Backpacking In Malaysia

by David Harris
Learn about Malaysia before heading out.

Learn about Malaysia before heading out.

Hemera Technologies/ Images

Backpackers who visit Malaysia will find a country cut in half. On the peninsula, you will see a melting pot of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures, while the island of Borneo is full of jungles where orangutans and indigenous tribes still live. Independent travelers heading to Malaysia will find it one of the safest and easiest countries in Southeast Asia to manage, according to Lonely Planet.

Backpacking Highlights

Most backpackers begin their Malaysian journey in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, a cutting-edge place with an active night life. From there, they typically visit numerous places on the Malay Peninsula's west coast. The town of Malacca, a former Dutch settlement, is an important historical city and offers numerous guesthouses for backpackers. The Cameron Highlands, home to old tea plantations and cooler climes, is another draw for backpackers as it has numerous guesthouses. The island of Penang may be home to expensive hotels and resorts, but many backpackers stay in the island's colonial city of Georgetown, which offers markets, temples and some backpacker-friendly guesthouses.

Getting Around

Travel via train and bus is relatively inexpensive for backpackers, according to Lonely Planet. Trains are economical and comfortable. Foreigners can purchase a tourist Rail Pass from Keretapi Tanah Melayu at the rail stations in most Malay cities. As of 2011, the passes cost $35 for five days, $55 for 10 days and $70 for 15 days. They offer unlimited travel in any class car, but do not include sleeping berths. If you are doing only limited travel, it would be cheaper to buy an individual ticket. Buses also connect many of Malaysia's major destinations, and they are cheap and comfortable. Backpackers can purchase tickets at the bus station before the trip. In the cities, hiring a bicycle rickshaw is the cheapest way to get from place to place.


Many guesthouses in Malaysia offer single and double rooms, as well as dorm-style accommodations for people on a budget. These dorms house multiple people, both men and women in the same room in most cases, and cost about $3 a night. Single and double rooms will likely run you $10 a night or so, as of 2011, according to Passplanet. Theft from guesthouse dorms is common in Malaysia. Never leave your valuables unattended in a hostel or dorm, and always carry identification with you. Secure your belongings with a padlock if you leave the room. Theft can either come from an outsider sneaking in or from fellow travelers, according to Lonely Planet.

Women Travelers

Malaysia has a considerable Muslim population, and women travelers should dress conservatively to avoid attention, making sure to cover the arms, legs and chest. When visiting a mosque or any Muslim section of the country, cover your head with a scarf. Women should avoid physical contact with men, including handshakes. Avoid any public displays of attention and do not smoke in public, as it can be considered provocative. If you feel uneasy in any situation, walk away. You may hear whistles and catcalls from large groups of Muslim men. Look out for peepholes in walls and doors of cheap hotels, and plug them with tissue. Harassment of women in the Chinese sections of the country is almost unheard of, according to Lonely Planet, so it may be advisable to stay in a Chinese-operated hostel if possible.


Buying a guidebook such as "Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei" or "The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei" is a good way for backpackers to learn about Malaysia before heading off. The Internet is also a valuable tool for learning about budget accommodations and checking train and bus fares. Malaysia is a modern country and Internet cafes are widely available, especially in major cities. Sites such as Passplanet allow you to see what guesthouses and destinations fellow backpackers recommend.

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