Known as a developed Asian country, not that many backpackers visit Malaysia. I think they expect there will be not that much difference with their own western culture. Picturing Kuala Lumpur with all her skyscrapers, shopping malls and the well known good infrastructure everywhere, its looks like nothing new. I have to admit that, with almost everyone being educated and a low unemployment rate, the economy looks like ours, and for that the possessions they have. This doesn’t mean that the people are the same, let’s not speak about the natural surroundings.
Because being a welfare country, the locals arranged everything well for themself. They like to go on holiday in their own country and so you feel like a minority travelling around as a western tourist in Malaysia. Not that’s a bad thing, not at all! Malaysian people are very welcoming, friendly and super proud to show their land. Everywhere you get, they will greet you, welcome you and sometimes want to take selfies with you. They speak well english and treat you equal to themself. I really liked this.
Very easy and cheap. Long distance buses connect all main city’s. They go frequently and leave from big busterminals. Local buses travel onward to your destination. Not all local buses have stops, but you can ask the driver to drop you of or hold the bus on the road. For the long distance buses it’s wise to make reservations in advance. You can do this through http://www.easybook.com, at travel agencies, at the bus terminal or your hotel can help you. Some tourist places are connected by minibuses. They are mainly used by tourists and reasonable priced. Although have heard drivers of this mini buses can scare the hell out of you with their habits on the road. Didn’t experience this myself though.
I felt safe everywhere I went, unless reading about girls being harassed. I think if you avoid the nightlife and some dodgy town areas, you will be totally fine. Yes, they are not always used to pretty tourists, but I only noticed in the bigger cities some stares or whistles. On the countryside and (more remote?) islands nothing at all. Could run around in my bikini being happy 🙂 even in the Sunway Lagoon aqua theme park, where we were practical the only people swimming not fully clothed (like the Malay do), nobody was paying attention! Furthermore haven’t heard of any incidents of robberies or violence against tourists. That said, we didn’t went to Sabah, Borneo because of warnings about kidnapping incidents. Make sure you are up to date by the latest news.
The Malaysia currency is the Ringit (1 R = € 0,25 ). Unless their developed economy, everything is drop dead cheap in Malaysia in compare to our standards. We spend an average of € 4,25 for travelling around, ca €10 on food and € 6,20 on accommodation pp each day. We are the flashpacker type so this is for a pretty comfortable trip: eating out 3 times a day (paying attention to prices), staying in private rooms and having a drink now and then. For imaging; in Thailand we spend an average of €36 pp each day on the same stuff!
when to go
Although Malaysia is not that big of a country, they deal with different climate regions. The westcoast and Borneo can be visited all year round. It’s possible you will have showers, but this are always short periods. Eastcoast is different. Between October and march it can be really stormy. Ferry connections to most islands shut down even as accommodations on the islands. In Malaysia most tourists are locals, so take their holidays in account while planning when to go. I’ve heard that during Ramadan and right after that, the atmosphere can be more conservative and tense. Like, they are less tolerated to girls dressed scantily for example. I went from 15 march to 8 April and this suited us perfect. All places on the eastern islands just opened again. It wasn’t quite or extremely busy either. The sea was quite rough, but not too bad. Some days it rained but we were spoiled wits sun as well.
Lonely planet mentions the bad state of accommodations in Malaysia in compare to Thailand for example. I don’t agree completely. Yes, there are less fancy places to stay, but with that, prices are better. As a backpacker you will find enough options to enjoy. We booked most one or two days in advance through booking.com or agoda.com . Sometimes, especially in the more remote places, you will have to rely on ‘walking in’, as you will find a few accommodations online (check tripadvisor for reviews!). In such circumstances, it’s wise to arrive early and avoid weekends to have better chance on good places. You will notice that trough weekends and school holidays some accommodations fill up more fast, but we didn’t had problems with finding accommodations.
Don’t count on internetcafés or hostels with computers for rent. As anywhere on the planet, Wifi takes over. I brought a smartphone and tablet with me. With an Malaysian sim, you can also connect at places where there’s no wifi (for example Perhentian Kecil, very bad). I used a sim from ‘Hotlink’ , internet for simple applications like chat and email is free!