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Malaysia

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Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia, located partly on a peninsula of the Asian mainland and partly on the northern third of the island of Borneo. West (peninsular) Malaysia shares a border with Thailand, is connected by a causeway and a bridge (the 'second link') to the island state of Singapore, and has coastlines on the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. East Malaysia (Borneo) shares land borders with Brunei and Indonesia and a maritime border with the nearby Philippines.

Regions

Malaysia is divided into two main geographical regions, commonly known as Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. See Geography for more information.

Peninsular Malaysia

East Malaysia

Cities

  • Kuala Lumpur — the multi-cultural capital, home of the Petronas Twin Towers
  • George Town — the cultural and cuisine capital of Penang
  • Ipoh — capital of Perak with historic colonial old town
  • Johor Bahru — capital and former royal capital of Johor, and the gateway to Singapore
  • Kuantan - capital of Pahang, and commercial centre of the east coast
  • Kota Kinabalu — close to tropical islands, lush rain forest and Mount Kinabalu
  • Kuching — capital of Sarawak
  • Malacca (Malay: Melaka) — the historical city of Malaysia with colonial-style architecture
  • Miri — resort city of Sarawak located near the border of Brunei and gateway to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gunung Mulu National Park

Other destinations

  • Cameron Highlands — famous for its tea plantations
  • Fraser's Hill — a time warp to the colonial era
  • Kinabalu National Park — home of Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in South East Asia
  • Langkawi — an archipelago of 99 islands known for its beaches, rainforest, mountains, mangrove estuaries and unique nature. It's also a duty-free island
  • Penang (Pulau Pinang) — formerly known as the "Pearl of the Orient", now bustling island with excellent cuisine which has retained more colonial heritage than anywhere else in the country
  • Perhentian Islands (Pulau Perhentian) — glittering jewels off the East Coast still undiscovered by mass tourism
  • Redang (Pulau Redang) — popular island destination for scuba divers
  • Taman Negara — a large area of rainforest National Park spanning Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu
  • Tioman (Pulau Tioman) — once nominated one of the most beautiful islands in the world

Understand

Malaysia is a mix of the modern world and a developing nation. With its investment in the high technology industries and moderate oil wealth, it has become a rich nation in Southeast Asia. Malaysia, for most visitors, presents a happy mix: there is high-tech infrastructure and things generally work well and more or less on schedule, but prices remain more reasonable than, say, Singapore. The demographics between the rich and poor can also be quite apparent: for example, a high rise luxury condominium building built right across the street from old, rundown shop lots or flats.

History

Before the rise of the European colonial powers, the Malay peninsula and the Malay archipelago were home to empires such as the Srivijaya (whose capital was near modern Palembang, Sumatra, but which included the entire Malay Peninsula and lands further north at its greatest extent), the Majapahit (centred in Java, now part of Indonesia, but believed by most scholars to have included the entire Malay Peninsula and most of coastal Borneo among its vassal states) and the Malacca Sultanate. The Srivijaya and Majapahit empires saw the spread of Hinduism to the region, and to this day, despite the fact that Malays are Muslims, many Hindu legends and traditions survive in traditional Malay culture. Mass conversion to Islam only occurred after the arrival of Arab traders during the Malacca Sultanate.

During the 16th century the Portuguese established the first European colony in Southeast Asia by defeating the Malacca Sultanate. The Portuguese were religiously intolerant and cruel, so the Sultan of Johor assisted the Dutch in defeating them, and the Netherlands took control of the city. The British also established their first colony on the Malay peninsula in Penang when it was ceded by the Sultan of Kedah in 1786. Finally, the area was divided into Dutch and British spheres of influence with the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. With this treaty, the Dutch agreed to cede Malacca to the British and in return, the British ceded all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch. The line of division roughly corresponds to what is today the border between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Before World War II, the Malay Peninsula was governed by the British as the Federated Malay States (Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang), which were governed as a single entity, the Unfederated Malay States (Johor, Kedah, Perlis, Terengganu and Kelantan), which were each governed as separate protectorates, and the Straits Settlements (including Malacca, Penang and Singapore), which were crown colonies. Northern Borneo consisted of the British colony of North Borneo, the Kingdom of Sarawak, which was ruled by a British family known as the "White Rajas", and the British protectorate of Brunei.

World War II was disastrous for the British Malayan Command. The Japanese swept down both coasts of the Malay Peninsula and despite fierce fighting, much of the British military was tied down fighting the Germans in Europe and those that remained in Malaya simply could not cope with the Japanese onslaught. The British military equipment left to defend Malaya was outdated and no match for the modern technology used by the Japanese, while and the only two British battleships based in the region, the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, were sunk by Japanese bombers off the East Coast of Malaya. By 31 January 1942, the British had been pushed all the way back to Singapore (then considered to be part of Malaya), which also fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. The situation was no different on Borneo, which fell to the Japanese on 1 April 1942 after months of fierce fighting. The Japanese occupation was brutal, and many, particularly the ethnic Chinese, suffered and perished during the occupation. Among the most notorious atrocities committed by the Japanese were the Sandakan Death Marches, with only 6 out of 2,345 prisoners surviving the war.

After World War II, the Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States and the Straits Settlements of Malacca and Penang were federated to form a single British colony known as the Malayan Union, with Singapore splitting off to form a separate colony. In the Malayan Union, the sultans of the various states ceded all their powers except those in religious affairs to the British crown. However, widespread opposition to the Malayan Union led the British to reconsider their position, and in 1948, the Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya, in which the executive positions of the sultans were restored. In Borneo, the White Rajas ceded Sarawak to the British crown in 1946, making it a crown colony of the United Kingdom.

On 31 August 1957, Malaya gained independence from the British. At midnight, the Union Jack was lowered, and the Malayan flag raised in its place at what is today Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in Kuala Lumpur. The crowd, led by the first Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, then proceeded to chant "Merdeka" seven times. On 16 September 1963, Malaysia was formed through the merging of Malaya with the British colonies of North Borneo (now known as Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore, with Brunei deciding not to join. The first several years of the country's history were marred by the Confrontation (Konfrontasi) — actually a series of acts of aggression by Indonesia that ultimately ended in her defeat and a formal peace that has held ever since — and claims to Sabah from the Philippines. On 9 August 1965 Singapore was officially expelled from the federation after several bloody racial riots as Singapore's majority Chinese population and the People's Action Party, led by Lee Kuan Yew (later the long-ruling Prime Minister of Singapore), were seen as a threat to Malay dominance. There were further racial riots in 1969, which led to the forced resignation of Tunku Abdul Rahman; his replacement by Tun Abdul Razak; changes in the Malaysian Constitution that sought to prevent the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) from ever being defeated in a future national election; and the start of the New Economic Policy, which sought to aggressively promote the economic interests of the generally poorer Malay community (and also the non-Malay indigenous peoples of East Malaysia) over those of the generally less poor Chinese community (with the poorest major ethnic group, the Indians, and also to a very large extent the Orang Asli [aboriginal people] in the Peninsula mostly ignored in the process).

In 1975, boat people from across the South China Sea in Vietnam started coming, and Malaysia became one of the most important places of first refuge for Indochinese refugees, but in general, only those of the Muslim Champa minority were invited to stay permanently. Later, during the period of tremendous economic development under the long premiership of Mahathir Mohammed, a large number of immigrant workers were invited from Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, and several other countries in the area, and even more immigrated illegally. This further increased the diversity of the population, and quite a number of the workers were reported in local newspapers to have intermarried with local women, but it also led to social strife as many Malaysian men resented the competition, and while the economy depended on immigrant workers to do jobs most Malaysians were no longer willing to do, now that their standard of living was higher, most Malaysians also did not want to permanently absorb a large and potentially almost limitless number of poor people from the much more populous countries in the region. Some immigrants were expelled and even caned for immigration violations, but the issue has never been really resolved.

Politics

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy consisting of 13 states and 3 federal territories, nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler (Yang di-Pertuan Agong), who is "elected" by the rulers (7 sultans, the Yang Di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan and the Raja of Perlis) for a full five-year term from among the rulers of the 9 royal states of Malaysia, though in practice the election usually follows a prescribed order based on the seniority of the rulers at the time of independence. This gives Malaysia a unique political system of rotational monarchy, in which each of the rulers would take turns to be the king of Malaysia. The current king, Tuanku Muhammad V from Kelantan, was sworn into office on 13 Dec 2016 and his term ends on 13 Dec 2021.

Malaysia's government is largely based on the British Westminster system, consisting of a bicameral national parliament, with each of the states also having their own unicameral Dewan Undangan Negeri (State Legislative Assembly). The lower house, known as the Dewan Rakyat (Hall of the People) is elected directly by the people. The upper house, known as the Dewan Negara (National Hall), consists of 26 members elected by the state governments, with each state having 2 representatives, while the remaining members are appointed by the king. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is the party leader of the winning party in the lower house. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party and its National Front (Barisan Nasional) coalition have ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since its independence, and while periodic elections are contested by feisty opposition parties, the balance has so far always been shifted in the government's favour, partly due to press control and use of restrictive security legislation dating from the colonial era.

In practice, the king is only the nominal Head of State, while the Prime Minister is the one who wields the most authority in government.

Geography

Malaysia comprises two geographic regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, which are separated by the South China Sea.

Peninsular Malaysia (Semenanjung Malaysia) occupies all of the Malay Peninsula between Thailand and Singapore, and is also known as West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat) or the slightly archaic Malaya (Tanah Melayu). It is home to the bulk of Malaysia's population, its capital and largest city Kuala Lumpur, and is generally more economically developed. Peninsular Malaysia consists of plains on both the East and West coasts, separated from each other by a mountain range known as the Banjaran Titiwangsa.

Separated some 800 km to the east of Peninsular Malaysia is East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur). East Malaysia occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Much of the development on East Malaysia is centred around the cities KuchingMiri and Kota Kinabalu. Outside of the major cities and smaller towns are impenetrable jungle where head hunters once roamed and coastal plains rising to mountains. East Malaysia is rich in natural resources and is very much Malaysia's hinterland for industry and tourism.

People

Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays make up a 52% majority, 27% of Malaysians are Chinese (who are especially visible in the cities), 9% are Indians, 12% are members of aboriginal peoples (often called Orang Asli, Malay for "Original People"), and there is a miscellaneous grouping of 1.5% "others", including Thai communities in northern border states and the Portuguese clan in Malacca. The majority of the population (including virtually all Malays, as well a significant minority of Indians) adhere to Islam, the official religion, and there are substantial minorities who practice Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Animism.

Culture

Malaysia shares many cultural similarities with its neighbours, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei due to their common history. As the first great kingdoms to emerge in the region were Hindu kingdoms with much influence from India, Malay culture has substantial Indian influences. This is most visible in Malay cuisine with its relatively heavy use of curries, albeit using local instead of Indian spices, meaning that Malay curries often have a unique local flavour that is different from their Indian counterparts. Malaysia's minorities also continue to maintain their own distinct culture, with the Chinese and Indian communities continuing to preserve the traditions brought from their ancestral homelands.

Holidays

One of the significant characteristics of Malaysian culture is its celebration of various festivals and events. The year is filled with colourful, exhilarating and exciting activities. Some are religious and solemn but others are vibrant, joyous events. One interesting feature of the main festivals here is the 'open house' custom. This is when Malaysians celebrating the festival invite friends and family to come by their homes for some traditional delicacies and fellowship.

Multicultural Malaysia celebrates a vast range of festivals, but the ones to look out for nationwide are Islamic holidays, most notably the fasting month of Ramadan. During its 29 or 30 days, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to sunset. Not all Muslims follow the tradition, or sustain the full period of Ramadan fasting, but most do make a very serious effort. Pregnant, breast feeding or menstruating women are not expected to fast, nor are the elderly, the infirm, or travellers. People get up early before sunrise for a meal (sahur), and take off early to get back home in time to break fast (buka puasa) at sunset.

At the end of the month is the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, known locally as Hari Raya Puasa or Aidilfitri, when many locals take one to two weeks off to 'balik kampung' or return to their home towns to meet family and friends. Accordingly, this is one of the many times in a year when major cities like Kuala Lumpur have virtually no traffic congestion.

Another important festival is the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Adha, known locally as Hari Raya Haji or Aidiladha. It is during this festival that Muslims perform the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. In local mosques, cows and goats are donated by the faithful and sacrificed, after which the meat is distributed to all. Family reunions are also celebrated during other main festivals when locals usually put on traditional costumes and finery as these festivals are an integral feature of Malaysian society.

During the month of Ramadan, non-Muslims are expected to be considerate of those fasting. Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims travelling (musafir), are exempt from fasting but it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public. Public school systems also require non-Muslims to refrain from eating in front of those who are fasting. Many restaurants close during the day and those that stay open maintain a low profile. Business travellers will notice that things move rather more slowly than usual. The upside for foreign travellers are the Ramadan bazaars in every city and town, bustling with activity and bursting at the seams with great food. Hotels and restaurants also pull out all stops to put on massive spreads of food for fast-breaking feasts. During the month of Ramadan, meals at the end of fasts are usually considered grand feasts. Worldwide fast-food chain McDonalds is known for holding several all-you-can-eat Ramadan feasts during the month.

Other major holidays include Chinese New Year (around January/February), Deepavali or Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (around October/November), the Buddhist holiday of Wesak (around May/June), and Christmas (25 December). During Chinese New Year, Penang and Ipoh become the major cities as many local Chinese working and living in KL originated from there. However this situation is changing gradually, as more and more people are making Kuala Lumpur their home town. While visiting during such festivals, travellers will be able to experience many wonderful celebrations, but the downside is many ethnic shops/eateries will be closed. The best option is to visit during the period just after the first two days of the major festival (Hari Raya/Chinese New Year), when shops will open, and the festive mood has still not died down.

Another major celebration is Deepavali, celebrated by the Malaysian Hindus as the festival of light originating from classical India and one of the main cultural celebrations. In Malaysia, locals practice this tradition by wearing new clothes and receiving token gifts of money. This practice has been adapted by all Malaysians regardless of their religion. They distribute red packets or ang pow during Chinese New Year, green packets or 'duit raya' for Hari Raya Aidilfitri and multi-coloured packets during Deepavali.

Some uniquely Malaysian festivals of note include the Harvest Festival at the end of May each year and the 'Pesta Gawai' in early June, both thanksgiving celebrations held in East Malaysia.

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that falls in January or February and is one of the must-see events. The largest procession in the country takes place at Batu Caves, north of Kuala Lumpur. Male devotees carry decorated altars or kavadi up a flight of 272 steps towards the temple, all this while also having religious spears and hooks pierced through external surfaces of their bodies. The ability is attributed to divine intervention and religious fervour. Female devotees join the procession carrying pots of milk on their head instead.

Climate

The climate in Malaysia is equatorial. The north-east monsoon (October to February) deluges Borneo and the East Coast of the Peninsula in rain and often causes flooding, while the West Coast (particularly Langkawi and Penang) escapes unscathed. The milder south-west monsoon (April to October) reverses the pattern. The southern and central parts of Peninsular Malaysia, including perennially soggy Kuala Lumpur, are exposed to both but even during the rainy season, the showers tend to be intense but brief.

Malaysia is close to the equator, so warm weather is guaranteed. Temperatures generally range from 32°C (90ºF) at noon to about 26°C (79ºF) at midnight. But like most Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia's sun-shining days are interrupted by monsoon season every year, and night temperatures can hit a low of about 23°C (73ºF) on rainy days.

Temperatures tend to be cooler in the highlands, with the likes of Genting HighlandsCameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill having temperatures ranging from about 17°C (62ºF) at night to about 25°C (77ºF) in the day. Mount Kinabalu is known to have temperatures falling below 10°C (50ºF).

Get in

Immigration formalities

Most nationalities can enter Malaysia without a visa and can reside in Malaysia for 14 to 90 days, depending on their nationality. Refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for current information regarding visa requirements and stay periods. If travelling to the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak note that both states maintain their own immigration systems and separate controls such that even Malaysians from other states require a passport or MyKad on arrival.

Those who wish to enter Malaysia for purposes other than for a Social or Business visit still require a visa for any period (except for US citizens who enter for the purpose of studying) but see here for "loopholes".

Those requiring a visa to enter Malaysia may be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in their own country if there is no Malaysian diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies in Belgrade, Guatemala City, Pristina and Sofia accept Malaysian visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Malaysian visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in Malaysia require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Malaysia can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with the applicant directly.

Overstaying a visa will result in a US$10, €7.50 or RM30 fine per day. However it's fairly simple to avoid overstaying a visa by doing a "visa run" to a neighbouring country overland or via a cheap flight. Malaysia may also impose caning as a punishment for overstaying a visa.

Transit Visas

Even though citizens of Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka normally require a visa, they can transit the same airport for up to 120 hours provided they arrive and depart on the same airline, land at Kuala LumpurKota KinabaluKuching, Penang or Senai (near Johor Bahru) and present a genuine air ticket.

By plane

National carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has extensive worldwide network coverage and regularly ranks high in airline quality assessments, while no-frills low-cost carrier AirAsia and her sister company, AirAsia X, now connects an ever-expanding set of countries including Australia, China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. Emirates Airlines also flies from most cities to Kuala Lumpur via Dubai, flights to Perth, Australia, make a brief stop in KLIA.

  • AirAsia, ? +60 3 8775-4000 (hotline within Malaysia: 1 300 88 9933)
  • Malaysia Airlines, ? +60 3 7846-3000 (hotline within Malaysia: 1-300-88-3000)
  • Emirates Airlines ? +60 36 207 4999

Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) (IATA: KUL). KLIA's predecessor, the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (IATA: SZB) in Subang near Kuala Lumpur handles chartered and turboprop aircraft for regional operators Firefly and Berjaya, ? +60 3 7846 8228 (ticketing only);, ? +60 3 2145 2828. See the Kuala Lumpur Get in section for detailed airport information.

Other airports which have significant numbers of flights to regional destinations are Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak), Penang, Langkawi and Johor Bahru. Many major Malaysian cities have services to Singapore-Changi via AirAsia or Firefly. Berjaya Air also operates routes from Singapore to the popular dive spots of Tioman and Redang.

By train

  • To/from Thailand: Direct sleeper train services operated by the State Railway of Thailand connect Bangkok (Thailand) and Butterworth near Penang (Malaysia), while Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malaysian Railways) runs trains between Hat Yai (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Both trains cross the border at Padang Besar where Thai and Malaysia immigration formalities are all conveniently done in the station. There is also a less used eastern route from Hat Yai to Thai border town Sungai Kolok, but there are no through trains to the nearby Malaysian station at Wakaf Bahru (near Kota Bharu).
  • To/from Singapore: There's a shuttle train service which runs seven times each way during the morning and evening periods from Woodlands Train Station (in the north of Singapore) to JB sentral in Johor Bahru, costing MYR5 from the Malaysian side and SGD5 on the Singapore side. Conventional intercity trains then connect Johor Bahru with Gemas and Tumpat, near Kota Bharu. They don't always match up to the shuttle times, so be prepared for long waiting times or get a backup plan by bus should you miss the shuttle. Early morning trains to Singapore and late evening trains to Malaysia are usually packed on the weekdays and the traffic flow reverses on the weekends. Booking online at the KTMB website may reserve a precious seat without hassle. When travelling from Singapore into Malaysia, both Singaporean and Malaysian immigration checks are conducted at Woodlands Train Station before boarding the train for Malaysia. In the reverse direction, Malaysian immigration checks are conducted at JB Sentral before boarding, while Singaporean immigration checks are conducted on arrival in Woodlands.

By bus

Long-distances buses/coaches into Malaysia run from Brunei, Indonesian Borneo, Singapore and Thailand. Please see the relevant city pages for more details.

  • Brunei - there are no direct buses into Brunei. However, there are buses from Miri and Limbang going to the border where there are connections to Bandar Seri Begawan.
  • Indonesia - direct buses operate between Pontianak in West Kalimantan and Kuching in Sarawak.
  • Singapore - a multitude of bus companies operate direct routes from Singapore to various destinations in Peninsular Malaysia, including MalaccaKuala Lumpur, Penang, East Coast cities and even the Kuala Lumpur suburbs of Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya. Frequent buses make the short run between Singapore and Johor Bahru, and you can save a few bucks by changing at JB's Larkin terminal to a cheap domestic bus instead of taking a more expensive direct bus. If you are planning to take on arrival visa, you must enter Malaysia via link 2.
  • Thailand - several companies operate services from Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Malaysia to Hat Yai in southern Thailand, where direct connections are available to Bangkok and many other Thai destinations.

By road

Land crossings are possible from southern Thailand and Singapore into Peninsular Malaysia, as well as from Brunei and Kalimantan (the Indonesian side of Borneo) into Sarawak. An International Drivers Permit (IDP) is required. See the respective city or state pages for more detailed information.

