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Money Saving Tips for Traveling in Malaysia (By Lash)

Recently I’ve met several long-term travelers who are visiting Malaysia for the first time. Somewhat to my surprise, I quickly found myself giving lots of tips about choosing products, finding restaurants, and saving money on all sorts of things. Even though they are veteran travelers, they didn’t know many simple practical things about ‘living’ in Malaysia because they’ve never spent time here.

evening with travel bloggers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I suppose that many common daily-life practicalities about any destination you figure out only by spending a significant amount of time there. Perhaps by returning several times, working there, or having local friends who fill you in on daily life details. And apparently guidebooks skip many of those practicalities.

Since I’ve spent so much time in Malaysia over the years, I discovered that I can dish up lots of useful money-saving tips that you probably won’t find in guidebooks. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Hot Link sign in Malaysia
1. cell phones / sim cards 
In all Asian countries, Australia, UK and Europe, you can easily and inexpensively buy a new sim card for your mobile phone, thus obtaining a local phone number. (Excluding use with US phones, which operate on a different phone system).

In Malaysia, several phone companies sell sim cards. I recommend ‘Maxis’ also know as ‘Hotlink’. They sell new sim cards for just 8.80 RM ( < $3 US) which includes 4 RM phone credit. Domestic text messages/sms cost 0.10 RM. So, with your new sim you can already send 40 domestic text msgs, without buying any more credit! International sms rates vary per country, but are also very cheap. You can sms to every country except the USA. (Thanks US) You can call to US phones, but not text.

 You can add more credit when you run out by buying ‘top up’ credit at 7-11s, many local convenience stores, phone shops, and Maxi/Hotlinks stores. Pre-paid (top up) cards come in increments of 10 RM / 30 RM /60 Rm / 100 RM.


Hotlink IDD 132 promoHotlink has a special international calling rate program, ‘IDD132. To use it, you have to add extra numbers in front of your calling number. Ask about it when you buy your sim and/or check Maxis website.

You’ll need your passport to buy the sim, since Maxis officially registers the phone number to your name.

Even if you’re traveling through Malaysia for just one or two weeks, it may already be worth buying a Malaysian sim to communicate with people. 

2. Internet

Internet shop in Penang, Malaysia

Generally, internet connections in Malaysia are fast, consistent and abundant every where. Plentiful local internet shops typically charge 3RM/ hour ($1 US). Many guest houses, hostels, and hotels also have internet centers. I generally find their rates higher. To save money, visit a nearby internet shop.

In Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian Tourism Office on Jl Ampang, just one block down from Petrronas Twin Towers, offers free internet sessions of 30 minutes. They also have unlimited free wifi.


Most modern cafes, coffee shops, hotels, and some restaurants offer free wifi. Many budget guest houses also have wifi, either free or for a minimal charge. It’s really easy to use your own computer in Malaysia, and throughout SEASia, in fact.

3. Buses / trains
…between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore
Malaysian trains and buses are great: super clean, with spacious padded seats and air conditioning. Overnight sleeper trains offer decent-sized beds with clean linens. Private cabins are also available.

Malaysian Train

If you’re making a round-trip journey between KL and Singapore, buy BOTH tickets in Malaysia! You will pay Malaysian prices. Currently, the overnight train from KL to Singapore costs 30 RM ($10 US). When you buy tickets in Singapore, you pay Sing $30 Sing ( $25 US) Big difference!  Read more in my post Overland Travel Between Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia

note- Malaysian buses and trains are what I term ‘super-refrigerated’. C O L D. Make sure you have some warm pants, shirts and jacket on hand when you enter… unless, of course, you like refrigeration. 

4. Drinking water  
filtered water and boiled water at hotel in Malaysia

Many guest houses and hotels offer filtered drinking water free to guests. Sometimes there’s a filter attached to the tap. Other times they have a huge bottle to refill from. Malaysians drink filtered tap water, boiled water, or commercial bottled water. They generally don’t drink water directly from the tap unfiltered. 

You can save a lot of money by not buying water while traveling in Malaysia. For example, if you drink one bottle-1.5 L – per day, then in 30 days, you’ll spend minimum 60-90 RM ($20-30 US) per month. If you’re on a tight budget, that makes a difference.

If you prefer commercial bottled water, it’s cheapest at super markets, where you can buy 1.5 L bottle of local brands for ~ 2 RM. Branded water costs more and varies by brand.
taxi in Penang, Malaysia
5. Taxis 
Make sure you get a metered taxi. The cost will be half to one-third of a ‘set fee’.

On the streets and when ordering a taxi, you will generally get a metered taxi automatically. But make sure you discuss it beforehand. And make sure they flip on the meter when you start.

At some places, like Sentral Station, you don’t have the option to get a metered taxi. The station has a taxi service set up whereby you pay for the taxi at a booth inside the station, get a receipt, then go wait in line for the next taxi.

However, you can walk from Sentral Station down to the main road to flag down a metered taxi if you prefer. It’s less than 2 blocks down the road ramp to the main street.

Also keep in mind that after midnight there’s an extra night charge of +50%. The fee should not be charged before midnight.

Old Town White Coffee sign, Malaysia
6. Coffee 
If you prefer espresso coffees, keep in mind that prices at Starbucks, Coffee Bean, San Francisco Coffee, Dome, and other modern coffee chains the are the same or higher than in US and Europe! Various espresso drinks cost 8-15 RM ( $3-5 US)

If you’re a bit of a coffee gourmand, like me, but don’t want to pay US prices, here are some rescue options.

You can get delicious, high-quality local coffee at a few shops in Malaysia. It’s not exactly the same flavor as espresso coffee, but it’s strong and delicious. I’m extremely picky about coffee, so I do not recommend these shops lightly.

* Old Town Coffee is a Malaysian high-end coffee shop/restaurant chain. They serve a variety of dark, potent coffee drinks in a charming retro colonial setting. I often order their iced coffee for 4.30 RM ($1.50) At Starbucks or Coffee Bean, the equivalent costs about 10- 14 RM ( $3.35- 5 US)

Old Town White Coffee branch in Penang, Malaysia
* Local coffee shops. Nowadays, local neighborhood coffee shops aren’t so easy to find. You’ll find tea shops, either Chinese or Indian, much easier. But when you do come across a local coffee shop, stop in. You’ll get an excellent strong local coffee for just 1-1.50 RM ($0.35-.50 US) 

* Another tactic I often use is to switch to Indian teas. Te Tarik is sweetened tea with milk, topped with froth. Like a tea cappucino! Te tarik is a potent caffeine/sugar combo, thjus a great substitute for espresso. And at a fraction of the cost. The going rate is 1- 1.5o RM ($0.35- 0.50 US)


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