Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

Map of Malaysia
13.12: Munich -> Bangkok
14.12: Bangkok -> KL
15.12: KL
16.12: KL -> Langkawi
17.12: Langkawi
18.12: Langkawi
19.12: Langkawi
20.12: Langkawi -> KL
21.12: KL -> Kuching -> Kota Kinabalu
22.12: Kota Kinabalu -> Sandakan
23.12: Sandakan -> Labuk bay -> Sukau

24.12: Sukau
25.12: Sukau -> Gomantong caves -> Lahad Datu
26.12: Lahad Datu -> Danum valley
27.12: Danum valley -> Semporna
28.12:  Sibuan
29.12: Mabul
30.12: Semporna -> Tawau
31.12: Tawau -> KL
09.01: Melbourne -> KL
10.01-11.01: KL
12.01: KL -> Bangkok
13.01: Bangkok -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
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).

Money  / Exchange rate (December 2008-January 2009)
1 Euro = RM 4.7 to RM  5.0
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. You won't need traveller cheques.

Mobile 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 Danum valley.


Internet access
While Internet cafes are plentiful and available everywhere in Malaysia, I mostly relied on Internet access in the hotel rooms. Where this was 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 going through the monsoon season (Malaysia's east coast and Sarawak in December), so had many sunny days.

Health / Vaccinations
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 requirements
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.

Recommended things
  • 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 rooms (RM 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 shoes will 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 bird (something like a pheasant).
    The forest trails surrounding the lodge are in a very poor state. They are full 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 and dangerous.
    Leeches and blood-sucking flies are everywhere. Despite wearing leech socks 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.

Getting around
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 advance.

Copyright 2009 Alfred Molon