As a Malaysian, I’ve gotten pretty used to the blank stares and confused looks I get when I tell people which country I’m from. Outside of Asia, Malaysia is not a very well-known name. Many people, if they set foot here at all, only do so because their flights happen to transit in Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
However, it would be a shame to be in Southeast Asia and not explore this undiscovered gem. With places like Thailand and Indonesia getting too touristy in recent years, Malaysia offers a respite from the well-trodden paths.
Here are 10 reasons why you should consider Malaysia as your next destination, whether as a short-term vacationer or a long-term digital nomad:
1. Low Cost of Living
One of the biggest draws of traveling in Malaysia is how cheap it is. While it can’t beat Indonesia, Vietnam, or the Philippines, it’s still very cheap by Western standard. It’s at least three times cheaper than Singapore.
If you go to local food stalls, you can get a decent meal for under USD 3. Dinner at a fancier restaurant with a glass of wine will only set you back around USD 20.
On Airbnb, you can easily rent a luxury apartment (with an infinity pool!) for about USD 30 per night. For long-term housing, check out the great offers on Expat.com, Mudah.my, and Longtermlettings. The average monthly rate for a studio apartment with a swimming pool, gym, WiFi, and access to public transports is around USD 300.
2. Easy Access to Internet
All hotels, hostels, and most houses have WiFi. The majority of cafes and restaurants also offer free WiFi, with the average download speed of 76.69 Mbps.
SIM cards and data are cheap and available everywhere. Tune Talk (a partner of Air Asia) offers very good deals that are specially geared for travelers. The packages start from MYR 1/day for 10GB basic internet and unlimited calls to Tune Talk numbers.
On top of that, Malaysia welcomes tech, innovation, and startups. There are new co-working spaces sprouting up everywhere, with well-equipped lounges and boardrooms. Some of them also organize networking events and workshops for their members.
Malaysia ranks the 5th safest country for women in the Asia Pacific.
Violent crimes are rare in this country. The most frequent crimes against foreigners are petty thefts, such as purse-snatching and pickpocketing. Just like in most other countries, there are some areas that should be avoided late at night. As long as you use common sense and keep your wits about you, you should be fine.
When it comes to natural disasters, Malaysia is very lucky because it is located just outside the “Pacific Rim of Fire”. There are no volcanoes, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Earthquakes are extremely rare. Malaysia is also shielded from the typhoon that hits the Philippines and Hong Kong every year.
However, it should be noted that the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia is affected by the monsoon season (October to February), where some areas may be flooded. Travel to the islands in the east coast is not advisable during this time. In Kuala Lumpur, the weather is the same all year round, with no distinct dry or wet seasons.
There is no war or political unrest.
4. Visa Requirement
Malaysia grants visa-free entry for:
- 90 days for citizens of 63 countries
- 30 days for citizens of 97 countries
- 14 days for citizens of Iran, Libya, and Macao
5. The Diverse Cultures
Malaysia is made up of 60% Malay, 20% Chinese, 7% Indian, and 3% indigenous tribes. It’s not often that you get to see a country like Malaysia, where people of different cultures and religions live together in peace and harmony without any racial tension (okay, that’s a lie — but we kiss and make up).
You can find a mosque, a church, a Buddhist temple, and a Hindu temple within just a few hundred meters of each other. And each festival is pretty much celebrated by everyone in the country.
Malaysia also receives a high number of immigrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Therefore, visiting Malaysia can sometimes feel like visiting multiple Asian countries at once, which is why the country prides itself on being ‘Truly Asian’.
What this means is that as a long-term visitor in Malaysia, you will find it easier to integrate with the local people. You will be welcomed by a heterogenous group of people who are eager to add you into the mix.
6. Good Food
Because of the diverse cultures, Malaysian food is a unique fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. In the bigger cities, you can also find international food, from Italian to Japanese to Middle Eastern. But ask any Malaysian what they like the most about their country — they’re probably going to say the local food.
The best part is, dining outside is so cheap and convenient that most locals prefer that to cooking at home. Street food and night markets are popular options, but dining in shopping malls is also a huge part of the local culture. Every shopping mall has an array of high-end restaurants, fast food chains, as well as a ‘food court’ for those on a budget. So, if street food sounds too ‘wild’ for you, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options.
7. Good Public Transportation
Speaking of Grab, you won’t have any problem getting around in the country even if you’re staying far from any bus/subway stations. Thanks to e-hailing apps such as Grab and MyCar, it is very easy to travel around in the country. A Grab ride can start from as low as MYR 6 (USD 1.50) for a 5-to-10-minute journey. There’s even a shared Grab option that’s usually a few ringgits cheaper.
To get to the city from the airport, you have several options:
- By bus (MYR 11 – 12, duration: 1 hour, bus frequency: every 30 minutes)
- By express train (MYR 55, duration: 28 minutes, train frequency: every 15 minutes)
- By Grab (MYR 65 – 75, duration: 1 hour)
8. Air Asia Hub
There’s a good reason why many people transit in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) — it is Air Asia’s main hub. In 2019, it was voted the third best low-cost terminal in the world, beating Melbourne Terminal 4, London Stansted, East Midlands, Brussels Charleroi, Berlin Schonefeld, and Frankfurt-Hahn.
Now, if — for some reason — you’re not in on it already, Air Asia is like the Ryan Air of Europe. It gets you from one country to another for as low as MYR 50. But unlike Ryan Air (sorry, Ryan Air), Air Asia is the world’s top low-cost airline for the 11th year running!
Living in Kuala Lumpur means you have an easy and cheap access to any country in the Asia Pacific. This makes your visa runs a whole lot easier. You can stay for 3 months, fly somewhere for a day or two, or longer if you wish, then come straight back for another 3 months.
9. English Proficiency
If you were worried about language barrier, you shouldn’t be. First of all, the Malay language is written in English alphabets, and it is pronounced the way it is spelled, so even if you can’t find a translation, at least you won’t have any problem reading the street signs, etc.
Secondly, English is widely spoken (or understood), especially in major cities and tourist spots. It is compulsory for everyone to learn English in school, from when they’re 7 years old till they enter uni. In the big cities, you’ll find that many of the locals speak English even among themselves.
10. The Attractions
If you like modern skyscrapers and Western-style shopping malls, you won’t be disappointed in Kuala Lumpur. The ones here are massive and world-class, filled with western brand names that you’re familiar with.
However, that’s not all there is to Malaysia. The country is also rich with other attractions. Just a-few-hours drive away from Kuala Lumpur are Penang and Malacca — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Borneo and the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia are some of the best diving spots in the world.
For all its development, Malaysia is still a very green country. Borneo, for example, is home to one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, in which you can find wild elephants, orangutans, and proboscis monkeys. Even right smack in the city center of Kuala Lumpur, you can find an eco-forest with a canopy walk (see picture).