How to travel Malaysia on the cheap

Malaysia is one of the more expensive countries of the Southeast Asia region. It almost feels like 2 totally different countries; the Peninsula Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo, separated in half by the South China sea. We visited the Peninsula Malaysia in December 2014, it certainly felt more ‘western’ than it’s bordering county of Thailand and it’s not surprising that the prices reflect this.

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Malaysia’s interesting history means it has a clear mix of cultural diversity. Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups have lived here together for hundreds of years creating a truly exciting mix of culture. The range of cultures has created a variety of foods, architecture, traditions and religions which makes it or the more fascinating and a country that I couldn’t wait to explore more of.

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A Buddhist Temple near Ipoh

If, like me, you find yourself exploring this country on a tight budget, I have come up with a list of budget travel tips to help you travel Malaysia cheaper whilst fully exploring it’s cultures, cities, landscapes, temples and of course, it’s food!

Please Note: At the time of writing, 1 Malaysian Ringget (MYR) is equal to £0.19 / $0.24. 

Here’s how to travel one of the most expensive countries in Southeast Asia on the cheap!

Food and Drink 

  • Ask anyone who has visited Malaysia what they love about the country, I bet you that the incredible food will be up there. And the local food here is cheap. Shaun and I are huge fans of Indian food and in Malaysia we could enjoy Indian food that is the cheapest in the world outside of India. Our favourite cheap eat was ‘Roti Canai’ (a delicious Indian- influenced flatbread) which we loved to eat everyday for breakfast and sometime lunch too! Have it plain with dhal, with an egg inside, or however you like it! They come with a variety of fillings and we found they cost on average a very cheap 1 MYR. Want a cheap drink to go with it? Aside from water, we found the freshly prepared lime soda to be one of the cheapest and yummiest options.
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Roti Canai and Lime Soda
  • We discovered that a lot of hotels and guest houses have cold water dispensers or they provide cold filtered water which is safe to drink, so you can save money on buying bottled water by filling your water bottle up with these.
  •  Eat in the food courts instead of restaurants for a cheap and authentic experience. The food in these joints varies as per the diverse cultures and has a huge range of weird and wonderful cuisines. If you’re lucky, like we were, some locals may sit with you and help you with what to order!
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A soup consisting of a variety of pig body parts
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The locals helped us with what to eat (plus treated us to a Carlsberg!)

Accommodation Tips

  •  Malaysia receives its fair share of tourists which has led to many hostels and budget guest houses being sprung up around the country that are particularly well suited for the budget traveller. We usually found these fine, however, I would make sure you check the online reviews before you stay and particularly keep an eye out for reviews of bed bugs. Unfortunately, we found this to be a problem in some of the cheapest accommodation options, particularly in areas that receive large amounts of tourists such as Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown and Melaka. It’s a shame that a lot of the cheap hostels in these areas have bed bugs problems, which meant that in this instance, paying a couple of £/$ more a night is worth it!
  • Kuala Lumpur is probably one of the more expensive places to visit, it is often the main entrance or exit point for travellers so the chances are you will find yourself here at least once. After spending hours of research on where to stay in Kuala Lumpur, I found that it was a lot better value for money to stay out of the city centre, where the accommodation is much cheaper. The public buses and the metro are extremely cheap and run regularly into the city at all hours. We stayed in ‘U Pac Hotel‘, it cost us 76 MYR per night (approx £14). It was a proper hotel with private en suite rooms and a buffet breakfast included. For a couple of pence we could be in the city in 20 – 30 mins (traffic dependant) yet our hotel cost a fraction of the price of the hotels/ hostels in the city centre and did not have bed bugs! We loved the hotel so much, we stayed here the second time we visited KL too.
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The City Centre is an expensive place to sleep
  • Haggle! It is acceptable to haggle for more than just items in a market. I realised this when we got to a guest house in the Cameron highlands to find out that by booking online in advance, we were paying almost double than another couple we met who just turned up and bartered the room down. Especially if you are here in the low season, it is easily possible to haggle for room prices in some areas.

