Malaysia travel guide
Selamat Datangis the traditional Malaysian greeting that welcomes visitors to this vibrant and exotic country. Ethnically diverse cultures share the same lush landscape and create a fusion of cultural styles, cuisines and religions that is distinctly Malaysian. Festivals throughout the year mark the Malay, Chinese and Indian holidays, as well as those of the indigenous Orang Asli and the tribes of Sabah and Sarawak.
Malaysia is a country with two distinct parts. Peninsula Malaysia constitutes the long fringe of land, extending down from Asia, which borders Thailand and Singapore. The South China Sea separates the mainland from the less populated East Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak. The dense jungles of Sabah and Sarawak support abundant plant and wildlife and Mt Kinabalu in Sabah stakes its claim as the highest peak in Southeast Asia.
It is the peninsula that seems to attract the most visitors, probably because of the diversity it offers in the way of people, activities and climates. The highland regions offer cool relief from the clinging humidity of the mainland, while Langkawi is the popular choice for sand and surf enthusiasts. The east coast, particularly the northern Kelantan province, offers the chance for an interesting cultural exploration of traditional Malay life. The city of Kota Bharu and its surrounds is possibly the most fascinating part of the peninsula, and the least visited, with a remote beauty and rich culture.
The west coast is favoured for historical interest, and is where Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur can be found; it is the icon of Asian prosperity and the meeting point for expats and city slickers who enjoy the energy of urban life. The city is a powerful mesh of tradition and technology, vying for equal status.
The official currency is the Malaysian Ringit (MYR), also referred to as the Malaysian Dollar, which is divided into 100 sen. Money changers are generally quicker to deal with than banks and do not charge commission; their rates however are variable. British Pounds or US Dollars are the easiest to exchange. All major credit cards are accepted at upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants. ATMs are widely available.
Language : Bahasa Melayu is the national language, but English is widely spoken and is the language of business. Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka are spoken by the Malaysian Chinese population and Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi among the Indian population.
Electricity : Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style three-pin plugs are used.
Entry Requirements :
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required, for stays of up to three months.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for holders of British passports, irrespective of the endorsement regarding their national status contained therein, for stays of up to three months.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required, for stays of up to three months.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required, for stays of up to three months. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC business travel card, provided that the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Malaysia. In such cases, a 'visit pass' will be issued upon arrival.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required, for stays of up to three months.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required, for stays of up to three months.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required, for stays of up to three months. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC business travel card, provided that the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Malaysia. In such cases, a 'visit pass' will be issued upon arrival.
Passport/Visa Note :
Foreign passengers to Malaysia are required to hold sufficient funds (at least USD 500) to cover their expenses while in the country, and return/onward tickets and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. If passengers are not in possession of a return/onward ticket, they will be requested to purchase one. Note that admission will be refused to foreign ladies in an advanced stage of pregnancy (six months or more), except if they are in transit, for a maximum period of 72 hours (no extensions allowed). Also note that foreign nationals who have previously worked in Malaysia, and whose previous work visa is endorsed "COM", will not be allowed to return to Malaysia to work for six months. If they intend to return for a social visit, they will be subject to an interview on arrival, and will not always be guaranteed entry. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Malaysia, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health :
Some tropical illnesses are prevalent in Malaysia and travellers should seek medical advice regarding any recommended vaccinations before travelling. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are common, as is dengue fever, which has no vaccination or immunisation. There has been an increase in cases of dengue fever in recent years. Malaria risks are isolated to the inland regions; the exception is Sabah, where there is an all-year risk. Travellers older than one year coming from infected areas require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Visitors may also be advised to get vaccinations for rabies, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis, depending on their travel itineraries in Malaysia. Visitors should stick to bottled water and avoid uncooked meat, fish and vegetables, unpeeled fruit, ice and salads. A further health hazard in Malaysia is smoke haze and air pollution, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, which has some of the poorest air quality in Asia with very high Benzene pollution levels. This could aggravate cardiac or respiratory problems.
The hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and other major Malaysian cities are of a high standard but medical facilities may be lacking in rural areas. Comprehensive medical insurance is recommended.
Although tipping is not customary in Malaysia, the more expensive hotels and restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to their bills and further gratuity is unnecessary. All hotel rooms are subject to a five percent government tax, though many cheaper hotels quote a price inclusive of this tax.
Safety Information :
Malaysia shares with the rest of Southeast Asia a threat from terrorism, and this threat extends to places frequented by tourists and expats. The US State Department stresses that extra caution should be taken in the troubled eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and the eastern islands, where the risk of kidnapping is high. Terrorists are believed to be planning to kidnap foreign tourists from the islands and coastal areas of eastern Sabah and boats travelling to dive sites and between the islands are possible targets. Tourists wishing to visit the resorts and islands in the state should stick to larger resorts and exercise extreme caution. Visitors should be aware that street crime such as bag snatching, pick-pocketing and scams are a problem in Malaysia; most crimes against foreigners are petty and the normal precautions against crime should be taken. Stay alert, don't display conspicuous wealth, make use of hotel safes for valuables, duplicate travel documents, don't walk alone at night or in dangerous neighbourhoods, and be extra cautious when using public transport.
Local Customs :
Malaysia is largely Muslim and therefore Islamic customs should be respected, especially during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking in public should be avoided, as it is forbidden by Islamic law. Dress, particularly for women, should be conservative, and arms and legs should be covered when visiting places of worship. It is customary to remove shoes before entering homes and places of worship. When eating or exchanging money, the right hand is used. Homosexuality is illegal.
Those looking to do business in Malaysia are strongly urged to research some of the cultural complexities of the country, which is home to 19 million people, of divergent ethnic groups. Although the Malaysian business world has largely succeeded in establishing a unified ethos for itself, it is important to understand that you might deal with people from different ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian being the most common), and that your expectations and conduct might need to adjust accordingly. The defining characteristic of business culture in Malaysia is respect for, and deference to authority. Authority figures are identified more by skills, wisdom and temperament, than by powerful positions and strict hierarchy.
The Malaysian style of management, it follows, is less goal-driven, and more holistic, than in some Western cultures, with managers taking a personal interest in the well-being of their employees. Business etiquette in Malaysia is marked by sensitivity and diplomacy. The golden rule is never to cause another to 'lose face' in professional company; the wilful, or even careless, humiliation of even a subordinate, is considered anathema in the Malaysian business world. Business meetings in Malaysia usually convene punctually, but can be subject to a lot of 'small talk' and personal digressions. Don't get impatient as this is seen as an important function of meetings in Malaysia, where the agenda is not always as important as the relationships between people that meetings serve to develop.
Business cards are usually exchanged upon meeting new associates. Give and receive cards in your right hand, supported by the left, and never fold or put away a card without looking at it first. Be sure to have your details printed in Chinese on the reverse side of your card while in Malaysia. The dress code for business in Malaysia is typically Western, with smart, formal clothes being worn. Men generally wear white shirts and ties (jackets to be worn to meetings); while women - since Malaysia is home to a large Muslim population - should dress more conservatively than they might be used to doing at home. English is widely spoken in Malaysia, and commonly used in most businesses. Business hours are generally Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.
The international access code for Malaysia is +60. International Direct Dial is av
ailable throughout the country, but the service can be erratic. Hotels can add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills; it is best to check before making international calls. Coin and card-operated public phones are widespread, and phone cards can be purchased at the airport, petrol stations and newsagents. Mobile networks are extensive, and local service providers use GSM networks, which are compatible with most international phones. Internet cafes are widely available in tourist areas.
Duty Free :
Travellers to Malaysia do not have to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 225g tobacco; 1 litre wine, spirits or malt liquor; cosmetic products to the value of RM 200; up to three new items of clothing and one pair of footwear; one portable electrical or battery-operated appliance for personal hygiene; food preparations to the value of RM 75; souvenirs and gifts to the value of RM 200 (with the exception of goods from Langkawi and Labuan, to the value of RM 500). Prohibited items include goods from Haiti, counterfeit money and illegal drugs.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Location: The airport is located in Sepang, 28 miles (45km) south of Kuala Lumpur.
Time: GMT +8.
Contacts: Tel: + 60 (0)3 8776 2000.
Transfer between terminals: An Aerotrain provides a free service between terminals. A shuttle bus runs every 30 mins between the low cost carrier terminal (LCCT) and Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
Getting to the city: The Express Rail Link train provides the fastest transportation to the city centre. The KLIA Ekspres and the KLIA Transit link the airport to Kuala Lumpur (KL Sentral - City Air Terminal) and vice versa. Trains run from 5am to 12.30am and cost about MYR 55 one way, and MYR 100 return. At the City Air Terminal departing passengers have the option of checking in their luggage, receiving their boarding passes and proceeding to board the train for the airport. Immigration clearance will be completed there. Travel time between KL Sentral and the airport is around 28 minutes on the KLIA Express and 37 minutes on the KLIA Transit. Many hotels will arrange for a car to pick up guests, though this is generally more expensive than taking a taxi. An express coach service runs from the airport to KL Sentral for MYR 10 one way, MYR 18 return.
