Though I consider myself well-traveled, I’ve had hesitations exploring the world outside of the Philippines. It’s the archetypal fear of the unknown. Malaysia! I’ve finally mustered the courage and convinced myself to spend some hard-earned money on plane tickets. Besides, I’ve had my passport for over a year now and it’s just sitting in my drawer, gathering dust. Together with Julie, Kuya, Ate, Hasmin and Sheila, the entire experience was a roller-coaster ride. We were bored to our skulls while waiting in line for immigration but almost missed our flight to Penang. We lugged our bags in Kuala Lumpur’s humid concrete jungle and had a lazy stroll in Georgetown. We ate the spiciest Indian food on earth and was blown away by Malay’s tastiest dishes.
Here are some tips you could take from our experience so you could plan yours sensibly.
Book in advance but wait for airline promos. It could mean booking at 12 midnight but Malaysia is definitely worth staying awake for. There is direct AirAsia flight from Mactan Cebu International Airport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2). Choosing Cebu Pacific for this flight could mean a stop at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) or Singapore’s Changi Airport. For my 6-day trip, the departure ticket only costs Php 2,119.00 while the return ticket is Php 2,354.41.
Make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months on the day of your trip. You may stay in Malaysia for 30 days without a need for a visa. Always keep your passport with you. Stores will sometimes ask for your passport when you buy something (e.g. sim card) or when checking into your hotel.
Travel Tax and Terminal Fee
If you are departing from Mactan Cebu International Airport, the terminal fee is Php 750.00 and the travel tax is Php 1620.00 as of this writing.
The Bureau of Immigration may ask you several questions regarding the nature of your trip. They may also ask to see your ID (if you are employed) and your return ticket. Print them or keep an electronic copy of it on your phone.
Malaysia’s Bureau of Immigration will take your fingerprints (forefinger) and a photo. Don’t worry, they don’t ask a lot of questions. When going home or flying to a different city, make sure to travel to the airport at least 3 hours before your flight. KLIA2 is huge and is about 57 km or 1 hour away from the city center. If your boarding gate is at the far end, you might end up running towards it.
Malaysia’s currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR). Have your pesos exchanged in the Philippines. Money changers have two rates, the buying and the selling rate. Exchange rates in money changers differ. If you’re confused which one is better, ask how much their selling rate is. You want the lowest one. Because they are “selling” MYR. When you are exchanging your MYR back to PHP, ask for the buying rate. You want the highest one because they are “buying” your MYR.
You will realize how important technology is when traveling, especially when you’re the type who doesn’t want to get lost. We decided to buy a 4G sim card worth 30 MYR. The same amount is loaded to your account and you can use it to redeem internet bandwidth. Though some restaurants and public places have wifi connections, a mobile connectivity is necessary when you prefer to use Malaysia’s Grab Car/Taxi service. Or when you would like to use google maps to find your next destination.
You could ride the KLIA Express from KLIA2 going to the Central Station. It costs RM 55.00 per person. But Grab Taxi or Grab Car is very popular in Malaysia and in my opinion, your best option in going around the city. If there are more than 4 of you, you can book a 6-seater car. This is more expensive than the regular ones. Wait. Expensive??? Not if you’re splitting the fare. Let me give you an example. There were 5 of us travelling together from Cebu (Sheila flew in from Manila). So we booked a 6-seater grab car from KLIA2 to a restaurant called Betel Leaf. The restaurant is about 59 KM away from the airport and we only paid about RM 117.00. Which means we only spent RM 23.40 each. If we used the KLIA Express we would have paid RM 275.00 in total and that’s only going to Central Station, not the restaurant! Go figure.
Below are screenshots of Malaysia’s Grab services with estimates (As of 2/21/2017).
For a solo traveler, the trains and buses are your best option. Use Grab Hitch and Grab Share if you would like to meet locals or make new friends. There are taxis as well. If you decide to ride one, make sure they’re using the meter.
Read more about Malaysia’s transportation system here.
What to Wear
You will do a lot of walking or running, depending on how late you are for your flight. Wear your trusty sneakers. The white one looks good in any photo. Running/walking shoes are your best friends. Leave your 5-inch heels at home. Aside from taking up so much space, a couple of steps in them could kill you. Since Malaysia is a tropical country, it’s hot most of the day. (Not too short) shorts, comfortable linen blend pants (if you decide to go to mosques) and casual summer dresses (for dinner dates) are recommended. Airports and airplanes could get too cold so bring a scarf or a cardigan. Hoodies and jackets are just too bulky for this purpose.
It’s hot and humid in Malaysia but could have scattered rain showers. Expect a sudden, very heavy rainfall but it’s bound to be over as quickly as it started. Bring an umbrella or a hat, sunblock, and sunglasses. If you don’t want to carry so much stuff, buy one when you get to KL. Make sure to add “rest” in your itinerary especially on the hottest time of the day at 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM.
You will appreciate the brilliance that is AirBnB. Download the app and book a condo with an infinity pool overlooking the Petronas Towers during sunrise/sunset. You can find one for about PHP 800.00 per night.
If you’re the thrifty kind, backpacker hostels are for you. Read this blog for the list of the best backpacker hostels in Kuala Lumpur. Dorms range from PHP 150.00 to PHP 400.00 per night per person while private rooms are PHP 400.00 to PHP 1200.00.
No matter which you pick, remember to always ask if they allow early check ins or late check outs (for free?). If your arrival time is before the check-in time, it could be a huge problem. The reason? Your luggage. Trust me, you don’t want to carry them around while exploring the city. If they do not allow it, ask if you could at least leave your bags in the hotel/hostel/condo for safe keeping. Same as when you’re supposed to leave Malaysia in the evening but the check-out time is at 11:00 AM. If you decide to visit places before your flight, you’ll be dead tired in a matter of minutes.
For the beach bums, play at Moonlight Bay’s giant inflatables in Batu Ferringhi. If that’s too childish for you, get a tan at Penang’s most stunning body of water, the Batu Ferringhi beach. Visit the night market to buy some pasalubong. The Pantai Cenang beach in Langkawi Island is like Malaysia’s Boracay. Dine at the beach, go sunbathing and enjoy the liveliest nightlife. If that’s not your scene, head to a more secluded and quieter Pantai Tengah beach.
For the adventurous, take the world’s highest ‘iron road’ at Mount Kinabalu, take a hike (literally) at Cameron Highlands, or climb Mount Cincang in Langkawi.
For the foodie, head to Jalan Alor for a taste of the authentic Malay food. Petaling Street, more popularly known as China Town, is a famous area where tourists flock anytime of the day. The place is crammed with stalls selling assorted merchandise and loads of local food. Penang has the best hawker food in Malaysia. Head to Jelutong Night Market to taste the Malay’s favorite dish, the Char Koay Teow. Toh Soon Cafe is the place to be if you’re looking for breakfast. You may need to elbow someone to get a seat but drinking their coffee together with Nasi Lemak is the best way to start your day.
Get authentic Malaysian merchandise at Central Market or the more modern ones at IKEA.
Here’s a video by Julie. I hope you learned a little something so you can get started with your itinerary. But remember, you’ll never really know until you go.