Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

30-31.7: Munich -> Abu Dhabi -> Delhi -> Singapore
1.8: Singapore -> Desaru
2.8: Desaru
3.8: Desaru -> Singapore
14.8: Jakarta -> Kuala Lumpur
15.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Kuching -> Batang Ai
16.8: Batang Ai
17.8: Batang Ai (longhouse and waterfall trip)
18.8: Batang Ai -> Kuching -> KL -> Bangkok
20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur
21.8: Kuala Lumpur
22.8: Kuala Lumpur
29.8: Kota Bharu -> Temenggor lake (Royal Belum state park)
30.8: Tour on Temenggor lake and Belum reserve
31.8: Belum state park -> Ulu Muda
1.9: Ulu Muda
2.9: Ulu Muda
3.9: Ulu Muda -> Dabong (near Gunung Stong state park)
4.9: Stong state park -> Gua Ikan -> Gua Musang -> Dabong
5.9: Dabong -> Tumpat -> Kota Bharu -> KL
6.9: Kuala Lumpur
7.9: Kuala Lumpur -> Abu Dhabi -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
The focus of this year's trip to Malaysia were a few locations which I had not visited yet, most in west Malaysia and one in east Malaysia. In west Malaysia I visited two wildlife/nature areas, the Ulu Muda reserve and the Royal Belum state park. These are two relatively less known sites, which for a long time have been off-limits to visitors due to the restricted northern border region. Both sites have a lot of potential for further development and offer a wildlife alternative to the east Malaysian wildlife areas.
Kelantan has a number of interesting less-known places, such as the Gunung Stong state park and the nearby caves and the Buddhist temnples in Tumpat north of Kota Bharu.
At the southern end of the Malaysian pensinsula there are the Desaru beaches, which offer a weekend escape to people livinng in Singapore.
Batang Ai is an area in southern Sarawak around the artificial Batang Ai lake, which is supposed to be interesting due to its tribal population and because of its remote location. Batang Ai proved to be less interesting than I had imagined, or perhaps I didn't go upriver enough. Anyway, the main problem there is that all longhouses around the Batang Ai lake are relatively new, having been set up in the past 20-25 years following the flooding of the area. As a consequence lots of old heritage has been lost. In addition, the rainforest around the lake is mainly secondary rainforest and wildlife sightings are rare.

Prices in Malaysia have risen over the past years and are now on a relatively high level for the region. The hotels where I stayed were for instance mostly in the RM 200-300/night price range. In some places this was the cheapest accomodation I was able to find.

Due to its multiethnic population, Malaysia offers a wide range of delicious culinary specialities. On this trip however, due to variuos constraints, I had to eat what I could find or what was offered by the hotel.

The places where I stayed ranged from budget to upper mid-range. Due to their remoteness, some of the sites I visited have few or only one accomodation option. Most places where I stayed were in the RM 200-300/night price range.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2014)
1 Euro = 4.30 RM
1 Euro = 1.30 USD 
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. 

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
I relied again on a SIM card from Maxis which this time cost RM 8.80 with RM 5 of airtime on it. I topped it up with RM 50 and bought a 1GB data package for RM 30 valid for one month; 3GB would have cost RM 68. Coverage was good, even in remote places. At the Batang Ai lake I had coverage, but could not use data services. No mobile phone coverage at Ulu Muda.

Internet access
I used the smartphone or the hotel WLAN to access the Internet. In some remote locations (i.e. Ulu Muda, Batang Ai) there is no Internet access.

Mostly good weather this year, with rain coming in the evening and only a few times during the day. Due to low rainfall the water levels in the artificial lakes (Batang Ai, Temenggor, Ulu Muda) are quite low. I'm being told that this year the rainy season ended a couple of months early.

Health / Vaccinations
The usual set of tropical vaccinations. I didn't refresh any immunisations for this trip.

VISA / Entry requirements
A visa on arrival allowing a three months stay is available for tourists of most western and developed countries. It is no longer necessary to fill out an arrivals form.

Overall Malaysia is a very safe place.

Recommended things
Of the places I visited on this trip, the most interesting one is the Royal Belum state park, mainly due to the good tourist infrastructure (comfortable hotels easily accessible by road) and the easy way to get deep into the park by boat thanks to the Temenggor lake.
Ulu Muda is also an interesting place, but the accomodation is far less comfortable (no A/C, no clean water) and it is difficult to get deep inside the reserve (there are no waterways or roads you can use).
The caves near the Gunung Stong state park are interesting.

Things to avoid
Nothing really. It's just that if you go to Batang Ai, choose a more upriver resort than the Batang Ai Hilton, because this one is not well located. Too far away from the more interesting places, and they don't offer trips to the more interesting places. It's better to visit the Batang Ai area with a tour operator who can go further upriver.

Getting around
I moved around with a mix of flights, long distance taxis and tour operators. In wst Malaysia I rented a car (first time I rent a car in Malaysia!), which I used for a week to visit some places difficult to reach by public transportation.
Driving in Malaysia was less difficult than I had expected, even if I have never driven on the left side before. Things went smooth without problems. Malaysian drivers are not too terrible, but every now and then there is some idiot who tries to overtake when there isn't enough space, or sometimes people ignore red traffic lights. The speed limits on the roads were sometimes a bit confusing, as it was not clear where a speed limit was ending and some speed limits seemed to make no sense. In any case, it is essential to have a car navigation system.

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon