Despite being a celebrated, exotic and altogether awesome travel destination, Malaysia can still be successfully traveled on even a broke backpackers budget. With some advance preparation and thrifty planning, traveling Malaysia on a budget isn’t too difficult.
Malaysia is often compared to its famous neighbor Thailand and whilst there are some similarities, Malaysia is far more chilled out – there are no crazy full moon parties here and Malaysia attracts a more mature backpacking crowd.
However, despite the lack of crazy parties, Malaysia still has plenty to offer both in terms of natural beauty and exciting things to do. If you want to travel this awesome country whilst successfully managing your cash, then read on to discover our top tips for exploring Malaysia on the cheap…
Ten Tips To Travel Malaysia on a Budget
1. Travel During Monsoon
While the regular traveler might be intimidated by traveling Southeast Asia during the monsoon season, true budget conscious adventurers visit during this season by choice. Why? Well, because of the seasonal nature of the travel industry, prices will decrease significantly and you will manage to save money on flights, accommodation, and activities.
If you really don’t want to get wet, then make sure to avoid the east coast as this is where the monsoon rain falls. Even if you are on the east coast, the abundant rainfall turns the landscapes a lush green so the stunning scenery will take your breath away.
During monsoon, the waterfalls are gushing, the green of the forests becomes incredibly deep and the crowds are thinner. It’s a win/win, right? The Monsoon season lasts between November and March and this is very much the countries quiet period.
2. Use local transport
If you arrive in Malaysia by plane, you will most likely land in Kuala Lumpur at one of the two airport terminals. If you’ve booked accommodation in KL then you have quite a few options for getting around depending on how much you want to spend.
Many backpackers will choose cabs or tuk-tuks which can be found lined up outside the airport buildings and these are fine if you are feeling flush or are just desperate to get to your accommodation for a shower and a nap. Personally, we recommend you use Grab instead – it’s cheaper and more reliable than taxis.
The KLIA Express train is perhaps the fastest, but not the cheapest option to reach the city center so our recommendation is to take the bus. It will only cost you 10 Ringgit (approximately $2.5 USD) and although traveling during peak hours might cause you some delays, this option is better if you are traveling on a tight budget. We advise you pay with your credit card at the kiosk – don’t pay cash at the counter, as the prices per ticket will be 50 Ringgit higher!!
Tip: Visa requirements differ on a country by country basis. You may need a visa before you arrive, do some research online and investigate with a reliable Malaysia Visa operator before you land.
3. Pick your accommodation wisely
As ever, hostels should be your go-to accommodation option while traveling Malaysia on a budget. While the quality of the rooms may vary drastically from hostel to hostel, they are generally decent throughout Malaysia.
In Kuala Lumpur, backpackers have two preferred spots: the Changkat in Bukit Bintang and the Chinatown near the Pasar Seni LRT station. The former is located near some of the hottest and trendiest clubs, while the latter offers better access to the public transportation system. You can generally pick up a bed for between 20 and 50 ringgit.
4. Eat like the locals
Every foodie’s delight, the Petaling Street in Chinatown is filled with hungry tourists at any hour of any given day. Due to this, you may sometimes find inflated prices which the locals would never stomach (pun intended). However, if you travel during the monsoon season, the merchants here will most likely implement friendlier prices and maybe even spoon you larger portions.
The Malaysian street cuisine is an extraordinary culinary blend, the intricate spices and flavors make the food that you’ll find here utterly unique. The street is crammed with both street food kiosks and also nice restaurants for the backpacker that has some extra cash to spare.
5. Avoid The Beaten Track
Within Kuala Lumpur, our advice is to avoid areas specifically developed for tourists, (especially those developed for family tourists) as these are by far the most expensive places to hang out. Instead, I suggest you take a day trip to visit the Petaling Jaya area. Pataling Jaya is a large satellite city of Kuala Lumpur and the area is far less busy with tourists.
Visiting Pataling Jaya can offer you quite some unique experiences without the bustling hordes and tacky entertainments commonplace in the more mainstream neighborhoods. With a hip, established youth culture, this area will offer the perfect opportunity to hang with the locals and learn about the local culture all whilst spending significantly less money than you would back in Kuala Lumpur!
You will find better and far cheaper food here than you would have in the big city, and the delicacies and fresh produce that you can find at the Pasar Malam night market are infinitely more authentic than the food in the city.
You’ll also find plenty of movie theatres, and if you pick your day carefully, you will spend no more than 12 Ringgit for a ticket (Wednesdays are the cheapest).
6. Escape to Nature
If you want to enjoy some of the natural beauty of Malaysia, then be sure to visit the Broga Hill and Chilling Falls; these two spots are very popular amongst the natives with good reason. Around Kuala Lumpur city, there are plenty of spots that are perfect for climbing and hiking all within a very short distance from the grind of the city. Of course, because fresh air is free, this will make for a very cheap day out!
7. Free Festivals
Owing to Malaysia’s rich religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, there are also plenty of local celebrations that you can attend and have a bit of good old fun with the natives. These include Chinese New Year and Deepawali (the Malaysian answer to Diwali) amongst too many others to even mention here. Then of course, as with all of Asia, there are countless temples and mosques that are amazing to visit and can usually be entered for free.
Kuala Lumpur’s architecture is quite a sight in itself. It’s an intriguing blend of Islamic, Asian and modern influences which juxtapose against one another magnificently. These styles collide to create a multicultural cityscape which whispers tales of the countless empires, dynasties, and peoples who have resided here over the millennia. The best bit is that you get to enjoy and take in the architecture for free!
9. Sober Up
Our last little bit of advice is to avoid drinking as much as possible! Why? Well, whilst Malaysia is on the whole affordable, the prices for a bottle of beer are similar to those in Europe and the US; therefore avoiding drinking will spare both your liver and your wallet!