Car rental: Avis, Hertz and a number of local car rental companies are represented at the airport.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available; they should be paid for in advance at the ticket counter. Prices are linked to distance and type of taxi; there is an added surcharge between midnight and 6am.
Facilities: Airport facilities include lounges, left luggage, disabled and baby changing facilities, banks, bureaux de change and ATMs, restaurants and bars, a post office, a pharmacy and duty-free shops.
Parking: Parking at Kuala Lumpur International Airport starts at MYR 4 for the first hour, and MYR 2-4 per hour after that.
Departure tax: RM45, which is usually included in the ticket price.
Penang International Airport
Location: Penang Airport is located four miles (6km) north of Bayan Baru or 10 miles (16km) west of Georgetown.
Time: GMT +8.
Contacts: Tel: +60 (0)4 643 4411.
Getting to the city: The hourly (6am to 9pm) yellow bus 83, costs RM 1.60 and goes to Georgetown via Penang's main bus station (Komtar), the trip takes about an hour. However, most foreign visitors take taxis, which are available outside the terminal.
Car rental: Avis, Hertz and National and a number of local car rental companies are all represented at the airport, however most first-time visitors take taxis or hire a car with a driver.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available outside the terminal, but, to avoid being overcharged, it is best to buy prepaid taxi vouchers inside the terminal. Taxis to Georgetown cost about RM 40 and the trip takes approximately 45mins to an hour. Taxis to Batu Ferengghi cost about RM 60.
Facilities: Facilities include lounges/travel clubs, banks, bureaux de change, a tourist help desk, shops and restaurants.
Parking: Short-term parking for just over 800 cars is available at Penang International Airport.
Departure tax: MYR 45 (generally included in the ticket price)
Kuching International Airport
Location: The airport is situated about 10 miles (16km) south of Kuching city centre.
Time: GMT +8
Getting to the city: There is no public transport into Kuching directly from the airport; however, taxis and rental cars are available. The 'Kuching Sentral' bus terminal is around one mile (2km) to the west of the airport (to the left as you exit the airport).
Car rental: Car rental services are available from companies including Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available at the airport. Visitors are advised to choose a metered taxi and to insist the meter is turned on or to buy a fixed price taxi coupon for a one-way trip from inside the airport. The journey to the city centre takes about 30 minutes.
Facilities: It is a small airport but has all the necessary facilities, including an ATM, currency exchange services, and several food vendors.
Parking: Parking is available at the airport.
Malaysia has a tropical climate which is hot and humid all year, although it is cooler in the highland areas. Temperatures in Malaysia average at 86°F (30°C) year-round. The country doesn't have four distinct seasons, but it does have two monsoon seasons: the monsoons bring heavy downpours on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, the northeastern part of Sabah and the western end of Sarawak from November to February; and the rainy season between April and October is characterised by thunderstorms and is often less disruptive to travel. Boat trips to the islands do not run during the height of the monsoon. Malaysia's climate varies hugely from region to region, so the best time to visit the country depends on your itinerary; your desired activities and the region you're visiting will make a big difference. The best time to visit for dry weather is June and July on the east coast, January and February on the west coast, April in Sabah, and June to July in Sarawak. Some people prefer to travel in the rainy season for various reasons, but it is never advisable to travel at the height of monsoon season as the heavy rains can disrupt travel arrangements and getting around is difficult.
Malaysian Tourist Website: www.tourism.gov.my
United States Embassy, Kuala Lumpur: +60 (0)3 2168 5000.
British High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 (0)3 2170 2200.
Canadian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 (0)3 2168 8511.
Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 (0)3 2146 5555.
South African High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 (0)3 2170 2400.
Irish Embassy, Kuala Lumpur: +60 (0)3 2161 2963.
New Zealand High Commission, Kuala Lumpur: +60 (0)3 2078 2533.
Malaysian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 572
Foreign Embassies in Malaysia
Malaysian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7235 8033.
Malaysian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 241 5182.
Malaysian High commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 61 200 300.
Malaysian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 5990.
Malaysian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 667 7280.
Malaysian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 385 2439.
Malaysia Emergency Numbers
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