  • Brunei - the main crossings are at Sungai Tujoh on the Miri, Sarawak, to Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) road, and the Kuala Lurah-Tedungan checkpoint which is used for traffic travelling between Bandar Seri Begawan and Limbang in Sarawak. You can also access the Temburong district of Brunei by road from Limbang via the Pandaruan (Puni on the Brunei side) checkpoint and Lawas via Trusan (Labu on the Brunei side).
  • Indonesia - the main crossing is at the Tebedu-Entikong checkpoint on the main Kuching-Pontianak road. Various other minor border crossings used by locals are not necessarily open to foreigners.
  • Thailand - international checkpoints (with the Thai towns in brackets) include Wang Kelian (Satun) and Padang Besar (Padang Besar) in Perlis, Bukit Kayu Hitam (Sadao) in Kedah, Pengkalan Hulu (Betong) in Perak, and Rantau Panjang (Sungai Kolok) in Kelantan.

Particularly if entering from Singapore, make sure that your passport has been stamped by Malaysia Immigration before you drive off from the checkpoint. There have been reports of immigration officers "forgetting" to stamp the passports of travellers upon arrival, and such travellers being subject to arrest, imprisonment and fines of several thousand ringgit when trying to depart Malaysia.

By boat

Ferries connect various points in Peninsular Malaysia with Sumatra in Indonesia and southern Thailand, Sarawak with Brunei, and Sabah with East Kalimantan in Indonesia and Mindanao in the Philippines. Luxury cruises also run from Singapore and sometimes Phuket (Thailand) to Malaysia.

  • Brunei - ferries daily between the Muara Ferry Terminal in Brunei and Labuan island and Lawas in Sarawak. Speedboats, mostly in the morning, also run between Bandar Seri Begawan jetty and Limbang, Sarawak.
  • Indonesia - the main jumping-off points from Indonesia are the Riau Islands of Batam, Bintan and Karimun; Dumai, Medan and Pekanbaru on the Sumatra mainland as well as Nunukan in East Kalimantan. Ferries link Batam with Batu Pahat and Johor Bahru;Bintan with Johor Bahru; Karimun with Batu Pahat and Kukup in Johor; Dumai with MalaccaMuar in Johor, Port Dickson (in Negeri Sembilan) and Port Klang, the port for Kuala Lumpur; Pekanbaru with Malacca. Daily ferries also link Nunukan with Tawau in Sabah. There are also minor crossings like between Bengkalis in Riau and Batu Pahat; Sumatra and Malacca and Muar in Johor; and Tanjung Balai Asahan in North Sumatra with Port Klang, the port for Kuala Lumpur.
  • Singapore - daily passenger boats run between Changi Point and Pengerang, between Tanah Merah and Sebana Cover Resort, as well as between Changi and Tanjung Belungkor, all in Johor. See the Singapore Get in section for details.
  • Thailand - four ferries daily (reduced to three during Ramadan) between Tammalang at Satun and Kuah on Langkawi, Malaysia. Vehicle ferries operate between Ban Taba near Tak Bai in Narathiwat province and Pengkalan Kubur in Kelantan, Malaysia, while passenger boats run between Ban Buketa in Narathiwat province and Bukit Bunga in Kelantan.

On foot

It is possible to enter Malaysia from Thailand by foot at Wang Kelian and Padang Besar (both in Perlis), Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah), Pengkalan Hulu (Perak) and Rantau Panjang (Kelantan). Crossing from Singapore into Malaysia on foot by crossing the Causeway or Second Link is now illegal.

Get around

By plane

Largely thanks to budget carrier AirAsia, Malaysia is crisscrossed by a web of affordable flights with advertised "promotional" prices starting at RM9 for flights booked well in advance. Flying is the only practical option for traveling between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, as well as reaching some of the more remote outposts of Borneo. State carrier Malaysia Airlines also has competitive fares which now offers equal or even lower priced tickets if booked in advance through the internet, with sustaining class of hospitality. And their offshoot Firefly has a handy network radiating out of Penang previously, has also began operating from the Subang (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah) airport.

Berjaya Air also flies small Dash-7 turboprops from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to its own airports on the resort islands of Pangkor, Redang and Tioman. Prices are steep (from RM214 plus fees one way), but this is by far the fastest and more comfortable way of reaching any of these.

In Sabah and Sarawak, MASWings, operates turboprop services linking interior communities, including those in the Kelabit Highlands, with coastal cities. MASWings took over the rural air services network from FlyAsian Express on 1 October 2007, which in turn took the service over from Malaysia Airlines 14 months before that.

By train

Long-distance trains in Malaysia can rarely match road transport in terms of speed, but state operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) provides relatively inexpensive and generally reliable services around Peninsular Malaysia (but not Sabah/Sarawak in Borneo). The main western line connects Butterworth (near Penang), IpohKuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, while the eastern line runs through Gua Musang and the Taman Negara to Kota Bharu, near the Thai border and the Perhentian Islands.

The pride of KTMB's fleet is the ETS (Electric Train Service) from Butterworth to Gemas, running modern air-conditioned trains daily at 140 km/h. The rest of the network, though, is mostly single-track, with slow diesel locos and all too frequent breakdowns and delays. In May, 2016 KTMB ceased all sleeper trains on the western line, following the electrification of the track to Gemas. An air conditioned 2nd class only, diesel shuttle train now connects the section from Gemas to JB Sentral. KTMB hopes to have full ETS service on the western line by 2020.

The Jungle Railway is the apt description for the eastern line between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua MusangKuala LipisJerantut (for Taman Negara) and Wakaf Bahru (for Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands). The original "Jungle Train" is the slow daytime service which stops at every station (every 15-20min or so). It's 3rd class only, meaning no air-con and no reservations, and some stops may be lengthy as it's a single line and all other trains have priority - hence the "Jungle Train" waits in side loops along the way so that oncoming or overtaking trains can pass. Some find it to be a fascinating and stunningly scenic ride; others feel there's not much to see when you're in the jungle. The eastern line also has one night express train (for which reservations are possible and recommended) going in each direction. In addition to air-con seats, these trains have Superior Night (ADNS) sleeper cars, which have upper and lower berths along each side, each bunk having a solid partition at each end and a side curtain for privacy. The carriages shake and rattle quite a bit but are comfortable and clean.

Tickets can be booked and even printed online at KTMB's site. Enquiries and reservations can be made by phone at KTMB's call centres, ? +60 3 2267-1200 (Malaysia) or, ? +65 6222-5165 (Singapore).

In East Malaysia, the only railway line is run by Jabatan Kereta Api Negeri Sabah (JKNS) (Web-site in Malay only), running from Tanjung Aru near Kota Kinabalu to the town of Tenom.

By car

Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway along the West Coast from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. Gasoline or locally known as Petrol is slightly cheaper than market prices at RM1.90/litre (Ron 95) (in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak). Tolls are payable on expressways, but these are priced at varying degrees, ranging from expensive to reasonable: driving the length of the country (734 km) from the Thai border to Singapore costs RM108 (~US$25). While you can drive from Singapore to Thailand within a day on the West Coast, the highway system is considerably less developed on the East Coast, with no expressways, and even less so in Sabah and Sarawak, so be sure to factor in additional travel time if travelling in those areas. Toll prices for highways and causeways inside major cities, especially Kuala Lumpur, is priced exorbitantly ranging from RM4.00 to RM7.00 for each exit.

For those thinking of using GPS (Garmin, Papago, Galactio and Mio-Polnav), the Malaysia maps can be downloaded for free from http://www.malfreemaps.com/index.php Garmin user lucky enough to have another choice from http://www.malsingmaps.com/portal/. Both party maps is contributed by the amazing non-profit group of people who share a common passion to make a gps maps of Malaysia.

While driving quality and habits in Malaysia are better than most of the rest of Southeast Asia, it is not necessarily great, especially for travellers coming from a Western country. Traffic in Malaysia drives on the left, a legacy left by the British. Beware reckless motorcyclists, especially at night, and especially if you are a pedestrian: locals typically disregard a red light for left turns, putting pedastrians at risk. As a motorist, at traffic lights, motorcyclists will accumulate in front of you - let them drive away first to avoid accidents.

Care is needed when driving in larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Problems include apparently suicidal motorcyclists, congested traffic lanes throughout the day, and bewildering roads especially in the older parts of the city where planning was virtually nonexistent by the then British colonial occupier. Out of town however, cars and motorcycles are the best and sometimes the only way to explore the country. Some of the more rural areas have motorcycles and scooters to rent for as little as RM25/day, a great way to explore the local area or larger islands like Langkawi. As expected, most rental agencies will require a valid drivers licence to be presented upon rental. Fuel levels are often compared before and after rental, as well as for damage, so ensure everything is documented, and request a refund of any excess fuel if possible. The bigger car rental companies like Hertz and Avis may also require you to have a valid credit card where a deposit will be authorised but not deducted from (unless there is damage to the car).

Taxis are available in all cities and larger towns, although in smaller places you may have to call one (ask any shopkeeper or consult the yellow-pages). You will generally need to negotiate the fare in advance, although prepaid coupon taxis are usually available at airports. RM5 should suffice for a short cross-town trip, while RM100 is enough to hire a taxi for a full day.

In Kuala Lumpur, the budget taxis are usually coloured Red and White (City taxi - these taxis are not allowed to travel out of the city e.g. to another state) or Yellow. Taxis are usually small saloons such as Proton Wira and run on NGV (Natural Gas). The Blue taxis are larger saloons or MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles) and more luxurious. These cost typically 25-30% more than the budget taxis & are normally available at taxi stands all over Kuala Lumpur including the major malls & hotels. The Red & White taxis can be hailed off the roads & are metered. Ensure that the taxi driver is a Malaysian (all drivers must have a taxi permit &amp license with their photo on it) before you board, as unscrupulous taxi owners have been known to rent their taxi out to unlicensed stand-ins. Like in most other countries, a foreigner on a work visa are only allowed to work in the job/industry specified in the visa. All taxi drivers must be Malaysian or a PR holder as the Malaysian government does not issue work visa to foreigners to drive taxis.

Additionally, beware of unlicensed taxis (taxi sapu) at the airports. They can literally take you for a ride. There will be touts at the airports offering travellers their taxi service, even pretending to be legitimate. As unbelievable as it may sound, some have been known to rob first time visitors hundreds of ringgit for a single trip into the city, charging 100 times more than the correct fare. At the airports always get your taxi from the authorised operators' booths set up in the airport itself & never from anyone that solicits directly. They will always claim to be legitimate but are rarely licensed and may be unsafe. The taxi operator booths can provide you with receipts. Another tip is to book your taxis in advance. All good hotels' concierge will be able to assist you with this. If travelling in an unlicensed taxi you may not be covered by your travel insurance should that taxi be involved in a mishap.

By bus

The cheapest way to travel in Malaysia is by bus. All towns of any size have a bus terminal offering connections to other parts of the country. There are many companies of varying degrees of dependability, but two of the largest and more reliable are Transnasional and NICE/Plusliner. 24-seater "luxury" buses are recommended for long-distance travel.

If travelling on holidays or even over the weekend, it is advisable to reserve your seats in advance. Many bus companies allow for you to book online directly through their website. However, some only allow online booking for individuals with Malaysian credit cards, which is not really convenient for international visitors. Luckly, most bus operators have banded together into two booking portals and are particularly handy if you have specific destinations but are not sure which bus company to use. Both allow payment with any credit card and require a nominal fee for their service (usually RM1-2).

  • catchthatbus.com (catchthatbus.com), ? +603 9212 1818 (MY), e-mail: sales@catchthatbus.com.
  • redbus (redbus), ? +65-31582888, e-mail: support@redbus.sg.
  • Easybook (Easibook), ? +60 4 332 7718, e-mail: enquiry@easybook.com.
  • Bus Online Ticket, ? +65 9 722 8576, e-mail: sales@busonlineticket.com.

Note that air conditioning on some buses can be extremely cold so don't forget to bring a good sweater, pants and socks, especially for overnight journeys on luxury buses!

Talk

See also: Malay phrasebook

The sole official language of Malaysia is Malay (officially Bahasa Malaysia, sometimes also known as Bahasa Melayu). The Indonesian language, spoken across the border in Indonesia, is similar to Malay, and speakers of both languages can generally understand each other. Some parts of Malaysia near the Thai border, most notably Kelantan, have dialects of Malay which are nearly incomprehensible to speakers of standard Malay, though most people in these areas will be able to converse in standard Malay if needed.

English is compulsory in all schools and widely spoken in the larger cities, among the well-educated upper class, as well as around the main tourist attractions, although in rural areas a little Malay will come in handy. There is also a colloquial form of English spoken among Malaysians in urban areas, not inappropriately known as Manglish, which involves code switching between English, Malay and/or other languages, and takes a bit of getting used to if you intend to join in the conversation on local topics. Take note that almost all Malaysians will not pronounce the letter, "h" for e.g. "Three" and "Tree" is spoken as "tree". Malaysians will almost always try to speak 'standardized English' (British) when approached by Western travellers. In general, police stations and government offices will have English-speaking staff on duty.

Arabic is taught to those who attend Islamic religious schools, and many clerics as well as other very observant Muslims will have a functional command of Arabic. However, it is not widely spoken, though the Malay language does have a large number of loan words from Arabic. You also might notice some examples of Malay written with Arabic letters. This is called Jawi, and it is still used for religious publications and inscriptions, especially in states like Kelantan, although the Latin alphabet is much more commonly used throughout the country.

The Chinese community in Malaysia speaks a wide variety of Chinese dialects including Cantonese, Mandarin, Teo-chew, Hakka, Hainanese, Hok-chew and Hokkien. Mandarin is taught in most Chinese schools while Cantonese is commonly heard in the mass media due to the popularity of TVB serials from Hong Kong among the Chinese community, so many are conversant in both, in addition to their native dialect. The most commonly spoken Indian language is Tamil; others include Malayalam, Punjabi and Telugu.

In the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia bordering Thailand, there are various ethnic Thai communities, known locally as the Orang Siam, who speak various dialects of Thai. Malacca in the south is also home to a Portuguese community which speaks a Portuguese based creole. The remote forest areas of Peninsular Malaysia are also home to various tribal people known as the Orang Asli, who speak various indigenous languages such as Semelai, Temuan and many others. In East Malaysia several indigenous languages are also spoken, especially Iban and Kadazan.

Films and television programmes are usually shown in their original language with Malay subtitles. Some children's programmes are dubbed into Malay.

See

Malaysia is a fascinating country with many faces. It's multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, and its attractions vary from the iconic Petronas Towers in bustling Kuala Lumpur to perfect sandy beaches lined with palm trees and dense jungles with orangutangs and tigers.

There are various impressive national parks. Expeditions range from those where you hardly lose sight of the hotel to those where you are fully immersed in the jungle for weeks, with only the guide and yourself. To spot a tiger or wild elephant in its natural habitat you might have to spend more than a few days in the wild, but you'll have no trouble seeing smaller wildlife. Bako National Park is the oldest national park in Malaysia and one of the best places to see proboscis monkeys. The vast jungles of Taman Negara have become a popular destination for ecotourists, just like the remote but gorgeous Gunung Mulu National Park, a World Heritage Site famous for its limestone karst formations, stone pinnacles and huge caves. To escape from the muggy tropics, do as the English did and head up to the cool tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, the quaint Tudor-style village on Fraser's Hill or climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah.

For many people, Malaysia brings pictures of pristine beaches with great diving opportunities to mind - and for good reason. Sipadan off the coast of Sabah, and the beautiful Perhentian Islands are among the best (and most popular) places. Coastlines in the less industrialized parts of the country, in general, are well worth driving through for their natural beauty and relaxing seaside kampung (villages). Follow the crowds to the postcard perfect sands of the Langkawi Islands, where you can have a cocktail on the beach and stay in one of the many resorts.

If you're most interested in taking the pulse of a city, don't miss Kuala Lumpur's crazy quilt ultra-modern skyline, including the famous Petronas Twin Towers. Ipoh is a good choice if you enjoy a somewhat slower paced city that features elegant colonial-era buildings from about 100 years ago, and Malacca is for those who want to trace the colonial and imperial history of Malaysia several hundred years further back. Penang is known for its great food and relatively long-standing and institutionalized Chinese and Indian communities, who share the city with Malay and Thai communities. For a completely different experience, head to Kota Bharu to discover a unique conservative Islamic regional culture influenced by Thailand, only a few kilometres away, or visit the diverse cities of East Malaysia, like Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Especially when travelling with children, consider visiting one of the country's excellent zoos, such as Taiping Zoo, Kuala Lumpur's Zoo Negara and Malacca's Zoo.

Do

Malaysia has excellent scuba diving. The most popular spots are the islands off the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia (Perhentian, Redang, Tioman and many more), although the dive season is limited to April to September. However, the most famous dive site — often ranked among the best in the world — is Sipadan, off the easternmost tip of Malaysian Borneo. There are many other less well known sites, like Layang Layang.

Whitewater Rafting

You can find tame Grade I to incredibly difficult and dangerous Grade V rapids in Malaysia's many national parks:

  • Jeram Besu - Grade I-III - Pahang
  • Telom River - Grade V - Pahang
  • Kuala Perahu - Pahang
  • Lipis River - Pahang
  • Anak Jelai River - Grade I-II - Pahang
  • Tembeling River - Grade I-II - Pahang
  • Sedim River - Grade III-IV - Kedah
  • Sungai Selangor - Grade I-III - Selangor
  • Kiulu River - Grade II - Sabah
  • Padas River - Grade III-IV - Sabah
  • Sungai Itek (Kampar River) - Grade I-III - Perak
  • Sungkai River - Grade I-II - Perak
  • Singoh River - Grade V - Perak
  • Endau River - Johor
  • Nenggiri River - Grade I-III Kelantan
  • Kuala Kubu Bahru, Selangor

Martial Arts

Malaysia is home to a uniquely Malay style of martial arts known as silat. Silat tournaments are held between different schools in the country, and the Southeast Asian Games is the premier international tournament in silat, with competitors from the neighbouring countries as well. There is also an equally traditional stylised dance version of silat called silat gayung, which is quite worth seeing if you have the chance.

In addition, there are also many kung fu masters among the ethnic Chinese community, and Malaysia is consistently one of the top performers in international wushu competitions.

Buy

Money

The Malaysian currency is the Malaysian ringgit, abbreviated as RM (ISO code: MYR). It is divided into 100 sen (cents). The ringgit is sometimes informally referred to as the dollar and you may see the '$' symbol on older notes. There are coins of RM0.05 (silver), RM0.10 (silver), RM0.20 (silver or gold), and RM0.50 (silver or gold) as well as bills of RM1 (blue), RM5 (green), RM10 (red), RM20 (orange), RM50 (green/blue) and RM100 (purple). 5 sen coins are mainly given as change in large establishments or supermarkets whereas peddlers and street vendors might be reluctant to accept them. Note that the Singapore and Brunei dollars are also known as ringgit in Malay, so when near border areas you might want to check to be sure which currency they are quoting the price in.

Foreign currencies are not generally accepted, although you might get away with exchanging some US dollars or Euros even in more remote areas, but do expect a lot of stares and some persuasion. The major exception is Singapore dollars, which are accepted by KTMB and toll roads, but at a highly unfavorable 1:1 exchange rate (an anomaly dating back to when the ringgit was interchangeable with the Singapore dollar, prior to the 1970s).

Currency exchange counters can easily found in major shopping areas and have a better exchange rate than in banks and airports. Be sure to say the amount you wish to exchange and ask for the 'best quote' as rates displayed on the board are often negotiable, especially for larger amounts. Be advised that large foreign banknotes, such as €500, are almost impossible to change for a good rate in some areas, especially in Sabah or Sarawak, where the banks offer a much lower rate comparing to the one you'd get if changing a banknote of smaller amount. Some money exchangers in Kota Kinabalu or Kuching even may refuse your business if you have large foreign banknotes, so the best option is to bring smaller notes unless you are willing to shop around.

Banking

ATMs are widely available in cities, but do stock up on cash if heading out into the smaller islands or the jungle. Credit cards can be used in most shops, restaurants and hotels, although skimming can be a problem in dodgier outlets. For credit card usage, make sure your credit/debit card is chip based as most merchants no longer accept magnetic strips based cards.

Banks in Malaysia do handle international transactions. These ranges from a nominal fee if you are an account holder to a slightly more expensive amount if you are only walking in to use a certain service. International banks such as Citibank & HSBC have their presence in Malaysia, with the latter having branches throughout the country. Local banking giants are Maybank, Public Bank & CIMB Bank, & they are a very good alternative to the earlier mentioned banks, especially in terms of pricing, local knowledge & presence as well as international services available e.g. money transfers. For any enquiries and transactions, get a number, sit down and wait for your turn to be served. (There is no need to queue while you wait in air-conditioned comfort!)

Banks are open Monday-Friday from 09:30-16:00 and selected banks are open Saturday 09:30-11:30 except on the first and third Saturdays of each month. In the states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, they are open Sunday-Thursday from 09:30-16:00.

Due to fraud risk, many Malaysian ATMs do not allow you to withdraw using foreign debit cards. Numerous travellers have noted this on travel forums. Choosing another ATM or area can help so don't run down your cash supplies too far. This is unique to Malaysia and is not applicable to Thailand, Singapore, or Indonesia. If you call your bank or even Visa/MasterCard, they are often not aware because the transaction is declined by the Malaysia bank. Make sure to bring cash or other forms of money in case your debit card is rejected.

