above expense, we had several minor purchases that summed up to USD 170.06, which included laundry, purchasing toiletries, gifts, etc. We also bought a few items in preparation for the next destinations coming out of Asia – Europe!
We took our time here in Malaysia over the course of 45 days, which undoubtedly helped to spread out the costs. There were ways we could have spent less; cheaper accommodations and less eating and snacking in general. Overall, though, we’re pretty pleased with our budget. We got great value for our money in Malaysia.