Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

08.06: Dubai -> Kuala Lumpur
09.06: Kuala Lumpur
10.06: Kuala Lumpur
11.06: Kuala Lumpur -> Bali
21.06: Surabaya -> Johor Bahru -> Mersing
22.06: Seribuat archipelago
23.06: Mersing -> Johor Bahru -> Kuching
24.06: Kuching -> Sematan

25.06: Gunung Gading NP
26.06: Tanjung Datu NP
27.06: Sematan -> Teluk Intan
28.06: Teluk Intan
29.06: Teluk Intan -> LCCT
30.06: LCCT -> Similajau NP
01.07: Similajau NP -> KL
02.07: KL
03.07-04.07: KL -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
In this trip I visited a few places in Malaysia for the first time: Johor Bahru, the islands around Mersing (Seribuat archipelago), the western tip of Sarawak (Sematan, the Gunung Gading and Tanjung Datu NPs) and the Similajau national park.
Not every tourist development in Malaysia is a success story: the Seribuat archipelago now is receiving less visitors than years ago and a number of resorts have closed.
In Malaysia western tourists can walk around the streets without being bothered by people trying to sell something. In some neighbouring countries this is not the case.

Malaysia is only a bit more expensive than Thailand or Indonesia, if you travel on a mid-range budget. In KL we spent RM245 on a nice room in a four star hotel, elsewhere I spent between RM55 and RM153 for hotel rooms. Meals range from less than RM 10 to between RM 10 and 20 and more. Transportation is relatively affordable if you use low cost airlines such as Airasia for instance. Since I travelled to less touristy places in Sarawak and didn't have the time to wait for the buses, I used taxis to get from A to B. Taxis are relatively cheap but added to the cost of the trip as I covered larger distances.

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. Elsewhere in Malaysia the situation is similar. Malaysia is benefiting from its ethnic mix: Malays, Chinese and Indians.

In KL we stayed in a comfortable four star hotel, spending RM 245 for a nice room. Elsewhere in Malaysia I stayed in a variety of places, spending between RM 55 (basic but clean place) and RM 153 (resort like place with air-conditioned bungalows on the beach).

Money  / Exchange rate (June 2009)
1 Euro = RM 4.95
1 Euro = USD 1.40
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
We used prepaid cards of Maxis to avoid roaming charges. The card costs RM 10 which includes RM 4 of calls. The clerk in the shop activated the card for us. This year it was possible to use the prepaid cards to access the Internet (APN: net, username: maxis, password: wap, dial-in number: *99#). It was expensive however, at 1 cent/KB (RM 10/MB).


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. Occasionally I used the free WLAN hotspot at the KL airport or accessed the Internet with the mobile phone, but just to check the emails. The WLAN hotspot at Starbucks becomes almost unusable when too many people are using it.


Tropical climate, dry season. In western Malaysia the sky was mostly hazy (el nino phenomenon). Little rain, but blue skies only in the morning, overcast in the afternoon. Little rain, except for Johor Bahru where it rained a lot on the two days when I was there. More overcast than sunny in Sarawak, but little rain there as well. Overall hot, but not too hot.

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. Regarding malaria the risk is low in Malaysia, so I didn't take any pills and relied instead on mosquito repellent which I applied twice daily (in the morning and in the evening). Almost no mosquito bites except for the house of my in-laws in Teluk Intan where the mosquitoes ate me alive.

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.
Swine flu check at all Malaysian airports in June/July 2009. Especially westerners were screened carefully. Lots of questioning in some cases.
When arriving from Surabaya to Mersing Malaysian customs asked me to open the suitcase and checked the content (first time this happens to me).
I also noticed that AirAsia opened my suitcase without asking me. Nothing was missing, but the next time I'll use an external lock difficult to crack.

No issues here. Malaysia is a very stable and peaceful country.

Recommended things
  • The costal area of the Similajau national park is impressive, especially in the late afternoon and before sunset. When you walk back to the park HQ, walk along the beach instead of the jungle trails. Impressive bays, beaches and rock formations. The golden beach in Similajau is beautiful. Similajau is a little known, but very special place.
  • Pulau Rawa near Mersing has a very impressive beach (but just one beach unfortunately and the resort is expensive).
  • Tanjung Datu is a cute little national park with a very nice beach and a pleasant rainforest. Spend a couple of days there relaxing.
  • In the "hinterland" of Kuching there are several national parks, all interesting.

Things to avoid
  • Be careful with the bus station in Johor Bahru: taxi drivers there are very aggressive. Keep them at a distance and don't walk around as if you didn't know what you were planning to do.
  • It is becoming increasingly difficult finding taxis in KL willing to use the meter, especially if you are in the Golden triangle area. A work-around is to use public transportation, for instance the monorail if you are in the Golden Triangle.

Getting around
Metered 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 Sarawak can be patchy, and you might have to charter a car or use a taxi even for a longer distance.
Airasia offers inexpensive flights, but you have to book at least 24h in advance or buy a ticket at an Airasia outlet (for instance at the major airports). Malaysian Airlines (MAS) has reduced their fares and is now on average only 15-20% more expensive than AirAsia if you include all surcharges of AirAsia. MAS is even cheaper than Airasia on some flights if you book several days in advance.

Copyright 2009 Alfred Molon