Costs

Most visitors will find Malaysia quite cheap, although it is noticeably more expensive than neighbouring Indonesia. You can live in hostel dorms and feast on hawker food for less than RM50 per day, but you'll wish to double this for comfort, particularly if travelling in more expensive East Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is also generally more expensive than the rest of the country. At the other end of the spectrum, luxury hotels and air fares are comparatively affordable, with even the fanciest 5-star hotels costing less than RM400/night.

Tipping

Tipping is not customary in Malaysia. However, hotel porters and taxi drivers will appreciate a small tip if you have been provided with exemplary service. Service charge of 10% is included in total bill in most air conditioned restaurants. Most expensive restaurants, bars and hotels may indicate prices in the form of RM19++ ("plus plus"), meaning that sales tax (6%) and service charge (10%) will be added to the bill. Hotel tax of 5% may also be added to this.

Shopping

Kuala Lumpur is a shopping mecca for clothes, electronics, watches, computer goods and much more, with very competitive prices by any standard. Local Malaysian brands include Royal Selangor and British India. Traditional Malaysian fabrics (batik) are a popular souvenir. The cheapest place to easily buy ethnic souvenirs (especially wood-based) is in Kuching, East Malaysia, and the most expensive place is in the major, posh Kuala Lumpur shopping centres.

In general shops are open 10:30-21:30/22:00 in the large cities. They open and close for business earlier in the smaller towns and rural areas. Some shops may also be closed on certain days, such as in Malacca where many shops and restaurants close on Tuesday.

If you buy too much while shopping in Malaysia (which is quite easy to do), surface postage rates are very reasonable. Excess luggage at the airport is still high but not as high as in many other countries. Check first with your airline.

Eat

The crossroads of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, Malaysia is an excellent place to makan (eat in Malay). Look out for regional specialities and Nyonya (Peranakan) cuisine, the fusion between Malay and Chinese cooking. There is even unique Eurasian cooking to be found in the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca, the heartland of the Eurasian community of Portuguese descent.

Malaysians are very proud of their cooking and most towns or even villages have their own delicious specialities such as Penang char kway teow, Kajang satay, Ipoh bean sprout chicken, Sarawak laksa, Kelantanese nasi dagang, Sabahan hinava, and many, many more. Most of them rely on word of mouth for advertising and are frequently located in the most inconvenient, out-of-the-way places so you might want to try asking the locals for their personal recommendations.

If you intend to travel around Malaysia trying out the local food, don't be fooled by the names. Sometimes two entirely different dishes from different parts of the country can be known by the same name. An example will be laksa, which refers to completely different noodle dishes in Penang and Sarawak.

Generally, you can eat pretty much anywhere in Malaysia. Food outlets are comparatively clean - the only thing you should avoid is ice for your drinks, when you frequent the street or hawker stalls since the blocks of ice used there might not be up to your hygienic standards. In actual restaurants this is not a problem. Also you might want to avoid ordering water from hawker stalls or the mamak restaurants as they are usually unboiled tap water.

Cheaper places often do not display prices; most will charge tourists honestly, but check prices before ordering to make sure.

Eating habits run the gamut, but most foods are eaten by fork and spoon: push and cut with the fork in the left hand, and eat with the spoon in the right.

As eating is a favourite 'pastime' of Malaysians, the majority are adept at using chopsticks, regardless of background. Noodles and Chinese dishes typically come with these, while Malay and Indian food can be eaten by hand, but nobody will blink an eye if you ask for a fork and spoon instead.

If eating by hand, always use your right hand to put your food in your mouth, as Malays and Indians traditionally use their left hand for dirty things like washing up after using the restroom. When eating with chopsticks at Chinese restaurants, take note of the usual etiquette and most importantly, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of incense sticks burning at the temple and has connotations of wishing death on those around you. If eating in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup.

Local delicacies

Malay cuisine

Subtlety is not a priority in Malaysian Malay cooking, as it is characterised by a liberal use of spices (the most important are star anise, cinnamon/cassia, cardamom and cloves - dubbed rempah empat beradik or the four spice siblings), pungent edible rhizomes (mainly galangal, ginger and turmeric), coconut milk (santan in Bahasa Malaysia), and occasionally fresh herbs (lemongrass, fresh coriander, pandan leaves and various kinds of wild herbs or ulam). Most Malaysian Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another, but all full of flavour.

  • Nasi lemak (lit. "fatty rice") is the definitive Malaysian Malay breakfast, consisting at its simplest of rice cooked in light coconut milk or coconut cream, some fried ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts, slices of cucumber and a dab of chilli on the side. Originally, the 'ikan bilis' was cooked together with the chilli & spices to make "sambal tumis ikan bilis" but it makes more commercial sense to the business man to have them separated as it is easier to make & the fried anchovies will last longer. A larger fried fish or chicken wing are common accompaniments. More often than not, also combined with a variety of curries and/or sambal (see below).
  • Rendang, occasionally dubbed "dry curry", is meat stewed for hours on end in an intricately spiced (but rarely fiery) curry paste until almost all water is absorbed. Beef rendang is the most common, although relatively recent variations with chicken and mutton are not uncommon.
  • Sambal is the generic term for chilli-based sauces of many kinds. Sambal belacan is a common condiment made by mixing chilli with the shrimp paste belacan, while the popular dish sambal sotong consists of squid (sotong) cooked in red chilli sauce. Sambal ikan bilis, a common accompaniment to nasi lemak, consists of small dried fish with onions, chilli and sugar.
  • Satay are barbecued skewers of meat, typically chicken or beef. What separates satay from your ordinary kebab is the slightly spicy peanut-based dipping sauce.
  • Kangkung belacan is water spinach wok-fried in shrimp paste (belacan) and hot chilli peppers.
  • Mee rebus is egg noodles served in a sweet and slightly spicy sweet potato-based gravy, usually with a slice of hard boiled egg and some lime.
  • Lontong is vegetables, tempeh and soohoon cooked in a yellow (from turmeric) coconut-based gravy, eaten with nasi himpit (cubed overcooked rice)-- one of the few vegetarian dishes in Malay cuisine!
  • Acar (achar) is thinly sliced vegetables and fruits (cucumber, carrot, pineapple) lightly pickled with vinegar, chilli and peanuts, a common side dish. Not nearly as pungent as Indian-style pickles which happen to bear the same name.
  • Sup kambing is a hearty goat or mutton soup slow simmered with aromatic herbs and spices, and garnished with fried shallots and fresh cilantro.
  • Keropok lekor, a speciality of the state of Terengganu on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, is a savoury cake made from a combination of batter and shredded fish. Sliced and fried just before serving, it is eaten with hot sauce.
  • Tempoyak is fermented durian paste, served as a side accompaniment to a main meal.
Malay desserts

Malaysian Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies, are mostly based on coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka, named after Melaka). Kuih (or kueh) refer to a plethora of steamed cake-like sweetmeats, mostly made with coconut milk, grated coconut flesh, glutinous rice or tapioca. Labour-intensive to make, they are often very colorful (made so with either natural or synthetic food colourings), and cut into fanciful shapes. Try the onde-onde, small round balls made from glutinous rice flour that has been coloured and flavoured with pandan leaves, filled with palm sugar and rolled in grated coconut. A delight to eat as it pops in your mouth with a sweet sensation of oozing palm syrup.

  • Ais kacang literally means "ice bean" in Bahasa Malaysia, or in another name of ABC means Air Batu Campur, is a good clue to the two major ingredients: shaved ice and red adzuki beans. However, more often than not you'll also get gula melaka (palm sugar), grass jelly, sweet corn, kidney beans, black eyed peas, attap palm seeds and anything else on hand thrown in, and the whole thing is then drizzled with canned condensed milk or coconut cream and colored syrups. The end result tastes very interesting and refreshing.
  • Apam balik, also called "Terang Bulan" in some states, is a rich pancake-like dish slathered with liberal amounts of butter or margarine, and sprinkled with sugar, coarse nut and sometimes corn.
  • Bubur cha-cha consists of cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added into a pandan-infused coconut milk soup. This can be served warm or cold and can be a breakfast or a dessert.
  • Cendol is made with green pea noodles, served in a sweet broth of palm sugar and coconut milk. Usually served chilled, and a great respite in the sweltering tropical heat.
  • Pisang goreng literally means fried bananas, encased in batter. A common street food, it can be eaten for afternoon tea, dessert, or as a snack anytime of the day.
  • Pulut Hitam is a rice pudding made from black glutinous rice sweetened with brown palm sugar. Creamy coconut milk is swirled over the rice pudding before it is served.
  • Pulut Inti is a kind of rice cake made from glutinous rice & coconut milk. It is steamed and topped with fresh grated coconut sweetened with palm sugar. It is traditionally wrapped in banana leaves folded into a pyramid shape.
  • Sago gula melaka is a simple sago pudding served with gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup and coconut milk.

Peranakan/Nonya cuisine

The most identifiable cuisine in the region is Peranakan or Nonya cuisine, born from the mixed Malay and Chinese communities of what were once the British colonies of the Straits Settlements (modern-day Singapore, Penang and Malacca).

  • Ayam pongteh is a chicken dish flavoured with fermented soy bean paste, dark soy sauce, sugar and other ingredients. This mild and slightly sweet is made daily in some Nyonya households. Pork is sometimes used instead of chicken; in this instance the dish would instead be called babi pongteh.
  • Ayam Buah Keluak is a distinctive dish combining chicken pieces with black nuts from the Pangium edule or kepayang tree to produce a rich sauce.
  • Chilli crab originally a Malaysian specialty which is now available in Singapore as well, is a whole crab ladled with oodles of sticky, tangy chilli sauce. Notoriously difficult to eat but irresistibly delicious: don't wear a white shirt! For a less messy but equally tasty alternative, ask for black pepper crab.
  • Enche Kabin are bite-sized pieces of fried chicken marinated in soy sauce, five-spice powder, black pepper, ginger and scallions.
  • Itek Tim is a soup containing duck, tomatoes, green peppers, salted vegetables, and preserved sour plums simmered gently together.
  • Kaya is a jam-like spread made from egg and coconut, an odd-sounding but tasty combination. Served on toast for breakfast, canonically accompanied by runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee (kopi).
  • Laksa in Malaysia comes in many wildly different styles, and every state seems to have its signature style. Laksa lemak is a fragrant soup of noodles in a coconut-based curry broth, topped with cockles or shrimp, while Penang's assam laksa is made with a tamarind-infused broth instead of coconut, and has a spicy sourish taste. Kelantanese laksam, on the other hand, comes with wide, flat rice noodles and a very coconutty broth.
  • Mee siam is rice flour noodles served with sour gravy made from tamarind, dried shrimp and fermented beans. Usually served with tau pok (bean curd) cubes and hard boiled eggs.
  • Popiah or spring rolls come fresh or fried. They consist of boiled turnips, fried tofu, fried shallots and garlic, chopped omelette, chopped stir fried long beans and (optional) chilli sauce, wrapped in a thin rice skin covering and eaten like a fajita.
  • Rojak means a mixture of everything in Bahasa Malaysia, and there are two very different types. Chinese rojak is a salad of pineapple, white turnip, cucumber, tau pok (fried bean curd) with thin tiny slices of bunga kantan (torch ginger flower buds), tossed in shrimp paste sauce and sugar, then sprinkled with crushed peanuts. Indian rojak consists of mainly fried fritters made from flour and various pulses with cucumber and tofu, with sweet & spicy peanut sauce.

Chinese cuisine

Chinese food as eaten in Malaysia commonly originates from southern China, particularly Fujian and Guangdong. While authentic fare that is relatively unchanged from its Mainland Chinese origins is certainly available, especially in fancier restaurants, the daily fare served on the streets has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the fairly heavy use of chilli and belachan (shrimp paste) as condiments. Noodles can also be served not just in soup (? tang), but also "dry" (? kan), meaning that your noodles will be served tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl, and the soup will come in a separate bowl.

  • Bak chor mee?????is essentially noodles with minced pork, tossed in a chilli-based sauce with lard, ikan bilis (fried anchovies), vegetables and mushrooms.
  • Bak kut teh (???), lit. "pork bone tea", is a simple-sounding soup of pork ribs simmered for hours in broth until they're ready to fall off the bone. It's typically eaten with white rice, mui choy (pickled vegetables) and a pot of strong Chinese tea, hence the name — the broth itself doesn't contain any tea. To impress the locals, order some you tiao fritters from a nearby stall and cut them up into bite-sized chunks to dip into your soup. The port town of Klang is said to be original home of the dish.
  • Char kway teow (???) is a favourite noodle type at Penang. Some flat egg noddle fried with soya source, prawn, cockles, bean sprouts, chives & bak you (lard), though this last ingredient is sometimes absent due to the popularity & demand of this dish from the Malays & Indians who traditionally shun pork.
  • Chee cheong fun (???) is a favorite breakfast consisting of lasagna-type rice noodles rolled up and various types of fried meats including fishballs and fried tofu. The dish is usually topped with a generous amount of sauce.
  • Chwee kway ???) is a dish consisting of rice cakes topped with chai po (salted fermented turnips), usually served with some chilli sauce.
  • Fish ball noodles (???) come in many forms, but the type most often seen is mee pok, which consists of flat egg noodles tossed in chilli sauce, with the fishballs floating in a separate bowl of soup on the side.
  • Hainanese chicken rice (????) is poached chicken served with rice cooked in chicken stock and fat, and tasty ginger and chilli dipping sauces. The chicken has a delicate taste, but it's the quality of the rice and the dipping sauces that connoseurs get passionate about. Perhaps better known in Singapore, there is an interesting local variant found in Malacca and Muar, Johor, with the rice cooked until it is sticky and rolled into balls.
  • Hokkien mee (???) refers to at least three separate dishes. In Kuala Lumpur, this gets you thick noodles fried in dark soy sauce, while in Penang you'll get a very spicy shrimp soup. Interestingly, neither of them bear any resemblance to the dish of the same name served in neighbouring Singapore.
  • Kway chap (??) is essentially sheets made of rice flour served in some brownish soup, accompanied by a plate of braised pork and pig organs (usually intestines).
  • Lok-lok (??) consists of skewers of fish, meat and vegetables, cooked in boiling broth and eaten with sauces, the most popular being the "kuah kacang", which interestingly is a Malay sauce made from peanuts & traditionally served with satay and ketupat (compressed rice cubes eaten during Eid).
  • Steamboat (??), also known as hot pot, is do-it-yourself soup Chinese style. You get a pot of broth bubbling on a tabletop burner, pick meat, fish and veggies to your liking from a menu or buffet table, then cook it to your liking. When finished, add in noodles or ask for rice to fill you up. This usually requires a minimum of two people, and the more the merrier.
  • Wantan mee (???) is thin noodles topped with wantan dumplings of seasoned minced pork. Unlike the soupy Hong Kong version, it is usually served dry.
  • Yong tau foo (???) literally means "stuffed tofu", but it's more exciting than it sounds. The diner selects their favorites from a vast assortment of tofu, fish paste, seafood and vegetables and they are then sliced into bite-size pieces, cooked briefly in boiling water and then served either in broth as soup or "dry" with the broth in a separate bowl. The dish can be eaten by itself or with any choice of noodles. Essential accompaniments are spicy chili sauce and a distinctive brown sweet sauce for dipping.

Indian cuisine

The smallest of Malaysia's 'Big 3', the Indians have had a disporportionately large impact on the culinary scene, with the mamak (Indian Muslim, see below) stall having acquired in every Malaysian city and town, and nasi kandar restaurants offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice. Authentic Indian food in Malaysia includes typical South Indian specialties such as dosai, idli, sambhar, uttapam; as well as some north Indian meals like naan bread, korma, and tandoori chicken. In addition, however, a number of Indian dishes have been "Malaysianized" and adopted by the entire population, including:

  • Fish head curry is, true to the name, a gigantic curried fish head cooked whole until it's ready to fall apart. The head itself is not eaten, as there's plenty of meat to be found inside and all around. Note that there are two distinct styles, the fiery Indian and the milder Chinese kind (the latter is sometimes served as a broth for vermicelli noodles).
  • "Mamak-style" mee goreng is a ubiquitous dish found at mamak stalls, a stir-fried noodle dish loved by Malaysians.
  • Nasi briyani (sometimes spelled nasi beriani) is assembled by layering the flavorful rice with tender pieces of spiced-cooked lamb, mutton or chicken. At nasi kandar restaurants, it refers to rice that is cooked without the meat, and is merely a choice of rice [instead of plain steamed rice] to eat with your selection of curries and side dishes.
  • Roti canai is the Malaysian adaptation of the South Indian parotta, flat bread tossed in the air like pizza, fried in oil, and eaten dipped in curry. Eaten plain with sides of dal gravy, curry sauce or both, it is usually dubbed "roti kosong". Variations include include roti telur (with egg) and murtabak (stuffed with chicken, mutton or fish), roti boom (with condensed milk) and roti tisu (made very thin like tissue paper, and laced with caramelized sugar).
  • Putu mayam is composed of vermicelli-like rice noodles usually mixed with shredded coconut and some jaggery.

Fruits

Malaysia still has a great deal of local agriculture, so it is easy to find fresh, tree-ripened fruits in day and night markets throughout the country. In addition to the durian, popular fruits in Malaysia that are well worth buying include rambutan, mangosteen, banana (which are native to the country and available in tart as well as sweet varieties), mango (in three varieties, called mangga, kuini, and pauh in Malay, in decreasing order of desirability), papaya, guava (notably including the crunchy, somewhat tart jambu air), pineapple, watermelon, belimbing (star fruit/carambola), pomelo, langsat, duku, mata kucing, and jackfruit.

East Malaysia

East Malaysia, especially Sarawak, also offers a wide range of local dishes, but these are very rarely seen in peninsular Malaysia. See Sarawak#Eat for details.

Where to eat

The cheapest places to eat are hawker stalls and coffeeshops, known as kedai kopi in Bahasa Malaysia or kopitiam in Chinese. These shops sell, besides coffee, many other types of food and drinks. Particularly popular and tasty are mamak stalls, run by Indian Muslims and serving up localized Indian fare like roti canai. Most hawker stalls stay open till late and some even operate on shifts so you can find the same stall offering different food at different points throughout the day. You can also do take away from any stall, just ask for bungkus (Bahasa Malaysia) or ta pao (Chinese). A hawker meal will rarely cost you over RM5. Hygiene standards in Malaysia, while not up to that of neighbouring Singapore or Western countries, is still reasonable and much better than say, China or most of the rest of Southeast Asia. Just be observant, and generally speaking, if a stall is patronised by locals, it should be safe to eat there.

One step up on the scale is the kedai makanan or the more Western-style restoran. A type to look out for is the nasi kandar restaurant (also known as nasi campur or nasi padang), with a vast range of curries and toppings to ladle on top of your rice.

Seafood restaurants (makanan laut) are comparatively pricy but still excellent value by most standards; do check prices before ordering though. Local prawns are gigantic, Chinese-style steamed fish is a treat and crab served with sticky chilli sauce is particularly popular.

Last but not least, some less adventurous options. Food courts in shopping malls are a good way to sample local delicacies in air-conditioned comfort, paying only a small premium over hawker prices. And yes, you can also find McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and the usual suspects plus imitators throughout Malaysia.

Dietary restrictions

Being a Muslim-majority country, finding halal food in Malaysia is easy, but most Chinese stalls and restaurants are not halal. Ask if in doubt. Meals at Malay restaurants and Western fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut are halal. Restaurants at major hotels are not certified 'Halal' as they serve alcohol as well, but they generally don't serve pork. Local Muslims will eat at Western, Chinese and Indian eateries if there is a halal sign on the walls. Most of the restaurants tend to display their halal certification or halal sign on their places. Halal certification is awarded and enforced by a government agency, usually JAKIM.

Vegetarianism is well-understood by the Chinese and Indian communities (not so by the Muslim Malays and other indigenous minorities) and many restaurants or hawker stalls will be able to come up with something on request (DO state "no meat, no fish, no seafood - ASK for vegetables and/or eggs ONLY"), but don't rely entirely on menu descriptions: innocuous-seeming dishes like "fried vegetables" etc. will often contain pork bits in non-halal Chinese restaurants, shrimp paste (belacan, commonly used in Malay and spicy Chinese dishes), fish sauce, etc. Indian restaurants usually have very good vegetarian selections - the roti (Indian flat bread - any kind; including roti canai, roti naan, capati, tosai) are good choices, and DO insist on being given dhal (lentil-based curry dip) lest you'll be given a fish curry dip. Purely vegetarian Chinese restaurants (often serving remarkable "mock meat" products made from tofu, gluten etc.) are quite easy to find in big urban areas with a large ethnic Chinese population. Getting vegetarian food in rural areas, especially those near fishing villages or in Muslim/Malay-dominated regions, may be more difficult, but learning some basic Bahasa Malaysia vocabulary will go a long way to help you get your message across — see the Malay phrasebook. Upmarket Western restaurants, such as those serving Italian cuisine will normally have some good vegetarian options.

