| Part 1: Introduction
For this trip I combined an initial stay in KL with a few days of beach
on Langkawi island, followed by 10 days spent in Malaysian Borneo
(Sarawak and Sabah). Malaysia hasn't changed much since my last visit,
although the prices for accommodation keep rising (and this already for
a number of years). The days spent in Sabah were quite interesting and
gave me a chance to see rare wildflie especially in Labuk bay and the
Kinabatangan river area. It was interesting to see that islands around
Semporna are now accessible at affordable prices, given that a number
of operators (Scubajunkie, Sipadan scuba, Uncle Chang) targeting the
backpacker market have now established themselves. Semporna has now a
tourist zone, which didn't exist when I last visited it in 2000.
In KL and Langkawi, if you want to stay in a comfortable place with the
family, you'll need to spend around RM 300/night. Elsewhere in Malaysia
costs are lower, especially if more basic rooms are sufficient. There
you can have a nice room for RM 100 or less. Food is plentiful and
inexpensive, meals range from less than RM 10 to between RM 10 and 20.
Transportation is relatively affordable if you use low cost airlines
such as Airasia for instance. In Sabah access to certain locations is
only possible through operators promoting expensive tours.
There is an incredible variety of food in Kuala Lumpur, with tons of
restaurants and eateries everywhere. In every shopping complex there
are one or two floors dedicated to restaurants and food stalls.
Especially in the basement floor of the Midvalley shopping complex in
KL there are tons of places where to find all sorts of food and snacks.
Prices are a fraction of what they are in a developed country.
We stayed in four star places, costing around RM 300-320 per night.
Prices have increased since our last stay and have steadily
increased over the past years. In Borneo, since I was travelling alone,
I used to stay in cheaper places (RM 100 or less).
/ Exchange rate (December 2008-January 2009)
1 Euro = RM 4.7 to RM 5.0
the Universal Currency
ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a
Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. You won't need traveller cheques.
phones and prepaid cards
This time we bought Maxis prepaid GSM cards costing RM20 and including
RM4 of airtime. A Malayian id or a passport was necessary to get the
cards activated (the sales clerk did that for us).
Coverage with Maxis was
good everywhere in Malaysia I went, including Sabah. No coverage in the
While Internet cafes are plentiful and available everywhere in
Malaysia, I mostly relied on Internet access in the hotel rooms. Where
unavailable or too expensive I used either Internet cafes or coffee
shops offering free WLAN.
The only exceptions are the Danum valley and
Sukau, which have no public Internet access at all.
Tropical weather, hot and steamy. I avoided the regions of Malaysia
through the monsoon season (Malaysia's east coast and Sarawak in
had many sunny days.
The usual set of vaccinations for tropical countries (consult your
doctor) and recommended. These include polio, Hep A, tetanus,
diphteria, typhoid, although this list may be subject to change.
VISA / Entry
A valid passport is necessary. EU
nationals automatically get a three month visa upon arrival. This also
holds for nationals of many other countries - check with the Malaysian
embassy in your country.
No issues here. Malaysia is a
very stable and peaceful country.
- The Kinabatangan river around Sukau is great for
seeing wildlife (orang utans, elephants, all sorts of monkeys etc.)
because the animals are all concentrated around the river and it is
easy to see them comfortably sitting in a boat.
- Labuk Bay Proboscis monkey sanctuary: excellent, not
so well known place where to see a large number of wild proboscis
monkeys in their natural habitat.
- Semporna is a good and inexpensive base from which to
explore the nearby islands. The island of Mataking is beautiful and has
accommodation (available for around RM 300/night).
- Mutiara Burau Bay hotel, Langkawi: the sea water is
not crystalline, but the beach is nice, the area is nice and peaceful
and the restaurant of the hotel is good. Excellent, not crowded place
where to relax for a few days with the family.
- Sipadan Inn (Semporna) and Hotel City View
(Sandakan): recently renovated or built, spotlessly clean hotels for
very moderate rates (RM 70-80/night). Free wireless Internet available
in the rooms.
Things to avoid
- Borneo Rainforest Lodge (Danum valley). Overpriced
630/night) without A/C. A/C is essential for two reasons: during the
daytime the temperatures in the rooms climb to well over 30°C and
A/C is necessary to get clothes and shoes dry. Your clothes and
get wet, either because you'll be out walking in the rain (it rains
almost every day) or because
you have been sweating so much. The wet shoes and clothes will not be
dry by the
next day if you don't have A/C, because A/C dries the air; in strong
humidity shoes and clothes only dry very slowly.
It is very tough to see wildlife in
the Danum valley near the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, because the wildlife
is spread over a very large area so it is unlikely that you will see
it. Also, most of the wildlife lives on top of the trees which are very
high (50m and more), so even if it is right above you, you won't see
it. In the two days spent there the biggest animal I saw was a large
(something like a pheasant).
The forest trails surrounding the lodge are in a very poor state. They
of mud deep and soft like pudding - you'll need rubber boots to walk
through it. Because it rains almost every day, the trails are slippery
Leeches and blood-sucking flies are everywhere. Despite wearing leech
and being completely covered until the waist I still got bitten by
leeches (didn't get bitten in other jungles in Malaysia).
- Mabul island: there is only one good beach and this
belongs to an expensive resort. Otherwise the island is fully covered
with either shantytowns where poor people live and very expensive
resorts. The only reason to stay here would be the proximity to Sipadan.
Taxis are inexpensive in Malaysia. In KL and other
major cities taxis should use the meter (you have to insist on that).
Elsewhere taxis charge a fixed fee or you need to negotiate the fare.
Public transportation in Sabah and Sarawak can be patchy, and you might
have to charter a car or use a taxi even for a longer distance. Airasia
offers cheap flights (cheaper than Malaysian Airlines), but doesn't
accept very short term bookings. You have to book at least 24h in