Batu Caves in Malaysia. (Photo: iStock)
South-east Asia boasts cultural gems for South Africans looking to explore the world on a budget.
While Malaysia, one of the region’s most developed countries, has a currency that’s stronger than the Rand, it still proves to be a favourable destination offering unique cultural experiences and something different especially for those who travel from Africa.
SEE: #MillennialTravel: 35 things to do in Asia before turning 35
On one hand the country has a buzzing capital - Kuala Lumpur - with efficient, high-tech transport systems, sky-scrapers boasting phenomenal views which are impressive architectural marvels in its own right, and shopping malls selling high-fashion global brands; while on the other hand it has cities and towns that are filled with natural wonders and World Heritage Sites, and is home to diverse people who are culturally entrenched.
Malaysia is the place to go to experience the unique blend of modern city life and traditional Asian cultures in a country that is very different form SA, yet equally beautiful in its own way.
Here’s what you need to know when you plan to go:
Visa requirements: No visa required for South Africans with a valid passport, for stays up to 90 days. Passport must be valid for at least six months after date of arrival in Malaysia.
Medical requirements: No special vaccines needed.
National Carrier: Malaysia Airlines.
Airport Hub: Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Flight Route: Unfortunately there are no direct flights form SA but you can fly from Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban with flights that make at least one stop. Many airlines connect to Malaysia such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates, BA and Qatar.
SEE: Malaysia launches new airline
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit - 1 Ringgit = R3.21.
Travel adapter: Type C and G.
Time Zone: 6 hours ahead of SA (GMT +8).
Public Transport: Transportation in larger cities is good with many different means of transport such as buses, minibuses (bas-mini), taxis, pedicabs (trishaws) and trains. Uber is also available in Malaysia.
Climate: Malaysia is situated at the equator, making it hot and humid throughout the year.
Best time to visit: Malaysia has a tropical climate - rainy season for the west is from April to October, while the east gets monsoon weather during November and December. The best time to visit Penang region is around July or August, visit Borneo between March to October, while Kuala Lumpur remains warm all year, the best time to visit is during June to August.
Languages: Malay and English are the official languages. However, Mandarin and other Chinese languages are commonly spoken as well as the sub-dialects of over 30 native tribes in Malaysia which have a distinct ancestral language.
Useful Phrases: While English is widely spoken, here are some useful phrases in Malay to assist you during your travels:
- Good Morning - Selamat pagi (sounds like "pag-ee")
- Good Afternoon - Selamat tengah hari (sounds like "teen-gah har-ee")
- Good Evening - Selamat Petang (sounds like "puh-tong")
- Good Night - Selamat Malam (sounds like "mah-lahm")
- How are you? - Apa kabar (sounds like: "apah ka-bar")
- Goodbye (if you are the one leaving) - selamat tinggal (sounds like "teen-gahl")
- Goodbye (if the other person is leaving) - selamat jalan (sounds like "jal-lan")
Food to try:
- Chicken Satay: Grilled chicken skewers of chicken, served with peanut sauce.
- Nasi Lemak: Rice soaked in coconut milk and steamed, served with hard-boiled eggs, peanuts, dried fish and vegetables.
Traveller24 tip: An unusual mix of flavours in this Nasi Lemak dish may not be in your favour. However, it’s always great to try foods from various countries and cultures, so rather share this meal with your travel group so that you can each get a taste, and avoid risking an upset stomach while on holiday.
- Coconut water: No matter where you go in Malaysia, you will find fresh coconuts. Be sure to try it, whether it is served cold or as is, as coconut water is extremely refreshing (especially in Malaysia’s humidity). In most cases, it is served with a spoon so that you can scoop the soft inside and enjoy as a snack.
- Tropical fruit: Enjoy a variety of tropical fruit such as durian, jackfruit, types of litchi and bananas. Malaysian bananas are smaller, sweeter and softer. More yellowish in colour after peeling its skin, the bananas are also much smoother – as if it contains condensed milk!
Traveller24 tip: While durian tastes like a mix of mango and pawpaw, it smells like rotting onions on a bad day. In fact, the stench is so awful that eating durian in public is banned and you can get fined if you don’t obey this!
- Apam Balik: Rice flour pancake filled with sugar, peanuts, corn, or all three.
- Nasi Danang: Breakfast in Malaysia, this dish consists of rice cooked in coconut milk with fish curry, usually served with hard boiled eggs, shaved coconut, and pickled vegetables.
- Laksa: Noodle base combined with a gravy or sauce, meat, and vegetables.
SEE: Malaysia still top choice for Muslim travellers: report
What to pack:
- Your passport, arrival and return tickets, adequate money.
- A camera, notebook/ tablet or smartphone, power-bank to stay charged on the go.
- Comfortable, lightweight, and casual clothes.
- Comfortable sandals, sneakers and strong shoes if you decide to go on hikes.
- A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.
- An umbrella/ rain coat during the rainy season.
- Hand sanitiser, tissues, wet wipes, insect repellent, prescription medication.
- Binoculars for safaris/sightseeing, waterproof bag to store personal belongings when on boat cruises/ water activities.
Tips while exploring:
- Learn the common phrases in the local language and about local culture, and respect cultural norms.
- Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim nation - dress appropriately, don't drinking alcohol in guesthouses that would prefer you don't, and don't sunbath in the nude.
- If you’ll be visiting rural areas outside the major cities and temples, wear more modest attire.
- You can get a free sim-card on arrival at the airport, with data connectivity being a lot cheaper than here in South Africa.
Batu Caves: Climb 272 steps to the Cathedral Cave – one of the three main caves that make up Batu Caves. It is the most popular Hindu shrine outside of India that attracts thousands of worshippers. The highlight is the giant statue of Hindu god, Muruga.
Traveller24 tip: Monkeys play around this site and are accustomed to humans, so they are not afraid to get close or grab your food or drinks. Be careful if you have food/drinks in your possession as you could face getting attacked by one of the daring little guys!
Taman Negara National Park: Go rock climbing, canoeing or hiking in one of the world’s oldest rain forests. At about 130 million years old, Taman Negara National Park is the perfect getaway for nature-lovers.
Petronas Towers: The tallest twin towers in the world, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur’s city centre has a sky bridge that connects the towers. Travellers can buy tickets to the sky bridge to see amazing views of the city.
Explore George Town: Penang island’s capital is George Town - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is a multi-cultural marvel boasting British colonial buildings, Chinese shops, mosques, Hindu temples, Armenian restaurants, Buddhist temples and more. Beyond the old town, George Town is a modern city – just walking distance from the charm of the old town.
Street Art in Penang: Another must-do while in Malaysia is to see the famous street art in Penang. Everywhere you go, you will find countless street murals often depicting children in various poses. The art is absolutely gorgeous and unusual, making it a fun city to explore and walk around in.
Visit Kek Lok Si Temple: Dating back to 1891, Kek Lok Si Temple is one of the most important Chinese Buddhist temples in south-east Asia, and the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Its highlight is the Temple of Rama IV with its 10 000 Buddha carvings.