Veganism is rarely understood in this part of the world and is largely mistaken as a synonym for vegetarianism, yet the safest bet for a vegan is to patronize a Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurant (most Chinese vegetarian restaurants are essentially vegan and operated on Buddhist principles of non-killing and compassion, and thus they abstain from using dairy products, eggs, and the 5 fetid vegetables [onions, garlic, leeks, etc.] discouraged in Mahayana Buddhism). And if you're still feeling uneasy or unsure, do not hesitate to ask.

Drink

Malaysians like both coffee (kopi) and tea (teh), especially the national drink teh tarik ("pulled tea"), named after the theatrical 'pulling' motion used to pour it. By default, both will be served hot, sweet and with a dose of condensed milk; request teh o to skip the milk, teh ais for iced milky tea, or teh o ais for iced milkless tea. Drinking with no sugar at all is considered odd, but asking for kurang manis (less sugar) will ease the pain. However, if you really want no sugar at all, you can try asking for "teh kosong."

Another peculiar local favourite is the kopi tongkat ali ginseng, a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root, and ginseng served with condensed milk that's touted as an alternative to viagra and red bull combined and is usually advertised with a picture of a bed broken in half.

Other popular nonalcoholic options include the chocolate drink Milo and lime juice (limau). Freshly made fruit juices are also widely available, as well as a wide range of canned drinks (some familiar, some less so).

There is also a local drink comprised of white soya milk and black grass jelly (cincau) called soya cincau. It can be ordered at most hawker centres and local roadside cafes (kedai kopi/kopitiam).

Alcohol

Although Malaysia has a Muslim majority, alcohol is available on licensed outlet for the consumptions of its non-Muslim citizens (Chinese, Indigenous Sabahan, Indigenous Sarawakian and Indian) and non-Muslim foreigners. However, some states (notably Kelantan and Terengganu) ban the use of alcohol. With the exception of tax-free islands (Labuan, Langkawi, Tioman) and duty free shops (for example in Johor Bahru), prices are comparatively high, with a can of beer costing RM7.50 or more even in supermarkets or 7-Eleven store. However, in East Malaysia, smuggled liquors are widely available.

In East Malaysia, particularly Sarawak, tuak is a common affair for any celebration or festivals such as Gawai Dayak and Christmas Day. Tuak is made from fermented rice which sometimes sugar, honey or other various condiments are added. It is normally served lukewarm without ice. Visitors can choose from 'strong' flavour of tuak (which is normally being fermented for years), or 'mild' flavour (which sometimes just being prepared a week or even a day before). In Sabah, cheap liquors are very widely available at most supermarkets and mini markets in the state. Other alcoholic drinks such as beer and whisky are also widely available. On the other hand, Tuak in Kelantan also can be considered as a liquor since that it contains trace amount of fermented nipah or sap juice. The alcohol content in Kelantan tuak can easily reach 50% after 3 days from the time it was extracted.

Tapai consists of cassava (less often, rice) that is fermented and eaten as a food (though the liquid in the bottom can also be drunk). As it is commonly eaten during Hari Raya Puasa, the major Muslim holiday celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, it is interesting that Islamic legal authorities associated with the Islamist opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) have given Muslims a special dispensation from laws against consuming alcohol, in the case of tapai.

Sleep

Budget

Budget hotels and youth hostels are available in most cities and around most tourist destinations. As with most budget accommodations, some are more reliable than others. Be cautious when selecting budget accommodation to avoid places that house illegal vice activities.

Larger cities will have YMCAs that are safe bets. Another noticeable budget hotel chain is Tune Hotels, [1] an affiliate of the budget airline, Air Asia. They are expanding and have hotels at numerous locations throughout the country

Mid-range

Mid range hotels are readily available just about anywhere. Prices of 3-4 star hotels are upwards from RM100 and are generally reliable in terms of quality.

Splurge

5 star hotels, service apartments and resorts are located in larger cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor BahruKota Kinabalu and Kuching. Also, almost all islands have upscale resorts and spas for the wealthy traveller.

Learn

Malaysia's universities are generally well-regarded and draw exchange students from near and far. Among Malaysia's universities, the undisputed most prestigious one is the University of Malaya (UM), located in Kuala Lumpur. In addition, several foreign universities have established campuses in Malaysia, providing the opportunity for foreign education in a Malaysian atmosphere.

Work

Obtaining a working visa takes some effort. The easiest way to work in Malaysia is probably to work for an overseas company and get posted to Malaysia. The Malaysian Immigration Department website [2] has basic advice. In order to obtain a work permit, you need to have an offer from your future employer who will have to do the paperwork for you. It's very expensive and comes with many restrictions if a company wants to hire a foreigner and as such next to impossible. As stated above, a feasible way is to get transferred. Finding a job is otherwise unlikely unless you are married to a local and even then it remains difficult.

Note: Working days in the states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Johor are from Sunday to Thursday, while in most other states, the working days are from Monday to Friday. Weekend holidays are on Saturday and Sunday, while in the states of Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Johor are on Friday and Saturday.

Stay safe

The crime rate is higher than in neighbouring Singapore. Crimes towards tourists are usually restricted to bag-snatching, pickpocketing and petty theft. It is important to keep a close eye on valuable items. Theft is more common in crowded places, such as markets and on public transport. Generally, if you avoid deserted areas, get back to your hotel before midnight and use your common sense, you're unlikely to be assaulted. Homosexuality is a crime hence gay and lesbian tourists should be self-aware and careful.

While Singaporeans often tell stories about the "Wild Wild North", keep in mind that Singapore's crime rate is remarkably low, and the crime rate in the border city of Johor Bahru is particularly high by Malaysian standards. Any comments you hear about the Malaysian crime rate should be taken in that context, and with the exception of Johor Bahru, tourists from say, the United States would not find Malaysia to be particularly more dangerous than back home.

Crime

Reports of pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves have been sometimes heard in large cities like Kuala LumpurGeorge Town and Johor Bahru. As a general precaution, never carry your bags on the side facing the road and always walk facing the oncoming traffic. Additionally, walk a few feet deeper away from the roads. Women travellers should take extra precautions at night.

Johor Bahru is known for having a relatively higher crime rate compared to the rest of Malaysia, and armed robberies and snatch thefts could happen at night in run-down areas of the city. Travel documents and valuables are best deposited in a hotel safe.

Do note that in Malaysia, certain crimes are punished with caning. Being convicted of rape, vandalism, illegal entry, bribery, overstaying your visa, and certain other crimes could get you caned. This is no slap on the wrist! Strokes from the thick rattan cane are very painful, will take some time to heal and probably leave you a permanent scar. This technique is also applied in Singapore.

Credit card fraud is a growing problem in this country, especially if you order in an on-line store during your stay. Use credit cards only in reputable shops. If you are not sure about the reputation of a certain shop or service, there are several services available that can help to identify fraud and scams such as Trustedcompany.com for any online service they want to use.

Never bring any recreational drugs into Malaysia, even as a transit passenger. Possession of even minimal amounts can lead to a mandatory death sentence.

Traffic safety

Drunk driving is a serious offense and breathalyzer tests by the police are common. You should not offer bribes at all - if found guilty you can be sentenced up to 20 years in jail! Anyone who tries to bribe public officials may be arrested on the spot and placed in a lock-up overnight to be charged for the offence in the morning. If this happens on a Friday or on eve of public holidays, you will find yourself spending a few nights in the lock-up as the courts are only open Monday to Friday. Do not let this dissuade you from requesting help - generally Malaysian police are helpful to tourists. You should just accept whatever traffic summons you are being issued.

When on foot, be careful when crossing the street. Vehicles will often ignore pedestrian (zebra) crossings. However, reports of road bullying during accidents are still common, so if you are involved in an accident be very careful when negotiating or dial 999 for help.

Other

Many taxis will refuse to use the meter, even though the official rate has changed recently and most taxis now have a sticker on the rear door that informs tourists that haggling is prohibited. Be aware that taxi drivers, sensing that you are a tourist, may drive around and take a very long route to reach your destination.

If using a taxi late at night, it is best to use the dial-a-taxi service as there have been incidents where taxis flagged down during those hours being fake/unregistered. The unregistered taxi driver might then rob or assault their victims with the help of assailants. You are also more likely to get a metered taxi by flagging one at a street than a taxi stand.

Is it advisable to study maps and compare fares on the internet before visiting the country. Knowing distances between places is helpful when negotiating with taxi drivers. They won't try to fool even a foreigner who demonstrates clearly that he knows the distance from point A to point B is 50 km and not 150 km.

Do not accept the first rates for inter-city travels by car offered by hotels, as these could be as much as double normal prices. In this case, negotiate with a taxi driver directly for a better and fair price (for example, a hotel near Balok Beach, not very far from Kuantan, asked 800 RM for a ride to Johor Bahru, while a negotiated price with a taxi driver who could be found in downtown Kuantan came down to a normal 400 RM). But for all this you need to know the exact distance and if possible even the exact itinerary between your departure and arrival point.

Public demonstrations are uncommon in Malaysia due to police crackdowns, but a number of anti-government demonstrations have been held recently. Should one occur it may be dealt with in a heavy-handed manner, so avoid them at all costs.

Finally, it is generally not allowed for non-Muslims or non-Sunnis to proselytize. In particular, attempting to persuade Muslims to convert out of their religion is illegal, and if you are caught doing this, you will at best be expelled from the country.

Stay healthy

Tap water is drinkable straight off the tap, as it is treated, but even locals boil or filter it first just to be on the safe side. When travelling it is best to stick to bottled water, which is very inexpensive.

Ice in drinks might be made from tap water but nowadays, most restaurants and even roadside stalls use the cylindrical variety with a hollow tube down the middle that are mass-produced at ice factories and are safer to consume.

Heat exhaustion is rare, but do consume lots of fluids, use a hat and sunscreen and shower often!

Peninsular Malaysia is largely malaria-free, but there is a significant risk in Borneo especially in inland and rural areas. Dengue fever occurs throughout Malaysia in both urban and rural areas, and can be avoided only by preventing mosquito bites. The mosquito that transmits dengue feeds throughout the daytime, and is most active at dawn and dusk. If you experience a sudden fever with aches and lethargy, seek medical attention immediately. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be used until dengue fever has been ruled out. Mosquito repellents (ubat nyamuk) are widely available. Be careful with mosquito coils, which can easily start fires: set them on a plate or other non-flammable surface and extinguish them before going to sleep.

Haze from burning vegetation in neighbouring Indonesia may come and go without warning from the months of May to August so travellers with respiratory ailments should come prepared.

Most public washrooms make a small charge (generally between RM0.20-RM2.00, usually depending on the standard of the facilities) so keep some loose change to hand. If the condition of the sitting toilets is questionable, use the squatting toilets instead - both are usually available, and some believe that the latter are more hygienic and (if you can get used to them) are just as easy to use as sitting toilets.

Peninsular Malaysia is largely free from earthquakes as there are no nearby faultlines, though tremors can occasionally be felt when a major quake occurs in neighbouring Indonesia. East Malaysia, on the other hand, especially the area around Mount Kinabalu, does experience occasional earthquakes, the most recent fatal one occurring in 2015. Typhoons also generally do not occur. However, the Nov-Jan monsoon season often results in flooding due to torrential rains, and landslides are known to occur, most notably on the East Coast. Tsunamis are a rare occurrence, though Penang and a few islands on the north of the West Coast were hit by the infamous tsunami in 2004.

Healthcare

The standard of healthcare in Malaysia is generally high, and Malaysia is rapidly emerging as a popular destination for medical tourism, with treatment costs in general far cheaper than in neighbouring Singapore and Western countries. Almost all Malaysian doctors are able to speak English fluently, while most other medical staff are able to converse in at least basic English.

Government healthcare facilities are cheap but good, though they tend to be understaffed and consequently, waiting times are long. Due to the shorter waiting times and higher standard of care, most expatriates and visitors prefer to seek out private medical care. Malaysia's largest private healthcare groups are Parkway Pantai, which operates the well-known Gleaneagles and Pantai hospital chains, and KPJ Healthcare. Private medical costs can be high and having travel insurance is a very good idea.

HIV

The HIV rate in Malaysia was 0.5% of the population in 2014.

Respect

It is advisable to dress respectfully, particularly in rural areas (wearing trousers or a long skirt, not shorts and covering your shoulders is recommended but not essential). In more metropolitan areas such as Kuala LumpurJohor Bahru, Penang, and Ipoh, as well as East Malaysian states (Sabah and Sarawak) attitudes are more liberal.

As in many countries, it is best not to criticise the government or the Malaysian royal families as a visitor. You may hear Malaysians criticise their own government, but you do not need to take sides; just listen and feel free to talk about your feelings about your own government.

When entering a home or a place of worship, always take off your shoes. Also, never eat with your left hand or give a gift with your left hand, and never point with your forefinger (you may use a closed fist with the thumb instead). Do not point with your feet or touch a person's head either.

Swastikas are commonly seen in Hindu and Buddhist temples, and are regarded as a religious symbol by these communities. They emphatically do not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism, so Western visitors should not feel offended when seeing them in the homes of their hosts.

As a predominantly Muslim country, Malaysia tends to be conservative about sexuality. Public showing of affection in the more diverse, larger cities is tolerated but might invite unnecessary attention from the public. In more rural areas and in very conservative states like Kelantan and Terengganu on the East Coast of the Peninsula it is frowned upon and is best avoided.

Big cities like Kuala Lumpur have a fairly active gay scene and gay bashing is rarely heard of. However, same-sex relationships are a taboo subject and "Carnal intercourse against the order of nature" is punished by up to 20 years gaol and whipping (men only) under colonial era laws not usually enforced against consenting adult heterosexuals. Different states may also impose consecutive sharia law punishments of up to 3 years and six lashes against Muslims of all genders.

Connect

Internet

Connecting to the internet in Malaysia is easily accessible in most cities and towns. It was one of the first countries in the world to offer 4G connectivity. Broadband Internet is available in most hotels, internet cafes, and some restaurants. Wi-Fi is usually available in hot spots in almost all restaurants and fast-food outlets and shopping malls. Prepaid internet cards are also available to access wireless broadband, in some cafes.

Customers usually pay RM1-5 per hour for internet services in cybercafes (depending on which city you're in). Internet connections offered in restaurants and cafes are usually free, and more and more food outlets are offering this. These include all Starbucks and Coffeebean, some McDonald's and Subway, and an increasing number of smaller places.

Telephone numbers

The country code for Malaysia is +60.

Landlines

Malaysian landline telephone numbers have either seven or eight digits. The country is also divided up into areas which have been assigned two or three digit area codes, which have to be dialled when calling from outside the area. The area codes are:

  • 03 - Kuala LumpurPutrajaya, Selangor (all are Klang Valley), Pahang (Genting Highlands only)
  • 04 - Kedah, Penang, Perlis
  • 05 - Perak, Pahang (Cameron Highlands only)
  • 06 - Malacca, Johor (Muar district only), Negeri Sembilan
  • 07 - Johor (all districts except for Muar)
  • 082 - Sarawak (Kuching and Samarahan districts)
  • 083 - Sarawak (Sri Aman and Betong districts)
  • 084 - Sarawak (Sarikei, Sibu and west Kapit districts)
  • 085 - Sarawak (Miri and Limbang districts)
  • 086 - Sarawak (Bintulu districts and Belaga)
  • 087 - Sabah (Interior Division), Labuan
  • 088 - Sabah (West Coast and Kudat Division)
  • 089 - Sabah (Sandakan and Tawau Division)
  • 09 - Kelantan, Pahang (all districts except Genting Highlands), Terengganu

Area code 02 has been assigned for calls made from Malaysia to Singapore. This means there's no need to call Singapore's country code 65 when calling from Malaysia. International direct dialing (IDD) calls from landlines to all other countries should use the prefix 00 followed by the country code.

To call a Malaysian number:

  • From overseas except Singapore dial the international access code, the country code for Malaysia, the area code without the "0", and then the phone number.
  • From Singapore dial 02, the area code with the "0", and then the phone number.
  • From outside the local area dial the full area code, followed by the phone number. There are no exceptions to this rule, except when using a mobile phone.
  • From within the local area just dial the phone number without any code.

Mobile phones

Malaysia also has four mobile telephone service providers, Maxis [3], DiGi [4], Celcom [5], and U Mobile [6] which utilise codes 012, 013, 014, 016, 017, 018, 019. Network connection in Malaysia is excellent. Mobile number portability has been implemented in Malaysia, meaning a code like 012 that traditionally belonged to Maxis, can now be a DiGi subscriber. Mobile networks utilize the GSM 900 and 1800 systems. 3G (WCDMA), EDGE & HSPDA networks available in larger towns. International roaming onto these networks is possible if your operator allows it.

To call a Malaysian mobile number:

  • From overseas dial the international access code, the country code for Malaysia, the mobile telephone provider's code without the "0", and then the telephone number.
  • From within Malaysia dial the provider's code with the "0", and then the telephone number.
  • From mobile phone to mobile phone within Malaysia dial the provider's code with the "0", and then the telephone number. Although you can drop the provider's code if the two phones share the same provider, you will still get through if the provider's code is dialled.

To call from Malaysia to another country:

  • From a landline dial the international access code "00" followed by the country code and the phone number. For example, dialing the United States from Malaysia you would dial 001 followed by the US area code and phone number. On the Maxis network, take advantage of 50% IDD rates via IDD132, which doesn't require any registration, just dial "132" prior to the "00".
  • From a mobile phone same as from a landline (above). An alternative, and simpler, approach on many mobile phones is to press & hold the zero button to enter a "+" (plus sign) before the country code and phone number. The "+" represents (in any country) the appropriate international access code. On the Maxis network, take advantage of 50% IDD rates via IDD132, which doesn't require any registration, just dial "132" prior to the "00" and note that you do not use the "+" symbol using this method.

Postal services

Many international courier services like Fedex, DHL and UPS are available in towns and cities but the main postal service provider is Pos Malaysia which reliably provides postal services to most countries in the world.

Postage rates in Malaysia are cheap. Much much cheaper than Thailand, Singapore or Vietnam, and surface post is available as well. In addition the mail is reliable and trustworthy. When posting, do not seal the box. This is to allow for inspection in case illegal items are posted this way.

A local alternative to the international courier companies mentioned above is the Pos Laju, which provides just as reliable a service but at a fraction of the costs!

Non-urgent letters and postcards can be dropped in postboxes inside post offices or red postboxes found outside post offices and along main roads. If there are two slots in a postbox use the one that says "lain lain" for international post.

Post offices are open M-Sa 08:00-17:00 except public holidays, although a few in Klang Valley stay open until 22:00. In the states of Kedah, Kelantan, Johor and Terengganu they are closed on Fridays and public holidays.

Wat Arun

The first time I landed in Bangkok back in 2010, I did everything wrong.

I was so excited, I didn’t get myself close to the schedule before I arrived.

Even though I was arriving close to midnight, I slept on the final flight there.

I gave my guesthouse address written in Thai to my driver, but he couldn’t find it and had to keep stopping and asking people where it was.

I chose a guesthouse with a windowless room that was essentially a twin bed with an extra two feet of space around it. No outlets. No wifi. No A/C. Not even a top sheet.

I didn’t sleep a wink the entire first night and basically twiddled my thumbs until 6:00 AM, when I figured it was a socially acceptable time to visit some temples.

I slept a few hours in the afternoon the first day — and didn’t sleep a wink the second night, either. I then got a nasty cold due to sleep deprivation and missed out on some social gatherings.

Kate in Bangkok

Here I am on my first day in Bangkok in 2010. I was a mess, but I was so happy just to be there.

Kate in Bangkok

Here I am on my first day in Bangkok in 2015. By this time, my tenth visit to Bangkok, I had my arrival down to a science.

Here’s how to do the same when you touch down in Bangkok:

Adjust yourself to the time zone ahead of time.

Granted, this is most difficult from the East Coast of the U.S., where we’re usually on a 12-hour time difference. But anything you can do to get yourself slightly closer to Thailand’s time zone will have you in much better shape, even if it means you’ll be sleeping fewer hours.

Hit up the ATM.

You don’t need to get cash before your trip — just hit up the ATM in the airport as soon as you land.

You also might want to visit a 7-11 and buy a bottle of water so you can break a large bills.

Get a taxi from the airport.

When you arrive in Bangkok, chances are you’re going to be exhausted and ready to just fall into bed. This is an occasion that warrants paying for a taxi, even if you’re backpacking and trying to save money.

Airport taxis have rates set, so you will be charged a meter rate. Keep in mind that depending on where you’re going, some drivers will offer to take you via highway, which will cost you extra toll fees that you will need to pay when you go through the toll booth.

Have your accommodation’s name and address ready, and pinpoint it on Google Maps.

When I first got to Bangkok, I was shocked at how often taxi drivers would have no idea where my destination was. It’s a far cry from London, where taxi drivers are required to memorize every street in the city!

It’s a good idea to have the address written in Thai as well as English — but it’s even better to have it saved on Google Maps.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Check into an extremely comfortable hotel or guesthouse.

Why a comfortable place? Because you’ll be exhausted and sleeping at odd hours for the next few days. Having a nice place to stay can make such a huge difference. I stayed at the Amari Watergate — more on that below.

Take melatonin right before you go to bed.

