10 Pro Tips: Prepare for Your Malaysia Trip


So you’re coming to Malaysia – hurray! Here are my top 10 pro-tips to help make sure you’re prepared so you’ll have a fantastic trip. If you follow these tips, you won’t be dragging your sweaty, sweater-covered jetlagged-butt around town under the blazing sun trying to figure out why your ATM card won’t work. Instead, you’ll be enjoying a cocktail on the beach in the shade of a palm tree like a total rockstar. So let’s get to it!

1. Pull “The Michael Jackson” move.

Do yourself a huge solid and get a prescription for Ambien, Lunesta or some other sleeping pill. If you’ve got a long flight and you’re squished in an uncomfortable coach seat like a watermelon in a thimble, you’ll be grateful to have the sweet relief of a sleeping pill to render you comatose.

sleeping cat stuffed in box

I call this clutch move “The Michael Jackson.” It’ll also help you get over your jetlag when you arrive, which is especially helpful if you’re coming from North America – it will take you about 25-40 hours to get here, door-to-door. Spending that much time in transit and then landing in a wildly different time zone will make you feel like you’ve suddenly developed Alzheimer’s. Better living through pharmaceuticals, my friends.

2. Prepare your credit card and ATM cards.

No, I don’t mean “prepare to wear them out!” because things are very inexpensive here – breakfast usually costs me about 2 Ringgit (that’s half a US dollar). This is what I mean:

A. Set travel notifications for your ATM cards and credit cards, or your banks will likely decline purchases and freeze your cards when you try to use them.

B. Set a 4-digit pin for your ATM card. For some weird reason, certain banks here won’t accept pin numbers with more than 4 numbers.

C. Ask your credit card company for a chip-and-sign card. Most stores in Malaysia, and even many hotels, won’t accept anything other than chip-and-sign cards.

3. Unlock your mobile phone and get a local SIM card upon arrival.

Before you come, ask your mobile phone provider to unlock your phone so you can use it internationally. Then when you arrive at the airport, get a local SIM with a prepaid plan, which is super cheap. For example, with Maxis, it currently costs 6 Ringgit (about $1.50 USD) for 7 days of service with 150mb of data. That’s literally 40 times cheaper than some international phone plans offered by US cell phone service providers.

4. Download the Grab app.

Grab (a rideshare app similar to Uber) is awesome here. Not only does it cost less than half of taxis, the cars and drivers are way nicer and you won’t get ripped off. Some Malaysian taxi drivers (especially in KL) will try to rip you off and whine like babies when you insist they use the meter. Avoid these hassles by using Grab instead. Bonus: no money changes hands. It’s all done via the app and your credit card. Note, you will need your mobile phone with a local number to use Grab (hence, the importance of point #3 on this list).

5. Make some damned plans.

That sounds stupid, right? But seriously, most of our friends who’ve come to visit us have arrived without any idea about what there is to do or see here. (And it’s extremely disconcerting when they start looking at me like I’m their personal tour guide and ask questions like “So what are we going to do for the next two weeks?”) Here are two great places to start your research: 3 Perfect Days in Penang and Incredible Festivals.


Hunting for street art in Georgetown, Penang is really fun. Make some plans like this or your host may give you the “Karate Cat” move.

If you’re staying with friends, please remember that even though you’re on vacation, they aren’t. They probably still have work, appointments to keep, kids to cart around, routines to follow and errands to run, so it’s unlikely they can suspend their lives to be your travel buddy. (Nor is it exciting for them to visit tourist attractions they’ve seen before.) When our friends come to visit us, I usually devote a full day to them to show them around and help them get their bearings, and after that, they’re on their own. So if you want to be a good guest (and friend), make plans to do things on your own, which will also reduce the chance that your host will make a voodoo doll of you using the hair that you left in their shower drain.  Don’t worry, just use this list to help you figure out how to get around on your own and crush your trip like the globetrotting superstar that you are.

6. Know what to pack


Pack long sleeve shirts if you want to experience what it’s like to live in a sweat-lodge

A. Pack only clothing that is so light that you feel naked. It’s damn hot here, like surface-of-the-sun hot. Like your cotton t-shirts will be grossly soaked and sticking uncomfortably to the cone-of-flames that is now your body. If you can, find clothes that are spun from colored air. The closest thing to that I can find is AIRism clothing by Uniqlo, which is super light, moisture-wicking and comfortably stretchy. Please appreciate this horrendous attempt at a selfie – this is me “modeling” (or more accurately, “looking remarkably confused”) in an AIRism tank top with a built-in bra. These things are crucial for survival, so I now have 9 of them. (No, Uniqlo did not sponsor this post, but they should! I will gladly accept payment in AIRism tank tops, thank you very much). 20160418_165937

B. Mosquito wipes, sunscreen, sun hats and swimwear. (Well, if you like to shop, you can get all that here).

C. A power converter. Here’s how Malaysia’s outlets look: 20160419_083911D. If you’re staying with friends, ask them what they may need and offer to be their mule for them. For example, bringing true San Francisco sourdough to an addict who misses her beloved crusty bread is the most awesome gift ever. (Hint, hint, HINT to all my friends who are coming to visit).

E. Comfortable walking sandals. (Skip the trainers. Just thinking of wearing socks in this heat makes my feet cry.)

F. If you’ve got long hair, invest in some hair clips. You won’t be able to wear your hear down since it creates a heat-trapping-tent on your neck, which is even more unpleasant than it sounds.

7. Know what NOT to pack.

A. No electronics that require direct electricity (unless you come from a country that uses the same kind of outlets as we have here). Battery-operated devices will charge just fine with an adapter. But if you’re coming from, say, the US, and you bring your hair dryer, the motor will fry immediately and you will be the proud owner of a flaming hairdryer (but no longer the owner of eyebrows or eyelashes).

burned off eyebrows

Medieval victim of hairdryer accident.

B. For the love of God, don’t bring any sweatshirts, or thick clothing of any kind. Well, you’ll need a fleece on the plane, since airlines like to approximate conditions of the Arctic Circle on their flights.

8. Vaccinations/medications

A. At the moment, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that people traveling to Malaysia get Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations. Check this link for up-to-the-minute vaccination recommendations: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/Malaysia

B. Malaria isn’t a big risk except in rural areas at this time, but again, check the link above for any protocol changes.

C. Dengue fever is the biggest risk right now, and we’ve known people who’ve had it – they say it feels like every bone in their body is breaking, which sounds lovely. It’s transmitted through mosquito bites and the only defense is prevention. So arm yourself with lots of bug spray and wipes!

9. Get a gimongous memory card for your camera.

I know what you’re thinking: “How many photos could anyone possibly want of a monkey sitting on their head?” Answer: 8,352,934.


10. Plan the best month to visit.

Here’s an easy way to help you plan for the most optimal of year for your trip to Malaysia.

Okay, since you guys are so awesome, you get one more bonus tip: pack your smile. People are here are so welcoming and friendly, and they love it when visitors enjoy and appreciate their country. A smile is the first step to friendship here, so flash your pearly-whites if you’d like to see peoples’ faces light up and treat you not as a tourist, but as a new friend.

Enjoy your trip!


All smiles in Penang! This sweet guy invited us to share his table during breakfast and then bought us tea. We sat down as strangers and left as friends. 🙂

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