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Ultimate guide for Singapore travellers. What you need to know about Malaysia.

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Malaysia is Singapore’s favourite holiday destination – a good part of Malaysia is driving distance after all. There’s more to Malaysia than shopping in Johor Bahru, of course. Historic Melaka, bustling Kuala Lumpur, the cool Cameron Highlands, and the beaches and hawker food of Penang are all reachable by car, and there’s plenty more to see on peninsular Malaysia.

East Malaysia is renowned for its unspoiled wilderness areas, great diving, orangutan sanctuaries, and multicultural cities.

Overall Malaysia is a relatively safe destination, but travellers should be aware of the dangers of visiting eastern Sabah. 

Personal safety is often seen as an issue for Singaporeans, and petty crime is more prevalent in Malaysia than it is at home. Keep your personal valuables secure and out of sight, or better still leave them at home if they’re not necessary.

Quick Travel Notes

Etiquette & Customs:There are few cultural differences that Singaporeans do not understand about Malaysia, though conservative attire will be appreciated. Read more below.

Transportation:You can get around Malaysia by plane, train, bus, or car. Read on to learn more about getting around in Malaysia.

Temperature & Weather:Malaysia enjoys a similar tropical climate to Singapore, though the different monsoons mean there are better times to travel to different destinations. The northeast monsoon affects the east coast in November and December, while the southwest monsoon hits the east coast with the heaviest rains in September and October. East Malaysia is affected by the northeast monsoon as well, but with fewer peaks – November to February are best avoided. The climate in the highlands north of Kuala Lumpur is arguably its main attraction, with daytime temperatures averaging in the low 20-degree range year-round.

See & Explore

  • History: Both Melaka and George Town in Penang are World Heritage listed for their historic architecture, and well worth exploring (both seem to want the title of best hawker food in Malaysia too).
  • Nature: East Malaysia boasts two parks on the World Heritage list – Gunung Mulu National Park and Kinabalu Park – and has plenty more natural attractions including animal sanctuaries and marine parks.
  • Beaches: Favourite beach destinations include the east coast islands – Tioman, Redang and the Perhentians, all of which check the boxes for perfect tropical islands with coral reefs to explore – and the west coast boasts the islands of Penang, Langkawi and even resort islands such as Pangkor Laut. In East Malaysia you’re spoiled for choice – try the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park off the coast or Tanjong Aru in Kota Kinabalu, or Pulau Tiga.
  • Culture: Culture can mean many things to different people. If it’s shopping and food, then Malaysia shouldn’t disappoint – Kuala Lumpur boasts plenty of both, along with its iconic twin-towers skyline. Despite that modernity, you’re never too far from interesting colonial architecture. Off the beaten path, you could experience tribal life in a longhouse in Sarawak, for instance.
  • Cool: For respite from the heat, the highlands are the place to go. Genting is only an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, though it is worth the three-hour trek to the Cameron Highlands, where you’ll see tea plantations and even charming – if somewhat lost-in-time – Tudor-style hotels.

Health & Safety

Check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ travel advisory for Malaysia here

Tap water is best avoided as bottled drinking water is the safest bet. Avoid ice or drinks made using tap water.

Hospitals in Malaysia offer international standards at reasonable prices, still, it pays to ensure your travel insurance covers any eventuality. 

Getting Around

If the number of cars crossing the causeway or the Second Link at Tuas is any indication, travel by road is a very popular choice for Singaporeans in Malaysia. The North-South Expressway, in particular, is an excellent road on which it is easy to cover distances in comfort. Beware slow-moving trucks, motorcycles, and fast-moving local traffic. Secondary roads are much slower. 

Rail is also an option, albeit a painfully slow one compared to driving. 

Busses are a cheap and popular way of navigating between cities, but can vary wildly in the comfort stakes. 

In cities taxis are available, though can often be picky about destinations. Grab may help.

Kuala Lumpur has a monorail that elevates you above the sometimes gridlocked traffic, though the line is fairly limited. 

Malaysia is home to eight international airports, so chances are you can fly direct to your destination (or thereabouts) from Singapore. There are a further 30 or so airports in Malaysia with regular scheduled services.

Etiquette for Travellers 

Malaysia isn’t vastly different to Singapore when it comes to etiquette and customs, though there are still a few things it pays to remember:

  • Shoes must be removed when visiting places of worship. Some mosques will provide scarves for female visitors. Always seek permission before taking photographs.
  • A handshake is an accepted greeting, though some Muslim women may prefer a smile and a nod – allow her to initiate it if unsure.
  • Pointing with a forefinger is considered rude, point with a thumb instead.
  • When eating with hands, only the right hand should be used. Likewise, giving or receiving objects should be a right-hand only affair. 

Singapore’s closest neighbour is also our favourite destination. We love it for the food and shopping, for the bucolic countryside and bustling cities, and for its cool mountains and gorgeous beaches. Whatever your reason for visiting, make sure you have appropriate travel insurance for peace-of-mind on your travels.

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