I first started bought melatonin when I flew from Boston to Sri Lanka last year, knowing that I’d have a busy schedule and wouldn’t have the luxury of going at my own pace.

Melatonin is a natural supplement that helps your body realize that it’s bedtime. It’s best to take it about an hour before you go to bed, but I find that it affects me within around 30 minutes.

For the first several days, take melatonin at night — it will help you beat jet lag faster. You can get it on Amazon.

Get on a normal schedule as soon as you can.

Avoid napping! Believe me, it’s better to go to bed at 9:00 PM and sleep until 4:30 AM than to take a midday nap. Because as soon as you start midday napping, you’ll be falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon every day.

Bangkok Skyline

Pick up a SIM card. 

I always go to Siam Paragon, a luxury shopping mall near Siam Square, and visit the AIS store. AIS provides some of the best coverage in Thailand, has great data plans, and they’re used to assisting foreigners in this store.

Don’t forget to bring your passport! It’s required to get a SIM card.

Go easy on the food if you have a sensitive stomach.

When I first arrived in Asia, I went vegetarian for the first few days and gradually eased into eating meat. You might want to do the same if you’re nervous about the food. Always stick to bottled water, too!

Indulge in massages.

One of my favorite things about Thailand is that Thais consider massage a normal, frequent part of staying healthy. As a result, massage is available for cheap in Bangkok — think around 250 baht ($7) for one hour.

Traditional Thai massage is done with your clothes on (they may give you loose pajama-like garments to wear). It’s a lot like assisted yoga. Personally, I’m a big fan of foot massages and get them almost every day.

Silk Weaver, Bangkok

Give yourself at least a few days in Bangkok.

Bangkok is one of my top five favorite cities in the world. You could spend weeks here discovering all that the city has to offer. If you’re a returning Thailand visitor, you probably know what you want to do, but if you’re new to Thailand, please don’t listen to people telling you to skip Bangkok. This city is beautifully chaotic and I love it for that reason.

A few of my favorite activities:

Visit Chatuchak Market. Held on Saturday and Sunday, this is the largest market in the world and they sell everything from unique clothing to fancy furniture to tiny puppies.

Hang out in Siam Square. This is where young Thais hang out and where you’ll find lots of cool shops, along with several high-end malls. Keep in mind that Asian sizes tend to be tiny, but accessories are universal!

Go to a luxury movie theater. I love SF World Cinema on top of the Central World mall, where around 700 baht ($20) buys you a pre-movie buffet with a mocktail and tons of food, a plush leather recliner, a blanket (!!), a waitress, and your choice of flavored popcorn and soda. (If you don’t want to spend the cash, you can see new releases for around 100 baht ($3)!)

Visit Jim Thompson’s house. If you love architecture, luxury, and mystery, make this a priority. Jim Thompson was an American CIA agent turned silk merchant who ended up disappearing in Malaysia. His house is near Siam Square and is like a time capsule.

Explore and chow down in Chinatown. Chinatown is one of the most distinctive neighborhoods in the city, and you can easily get lost in the mazes here. The food is excellent, too.

Visit Buddhist temples. Some good ones for first-timers are Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun, which are close together and close to the Khao San Road area.

See Muay Thai at Lumpinee Stadium. Not just a sports experience, but a cultural experience unlike any other.

Enjoy Khao San Road. The backpacker center of Southeast Asia, if not the world. Fun for a wild night out, but keep in mind merchandise here costs a lot more than on surrounding streets.

Chill out on Soi Rambuttri. Close to Khao San Road but much quieter and calmer, this is actually my favorite street in Bangkok. I love getting a foot massage while having a cocktail from the mobile VW van bar.

This is just scratching the surface — there is far more to do in Bangkok than I could include in a single post!

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Staying at the Amari Watergate Bangkok

I always tell people that Bangkok and Las Vegas are the two best cities in the world for luxury hotels — there are tons to choose from and the prices are excellent.

Well, to be honest, I’ve never stayed in a luxury hotel in Bangkok until my most recent visit! A few months back, the Amari Watergate Bangkok offered me a complimentary three-night stay in exchange for some social media coverage, and I accepted it.

I really loved this hotel. And to be honest, having SUCH a nice place to stay made adjusting to Bangkok a far more pleasant experience than in recent years.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

I stayed in an Executive Suite — one of the top suites in the hotel. Executive Suites are enormous with a king-sized bed, plenty of seating, a separate sitting room with an office section, and a giant bathroom with a tub you could practically do laps in.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Hello, New Best Friend.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

The room, as you can see, is nothing short of glorious. Some of the other room amenities include multiple TVs, fruit upon arrival (so needed!), coffee and tea, lots of bottled water, and a view over downtown Bangkok.

But what I actually enjoyed most was being on an executive floor and having access to the executive lounge, which was airy, quiet, and luxurious. Just being there made me feel like I was part of an exclusive club. They also have happy hours in the executive suite each night!

Amari Watergate Bangkok

November in Bangkok can be a bit of a mixed bag weather-wise, and there were mostly stormy skies — but that didn’t keep some people from jumping into the pool.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Getting a nice massage is the perfect way to settle into a new time zone, and the Breeze Spa at the Amari Watergate is excellent. You can choose a massage to reflect your mood — I went with invigorated (dreamy, serene, rejuvenated, and energized are other options). Because when you can get a massage on the street anywhere in Thailand, getting a high-end massage makes you feel pampered. I found it blissful, especially with the tea and macaron served at the end.

As for other benefits of the hotel, the location was ideal — walking distance from Siam Square and my favorite malls, making it a perfect hub for my first-day-in-Bangkok errands. You’re near the BTS, which will get you all over most of the city, and if you want to head to Khao San Road, you can take a nearby canal boat!

There’s a nice-looking gym, if you’re into that sort of thing. I wasn’t quite motivated enough to go inside!

And on my first night, I was able to experience a brand new event at the hotel — a Thai street market-inspired dining experience around the pool! I spent my time hanging out with new Thai friends and pretending not to cry from the spicier dishes. (I think they caught on when they saw how many Thai iced teas I was drinking.)

So basically, my first luxury hotel stay in Bangkok was a really wonderful experience. If you want to dip your toes into luxury travel in Asia, the Amari Watergate is a high value choice. I couldn’t have found a better way to land in my favorite Asian city.

Essential Info: Rates at the Amari Watergate Bangkok start at 2,635 baht ($73). Executive suites start at 8,325 baht ($229). While these are luxury rates, this is very good value for money, both in Bangkok and throughout the world.

I recommend taking a taxi to and from the airport, but you can also take the BTS (Skytrain) from nearby Ratchathewi Station.

Many thanks to the Amari Watergate Bangkok for providing me with a complimentary three-night stay, including breakfast and a massage. All opinions, as always, are my own.

What’s your favorite way to arrive in a new city?

Kate in Senggigi

What does budget travel mean to you?

For some of my friends, it means downgrading to a three-star hotel instead of a luxury property. For others, it’s giving up their private rooms for hostel dorms.

Budget travel is unique to everyone. The broadest definition of budget travel is being financially conscious during your travels.

I asked my Facebook fans a question: how low-budget would you go? Hostel dorms? Couchsurfing? Never eating in a restaurant, ever? They had a lot of great answers and I’ve included them throughout this post.

Leon Nicaragua

Extreme Budget Travel

I define extreme budget travel — or what I like to call traveling “on the hobo” — as traveling while spending the least amount of money possible.

“I had some Couchsurfers come stay with me that are doing a long term trip with a $0 budget for accommodation. If they can’t find CS hosts they camp. One was sleeping in temples in Myanmar. He said his average is $5/day but oftentimes only spends $3. They also only hitchhike everywhere.” –Nathan

Accommodation? Free only. Couchsurfing or camping in their own tent or van. Possibly sleeping in churches, temples or mosques. Free lodging via working gigs. Hostel dorms if there’s no other option.

Transportation? Free or very cheap only. Hitchhiking or traveling in their own vehicle. If anything, an occasional bus ride or public transit.

Food? Cheap only. Supermarket fare or cheap street food. No restaurants, ever. Maybe an occasional takeaway kebab.

Attractions? Free only. In cities, walking around and taking photos, enjoying free museums and attractions. In the countryside, hiking and exploring. Forget about paying for a ticket.

How to get by? Working from time to time. WWOOFing, Workaway gigs, working in hostels or bars, busking, random gigs along the way.

And while there are occasional exceptions, the above is largely how extreme budget travelers spend their time on the road.

Here are some examples:

We Visited Over 50 Countries In Our Van Spending Just $8 Per Day

This is How a Guy Traveled Through Southeast Asia On Just $10 Per Day

I just came back from a 5-months travel. I’ve done hitch-hiked over 15 000km, and have been living as a homeless for pretty much 4 months.

Amman Skyline

The Pros of Extreme Budget Travel

Travel longer. See more. The less you spend, the more time you have to see everything the world has to offer. The price you would pay for a midrange two-week trip could grow into a multi-month extravaganza when traveling on the hobo.

Enjoying the same sights at a fraction of the price. Nobody charges you to walk through the piazzas of Florence, nor do you pay anything to enjoy the white sand beaches of Boracay. It feels awesome to look around and know that you paid far less than everyone else!

Expensive destinations aren’t off-limits. One thing I noticed was that extreme budget travelers don’t shy away from expensive countries. You find just as many extreme budget travelers in Norway and Australia as you do in Laos and India.

“Curiously enough it’s easier to spend less in expensive countries. It’s easier to say no to a $25 hotel room and camp, than to say no to a $5 hotel room and camp. In Europe I’d go camping and couchsurfing all the time out of necessity, but here in Asia I’d happily pay for accommodation, because it’s cheaper. But of course that adds up and in the end I pay more. I remember spending 6 months in the US and Canada and I spend $0 on accommodation. :D” –Meph248 on Reddit

Having more local experience. You’ll get to know locals more intimately, whether it means couchsurfing in locals’ homes, working with locals, hitchhiking with locals, or shopping at the local markets. Plenty of travelers will pass through the same town without having a conversation with someone who wasn’t a waiter or hostel employee.

The time of your life — on very little cash. You’ll have great stories to tell your kids someday!

“I did $5 a day while touring the Balkans for a month. I managed! -Free lodging and food by volunteering at a hostel (even had my own room at the top floor) -Free private beach access through a guy I was seeing -Free drinks every night at the bar across the street because the owner swore I was Serena Williams

That about covers all bases! Lol” –Gloria, The Blog Abroad

The possibility of extending your trip indefinitely. If you pick up enough paid gigs in between, you can keep on traveling forever. This especially works well if you pick up gigs, either officially or under the table, in high-paying countries like Australia.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The Pitfalls of Extreme Budget Travel

Reduced safety. If you don’t have funds allocated for accommodation or private transportation, what happens when none of the Couchsurfing hosts in town appeal to you? What happens if your bus is delayed, you show up in Tegucigalpa late at night, and you can’t afford a cab to your accommodation?

Not having money for instances like these sacrifices your safety.

“I would never want to absolutely rely on couchsurfing for the whole of my trip. I couchsurf where I can but when I can’t find a decent host I book a hostel. I think when you get too desperate to couchsurf you end up pushing the safety limit a bit and staying with dubious people.” –Britt, Adventure Lies in Front

Just how bad can the result be? Read this heartbreaking post by Trish on Free Candie.

Missing cool activities and social events. You meet a cool group of fellow travelers and they’re all going whitewater rafting. They want you to join — but you can’t do that. And sure, you can walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge if the $300 Bridgeclimb is out of your price range, but would you go to Leon, Nicaragua, and skip $30 volcano boarding? What about a $5 wine tasting in a Tuscan town? And even if it’s just a $4 hostel shuttle to the beach, which all your friends from the hostel are taking, you’re stuck on the much longer 25-cent local bus.

Less exposure to local cuisine. Yes, there’s fresh produce and markets and supermarkets can be their own adventure, but if you’re making pasta in the hostel every night, you’re missing out on one of the best parts of traveling — the food.

“As a student in EU having a long-term schengen visa on a third-world passport, I think I have hit the bottom after sleeping at airports, night buses, railway stations, common areas of hostels. taking pictures of food in local markets and then coming back to cook pasta in hostel kitchen :-(” –Anshul

No backup savings. In the event of an emergency — say, you need to fly home for the funeral of a dear friend — you don’t have the cash to do so. Most of the time, travel insurance will only reimburse you if it’s a member of your immediate family.

Isolation and discomfort. If you’re not comfortable in your accommodation, you have fewer options and may be far from the city center or tourist zone. If you’re limited with money, you can’t just pick up and leave — you might need to stick it out for at least a night.

“Ive couchsurfed once and they tried to convert me to their religion so i just left.” –Christipede

No alone time. If you’re a natural extrovert, this probably won’t be an issue, but traveling on the hobo requires you to socialize with lots of people on a daily basis, especially if you’re couchsurfing. If you’re an introvert, you’ll have difficulties carving out alone time to relax your mind. (Camping solo is one way around this, however.)

Mooching off others. Conversely, depending on others day after day can wear away at you. Sure, you can help cook and clean, or play music, and you know you’ll pay it back to other travelers someday, but you might get uncomfortable having strangers host and feed you for free on a regular basis.

“It’s funny. I’m open to going extremely low budget. As long as I can be self-reliant about it. Meaning I’d rather sleep (legally or semi-legally) on an abandoned beach or in a corner of a park than ask for someone’s couch. This is strange, I know, since the spirit of travel is tied so intrinsically into the good will of others. I guess I’d rather rely on others for their company (and their rum!) and then slip off to my tent for the night.” –Bring Limes

Resentment. Is this the trip you had in mind? Is this even the kind of trip you’d want? Wouldn’t you rather be in a nice hotel room, eating in restaurants, doing cool activities, and not having to work every now and then? After weeks of depriving yourself, over and over, you could end up feeling resentful. It might not be worth the savings.

“I feel like [extreme budget travel] would detract from the travel experience itself. If I was wrapped up in my head worrying about money and a budget the whole time it would take away from experiences. I certainly don’t travel luxuriously, but I choose to travel within my means without missing out on things.” –Megan, Forks and Footprints

Blue Night Shadows

A Lot of People Think They Can Do This

I’m an avid Redditor but don’t comment often. What makes me comments are posts like these:

“Me and my cousin are going on a trip in 2015 for 16 months around SE Asia. we plan on visiting 19 countries in that time: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri lanka, Tawain, Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan

We dont really know what months to go to the different countries and theres not much info online about it, so im asking you we kind of want summer all the time around. Also what places should we see in different countries? Im thinking that 12k USD will be enough for this trip? no including air fare, is that close to accurate?”

Oh God.

First of all, no, $12K will not be nearly enough. I really hope he meant $12K each, because even $24k for two would not be enough for a trip like that, especially with countries like Bhutan and Japan on the list. The only way it would be possible would be through extreme budget travel, and just the idea of traveling that way for 16 months makes me want to curl into a ball and hide.

I get emails all the time from travelers who want to travel as long and as much as possible, so they squish their budget down to the bare minimum. They tell me that yeah, they really want to see as much as possible, so they’re going to couchsurf and camp and they’ll be able to stretch their trip to as long as possible. I give them advice, wish them luck, tell them to buy travel insurance.

Some of them end up traveling this way — and have a fabulous, life-changing trip. Others end up miserable and return home much sooner than planned.

My worry about these travelers is that they won’t end up enjoying themselves on what should be the trip of a lifetime. I believe that far more people think they can handle long-term extreme budget travel than can actually handle this style of travel on a long-term basis.

It doesn’t help that traveling on the hobo is romanticized in popular culture, complete with scenes of waking up on a farm in Provence, harvesting olives all day, then having huge dinners with wine every night before hopping on a train to the next idyllic destination.

In short, it’s fun to travel on the hobo if you’re doing it for fun. It’s not so fun if you’re doing it because you can’t afford anything else.

Bike Lady in Ferrara

Special Concerns for Women Travelers

I feel like there needs to be an asterisk when talking about extreme budget travel as a woman. Just like there needs to be an asterisk with almost every kind of travel.

If you haven’t read Why Travel Safety Is Different For Women, please read it now.

In that piece, I talk about how women are attuned to the risk of sexual assault every minute of every day. It never leaves our minds, and each day we make dozens of micro-decisions for the sake of self-protection. For that reason, we need to be extra careful when it comes to extreme budget travel.

“extreme budget travel is a luxury that men can have I think. as a woman, I always need to have a little extra to get myself out of a bad guesthouse or take taxis rather than walk. I’m sure some women have managed it, but i wouldn’t feel safe on a low low budget. I usually budget $50/day with an extra $500/month of travel, although I rarely use it all. it gives me enough cushion to get a single room rather than share a dorm with just one man, etc.” –Lily

Camping alone or sleeping outside leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Staying in a sketchy guesthouse with a badly locking door leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Hitchhiking with strangers leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Taking public transportation in a rough city at night leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Accepting food and drinks prepared by Couchsurfing hosts leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

That doesn’t mean that women can’t do extreme budget travel — I know women who do it and love it. I know that some take extra precautions, like carrying pepper spray and a knife. And even then, many of them have done so safely; most of them have only had a few scary but ultimately non-dangerous incidents, like I have.

But it doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t there. You need to evaluate that risk closely.

Kyoto Apartment

It’s Not For Everyone

If you want to try out extreme budget travel and you think you would enjoy it, go for it! I’m happy for people to travel in any way they’d like, as long as it’s not harmful to others.

There are plenty of people for whom extreme budget travel is a great choice. And they’re a surprisingly diverse group of people.

My issue with it is that I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to live this way on a long-term basis. In short, it’s not for as many people who think it’s for them. So many people attempt it, burn out, and leave their trip with regrets.

Costa Brava Mountains

Short-Term Extreme Budget Travel

What if you only did the extreme budget travel thing for a shorter time? Say, for a two-week trip or just for a month or two out of a yearlong RTW trip? What if you just did it when you traveled in Australia and went back to spending more money in Southeast Asia?

I think that’s actually a very smart idea. This way, you get to try it out, reduce costs in the most expensive destinations, and see if you are interested in doing it long-term.

“I don’t mind dorms for cheap travel, although a few weeks is the max I could do that without at least a few nights in a private. I’m planning to couch surf and WWOOFing a lot in Japan, since I want to go for a while without spending thousands and thousands. I can’t live on that low though- it’s boring to only have enough to eat and stay in the hostel!” –Alexandria

Marigolds in Pienza

How to Maintain Your Sanity While Traveling on the Hobo

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Walking a mile out of the way for loaves of bread that cost 20 cents less is the definition of insanity. Instead, reduce your big expenses like accommodation and transportation, or stick to cheap countries.

Travel slower. Spending more time in fewer destinations will majorly cut down your costs. When you spend longer in a destination, you’ll get to know the cheaper places, you’ll spend less time sightseeing, and your transportation costs will be lower.

Stick to cheaper regions — not just cheaper countries. Most people consider Thailand a cheap country but don’t take into account that the beach resorts in the south are MUCH more expensive than the rest of the country. Stick to rural, less-visited areas for lower costs. In Thailand, you’ll find the cheapest prices in the north.

Set up a separate bank account for splurges. Use it for special activities like seeing Angkor Wat, getting scuba certified, or having a restaurant meal in a fabulous food region.

Plan on getting private accommodation every few weeks or so. Just a few days in a room to yourself will make you feel so much better, especially if you’re an introvert.

Have a re-entry fund saved up and don’t touch it. This is money to cushion your return home. How much do you need? Depends on your situation. Some people like to have enough to secure a new apartment and pay for a few months of frugal expenses; others just need a thousand dollars or so. The choice is yours.

Don’t scrimp on travel insurance. Even if you’re committed to spending as little as possible, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you weigh your health against saving money. Not to mention that it will save your ass financially in the event that you get severely injured and need an air ambulance to another country. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Leaving the Generalife

One Last Tip: Check Your Privilege

When you’ve been traveling on the hobo for awhile, there will be dark days. You’ll be down to your last few dollars and unable to eat anything but rice and pasta. You’ll be tired. You’ll be lonely. You’ll be treading water and you won’t know when you’ll earn enough to leave town.

This happens to all travelers. We all go through tough times, but extreme budget travelers are additionally vulnerable because of their lack of money.

Even when you’re at your lowest, it’s important to remember that you hold enormous privilege. You’re living this lifestyle by choice, and you’ve experienced far more than the vast majority of the world will ever be able to.

Don’t refer to yourself as poor. Don’t take food donations meant for the needy. And for the love of God, don’t compare yourself to the homeless.

Instead, practice gratitude each day. Be kind. Use what you’ve learned to create a better life for everyone you meet, both on the road and at home.

And if you choose to settle down for some time — whether it’s just for a few weeks or something more permanent — open up your home to vagabonds like yourself. Feed them, give them a place to sleep, show them your favorite spots in town. It’s time to repay the kindness that you’ve been gifted on your journey.

Have you ever tried extreme budget travel? Did you enjoy it?The truth about extreme budget travel

Hello, 2017. You’re a sight for sore eyes.

