Malaysia provides a worldly blend of Indian, Chinese and Malay culture. It is host to everything from beautiful beaches, to rain forests, to bustling cities. As a top South East Asian tourist destination, it tends to be a little more expensive than some of its less popular, less developed and hence cheaper counterparts, but it is not (or does not have to be) necessarily expensive to visit, whether just for a day, a week or a month.
The famous Big Mac Index is a good starting point when determining how expensive a particular country is likely to be, based on the exchange rate and the relative price of a McDonalds Big Mac in that country. It is encouraging to observe that Malaysia appears quite low on the list, fourth cheapest to be exact with a relative Big Mac price of $2.34.
So how much spending money would a keen traveller expect to need when visiting Malaysia? For starters it’s important to know that the currency used in Malaysia is the Ringgit (written as MYR or RM).
The travel basics are of course accommodation, food, entertainment and transport.
As we all know, accommodation can vary immensely in most countries and Malaysia is no different. You can find anything from backpacker dorm rooms to world class hotel suites and a multitude of options in between.
On the cheaper side, a dorm room could be had for RM 20-30. If you want to go for a mid range hotel, you might be up for around RM 120-200 per night. For those wanting to splurge, a five star international hotel in Kuala Lumpur will set you back around RM 400 per night.
If you plan on an extended visit (for example a month or more), you may wish to rent an apartment. In this case, there will be deposits payable (up to RM 2000) and the monthly rent can be anywhere from RM 300-1500 depending on the location and standard of the apartment. When compared to an extended stay at a hotel, this becomes an attractive option.
There are some cuisines that are famous around the world for their flavours and Malaysian cuisine is one of them. Due to its mix of cultures (Malay, Chinese and Indian) there are lots of great options.
The cheapest but most authentic way to eat in Malaysia is to try the street food stalls. You can generally find yourself a good dish from RM 4-8 and it doesn’t get much cheaper than that, anywhere in the world.
If you’re after a more modern but fast food type restaurant (importantly, these usually have air conditioning) then you might be up for around RM 15 a meal.
For those wanting to dine at finer restaurants, there are plenty of options, and a good meal can cost in excess of RM 100.
It is worth noting that alcohol is the only exception when it comes to food prices in Malaysia. Since it is an Islamic state, there are large taxes charged on alcohol and drinks at clubs can cost as much (if not a little more) than they would back home.
There’s no point in visiting a new country or city and not seeing some of the sites and attractions and experiencing the local entertainment options. Top attractions in Kuala Lumpur for example often have entry fees of around RM 40. If you’re on a tight budget, there are creative ways to see the sights for free. For example, rather than paying entry for the Petronas Towers, head to a hotel across the road for a drink on their rooftop bar, where you can admire the towers from a different perspective.
Getting around in Malaysia is easy. Especially in the big cities such as Kuala Lumpur. Taxis are cheap and trains are even cheaper (with fares starting at RM 1). Alternatively, the cheapest way to see any city is on foot. This has the added benefit of allowing you to really experience and feel a city. Just be wary of the roads and pavements in Malaysia as they are not quite as developed as those in Western countries.
When travelling between cities and towns, buses are a great option and highly affordable too. A bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang costs around RM 50 for a 5 hour trip.
Overall, you shouldn’t need too much spending money when visiting Malaysia but as with any destination, it will depend on your standard of travel. The good news is there are plenty of options from low to high end with the biggest impact on budget being accommodation. You can therefore budget anywhere from $15 to $100 per day but have a great stay no matter what your budget.