Things to do and tourist attractions

  • Shopping – consider where you shop and also haggle before you buy. Although we did notice the markets in Malaysia were more expensive than those of Thailand and Laos for example, so if you are heading to these countries too and want to buy clothes / souvenirs it may be cheaper to save it for these countries instead. If you are going to shop in Malaysia, make sure you look around as other shops may sell the exact same thing for less! Also bear in mind the location of the market, night markets along the sea front in a beach resort area for example are far more expensive.
  • Local markets – we didn’t buy much from these, but the local markets are very interesting to visit for a stroll and an insight into the different cultures and foods. Ask at your guest house for the best local markets in the area for you to wander around, they are usually early in the morning or in the evenings. One of our favourites was the ‘Chowrasta’ morning market in Georgetown.
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A local morning market in Georgetown
  • Trekking. The Malaysian landscape is beautiful, head up to the Cameron Highlands for some of the best trekking in the Malaysian Peninsula and make sure you make a visit to the beautiful tea plantations. Your guest house will be able to help arrange a day trip to these for a small cost, or just do the hike yourself for free.
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The Tea Plantations in The Cameron Highlands
  • Make the most of the variety of free temples to explore, you could even visit a Mosque, Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple all in the same day if you wanted! If, like me, you are interested in different cultures and religions then you are in for a treat in Malaysia!
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A Buddhist Temple near Ipoh

Travel

  • Consider the time of year you travel to Malaysia. Malaysia receives a fair amount of tourists and in it’s high season (winter) prices around the country rise to reflect this, particularly the more touristy spots along the coastal areas. So you may find it cheaper to visit in the low season instead.
  • It is sometimes cheaper to buy your bus/ train tickets from the local bus/ train stations rather than the tourist offices dotted around everywhere as they often charge a small commission.
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A train journey in Malaysia

So those are my tips on how to travel Malaysia on the cheap! Have you been to Malaysia? Do you have any budget travel tips you would like to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How to travel Malaysia on the cheap - budget travel tips!
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Hi, I'm Zoe. Welcome to Zo Around The World! Since 2012, I have travelled to 24 countries within 4 continents. Zo Around The World is a collection of my travel experiences – particularly writing about backpacking and budget travel. I am a self confessed over-organised travel planner, travel has become my favourite part of my life and let me show you how it can become yours too

37 thoughts on “How to travel Malaysia on the cheap

  1. Malaysia is such a diverse and big country to visit! I’ve been many times but still feel like I’ve hardly seen any of it! Cameron Highlands are still up on my bucket list. That place looks simply gorgeous! Thanks for the tips!

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  2. I have not been to Malaysia yet, but would love to go. I love Asian markets – I love bargaining. Plus, I would love to do some trekking, your pictures look beautiful.

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  3. Those are some great tips, thank you Zoe! 🙂 We got some family living in Malaysia and were hoping to visit by the end of next year. Of course it will be high season, but with your tips I’m sure we can manage the financial part a bit better!

    Jacky

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  4. The lime soda sounds refreshing! Is it easy to get vegetarian food in Malaysia? I would love to check out the markets and the temples ☺

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  5. These are great tips. I’ve been to Malaysia before during a sponsored trip. It was amazing. And you’re right. Their food is cheaper, and a lot to choose from. Thanks for this post.

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    1. Thanks! Oh that’s cool! 🙂 Yeah there is such a good variety of food to choose from, maybe even too much choice! I want to go back again and try more of it 🙂

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    1. Oo really! I had some amazing food in KL too 😀 Definitely try to make it to the Cameron Highlands, its beautiful there! Yes I’ve been to Penang (had some of the best food of my life there!) and also been to Melaka which was really pretty 🙂

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  6. Malaysian here 🙂 Nice post! I really recommend the islands in Malaysia as well. They’re all splendid. I feel like really high class expensive food is also not bad given the price. You have Troika, Nobu and Marinis – all splendid restaurants within walking distance of KLCC.

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