You’re also, so far, a bit of a mystery. Since I started this blog, I’ve never kicked off a year with less travel on my plate. In a way, it’s thrilling — anything can happen! — and in another it’s a little scary. Can I really let a year pass by without ticking one of my dream trips off my list? For someone who often can’t fall asleep at night because they are so consumed by all the places in the world they still have yet to see, it’s kinda of a panic-inducing thought.

Travel Plans 2017

And yet I find myself quite content, settled back in Koh Tao with a bright and cheery little apartment, a faithful little motorbike and unpacked bag nestled in the corner of my closet. As I do weigh up options for the year, I’m torn as always between revisiting old favorites (oh hello, island I’ve been returning to for seven years and currently living on again) and big bucket list dream trips (oh hey there, diving in Mozambique, which I daydream about constantly yet have no plans to actually make a reality).

Anyway, last year’s post outlining my 2016 travels was fairly accurate — it will be fun to see how this one fares!

January-May // Asia

I state this with a pretty inordinate amount of pride for someone who makes a living as a travel blogger, but at the moment literally only like 14 out of the first 120 days of 2017 will be spent not in my bed here on Koh Tao. I need this for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being I am so backlogged on content here on Alex in Wanderland. I just need to lock myself away and furiously type until I’m caught up writing on all my trips! I’ve already nixed two opportunities to travel to new countries in the first quarter of this year, with this being one of my primary reasons.

So what will I be getting up to?

In January, I will spend just three nights off Koh Tao — a quick trip to Bangkok to see my sister off. (In fact, I’ve already come and gone!) I actually wasn’t planning to leave the island at all as I really just got here in December, but alas, I can’t say no to Olivia — nor can I turn down a weekend in one of my favorite cities in the world. In fact, what started as a fun fantasy over the years solidified on this quick jaunt into a very strong determination to rent an apartment in Bangkok for a month or two someday, and see what it’s like to experience one of my favorite places for longer than just a few days at a time. Maybe in the fall that will come to fruition.

Bangkok

I have some pretty exciting plans at home for the rest of the month, though, like a week-long aerial silks workshop with Flying Trapeze Adventures and all my favorite shows re-starting after their winter hiatuses (don’t judge).

In February, I’ll be taking my “big trip” of this Southeast Asia stretch. First, I’m cobbling together a big crew to take to Wonderfruit, a festival in the Pattaya countryside that I couldn’t be more excited about attending. Between the fanciful stages hosting musicians from around the world, the wonderfeasts by some of Thailand’s top chefs, and the workshops on everything from yoga to living a plastic-free life, I’m not even sure which aspect I’m looking forward to the most.

Wonderfruit(source)

After the festival, Ian and I are off to Penang, Malaysia — Ian has to go to process his Thai work permit, and I’m tagging along for fun (and to reactivate my own visa.) I’ve never been to Penang other than in transit and look forward to exploring the city of Georgetown and hiking in Penang National Park. I’m still fairly bitter that the direct flight to Penang from Koh Samui has been discontinued, but alas, I still want to go. Who knows, we might even tack on a few days in Bangkok in-between!

Penang(source 12, and 3)

In March, I currently have no plans to leave Koh Tao. Gasp! Now that you all convinced me to get PRK surgery I am considering blocking off a week to go to Bangkok and do it then, but I also might also put it off until the fall. Back on Koh Tao, there’s going to be a big new festival that I’m pretty excited about (if you haven’t sensed a theme for the year yet, you will soon!)

In April, I’ll pop over to Koh Samui for a few days to meet a friend and possibly attend Paradise Island Festival. Otherwise I’ll be on Koh Tao enjoying Songkran, Easter, and my last long stretch of stillness for a while.

In May, I have a one last little trip in the works before catching my flight to the US for the summer. It’s all in pencil now but it involves a river cruise, showing Ian around one of my favorite Thai cities, and (duh) more Bangkok. Fingers crossed it all works out!

Ayutthaya(source 12, and 3)

May-August // USA

I’ve fallen into a pattern of spending more and more time back in the US every year, however I have to be frank — our current political climate makes me want to spend less time there than ever before. I’m not being defiant or trying to make a statement. It’s just that my heart literally sinks out of my chest every time I think about home, and unless that starts to fade I don’t know how many consecutive months I can walk around with that heaviness. I’ve never felt more disconnected from the place that made me. I’m adrift. Here’s hoping some peace and clarity find me in this department in 2017.

That said, I have three confirmed weddings and one other up in the air, one confirmed festival and a few others on the back burner (wink wink, fellow playa fans!), and lots of family and friends I love dearly and need to catch up with, regardless of what else is happening around us. Here’s a peek:

In May, I’m flying to Florida for the wedding of one of one of my closest high school crew in Sarasota. I’ll also be visiting my girl Angie in Jacksonville, heading to Orlando for a bachelorette weekend I’m planning at Universal Orlando, and hanging with my two favorite aunts in Tampa. I’m obsessed with Florida and would be thrilled if time allowed for me to dip over to Miami to see my cousin Eric, do some diving, or maybe even take that road trip down to Key West I’ve been dreaming of… but allegedly there are only thirty days in this particular month, so we will have to see how flexible the time space continuum ends up being.

Florida(source 12, and 3)

In June, I’m going back to Bonnaroo. Even better? I’m bringing my mom and her boyfriend Miller! The two of them hit it off big time with blogger bestie Kristin this past summer, and we all vowed this would be our year for fulfilling Miller’s dream of making it to ‘Roo. A festival as a family affair? I can’t wait to try it.

In July, I’m going to Maine! This is actually the only new state and/or country I currently have on the docket for the year, which is kind of crazy pants. Another one of my dearest friends from high school is getting hitched in Harpswell, and I’m pining to turn it into an excuse for a full-blown road trip. At an absolute minimum I want to spend a few days in Portland and check out Kennebunkport — and if the calendar shakes out enough days for me, I’ll venture north to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, too!

Maine(source 1, 2, and 3)

In August, I’ll head to Chicago for my cousin Kirsten’s wedding (congratulations to the beautiful bride-to-be!).

Aside from those anchors, the summer is still fuzzy. Here are some maybes: I might be sticking around post-Bonnaroo for a bachelorette party in Nashville. I will most likely be in Martha’s Vineyard the first week of July for family time — and I’m also considering popping over to Nantucket for the Nantucket Yoga Festival! I may have another family wedding in Illinois before the year is out.

And then there’s Nevada. I may return to the playa — Burning Man is still very much on my radar. I may put into action the Nevada road trip I’ve had percolating for the last year or two (I need to see Britney’s revamped show, visit the Seven Magic Mountains art installation and camp in Valley of Fire National Park, stat) so if those came together it would be pretty perfect.

Nevada(source 12, and 3)

Also, some big changes are heading my way and while I’m not ready to discuss them publicly just yet, I might be popping down to Central America for a bit over the summer to let them percolate in private first. More details coming your way soon.

September-December // And beyond…

Nine months down the line is simply too far to predict with too much accuracy where I’ll be. This time last year, I could have never guessed I’d spend these months in the United Kingdom, Hawaii and Jamaica (content coming soon!)

In the last month, as I started to feel the pressure of writing this post and having basically nothing on the horizon — a lot of the above has come together in the last thirty days! — I started to think more about really prioritizing my dream trips rather than just waiting and seeing what the universe throws at me or what’s convenient, as I have fallen into a habit of doing. In fact, I recently started working on actually putting pen to paper and writing a comprehensive travel bucket list, which I may turn into a blog post soon.

So in that spirit, here is a sampling of some of my dream trips that feel feasible for 2017, which I may work on slotting in somewhere from June onward, en route back to my winter basecamp of Thailand.

• Uruguay: I just really want to go here. I don’t know why. I feel like Uruguay is usually an afterthought tacked on to trips to Argentina or Brazil but I’m completely captivated by this little country. Maybe it’s my obsession with tiny nations, maybe it’s my love for their famously humble ex-president, maybe I just like beaches and wine and yoga. Bonus! This would be a new country for me. However, Uruguay’s beach cities and towns have a fairly tiny window of action in December-March, and since I’m in Asia through May this would have to be a December trip.

Uruguay(source 12, and 3)

• Burma, Borneo and/or Brunei: It’s now been eight years since I first began traveling to Southeast Asia, and I regularly marvel that there is still so much I have yet to see. Including both the countries of Burma and Brunei (I still have Timor Leste still to visit as well, but I’m shelving that one for the moment) and the Malaysian state of Borneo. Eventually visiting every country in this region is important to me, and so I hope that either a trip to Burma or a joint trip to Borneo and Brunei is in order for late 2017.

• Jamaica:  I’ve had a Jamaica road trip on the noggin for a while now. My surprise trip here at the end of 2016 (more on that coming soon!) only made taking a big one feel more urgent. I want to rent a car, hit the open road, and explore the raw, soulful side of this island nation in a way that few get the opportunity to do. Unlike Uruguay, Jamaica is a place I’d be thrilled to travel in the low season, and so summer or fall might be the perfect fit.

Jamaica(source 12, and 3)

• Mexico: There’s a glaring un-scratched swath on my scratch-off travel map, and it’s Mexico. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to wait and really do justice to, but I’m starting to think I just need to start somewhere and dive in there and get hooked so I can keep coming back over and over again. It’s hardly unchartered territory, but The Yucatan Peninsula is calling me pretty loudly. Whale sharks of Holbox… here I come! And yup, this would be another new country to add to the list.

3-devide-lines

I have a lot of other dream trips rambling around in my mind — CONTINENT OF AFRICA HI I WANT TO BE IN YOU — but these are the ones that I feel I could realistically tackle right now given my current energy levels and priorities and desires, though clearly, a lot can happen in a year. I think I kind of need a lower-key year in order to get my house in order — lol JK I don’t have a house but it’s a thing people say right? — and get really whipped up into a travel frenzy again for some wild adventures in the future.

When I first began this post I fretted that you all might think it a bit boring. Now that I’ve put it together, I couldn’t be more excited about the year ahead! Festivals, weddings, and so many favorite old places to fall even further in love with.

Love 2017

Okay so now that I’ve dished… what are your travel plans for 2017? Which of these trips are you most excited to virtually come along on?

Looking forward to talking all things travel in the comments!

35 of the world’s best places to travel in 2017

       

With so much negativity in the media, the world is often portrayed as risky, dangerous. And yet as travelers we learn the same lesson over and over: Preconceived notions of places and cultures are almost always wrong.

The world is, in fact, safer, more hospitable, more open and accepting than non-travelers could ever imagine. If only people everywhere could realize that on the opposite side of the globe are people not so different, so foreign, as they might believe.

Let’s make 2017 the year of traveling fearlessly. These places are just starting points. The next step is taking action. We hope to see you on the road.

       

1. Jordan

 

1. Jordan

Completely safe oasis isolated from the instability of the region

Jordan is a place of supernatural beauty. Imagine Yosemite as a desert with super luxury tented camps. That’s a bit how Wadi Rum feels. And Petra is so ancient you could use the Bible as your guidebook rather than a Lonely Planet. Beyond these obvious destinations, there’s also Al Salt, Jarash, and Amman. Travel here with an open mind, and get ready for and a hospitality that will blow away any expectations. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

2. Los Angeles

 

2. Los Angeles

Epicenter of Southern California with quick access to nature

LA has it all. The food options, historic sites, and outdoor access are enough to make you forget the 45-minute drives it takes to reach them. Your best bet (as always) is to hook up with locals (try travelstoke if you don’t know anyone there), and plan your travels around different neighborhoods. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

3. Yucatán Peninsula

 

3. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

No-worries area of Mexico with luxury haciendas in the middle of the jungle

Beyond Chichen Itzá are other lesser known Mayan ruins worth exploring throughout the region, along with the cenotes, as well as world-class diving (the world’s second largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef, is on the Carribean side of Mexico) and beaches. Of special note is Rosas y Chocolate, one of the top urban hotels in all of Mexico, pictured above.

       

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

 

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

Above the Arctic Circle, and almost like dropping off the map

Sisimiut is the second-largest town in Greenland. 5,500 people live on a tiny, rocky promontory just north of the Arctic Circle. If you are lucky enough to travel to Greenland, your goal should be connecting with locals and getting invited to a kaffemik. These are celebrations such as birthdays or weddings, and guests may can come anytime you want and leave whenever they feel like it. Photo by Greenland Travel.

       

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

 

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

The overlooked part of Patagonia, with stunning marine wildlife

The stark, windswept, and seldom-visited Atlantic coast of Patagonia has intense concentrations of wildlife with its epicenter at Peninsula Valdes. Each year between June and December is the Southern Right Whale migration. Throughout the year are other wildlife viewing possibilities, including Magellanic penguins, and elephant seals. Awesome family adventure. Image: Matiasso

       

6. Hamburg

 

6. Hamburg, Germany

Harbor city unlike anywhere else in Germany

Hamburg is more fish than sausage and more tea than beer. It’s home to one of Germany’s oldest red-light district, the Reeperbahn, where many musicians, like the Beatles, got their start. Explore the Speicherstadt, attend the Hamburger Dom, or check out a Sankt Pauli soccer game; Hamburg’s notoriously rowdy soccer team. Image: Nick Sheerbart

       

7. Faroe Islands

 

7. Faroe Islands

Otherworldly North Atlantic escape

Off in the North Atlantic somewhere between Iceland and Norway, this group of 18 islands is like a dream world: dramatic sea stacks, well-trodden hiking trails, and cosmopolitan small cities with great food scenes. The country has incredible infrastructure with most islands connected by bridge or undersea tunnel. For those islands not connected by road, there are fast ferries and subsidized helicopter transport. Photo by Stefan Klopp.

       

8. Auckland

 

8. Auckland, New Zealand

Ultimate urban backpacker hub for exploring wilderness and beaches

Auckland is one of the largest cities by land area in the world, with plenty of natural reserves, surf spots, and Maori cultural experiences throughout and surrounding the city. There’s also a great cafe culture. It’s a perfect base for exploring both coasts of NZ’s North Island. Photo by Rulo Luna.

       

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

 

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

Surf, yoga, and natural foods paradise within easy reach

Out of all the places in Costa Rica that should’ve gotten overrun with mass tourism, Dominical has been spared. It remains a small, uncrowded town with a super cool expat scene and awesome restaurants. There are exceptional AirBnb properties overlooking nearby Domincalito (as well as in town). For surfing, Dominical is almost never flat. Photo: Blaze Nowara.

       

10.Montreal

 

10. Montreal, Canada

Multicultural city with world-class paddling options and nightlife

2017 marks Montreal’s 375th anniversary, and the city plans to celebrate all year. Join in for a big party and some birthday cake on May 17, the official date that the city was founded on. Culturally diverse Montreal will also welcome you with free festivals, concerts, cultural activities, exhibitions, foodie events, tastings, tours, and theatrical performances. Photo: Michael Vesia.

       

11. Portmagee, Ireland

 

11. Portmagee, Ireland

Coastal Irish village with access to ancient sites

Portmagee is both a rad little village on its own, and the departure point for Skellig Michael. Take a ferry there, hang with puffins and dolphins all day, enjoy seafood caught steps away at the family owned Moorings Guesthouse while listening to traditional Irish song and dance and lulled to sleep by the ocean. Photo by Tony Webster.

       

12. Belfast, Maine

 

12. Belfast, Maine

Scenic seaport on Penobscot Bay, loaded with architectural treasures and historic districts

Belfast is known for welcoming the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s. It gets a lot of credit for the craft beers of Marshall Wharf, Delvino’s authentic Italian food, served in an old hardware store, and the many local farmers who’ve taken the torch from those revolutionary back-to-the-landers and are fueling the city’s sustainable food movement. Photo by Bruce C. Cooper.

       

13. Havana

 

13. Havana, Cuba

Rapidly transitioning nation grounded in Caribbean culture and vibrancy

 

Cuba has been among the hottest places to travel for our staff at Matador, with reports always containing two elements: 1. People have more fun there than anywhere else they’ve been in years, and 2. The wifi is the worst they’ve found anywhere (Correlation anyone?). On a recent filmmaking journey, it was noted: “Everyone here has rocking chairs. This is place where people know how to chill.”

       

14. New York City

 

14. New York City

An energy unrivaled anywhere in the world

With so many things to do and places to see, NYC can be quite disorienting for a first-time visitor, which you should just accept as part of the experience. The quintessential walking city, stroll the Highline, Brooklyn bridge, and Riverside Park. Photo by Jaden D.

       

15. Franklin, Tennessee

 

15. Franklin, Tennessee

Classic small town southern vibes and beautiful watershed

A short drive from Nashville, Franklin has a great small town vibe with their Main Street as the site of numerous festivals and the Harpeth River (and connected trails) flowing right through town. The upcoming September Pilgrimage Festival will be in its 3rd year, and with Justin Timberlake as producer, it is going to be awesome.

       

16. Durango

 

16. Durango, Colorado

Outdoor adventure hub in a region dotted with storybook towns

Durango is one of the raddest towns in the US with the powerful, free-flowing Animas River running deep through the San Juan Mountains and right through the city. World class ski resort + backcountry adventures via kayaks, skis/snowboard, and great events from Snowdown in January to the La Plata County Fair in August. Photo by Avery Woodard.

       

17. Abu Dhabi

 

17. Abu Dhabi, UAE

One of the best places in the world to experience Islamic culture

Abu Dhabi is a desert emirate, dotted with oasis towns, date farms, historic forts, natural reserves, mangroves, and dunes that have lured explorers throughout history. As one of the largest mosques on the planet, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque receives pilgrims from all over the world during Eid celebrations. Outside of prayer times, it’s also open to non-Muslims and has free guided tours.

       

18. Seattle

 

18. Seattle

All in one foodie, art, music, and outdoor adventure destination

Seattle has been blowing up for the last two decades and continues to be one of the most interesting cultural centers in the US. But beyond the city itself, Seattle is special for its geography. Simply jump on a ferry for a day trip to the San Juan Islands or over to the Olympic Peninsula and you’re deep in coastal rainforests and mountain ranges–another world. Photo by Vincent Lock.

       

19. Sicily

 

19. Sicily, Italy

The Mediterranean’s largest island, rich in archeological sites and culture

Sicily has retained a strong sense of identity, and nowhere is it more enmeshed with the rich history than in the ancient walled neighborhood of Ortigia, in Siracusa. The high stone buildings and cobblestone streets give the sense of stepping back in time. Make sure to also hit up Mt. Etna (Europe’s tallest active volcano), Cefalù, and Taormina. Actually, just go everywhere. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

20. Varanasi

 

20. Varanasi, India

The cultural center of North India

According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva. The city is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. It is also a city surrounded by death. The biggest tourist attraction here is to witness the cremations that take place along the banks of the Ganges. Varanasi is Photo: Arushi Saini Photography.

       

21. St. Petersburg

 

21. St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia’s cultural capital

The historic districts of St. Petersburg comprise a UNESCO world heritage site, and the Hermitage is among the top museums in the world. Bar hop along the trendy Ruben Street and wander the massive Nevsky Prospekt main drag. Lastly, as Russia prepares to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, St. Petersburg will serve as the backdrop for the 2017 Confederations Cup Final. Photo by Victor Bergmann.

       

22. Quebec City

 

22. Quebec City, Canada

While Canada is 150 years old in 2017, Quebec City dates back to 1608 and is like nowhere else in North America. The fortifications and French colonial stone buildings of the Old Town make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Photo by Julien Samson.

       

23. Charleston

 

23. Charleston, South Carolina

One of the most fun party weekends in the US

Take your time here in the Lowcountry. Have a meal at Hominy Grill, a sailboat ride up around Fort Sumter, spend an evening being touristy on King Street, and definitely take the short ride to Folly Beach. Sipping beers and eating seafood at Red’s Ice House overlooking the fishing boats on Shem Creek isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon either. Photo by North Charleston.

       

24. Montreux

 

24. Montreux, Switzerland

The French Swiss city, surrounded by vineyards and towering alps

Belle Époque buildings overlook a long promenade along Lake Geneva, making Montreux one of the most picturesque places in the world. Every July is the Montreux Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 50th year in 2016. Photo by Karim Kanoun Photography.

       

25. Óbidos, Portugal

 

25. Óbidos, Portugal

Portugal’s scenic literary powerhouse near world class-surf

Once you’ve walked the 13th century streets, filled your bag with books and your stomach with bacalhau and vinho verde, you can drive 45 minutes to Lisbon or explore the area around Óbidos. Peniche, a surf paradise, is 25km away, and there’s a natural park (Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiro) also nearby. Photo by lagrossemadame.

       

26. Pokhara, Nepal

 

26. Pokhara, Nepal

Nepal’s relaxing, fresh, and super close-to-nature second city

Nepal’s second city doesn’t rival the capital Kathmandu in many respects but it’s the hands-down winner for a relaxed vibe and adventure access. The hilltop viewpoint of Sarangkot is one of the best places in the world for paragliding; there are kilometers of trails just around Fewa Lake, and if you’re out of energy, Pokhara is an ideal place to chill out. Photo: Aalok dhakal.

       

27. Cabo San Lucas

 

27. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Works all ways: place to get waves, have family fun, or as a romantic getaway

Most people associate Cabo with spring break, tequila, and loud music. The scene has changed over the last few years, with the main attractions being nature wildlife, and classy upscale resorts. Photo: Ben Horton.

