Asia is a favourite destination for backpackers all over the world.
Everybody that’s been on a gap year backpacking most likely has a stereotypical story about Cambodia, Vietnam or Thailand.
Those are all great countries with a lot to offer and they should still be on your bucket list, but the sheer volume of westerners visiting them has taken away some of their charm and authenticity.
They’re still worth visiting but if you want a more real experience, you should hit some of the countries that aren’t quite as popular. Malaysia is a good choice that still attracts a lot of young travellers. Kuala Lumpur and the beautiful coastal areas of Penang are pretty popular but the rest of the country is often neglected. There’s so much to be found there, and the good news is, it doesn’t have to be expensive.
If you’ve got an itch to go backpacking but you don’t want to be surrounded by people that look like a backpacker archetype from a sitcom, check out this quick guide on how to travel Malaysia on a budget.
– Getting There –
Once you’re already in Asia, getting to Malaysia is cheap and easy. A lot of people end up going there on a whim after being in Thailand. There are plenty of cheap bus services that can take you on the border. Flights from AirAsia are incredibly cheap as well.
If you’re coming from outside of Asia, the flights aren’t too expensive either. The central hub is Kuala Lumpur so most flights go there. You can get flights to other places in the country but they’re more expensive and they usually stop off in Kuala Lumpur anyway so you might as well start your trip from there.
– Getting Around –
The roads in Malaysia are well maintained in the big cities and in the popular tourist areas but as soon as you venture a bit further out, they’ll quickly turn into difficult to navigate dirt tracks. If you want to get around Malaysia quickly then you can fly but you’ll be missing out on one of the best bits about being in the country. The scenery is just stunning so driving is the best way to get about. The bus is one of the best ways to travel across the country because it’s cheap, you get to see all of the great countryside, and mix with the locals while you’re at it. Most of the buses have signs in English and the drivers are always willing to help you out. When you’re getting between cities the bus is the way to go but inside the cities, they’re pretty slow because the roads are congested.
When you’re in the cities, the Metro is the number one way to get around. They run every couple of minutes and there are stops all over the city, in all the must see places. There’s even a ladies only carriage if you’re travelling alone and you feel a little vulnerable.
Taxis are ok but make sure you get a metered one. If you do find yourself in a non metered one, make sure you agree on a price before you set off. If you don’t, they’ll rack the price up and you’ll end up paying way more than you need to.
The train services in Malaysia are in the middle of an overhaul at the minute so the service is pretty great. They cost a bit more than the buses but for the long distance journeys they’re quicker and a bit more comfortable. If you don’t have much time in the country you can make more time in each destination by getting the train.
Malaysia is one of the best places in Asia for driving. The roads are a little small outside of the cities but they’re still well maintained enough to make driving fairly stress free. You’ll probably need a 4×4 still because some of the smaller roads get a little rough. It’s one of the best ways to see the countryside because you can stop whenever you like.
Hitchhiking isn’t a very common way of getting around Malaysia but if you’re trying to do it on a shoestring budget, it’s a simple way of saving some money. Most of the locals are fairly friendly so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a ride. You probably won’t find that many people who will take you a long distance so expect quite a few short trips before you get to your destination. It’s a good way to meet people though.
– Where To Stay –
The usual backpacking route around Asia is all about hostels but they’re actually few and far between in Malaysia. More are starting to pop up as the country gets more popular but they’re actually more expensive than a lot of the alternatives. You’d be better off finding a house for rent in Melaka than you would booking yourself into a hostel. There are also loads of great guest houses that offer rooms for as little as £5.
Don’t forget about Airbnb either. They’re usually just as cheap as anywhere else and you tend to get more for your money. It’s also a good way to meet locals as well.
It’s usually better to exchange your money at home before you set off but that’s not the case in Malaysia. The exchange rates are way better once you get there and there are plenty of places to get it changed easily. They accept pretty much all international credit and debit cards but you’re going to get massive fees for using them. Getting a travel card that you can preload before you go. There are loads of great ones out there.
When you’re in the city you shouldn’t have trouble finding a cash machine to get money out of but they’re quite rare in the more rural areas so it’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you.
Malaysia has yet to succumb to the curse of the backpackers so it’s still incredibly authentic. It’s getting more popular though so get over there while you can.