At a Glance
Malaysia Quick Information
Visa: Traveling to Malaysia is easy; for citizens of most countries you won’t need to apply for a visa beforehand. There are a handful of countries in Asia that require a visa for Malaysia, but most will not. For most of Europe and North America, you’ll receive a 90-day visa stamp upon arrival; certain other countries are only valid for 30-days. Just make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry.
Safety: Most parts of Malaysia are incredibly safe to travel in. The exception is Eastern Sabah, on the island of Borneo as there has been an increase in kidnappings on the coast in this region. Steering clear of that area, you should be able to have a safe and enjoyable stay in Malaysia. In big cities like Kuala Lumpur, pickpocketing and petty theft can be a problem, so keep your belongings close.
Obviously, don’t travel without travel insurance!
Language: The official language of Malaysia is Malay, which is spoken in the vast majority of the country. English is widely spoken as well, though, so it’s easy enough to get by without knowing how to speak Malay.
Festivals and Celebrations: Malaysia and Singapore share a lot of the same festivals and traditions, but Malaysia definitely has its own flair. From brightly colored street festivals to sobering religious days, the country has a lot to celebrate with its own unique cultural heritage.
Vesak Day: An important holiday for the Buddhist community in Malaysia, Vesak Day occurs in May and celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. While this is definitely a more solemn holiday than the New Year, temples and shrines will still be brightly adorned, and other events like vegetarian food fairs and talks will be happening, too.
Deepavali: Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights, celebrates the triumph of light over dark and good over evil in the Hindu tradition. During this celebration (usually in October or November), the Indian community in Malaysia makes the cities come alive with bright lights, vibrant colors, and high-energy festivities.
Thaipusam: This Hindu festival in January is not for the faint of heart. As a tribute to Lord Subramanium, a procession of followers can be seen carrying spiked alters that actually pierce their bodies. Witnessing this is definitely a memorable experience, but might also make you feel a little squeamish!
Malaysia Trip Planning
Best Time to Go
Malaysia experiences high heat and humidity all year-round, and there isn’t a lot of distinction between the seasons. The most notable difference is that the monsoon season arrives in November/December and brings on the “rainy season” until mid-February. During this time, travel is not recommended on the East coast of the peninsula (unless you’re happy staying indoors all afternoon!).
An important distinction, though, is that while the East coast experiences extremely wet weather during this time, the West coast works on a different timeline. The West Coast’s rainy season goes from April to October, and while it lasts for a longer time, the weather is milder and the rain won’t have much effect on your travel plans.
The nice thing about the alternating wet seasons, you can visit Malaysia at any time of the year and have a pretty enjoyable beach holiday. Just be sure to align your travel plans with the right areas of Malaysia, or else you might find your beach vacation rained out!
What to Pack for Traveling Malaysia
The biggest thing to remember when packing for Malaysia is that it is going to be hot, humid, and often wet. Bring lightweight, breathable clothes, and pack an umbrella! While the cities are used to foreigners and are more relaxed, if you’ll be traveling in more rural areas outside the major metropolitan areas, it’s a good idea to wear more modest attire. Malaysia is a primarily Muslim country and it’s not likely that your Speedo or string bikini will go over too well in a little Malaysian village. Dress a little more conservatively if you want to be accepted and welcomed. A light jacket or sweater is always a good idea, especially when the freezing cold air-conditioning in restaurants and shops feels like winter compared to the heat outside!
Best Things to Do in Malaysia
Admire the Petronas Twin Towers
One of the most recognizable spots in Malaysia, the Petronas Towers are the tallest twin towers in the world. The sky bridge that connects the towers is the world’s tallest two-story bridge. As long as you’re not afraid of heights, you can get tickets to the sky bridge to check out some amazing views of the city, or go even higher to check out the viewing deck from the 86th floor.
Go to the Taman Negara National Park
This natural wonder is one of the world’s oldest rainforests, estimated to be around 130 million years old. Whether you’re looking to set out on a 100km trek, or just take an afternoon stroll, this is the perfect spot to explore. Rock climbing and canoeing are available in this area, too! If you love nature and the outdoors, you can also opt to go trekking in the Cameron Highlands.
Visit the Batu Caves
Consisting of three huge limestone caves, this area is actually a cave temple. There are 272 steps to get up to the temple, but most people will agree that the sights are worth it. If you’re in Malaysia for the Thaipusam celebration, you can glimpse thousands of devotees carrying offerings to the temple.
Immerse Yourself in the Sarawak Cultural Village
This is a great place to get a peek into the rich cultural history of Malaysia in Sarawak. You can learn about the different cultural groups in Malaysia, see performances, music workshops, artwork, and lots more. It’s a different side of Malaysia from the hubbub of Kuala Lumpur or Penang, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Relax in Langkawi Island
If you need a little R&R while you’re in Malaysia, head for the beaches. Langkawi Island in the Andaman sea is the perfect spot to relax and soak up some sun. They’ve got everything from hostels to extravagant resorts and everything in between. Take a couple of days and enjoy some of the incredible seaside beauty of this island.
If you’re up for a little more adventure and excitement, check out Redang Island. But if you haven’t already, you’ll definitely want to get your scuba diving certification first. The waters around this island are home to 31 incredible dive sites, including a few impressive shipwrecks you won’t want to miss. The waters along the Perhentian Islands are also world renowned and worth exploring.
Climb Mount Kinabalu
If you’re up for a bit of adventure, why not challenge yourself by climbing up Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. You can opt to conquer this trek via the regular route or opt to do Mount Kinabalu via Ferrata as you ascend a series of ropes and iron bars to reach the peak.
See the Street Art in Penang
Another must-do while in Malaysia is to see the famous street art in Penang. Everywhere you go, you will find countless street murals often depicting children in various poses. The art is absolutely gorgeous and unusual, making it a fun city to explore and walk around in.
What to Eat in Malaysia
Simply put, this is just rice soaked in coconut milk and steamed. But it’s always served with a mountain of sides, from hard-boiled eggs and peanuts to vegetables and meats. It’s a simple dish that’s got the perfect combination of spicy, sweet, and delicious.
Basically a rice flour pancake, this dish is filled with sugar, peanuts, corn, or all three. The ingredients are spooned onto a doughy center while the outside cooks to a crispy perfection, then it’s served up, often folded in half like a taco. This is easy to find at street stalls and is a cheap and satisfying snack on the go.
You’ve probably had satay before and if you have, you know how delicious it is. Skewers of chicken, beef, or pork are painted with peanut sauce and grilled to perfection. You can find similar skewers in other countries, but they just don’t compare to the authentic thing in Malaysia.
A popular breakfast food in Malaysia, Nasi Danang features rice cooked in coconut milk with fish curry and a spread of added ingredients like hard boiled eggs, shaved coconut, and pickled vegetables.
This Malay dish consists of a noodle base combined with a gravy or sauce, meat, and vegetables. The exact recipe will vary depending on where you go. Some have coconut milk bases, while others feature thinner broths. I’d recommend trying it at a few different spots to see which you like the best!