       

28. Nelson, Canada

 

28. Nelson, Canada

The friendliest little ski town in British Columbia

Nelson’s history includes the settlement of the pacifist Doukhobors from Russia as well as Vietnam draft dodgers, which played no small part in its progressive values and “hippie vibes.” Nelson has a thriving music, arts, and cultural scene, and a surprising amount of cafes, bars, restaurants and locally-owned shops for a city of only 10,000 people. Photo: Carlo Alcos.

       

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

 

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

The “Brazilian Caribbean” hidden in the Amazon jungle

This is the perfect place to explore the Amazon rainforest. You can go on day trips to see sloths, river dolphins, and other animals, and you can taste exotic fruits and food only found here there. If you go during the rainy season, Altér do Chão is super quiet, with a hippie-ish vibe. Photo by lubasi.

       

30. George Town, Malaysia

 

30. George Town, Malaysia

A mind-blowing combination of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures

Spice, herb, and fresh produce stands between colonial architecture and street art offers a sensational experience with the chatter of diverse languages, like being a walk away from India and China. Photo by Ah Wei (Lung Wei).

       

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

 

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

A relaxed introduction for newcomers to Asia

IN TRAVELER CIRCLES, THERE ARE a couple of accepted truths about the Muslim world. The first is that the people don’t hate Americans and westerners. Piia Mustamäki, one of our Finnish writers, writes that Iran is a great and hospitable place to travel, even as a solo woman traveler. British writer Will Hatton loves Iran, too: he met his wife there — on Tinder, of all places. Writer Shawn Sippin found that even Egypt, post revolution, was a fun place to visit with hospitable people. Photographer Jeremy Ullman says, “I feel safer in Amman than I often do in London.”

The second accepted truth is that, if you listen to the media, you could be forgiven to think that Muslim countries are extraordinarily dangerous, especially for westerners. But this, for the most part, is not true — there are, of course, places like Syria and Somalia, where you should not be traveling right now. But most of the Muslim world is safe.

In light of the recent events targeting Muslims here in the west, we’ve dug into our Travelstoke archives. The Muslim world is — like the rest of the world — a beautiful place full of beautiful people. It stretches from Oceania through Asia, across the North of Africa, and into Europe, and cannot be painted simply in broad strokes. It is as diverse as the Christian world, with about as many people. Don’t believe the hype.

Jordan

 Petra by NightPetra District, JordanPetra

 Amman CitadelAmman, JordanAmazing city views up here! Loved hearing the call to prayer while the sun went down. #myjordanjourney

 Ajloun CastleAjloun, JordanReally cool castle overlooking the city and some beatiful rolling hills.

Turkey

 CappadociaGöreme Belediyesi, TurkeyParallel universe

United Arab Emirates

 MesquitaAbu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesAbu Dhabi

 Burj Al Arab JumeirahDubai, United Arab EmiratesSunset over the famous Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. 💰

Iran

 Zoroastrian Towers of SilenceYazd, Iran#Zoroastrian #dakhma or Tower of Silence on the outskirts of #Yazd in #Iran. Believing a dead body was unclean and would pollute the soil, the Zoroastrians placed bodies at the top of this tower and exposed to the sun and vultures instead of being buried in the ground.

Egypt

 The Great Pyramid at GizaNazlet El-Semman, EgyptThe most surprising thing about the Great pyramids of Giza is how close they are to Cairo. You can actually see them while driving in the city. The second thing you notice is how small they are compared to your childhood imagination. But still, they are amazing. Whether it was alien laserbeams that created those things or the hands of lowly slaves, it is an impressive feat. Be careful of the locals, they will try to rip you off or rob you. Also be careful of the swirling mini sand-nado’s. If it gets in your eyes you will lose precious viewing time 🙈 ain’t no body got time for that!  Also head to the Sphinx statue nearby, find the best view from the bathroom of KFC! #sandy #wonderoftheworld #ancienthistory #egyptians #architecture #amazing #statue #history

Pakistan

 Mazino Base Camp, nullGreat please for spend time

Kyrgyzstan

 Alp-Lager Ala ArchaAlamudun, Kyrgyzstan#hiking #outdoors #Kyrgyzstan #bishkek #mountains

Indonesia

 Dusun BambuCihanjuang Rahayu, IndonesiaWonderful nature

 Teluk KiluanKiluan Negeri, IndonesiaKiluan #bay is the #cheapest place you can see a #dolpin . #extreme experience used small wooden boat go to #sea to watching #dolphins . #scary also #exciting #experience .

 Sewu TempleBoko Harjo, IndonesiaWithin the Prambanan temple compound. Eerily captivating, and has a very ancient spiritual feel here. Take a break away from the Prambanan crowd, and walk over here for some peaceful moments especially in the late afternoon sun, before ending your visit. #history #temple

Malaysia

 Perdana Botanical GardensKuala Lumpur, MalaysiaPetrona Towers, impressive skyscraper.

 Batu CavesBatu Caves, MalaysiaBatu Caves in Malaysia, climb 272 steps. You can go in and see the temple and on your way down make sure you go on a tour into the Dark Cave is quite and experience. #cave #temple #malaysia

Albania

 Divjaka Resort, AlbaniaOne way

Bosnia and Herzegovina

 Old BridgeMostar, Bosnia and HerzegovinaMeander around the narrow cobbled streets with an ice cream and browse the arts and crafts, or take to the shade under the trees at one of the many cafes nestled on the river banks. Marvel at the charm and character of what was a war zone in the early 90s…

Morocco

 Ait BenhaddouProvince d’El Hajeb, MoroccoOne of the coolest ancient Arabic cities in the world. Was a stopping spot for the caravans coming out of the Sahara on their way to Marrakech. Also where the Gladiator, Game of Thrones and countless other movies were filmed.

 Hassan II MosqueCasablanca, Moroccowhen in Casablanca, a visit to this impressive place of worship is a definite

 MedinaAsilah, MoroccoGreece or Morocco?

Gambia

 Leybato’s Hotel & RestaurantSerrekunda, GambiaA good place to relax for some days. Great view & nice people. #free-wifi

More like this: Why westerners should travel to Muslim countries
Remote CEO

Photo: Tranmautritam

I’m the kind of person who believes in the magical life-enhancing properties of travel. Whether it’s for business or pleasure (the two, as far as I’m concerned, aren’t mutually exclusive anyway, but that’s a whole other story), traveling encourages the movement of ideas and helps us all see the world from new perspectives. That mission — spreading ideas and innovation beyond borders — is what I’m working on with Jobbatical, the global hiring platform I co-founded a bit more than two years ago.

My most hardcore travel extravaganza of recent years — or perhaps of all time )) happened in September 2016, when over a one-month period my travel trajectory went like this: Estonia-Singapore-Malaysia-Singapore-Malaysia-Australia-Malaysia-Japan-Malaysia-Singapore-Estonia. What looks like a serious accident with a typewriter is, in fact, just par for the course when you’re the founder of a startup with global reach.

My most recent absence from the Jobbatical office was also precisely one month long. Enough time, apparently, for my desk to be reassigned to a new team member. Now I’m a digital nomad in my own office, with no desk to call home. It’s a small price to pay for the privilege of getting to see so much of the world — and there are plenty of comfy beanbags to choose from (as required by startup law), so my loss isn’t that great.

Over the course of that fateful month, I did my work from the USA, Costa Rica, Panama, and the USA again. For me, working on the go is the new normal. We humans tend to get used to situations pretty easily if they repeat often enough. As soon as I open my computer or my smartphone, it’s like I’m entering my office virtually. In many ways, it doesn’t feel that different from being in the same room with the rest of the team.

In reality, of course, working remotely requires a different structure of communication and I’m still learning how to be present for the team even when I’m on the other side of the planet. Our team as a whole has learned countless lessons over the past year. Getting a constantly growing startup team to work as a unit when people are distributed all across the globe has been the learning experience of a lifetime. Managing expectations, wrangling time zones, and keeping communication flowing freely — all the while remembering that people are just people, wherever they are )) is a balancing act for all of us. With the use of tools like Slack, Asana, Timetastic, and the art of common sense, I think we’re getting close to uncovering the secrets of efficient remote work.

To stay connected while I’m away, I like to carry my team in my pocket (in smartphone form) and share snippets of my travel experiences. In Costa Rica, while I was interviewing a senior sales candidate for Jobbatical via video call, I suddenly spotted a huge iguana. I cut our discussion off, ran to the iguana and showed my interviewee the tiny monster via our video call. Team Jobbatical knows me well enough not to be surprised when this sort of thing happens. They’ve all seen footage of me being chased by monkeys on a morning run in Malaysia. In the same vein, my regular announcements of “I almost missed my flight because this crazy thing happened” don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. But the candidate was rendered quite speechless by my little adventure with the iguana.

I’m not afraid to declare that I love the world and its creatures in all their weirdness, and I believe that sharing such moments of genuine emotion helps shape a culture of openness. And beyond that, it’s just fun!

It’s not just the work aspect of remote work that can be challenging. I myself am lucky enough to be highly adaptable to time differences, and my 4-year-old is also already a master of traveling, having accompanied me on so many of these trips. My personal struggle is the fact that I have Restless Legs Syndrome, which becomes quite torturous on long flights. That’s one reason I’m crazy about collecting frequent flyer miles and bargaining possible upgrades to Business Class (for the bed). Another thing I’ve found is it is essential to be well prepared for in frequent flying are the effects it has on your skin. On long flights, I always have to wear the most moisturizing face masks, even if it means my fellow passengers see me as the lady with the scary face for the rest of the flight.

On balance, it’s obvious that these are minor inconveniences. What’s a patch of dry skin compared to the extraordinary privilege of being able to build and lead a startup team from the lush jungles of Costa Rica? What could be more rewarding and eye-opening than meeting clients from NYC to Singapore, hearing their stories, and working with them to build a more open world? Restless legs or not, I can’t think of anything I would rather do with my life. More like this: How are the digital nomads changing the World's cities

HERE ARE 35 places around the world to strap on your GoPro, do some underwater exploring, and come back with amazingly clear imagery.

1

Linapacan Island, Palawan, Philippines

MatadorU Photography faculty member Scott Sporleder shares this image from Palawan, the Philippines' most remote province and home to many beaches with super clear water.Photo: Scott Sporleder

2

The Maldives

The 26 atolls that make up the Maldives sit in the Indian Ocean about 400km southwest of the tip of the subcontinent. Abundant reef wildlife (including whale sharks) + incredibly clear waters bring in a lot of tourists. It's also one of Matador's 9 places to experience now before they literally vanish.Photo: Rishwan (Richy)

3

Dog Island, San Blas, Panama

Another from Scott Sporleder, here is a shot from one of Panama's San Blas Islands, the largest of the politically autonomous reservations of the Kuna Indians.Photo: Scott Sporleder

Intermission 181

35 places to swim in the world’s clearest water

by Hal Amen

25 places we’re dying to explore right now

by Matador Team
35

How to: Independently trek Nepal’s Annapurna sanctuary

by Matt Huntington
4

Cayo Coco, Cuba

A resort island on Cuba's north coast, Cayo Coco is linked to the mainland by a 27km causeway. The adjacent reef and clear waters have earned international recognition as a dive destination.Photo: O.Taillon

5

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca, Spain

At the south end of the Mediterranean island of Menorca, the beach at Cala Macarelleta can only be reached on foot or by boat -- probably one of the least-crowded beaches you'll find in Spain.Photo: visualpanic

6

Sua Trench, Samoa

We sent MatadorU student Abhimanyu Sabnis on a photojournalism assignment to Samoa. He came back with this insane gallery.Photo: Abhimanyu Sabnis

7

Crater Lake, Oregon

Visibility in Crater Lake has been measured at 43.3m -- among the highest in the world. Photographer Rhett Lawrence adds this note about swimming here: "[It's] allowed, but there's only one access point down to the lake -- a steep, mile-long trail (it's easy enough on the way down, but my then-4-year-old daughter did not appreciate the climb back up). Since that's the only access point, you've got to really want to jump in the lake to do it -- especially since it's so damn cold -- but it is permitted by the Park Service."Photo: Grant Montgomery

8

Bak Bak Beach, Borneo

A shot from the northern tip of Sabah, Malaysia, near Kudat Town. From the photographer: "It takes 3 to 3 1/2 hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu city. I wanted to shoot a longer exposure but I had a difficulty judging the light or maybe because I was lazy ? kidding. I had to go further the beach, thigh deep and very clear water. Stacked 2 Cokin GND filter P121s, manual exposure 0.25sec, F13."Photo: Nora Carol

9

Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan, China

In the north of Sichuan province, the Jiuzhaigou Valley is a national park, nature reserve, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to several crystal-clear lakes, it's a region of multi-tiered waterfalls and snowy mountains. Tourism arrived late but is growing strong, and while swimming isn't allowed...there's always night-time skinny dipping.Photo: Who is taking pictures?

Intermission 445

10 volunteer opportunities for free travel

by Matt Scott
10

Your top 20 bucket list trips

by Joshywashington
2

Banff and Lake Louise might be the most gorgeous places to ski on the planet. Here’s proof.

by Ailsa Ross
10

Sabah, Malaysia

Another one from the remote Malaysian state, which covers the northern portion of Borneo and is ringed by reef-rich islands. This photo was taken near Semporna, which is a hub for people who come to dive Malaysian Borneo.Photo: Zahriel

11

Jenny Lake, Wyoming

Jenny Lake sits right below the peak of Grand Teton and is a landmark for many hiking trails, backcountry trails, and climbing routes. Despite the fact that motorboats are allowed on the lake, its waters are still considered "pristine."Photo: Jeff Clow

12

Rio Sucuri, Brazil

Located in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Rio Sucuri is a spring-fed river that has some of the measurably clearest water on Earth. Multiple tour outfits run trips that let you snorkel the river.Photo: Luiz Felipe Sahd

13

Calanque de Sormiou, France

Calanques are steep-walled coves, and there's a series of them along the 20km stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis. Sormiou is one of the largest of these, and it's popular for its nearby climbing routes as well as its beach.Photo: Paspog

14

Panari Island, Okinawa, Japan

Panari, also called Aragusuku, is one of the Yaeyama Islands, the most remote area of Japan. The photographer notes: "The islands are also known as one of the world's best diving destinations, having a number of coral species and marine lives as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef. (Over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and all kinds of tropical fish species all live around Okinawa.)"Photo: ippei + janine

15

Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

The most populous town in the Galapagos still sits right up next to some amazingly clear ocean water. Even here in Academy Bay, you can see pelicans, iguanas, sea lions, herons, rays, and other iconic wildlife.Photo: Bill Bouton

Intermission 1K+

20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world

by Jason Wire
3

9 places to visit before they change forever

by Morgane Croissant
4

20 charming illustrations of Christmas traditions from around the world

by Ailsa Ross
16

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The photo above was taken in the Bonsai Rock area, on the east shore of the lake, which apparently flies under the radar. Says the photographer: "30 years in Tahoe, and until this winter I'd never heard of it."Photo: SteveD.

17

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Rounding out the Sporleder collection, this one comes from the central Caribbean coast of Honduras. For more images, check out the full photo essay.Photo: Scott Sporleder

18

Primosten, Croatia

On the Adriatic Coast north of Split, Primosten is most famous for its vineyards, in addition to beaches that have been voted the best in the country.Photo: Mike Le Gray Photography. See more at his website.

19

St. George, Bermuda

The oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the New World features many historic forts, like the small Gates Fort pictured above. Also: some damn clear water.Photo: JoshuaDavisPhotography

20

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Visit on a weekend during high season and you'll be surrounded by busloads. If you can get it on a slow day with clear conditions, though, it's some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.Photo: ThomasOfNorway

21

Pupu Springs, New Zealand

At the very top of the South Island, on Golden Bay, the photographer says: "14000 liters of crystal clear water comes out of these springs per second!"Photo: pie4dan

22

Calanque d'En-Vau, France

Another calanque on the southern coast of France, d'En-Vau has a narrower, steeper channel than Sormiou, giving a real feeling of seclusion and emphasizing the clarity of the water in this cove.Photo: afer92 (on and off)

23

Rio Azul, Argentina

Put in to the Confluence section of the Rio Azul near El Bolsón, Patagonia, Argentina. Matador Senior Editor David Miller notes, "This was the first river I've ever paddled, played, and swam in where the water was clean enough to drink. The entire Rio Azul watershed is born in the glaciers and snowfields of the Andes and the water is incredibly clear and pure."Photo: David Miller

24

Corfu, Greece

Corfu sits in the Ionian Sea, off the northwest coast of Greece. Prior to the 1900s, most of the tourists that visited were European royalty. Today, its clear waters draw a lot of package-tour-style action.Photo: smlp.co.uk

25

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Matador Co-Founder Ross Borden visited the Cook Islands for a week and came back with images and video of epicly clear water.Photo: Ross Borden

26

Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Made famous when its smaller neighbor, Koh Phi Phi Leh, was used as the filming location for The Beach, the main island sees a lot of traffic from both backpackers and luxury travelers these days. Water like this is a big part of the draw.Photo: mynameisharsha

27

Playa Blanca, Colombia

This is a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena and well worth the trip. In between swims in that crystal-clear blue water, be sure to snag some fresh ceviche from one of the vendors walking up and down the beach.Photo: Ross Borden

28

Blue Lake, New Zealand

One of many bodies of water in this list that someone or other has claimed has the clearest water in the world, Blue Lake is located in Nelson Lakes National Park, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.Photo: Kathrin & Stefan

29

Königssee, Germany?

This one's made the rounds on the internet, but no one really seems to know where it was taken, or by whom. The best guess I found was the Königssee, a lake in southern Bavaria, near the border with Austria. If you have any info, clue us in.Photo: ??

30

Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

The clear waters of the Verzasca River run for 30km through this rocky valley in southern Switzerland. A dam of the same name, featured in the James Bond movie GoldenEye, blocks the river's flow and forms Lago di Vogorno. Just downstream from it, the river empties into Lake Maggiore.Photo: http://i.imgur.com/ukgxS.jpg

31

Tioman Island, Malaysia

This photo comes from the town of Kampung Genting on Tioman Island, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Away from its beaches, there's significant rainforest terrain in the interior, where you can see the endemic soft-shelled turtle and the Tioman walking catfish.Photo: Chang'r

32

Belo Sur Mer, Madagascar

Ross Borden explains: "I started in Moronvada, on the west coast of Madagascar and hired a boat and driver to take me down the coast to Belo Sur Mer, a super-isolated section of coastline known for diving, fishing and the fact that almost no one makes the trip down there. Belo Sur Mer is amazing on its own, but when the owner of the eco-lodge there told me about a string of uninhabited islands 80km off the coast, we jumped back in the boat and pointed it west, towards Mozambique and mainland Africa. What we found was four uninhabited gorgeous islands and one that had a tribe of "sea gypsies" living on it. These fascinating and hospitable people live off the rich fishing stocks of the Mozambique channel. We camped and lived with them for two days and they even took me along on an all-night fishing expedition in one of their sailboats in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. During the day I would go snorkeling. Shoving off these tiny islands the water gets several hundreds of feet deep very quickly; I was out there with massive schools of deep ocean fish."Photo: Ross Borden

33

Lake Marjorie, California

From the photographer: "Lakes in the High Sierra come in a number of colors. Lake Marjorie, at 11,132' has an aquamarine "swimming pool" tint. Crater Mountain dominates the skyline, with Pinchot Pass to the south. I was happy to see clouds at dawn, but by noon a fast moving storm was spitting hail, thunder, and lightning as we cleared Mather Pass. Damn, this spot is gorgeous."Photo: SteveD.

34

Bodrum, Turkey

Along the southern coast of the peninsula of the same name, Bodrum has an ancient history and was the site of one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus). It also has some amazingly clear water. From the photographer: "[It's] so clear at certain places that boats appear to be floating in mid-air! It reminded me of Luke's Landspeeder from Star Wars."Photo: Oky - Space Ranger

35

Mystery spot

Another unidentified location. Anyone have an idea?Photo: Imgur

Resorts in places like the Maldives, Bali and Malaysia are working to rebuild damaged coral reefs, and guests can help.

You might assume that traveling to Asia during our summer months would be a perfect option for a beach holiday, but that actually not the case. June is rainy season in Asia. The website Price of Travel put together this informative list breaking down the best places to visit in Asia during the summer months. The top 11 destinations are pretty amazing. Check it out, and start rethinking that next trip.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

1. Bali, Indonesia

 Thomas BeachPecatu, IndonesiaUluwatu is home to loads of beautiful beaches. Thomas beach is a little quieter than most. You have to take the thigh burning stairs in order to get there, but it’s definitely worth the trek. One night a week they throw an epic beach party with live music. And you can also stay at the guesthouse overlooking the beach, if you’re ok with a shitty room. In my opinion, the broken sink and lack of pillows and blankets was worth the epic view. #beach

  • June avg high: 85F/29C
  • June avg low: 77F/25C
  • June avg precip: 2.8″/7.0cm
  • June is actually one of the cooler and dryer months here. One downside is that June is also one of the busier months of the year in Bali, as it’s a very popular destination for Australians on a winter break. Still, the nicer weather is worth it, and it’s still pretty easy to avoid the crowds in Bali if you avoid the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak beach area in general.

