HI Hostels Blog

Local advice for newbies to Malaysia

So, you’ve decided on Malaysia as your next travel destination.  It’s a lovely country, it’s inexpensive and, above all, it’s going to be your first visit.  You can’t wait.  And, yes, September is perfect; you’ll have two full months of good weather before the start of the annual monsoon.  As for the shopaholics among you, (yay!) September is “Mega Sale Month”.

More often than not, travel guidebooks will unreservedly sell you a country, with little – if at all – mentioned about how things really are on the ground.  The writers themselves are likely to be foreigners who usually don’t spend enough time at a place or understand its culture deeply enough to meaningfully impart through these guidebooks what they know.  That’s where the locals come in.  People like me.

Now, I’m not about to delve into which tourist hotspots you should visit; you would have done your homework beforehand anyway.  Instead, I’m going to share with you some useful advice which I feel will go some way towards enriching your Malaysian experience.  Inevitably, these will include local etiquettes and mannerisms, personal safety precautions as well as some travel tips.  I hope you find them useful – or at least informative.

Mosque at Putrajaya, the political hub of Malaysia just outside Kuala Lumpur


As Malaysia sits literally bang on the Equator, there are no four seasons here; it’s a perennial hot, humid summer.  By that, I mean a mean daytime temperature of 30°  That’s year-round, mind you.  As such, do pack more cotton clothes and light tees.  There’s no need for jackets unless you intend to visit the highlands.  Of course, don’t forget to bring lots of sunscreen (SPF30 is fine) as it’s extremely hot and sunny most days.


Speaking of attire, if you intend to visit and gawk at some of our architecturally-magnificent places of worship (and despite this being a relatively liberal Muslim country), do observe the appropriate dress codes and clothe yourself conservatively to avoid being frowned upon.  This applies especially to women visiting mosques where a headscarf and non-revealing clothes are considered respectful.  Practise good, sound judgment and you’ll be made very welcome; I promise you.  Also, if you are invited to the home of a local, do remove your shoes before entering.  This is customary and not doing so is considered rude.

Nightscape of Kuala Lumpur city centre


As far as possible, give taxis a miss; cases of dishonest and abusive cabbies, although not exactly rampant, are not unheard of and tales of disgruntled (even abused) passengers do rear their ugly head occasionally.  So save yourself the distress.  Instead, use the city’s inexpensive and efficient monorail/subway networks, both will get you literally anywhere in city.

Now, here’s something on personal safety.  Unfortunately, cases of snatch theft have been steadily on the rise in Kuala Lumpur (and to an extent, in Johore in the south).  Almost all instances involve rogue motorcyclists coming up from behind unsuspecting pedestrians and snatching their sling bags, handbags and even necklaces.  Therefore always keep your bag close to you and ensure you do not hold it on the side nearest to the road.

As expected in every major world city, the two social ills which I’ve highlighted here are more serious only in Kuala Lumpur; I assure you it’s much, much safer in other parts of the country.  Exercise due vigilance and you’ll be fine.  So, go…. enjoy the vibrancy of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s colourful capital city.

One of the many wonderful beaches dotting Malaysia’s coastlines


If there’s one common thing which many visitors to Malaysia tell me, it’s this – they wished they’d brought an extra suitcase or three for all the shopping they’ve done.  You see, Malaysia (and Kuala Lumpur in particular) is a shopper’s paradise by virtue of the sheer variety of brands available here as well as the favourable exchange rate of most major currencies against the Malaysian Ringgit.  So if you do come this way, repeat not their “mistake”.  Bring a few extra bags and make allowance for excess baggage on your flight home!


Fact; Malaysia is a foodie’s haven.  And because the country is blessed with a multiracial, multicultural populace, visitors can expect to have a field day every day  when it comes to food. Forget the big American chain restaurants; instead, go for our wonderful street foods which you’ll have no problem finding all over the country. They’re inexpensive, delicious and above all, they give you – our guest – the chance to sample our local delicacies.

Nasi lemak, our national dish

In this respect, DO NOT leave Malaysia without having first tried “nasi lemak”, our undisputed national dish.  This is a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk; with knotted “pandan” (screwpine) leaves and a stalk of lemon grass thrown into the rice while steaming to lend it more aroma.  Traditionally and in its most basic form, nasi lemak is served wrapped in banana leaves, with fresh cucumber slices, fried anchovies, roasted groundnuts, poached eggs and – best of all – some spicy, chilli-based gravy (or “sambal“).  Super stuff!

Although Malaysia has been making global headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, I assure you visitors can expect to have a most memorable holiday for all the right ones.  There’s one small problem though; whilst my country makes for a fantastic holiday destination, be forewarned – you’ll want to come back again and again.  And if you do, remember always to wear sunscreen; this is possibly the best piece of advice I can dispense.  So, welcome to Malaysia; or as we say here, “selamat datang ke Malaysia”…. truly Asia.

Words by: Vincent Quek 

Check out Vincent’s eloquent and passionate blog about travel, coffee, football and life musings, Between Lattes

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