Despite being a celebrated, exotic, and altogether awesome travel destination, Malaysia can still be successfully travelled on even a broke backpackers budget. With some thrifty planning and the right travel tips for Malaysia, travelling it on a budget isn’t too difficult.
Malaysia is often compared to its famous neighbour 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 the exciting things to do. If you want to travel this awesome country whilst successfully managing your cash, then read on to discover our top Malaysia travel tips for discovering this beautiful and varied country on the cheap!
Top Ten Malaysia Budget Travel Tips
Coming in hot and fast from my brain to your plate! Tips to keep your Malaysia budget low so you got more cash to spend on street food and 7/11 slushies.
What? Culture and breathtaking natural splendour? Yup, that’s part of a backpacking adventure in Malaysia too!
1. Travel During Monsoon
While the regular traveller might be intimidated by visiting 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 travelling Malaysia’s east coast as this is where the monsoon rains hit hardest. 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 much thinner. It’s a win-win, right? The monsoon season in Malaysia lasts between November and March and this is very much the country’s 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 into accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, 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 jetlagged nap. Personally, we recommend you download the Grab app 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 centre so our recommendation is to take the bus. It will only cost you 10 Ringgit (approximately $2.5 USD) and although travelling during peak hours might cause you some delays, this option is better if you are travelling on a tight budget. We advise you to 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
The top budget tip for travelling Malaysia is the same as anywhere: hostels should be your go-to accommodation option. While the quality of the rooms may vary drastically from hostel to hostel, there are generally decent and cheap places to stay 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 easy 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, Petaling Street in Chinatown is filled with hungry tourists at any hour of any given day. Due to this, you may 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 food is some of the best in the world. It’s an extraordinary culinary blend; the intricate spices and flavours 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 the popular tourist attractions and 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. Petaling Jaya is a large satellite city of Kuala Lumpur and the area is far less busy with tourists.
Visiting Petaling Jaya can offer you quite some unique experiences without the bustling hordes and tacky entertainments commonplace in the more mainstream neighbourhoods. With a hip, established youth culture, this area will offer the perfect opportunity to hang with the locals and learn about the local scene 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 climbing and hiking spots all within a very short distance from the city sprawl. 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 (Malaysia’s answer to Diwali) amongst too many other cultural Malaysian celebrations 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.
8. Scope the Architecture
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 the low-low price of $0: they’re all free-to-see highlights on a Kuala Lumpur itinerary.
9. Stay Dry
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!
10. Use Your Tricks-of-the-Trade Broke Backpacker Secrets
The last Malaysia travel tip for serious budget reduction is to utilise the one-size-fits-all patented budget backpacking secrets.
Check the above-linked post if you’re new to the game, but there are some good options for saving some dough in Malaysia:
- Sleep out – Maybe you’re a tough nut to crack, but generally packing some solid outdoor backpacking gear is better (and cheaper) than getting woken up at 3 A.M. by dorm-room douche-canoes.
- Dumpster Diving – Yeah, it works. Malaysia isn’t at the top end of the spectrum for developed, but it is clean and safe. I’ve tablesurfed and dumpster-dived while travelling to great avail here.
- Hitchhiking – Yep, it’s known here and doable. Backpacking and hitchhiking is an excellent way to save on transport costs and you won’t have to deal with as much crap as in India (figuratively and literally).
Bonus Malaysia Travel Tip: Get Insured!
The initial cost of travel insurance can’t exactly be considered ‘budget‘ but when both your legs have been broken by the orangutan mafia (watch those crafty devils), you’ll see the payoff. We have written a whole post about Malaysia travel insurance which you may find helpful.
Shoutout from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker: Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. We – at The Broke Backpacker – highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Summing Up the Ten Best Malaysia Travel Tips
Go forth, my vagrants! Go explore Malaysia with your cunning and frugal ways!
Yeah, Malaysia travel is not so expensive but it’s also not strictly cheap either… depending on how you play it. It’s definitely a country where you need to play your cards right to save dough.
That said, it is highly developed in terms of infrastructure, used to tourists (and ex-pats), and clean! It’s a good trade – the cost of entry for what you’re getting. There are countless awesome reasons to travel to Malaysia.
Either way, who cares! I just loaded you up with the best Malaysia travel tips for exploring the country on the cheap. You’re gonna be just fine. Go do your thang and go see something pretty!
And don’t forget to food coma on cheap donuts and slushies!
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Freeborn Aiden. Senior Editor, resident travel insurance expert and 2nd longest-serving member of team Broke Backpacker. Can’t resist a colourful shirt, ideally one with no buttons. Rampant Psytrance addict and seriel cat fancier. Aiden recently realised that his entire reality is little more than a badly written 90’s sitcom.