    2. Tokyo, Japan

     Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenShinjuku-ku, JapanIf you’ve ever thought of going to Japan, experience the ultimate in Japanese culture. Sakura season was an acci-coincidence for my first trip to Japan. And the people and country leftnits mark in such a beautiful way. #japan #tokyo #sakura #cherryblossom

    Don’t think, just travel!!

  • June avg high: 77F/25C
  • June avg low: 66F/19C
  • June avg precip: 6.5″/16.3cm
  • July and August are very hot and steamy in Tokyo, but June is still rather pleasant so it’s an ideal time to visit not only Tokyo but Japan in general. You’ll notice that on Price of Travel’s Global Backpacker Index, Tokyo ranks near Rome and Vienna, and is much cheaper than London or Amsterdam.

    3. Seoul, South Korea

     Bukchon Hanok VillageSeoul, South KoreaBukchon Hanok Village is one of the few areas in Seoul that transports visitors back in time to see what the city must have looked like during the Joseon Dynasty. This hilly district that flanks Changdeokgung Palace is made up of traditional Korean homes called “hanoks” that are now used as a mixture of residences, local businesses and cultura learning centers. I stopped to pick up a map by the small tourism office about a block from exit 2 from Anguk Station. It plots some scenic walks and the best spots to snap pictures of the ancient village with stretches of modern metropolis looming in the background.

    #history #architecture #views #walks

  • June avg high: 80F/27C
  • June avg low: 64F/18C
  • June avg precip: 5.2″/13.0cm
  • Since Seoul is even farther north than Tokyo, its winters are pretty brutal and even the springs and autumns can be a bit chilly. May, June, September, and October are by far the best months to visit Korea.

    4. Luang Prabang, Laos

     Royal PalaceLuang Prabang, Laos#history #travel #traveling #travelphotography

  • June avg high: 91F/33C
  • June avg low: 76F/24C
  • June avg precip: 7.0″/17.5cm
  • While the eastern parts of southeast Asia can get very rainy in June, Laos and most of Thailand is still reasonably dry. Actually, it’s more that the rainstorms are very quick and are usually over in less than 30 minutes, and they can actually provide some welcome temporary relief from the heat in the process.

    5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

     Perdana Botanical GardensKuala Lumpur, MalaysiaPetrona Towers, impressive skyscraper.

  • June avg high: 91F/33C
  • June avg low: 75F/24C
  • June avg precip: 4.9″/12.3cm
  • Kuala Lumpur and nearby Singapore are not far from the equator and thus hot every day of the year. Still, June through August is the driest period of the year, so it’s also a bit less humid and more pleasant in general.

    6. Singapore

     EsplanadeSingapore, SingaporeA great place to chill and enjoy the laser show of Marina Bay Sand in the evening.

  • June avg high: 88F/31C
  • June avg low: 78F/26C
  • June avg precip: 6.8″/17.0cm
  • Singapore is small enough to see in 3 days or so, and that’s good because hotels and alcohol are quite expensive, but it all feels worthwhile. June is one of the better months to visit because it rains less than the rest of the year. If you are coming all this way it’s probably wise to also visit Malaysia on the same trip, since they are separated by only a bridge.

    7. Colombo, Sri Lanka

     Seema MalakaColombo, Sri Lanka

  • June avg high: 87F/31C
  • June avg low: 78F/26C
  • June avg precip: 7.3″/18.3cm
  • Unlike most of India to its north, the rains in Sri Lanka usually end in early June, so this begins one of the better times of year to visit. The beach towns along the southern coast are worth a look, but the national parks and nature sights of the interior hills are even better for a first visit.

    8. Bangkok, Thailand

     Bang Khu Wiang Floating MarketBangkok, Thailand#newexperience #greatfood

  • June avg high: 92F/33C
  • June avg low: 78F/26C
  • June avg precip: 5.9″/14.8cm
  • It’s definitely very hot in June in Bangkok, but it’s actually nicer than it is in the hotter months of April and May, so this is still a good time to visit. Interestingly, it’s the quick rainstorms that happen a few afternoons each week that bring temperatures here down and into a more pleasant range. You’ll notice the skies getting gray in plenty of time to seek shelter, so avoiding them is surprisingly easy.

    9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

     ศูนย์การค้าเทศบาลตำบลหางดง Hangdong MarketTambon Hang Dong, ThailandWhile most tourists flock to the big markets in Chiang Mai city, locals go to the small markets that are basically in every neighborhood in Thailand. In our area in Hang Dong we have at least 5! This covered market is near the police station and close to Baan Tawai, and the stalls sell local veg and spices, as well as excellent nam prik. #cheap-eats

  • June avg high: 90F/32C
  • June avg low: 75F/24C
  • June avg precip: 5.2″/13.0cm
  • You will get more June rainstorms on Thailand’s islands and beach towns of the south, so June is a good month to head north to its second city of Chiang Mai. It’s almost as hot as Bangkok during the summer, but it doesn’t rain much and most hotels here have swimming pools.

    10. Beijing, China

     Great WallBeijing, ChinaIt’s a drive to Jinshanling but well worth the experience of solitude with the remarkable 2,300 year old wall.

  • June avg high: 86F/30C
  • June avg low: 66F/19C
  • June avg precip: 3.0″/7.5cm
  • The air quality in June in Beijing can be quite bad, so you really don’t want to linger here more than a few days to see the highlights.

    11. Shanghai, China

     West LakeHangzhou Shi, ChinaHangzhou is my favorite places, amazing landscape and so peacefull. Typical ancient China garden. When you do your trip in early morning, you feel step into the past. Amazing experience. #gallery #free #history #statue

  • June avg high: 82F/28C
  • June avg low: 69F/21C
  • June avg precip: 6.7″/16.8cm
  • Even though June is quite warm, at least the June air quality is much better than in Beijing. This is a far more modern city with striking architecture and an extremely impressive infrastructure.

    Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei (Travel Guide)

    Lonely Planet

    Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

    Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Admire Kuala Lumpur from the glittering Petronas Towers, climb the Telaga Tujuh waterfalls in Langkawi, or glide through the water village of Kampung Ayer; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei and begin your journey now!

    Inside Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei Travel Guide:

    Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - outdoor adventures, cuisine, history, culture, politics, religion, arts, media, environment Over 90 maps Covers Bandar Seri Begawan, Tutong, Jalan Labi, Seria, Kuala Belait, Temburong District, Bangar, Pulau Selirong, Batang Duri, Peradayan Forest Reserve, Ulu Temburong National Park and more

    The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei , our most comprehensive guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

    Looking for just the highlights? Check out Discover Malaysia & Singapore, a photo-rich guide to the most popular attractions. Looking for a guide focused on Singapore? Check out Lonely Planet Singapore for a comprehensive look at all the city has to offer; or Pocket Singapore, a handy-sized guide focused on the can't-miss sights for a quick trip.

    Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

    About Lonely Planet:

    Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia & Singapore

    DK

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia and Singapore is your in-depth guide to the very best of this region.

    Whether you want to discover the best places to spot colorful fish and jungle-dwelling animals like orangutans, or are looking to sample the incredible food in the ultra-modern metropolises of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, this region offers an astounding range of experiences.

    Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia and Singapore

       • Detailed itineraries and "don't-miss" destination highlights at a glance.    • Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.    • Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.    • Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.    • Area maps marked with sights and restaurants.    • Detailed city map of Singapore includes street finder index for easy navigation.    • Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.    • Suggested day trips and itineraries to explore beyond the city of Singapore.    • Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

    With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia and Singapore truly shows you this region as no one else can.

    Recommended: For a pocket guidebook to Singapore, check out DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Singapore, which is packed with dozens of top 10 lists, ensuring you make the most of your time in the city.

    Series Overview: For more than two decades, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have helped travelers experience the world through the history, art, architecture, and culture of their destinations. Expert travel writers and researchers provide independent editorial advice, recommendations, and reviews. With guidebooks to hundreds of places around the globe available in print and digital formats, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides show travelers how they can discover more.

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photographs, and illustrations of any guide.

    Malaysia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

    Victor King

    Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. 

    Malaysia & Singapore Travel Guide: 101 Coolest Things to Do in Malaysia & Singapore (Malaysia Travel Guide, Singapore Travel Guide, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Langkawi, Cameron Highlands, Penang)

    101 Coolest Things

    Congratulations! You've Found the Ultimate Guide to Malaysia & Singapore Travel!You are super lucky to be going to Malaysia & Singapore, and this guide will let you know all of the coolest things to do, see, and eat around the country, in places like Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Perhentian Islands, Penang, Cameron Highlands, Melaka, and more..Why You Need 101 Coolest Things to Do in Malaysia & SingaporeThis Malaysia & Singapore guide will give you the lowdown on:the very best things to shove in your pie hole, from cheap food halls in Singapore’s Little India through to fancy restaurants in KLincredible festivals, whether you would like to party hard to electronic music in the middle of a rainforest, or a festival dedicated to traditional dance is more up your alleythe coolest historical and cultural sights that you simply cannot afford to miss like ancient mosques and temples, as well as museums that will give you incredible knowledge about Malaysia & Singaporethe most incredible outdoor adventures, whether you want to have a white water rafting adventure, or you want to get up close to crocodileswhere to shop for authentic souvenirs so that you can remember your trip foreverthe places where you can party like a local and make new friendsand tonnes more coolness besides!GET Your Copy NOW!Tags: Malaysia Travel Guide, Singapore Travel Guide, Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide, Penang Travel Guide, Melaka Travel, Cameron Highlands Travel, Malaysia Beaches, Backpacking Singapore, Backpacking Malaysia, Budget Travel Singapore, Singapore Attractions, Malaysia Attractions

    Malaysia Travel Map Seventh Edition (Periplus Travel Maps)

    Periplus Editions

    The Malaysia Travel Map from Periplus is designed as a convenient, easy-to-use tool for travelers. Created using durable coated paper, this map is made to open and fold multiple times, whether it's the entire map that you want to view or one panel at a time.Following highways and byways, this map will show you how to maneuver your way to banks, gardens, hotels, golf courses, museums, monuments, restaurants, churches and temples, movie theaters, shopping centers and more!This 7th edition includes maps and plans that are scaled to: Area Maps: Peninsular Malaysia 1:1,500,000 Sabah & Sarawak 1:2,000,000 Malaysia 1:6,500,000 Greater KL Area 1: 230,000 Johor Bahru & Singapore 1:200,000 Melaka Area 1:200,000 Penang Island 1:80,000City Plans: KL Centre, Melaka 1:15,000 Kuching 1:17,500 Central Johor Bahru 1:20,000 Georgetown 1:25,000 Kota Kinabalu 1:30,000Periplus Travel Maps cover most of the major cities and travel destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. The series includes an amazing variety of fascinating destinations, from the multifaceted subcontinent of India to the bustling city-state of Singapore and the 'western style' metropolis of Sydney to the Asian charms of Bali. All titles are continuously updated, ensuring they keep up with the considerable changes in this fast-developing part of the world. This extensive geographical reach and attention to detail mean that Periplus Travel Maps are the natural first choice for anyone traveling in the region.

    Lonely Planet Discover Malaysia & Singapore (Travel Guide)

    Lonely Planet

    Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

    Lonely Planet Discover Malaysia & Singapore is your passport to Malaysia and Singapore's top sights and most authentic experiences.

    Enjoy some of Malaysia's best food in charismatic George Town, hunt out giant rafflesia flowers in Sarawak or sing karaoke at the Jonker Walk Night Market, all with your trusted travel companion. Offering visually-inspiring content along with the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you, this photo-rich, user-friendly guide makes planning fun and easy. Discover the best of Malaysia and Singapore and begin your journey now!

    Inside Lonely Planet Discover Malaysia & Singapore:

    In-depth coverage of the destination's must-see sights along with hidden gems that most guidebooks miss to get you to the heart of a place Intuitively organized with essential information at your fingertips Eye-catching full-colour design and easy-to-use layout with maps and images throughout Annotated images that bring a destination to life Practical planning and transport tools including a fold-out map (included in print version) that gives instant access to must-see sights to help you navigate as you plot out your itinerary Short and extended itineraries to help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests to make the most of your time on the road Insider tips and insights to save time and money, avoid crowds and trouble spots, and to get to know the destination like a local Honest recommendations for all budgets Cultural insights and background information to put top sights and experiences in context and to give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience (includes history, multiculturalism, religion, arts, architecture, food, environment) Free, convenient pull-out map (included in print version) Over 70 color maps Covers Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, the Cameron HighlandsGeorge Town, Palau Langkawi, Kota Bharu, Taman Negara, Palau Tioman, Melaka City, Mt Kinabalu, Semporna Archipelago, Sarawak and more

    The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Discover Malaysia & Singapore, our easy-to-use, expertly curated guide, is filled with inspiring and colourful photos and focuses on the destinations' most popular attractions and authentic experiences for those looking for the best of the best and have minimal time for planning.

    Also looking for a comprehensive guide that recommends both popular and offbeat experiences, and extensively covers all that the countries have to offer? Check out Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei. Looking for a guide just for Singapore? Check out Lonely Planet Pocket Singapore, a handy-sized guide focused on the can't-miss sights for a quick trip.

    About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, a range of gift, food and kids books, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, magazines, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

    TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

    'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves; it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' - Fairfax Media (Australia)

    The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei

    Richard Lim

    The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei is the ultimate guide to these three exciting Southeast Asian destinations, covering all their attractions — from amazing national parks and historic temples to gorgeous beaches and islands.

    This edition features clear maps, evocative photography, and author itineraries that take in both big sights and less visited spots. The sections on Penang and Singapore offer detail on cultural sights, new museums, and budget accommodation.

    This new edition of The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei includes coverage of Sarawak's most popular national parks, Mulu and Bako, as well as old favorites like Mount Kinabalu and the Perhentian Islands. There's also plenty of practical information on topics like budget flights, river transport, etiquette, and the excellent local cuisines to help you get the best out of your trip, whatever your budget.

    Make the most of your time with The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei.

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia and Singapore

    Andrew Forbes

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia & Singapore is your indispensable guide to this beautiful part of the world. Packed with full-color photographs, illustrations, and detailed maps, this updated guide explores the region's many dynamic features, from the best places to spot colorful fish and exotic jungle-dwelling animals like orangutans, to the incredible food and the ultra-modern metropolises of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

    In this guide you'll find detailed listings of the best hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops for all budgets. Explore local festivals and markets, day trips and excursions, gorgeous beaches, and find your way effortlessly around the region. DK's insider tips and cultural insights will help you explore every corner of Malaysia and Singapore, as if you were a local.

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia & Singapore — showing you what others only tell you.

    Exercise normal security precautions; see also regional advisories.

    The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

    Coastal areas of southeastern Sabah (see Advisory)

    Clashes between Philippine gunmen and Malaysian authorities occurred from February to March 2013, resulting in several deaths. This area was declared a Special Security Area by the Malaysian government. Monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.

    Despite increased security in the region, the risk of kidnapping and violence perpetrated by Philippine militants remains, especially on resort islands and surrounding waters, including around Sipadan. On November 15, 2013, a foreign couple was attacked in a resort on the island of Pom Pom; one was murdered and the other was abducted. Foreigners were also kidnapped in 2000 and 2003.

    Crime

    Violent crime against foreigners is uncommon. Petty crime is prevalent, especially in tourist areas and at the airport. Snatch-and-grab incidents against tourists occur. Thieves on motorcycles frequently grab bags and other valuables from pedestrians, often resulting in injury. Women walking alone or with children are common targets. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Do not leave valuables unattended in vehicles.

    Be particularly cautious at bars or clubs. Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

    Airport taxis

    Touts at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, including the Low Cost Carrier Terminal, attempt to get travellers to take their "taxi" into town. Several incidents of robbery and/or assault have occurred, as well as gross overcharges by such individuals. Take registered airport taxis only, after obtaining a coupon from the airport taxi stand near the door before exiting the customs and arrivals hall.

    Demonstrations

    Large-scale demonstrations have increased. Police permission is required for any public gathering or demonstration. Offenders could face lengthy jail sentences. Passersby have become victims of acts of violence during demonstrations. Avoid all political demonstrations and stay away from areas where they might occur. Protests can turn violent quickly and without warning. Demonstrations are usually accompanied by a heightened police presence and traffic delays.

    Transportation

    Traffic drives on the left. Road conditions are good. Aggressive driving habits by motorcyclists may pose a risk to foreign drivers who may not be accustomed to these competitive driving techniques.

    Review the Travel Advice for Thailand if you are contemplating overland travel from Malaysia to Thailand.

    Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

    Scams

    A number of scam artists operate within Malaysia. Male travellers, usually alone, have been approached in public places with invitations to participate in card games offering attractive opportunities for winning large amounts of money. Victims have lost thousands of dollars before realizing they were being scammed.

    There are reports of travellers encountering serious problems after responding to advertisements to do volunteer work with some adventure or environmental organizations. If you are interested in doing volunteer work abroad, conduct careful research before making a commitment.

    Internet dating and financial scams are common. Foreigners, including Canadian expatriates, may be targeted. Consult our Overseas Fraud page for more information.

    Credit card fraud

    Credit cards should be safeguarded at all times. Malaysia has one of the highest rates of credit card fraud in the world. Credit card magnetic strips have been duplicated, even in international hotels. Swiping your own card may not always be possible. Pay careful attention when others are handling your card during payment processing. Scams involving debit cards also occur. Before using your card, carefully inspect the automated banking machine to ensure that it has not been tampered with.

    Piracy

    Pirate attacks and armed robberies occur against ships in and around Malaysia, particularly in the Strait of Malacca and in the waters between Sabah and the southern Philippines. Mariners should take appropriate precautions. For additional information, consult the Live Piracy Report published by the International Maritime Bureau.

    Health

    Related Travel Health Notices
    Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
    Vaccines

    Routine Vaccines

    Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

    Vaccines to Consider

    You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

    Hepatitis A

    Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

    Hepatitis B

    Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

    Influenza

    Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

    Japanese encephalitis

    Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Risk is low for most travellers. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to mosquito bites (e.g., spending time outdoors in rural areas) while travelling in regions with risk of Japanese encephalitis.

    Measles

    Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
     

    Rabies

    Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

    Typhoid

    Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

    Yellow Fever Vaccination

    Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

    Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

    * It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
    Risk
    • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
    Country Entry Requirement*
    • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
    Recommendation
    • Vaccination is not recommended.
    • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
    Food/Water

    Food and Water-borne Diseases

    Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

    In some areas in Southeast Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southeast Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

    Cholera

    There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

    Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

    Travellers' diarrhea
    • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
    • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
    • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

    Insects

    Insects and Illness

    In Southeastern Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria.

    Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

    Dengue fever
    • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
    • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
    • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

    Malaria

    Malaria

    • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
    • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
    • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
    • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

    Animals

    Animals and Illness

    Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in Southeastern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


    Person-to-Person

    Person-to-Person Infections

    Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

    Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


    Medical services and facilities

    Medical services and facilities

    Medical services are adequate in the larger cities. Upfront payment is expected.

    Decompression chambers are available in KuantanLumutIpoh, Sabah and Labuan.

    Health tips

    Unrestricted burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan, in Indonesia, periodically causes atmospheric pollution (haze) to rise to unhealthy levels, especially from June to October. Levels change quickly and should be closely monitored. For more information on the level of air pollution in Malaysia and recommendations on reducing health risks, refer to the Department of Environment and the Ministry of Health.

    Carry a letter from your doctor authorizing the use of prescription drugs.

    Keep in Mind...

    The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

    Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

    You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and detention page for more information.

    Laws

    Some aspects of Shari’a (Islamic) law have been introduced in some regions of the country. In keeping with Islamic laws and customs, some states, particularly Kelantan and Trengganu, have strict controls on the purchase and consumption of alcohol by Muslims.

    Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are very strict and include the death penalty for serious offences.

    It is illegal for foreigners to participate in demonstrations.

    Carry your passport at all times as a form of identification.

    Travellers must complete a Traveller's Declaration Form upon arrival and departure. A special permit is required to bring in more than US$10,000 in the form of cash or other negotiable items. Excess amounts are seized upon arrival. Visitors may leave the country with only the amount of currency declared on the Traveller's Declaration Form on arrival. Exporters and importers should contact the Commercial Section of the High Commission of Canada in Kuala Lumpur for details affecting their transactions.

    An International Driving Permit is recommended. Seat belts are mandatory. Laws against drinking and driving are strictly enforced. The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited.

    Foreign vessels travelling in the waters off Sabah are subject to Malaysian law and must use routes designated by Malaysian authorities. Vessels must also fly both a Malaysian flag and the flag of their home country.

    Homosexual activity is illegal.

    Culture

    Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

    Money

    The currency is the ringgit (MYR). Traveller's cheques are accepted at banks, hotels and large department stores. Some major hotels will not accept credit cards due to the extent of fraud. Automated banking machines (ABMs) are available in main cities.

    Climate

    The rainy (or monsoon) season extends from October to February. Severe rainstorms can cause flooding and landslides, resulting in significant loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, and hampering the provision of essential services. Consult our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.