by Uwe Fischer //
In Malaysia, you can travel relatively safely and easily on your own. The transport infrastructure is on a high level, transportation fares are low and there is no need to learn the Malay language, because English is widely spoken. Actually, you only need a few things to be prepared for travelling: A smartphone, including some relevant apps, Malaysian SIM card and, not to be forgotten: a pullover!
The pullover is essential because in the sun-drenched country, where outside temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius are the norm, it seems to be a widespread disease to regulate all interiors, especially of buses, trains and taxis down to refrigerator temperatures. At times, this made me feel so uncomfortable that I had to leave buses more than once before reaching my target just to escape the ice-cold, merciless blower on my sweaty skin.
First thing you arrive in Malaysia, you should exchange money, if you haven’t already done so. This is usually accomplished at the private money changers’ premises that can be found at airports and railway stations, as well as in shopping malls and shopping streets. Those counters, little booths or shops usually display the current courses on illuminated signs – so you don’t have to worry about being bamboozled as a foreigner. There are also no fees, so it is absolutely transparent, WYSIWYG so to speak: What You See Is What You Get.
On top of that, the prices are also cheaper than those in the banks (in which you also need a lot of patience, but that’s another story). Currently you get between 4.50 and 4.90 Ringgit for one Euro, with the exchange rates among the Money Changers usually differing only a few cents.
Alternatively, you can, of course, also draw cash by EC or credit card at the ATM. Please note that fees may be charged by both the Malaysian and the domestic institute.
Internet & Phone
The second thing you should get is a Malaysian SIM card to have a local phone number (makes it easier to communicate with drivers) and, more importantly, an Internet flat rate. These can best be purchased directly in a shop or sales counter at the airport or train station. Ask the seller to directly activate it for you on site for immediate use. Flat rates are usually advertised for starting at 40 Ringgit, providing a data volume of 1 GB or more in a given time frame.
Then you should install the following apps:
1. Grab and/or Uber
Grab is the Malaysian competitor of Uber, and it is used by the locals more often than Uber, according to my observation. Usually Grab offers its rides a bit cheaper… which explains why Grab competes Uber so successfully, because Malaysians are smart savers! Incidentally, Grab in Malaysia seems to have become THE national part-time job offerer. Nearly all the Grab drivers I’ve talked to do the job just casually in their spare time.
Once you have installed and activated the app, simply enter the pick-up and destination address, the price will be displayed shortly afterwards and the request will be confirmed. Then wait a few seconds or minutes for a driver to be found. They will be informed automatically and will contact you by phone or via messenger shortly before arriving. The app itself also provides information on where your driver is at any time.
2. A hotel booking app
I personally used booking. com exclusively because I am used to the app and never faced any problems. But of course this should also apply to the competitors as well. Those who prefer private accommodation should also check out airbnb or use the official “Homestay” program of the Malaysian tourism authorities. (However, their offer is quite manageable, see: http://www.malaysia.travel/en/resources/tourism-directory/homestay)
With these, you are perfectly equipped to move around as an individual traveller without stress, at least in the conurbations. Maybe a navigation software wouldn’t hurt either, but I personally didn’t use any; if at all, I consulted maps to estimate distances.
In the metropolises, especially in Kuala Lumpur and George Town, there are well developed bus networks, in those two cities there are even free bus lines connecting the main attractions (Go KL resp. MBPP Rapid Penang CAT). The regular lines are also not expensive. If you want to explore the city by bus, you should check out the Hopon HopOff lines in KL and Penang. Although they are quite expensive with 40 resp. 50 Ringgit, they are a comfortable offer and the tickets are valid for a whole day.
If you want to travel longer distances, you should either rent a car (international driver’s license is necessary!) – there are usually several providers at the airports, and if you take the time to compare fares, you can save a few bucks here – or consider long-distance buses or trains. It is not advisable (and not always feasible) to buy tickets online beforehand. Instead, I recommend the classic way of getting through to the train station/bus terminal, buying tickets on site and waiting for the next bus. However, it makes sense to google in advance when and how often the buses actually go.
Tickets should only be purchased at the official counters to avoid being cheated – it sometimes happens on the way to the counter that tourists are being approached by “helpful” people who want to sell them tickets. Ignore them! Instead, cue in front of the counter, even if it takes a little longer. Better than waiting afterwards for a bus that has just left or departs only hours later!
The quality of the buses is mostly fine, but of course you don’t have a guarantee. On the popular routes between the metropolises, different providers operate at different prices, perhaps it makes sense not to save at the wrong end and to choose a higher-priced provider.