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Malaysia can be more expensive than other destinations in Southeast Asia so we were surprised that we ended up spending less than we did in Cambodia.
Our main reason for being in Malaysia (we’ve visited twice before) was to do a sailing course in Langkawi. We spent a few days in Kuala Lumpur where we applied for a Thai visa (our next stop) and then ten days on Langkawi island before the course started.
We actually spent nearly three weeks in Malaysia but as the last week was on the sailing course (more on that below) which isn’t on your typical traveller’s itinerary we are sharing our budget here for the two weeks before the course started.
As always we tracked our expenses using our travel budget iPhone app Trail Wallet (update: after 10 years, the app is sadly no longer available). The summary screen displays our final trip costs in our home currency British pounds and (with a tap of the screen) Malaysian Ringgit and US dollars.
Here’s the total amount we spent for two people during 13 days in Malaysia:
We were a little over budget (as usual!) and our average daily spend was £43/ $72 which is £21.50/ $36 per person. Here’s what we spent it on:
The exchange rate is around £1 = 5.50 MYR (Malaysian ringgit) and US$1 = 3.20 MYR.
Accommodation (30.1% of total, £13/ $22 a day)
We always stay in double rooms with private bathroom and WiFi.
We used booking.com to find a room for our two nights in Kuala Lumpur which can be quite expensive. As we weren’t staying for long we prioritised price and ended up at the [email protected] in Chinatown for 85.50 MYR a night. The location was good but the room was small and rather depressing.
Hotels on the island of Langkawi were also expensive (especially on the beach) so I was really happy to find Soluna Guesthouse which was great value at 75 MYR a night for the most expensive Special room with private hot water bathroom and air conditioning (room 1 on the end is the nicest). Dorms are also available for 20 MYR but it’s not a party hostel. It’s in a quiet rural area next to a field of cows and only a five minute walk to Cenang beach through a field of palm trees. Rooms are simple but nicely done, and there’s a garden and common area with hammocks, sofas, and a small shared fridge.
It was a pleasant place to be and we found it easy to spend ten days here. Simon worked on the desk in the room while I worked on the table on the balcony. The only downside is that the WiFi was very variable, usually quite slow. We found 3G to be faster and ended up buying more data so we could tether our laptops to the iPhone (see Miscellaneous).
Food & Drink (44.23% of total, £19/ $32 a day)
Our Food & Drink budget includes the subcategories of eating out, food shopping (snacks as we had no kitchen access), coffee, and drinking water.
I’m actually really surprised that our food budget is similar to Cambodia as we ate some really cheap meals in Malaysia. Unlike in Cambodia we were able to eat in cheap local restaurants as vegetarians due to the large number of Indian restaurants. Our eating out budget was lower but in Malaysia we spent more on coffee, water, and snacks.
Kuala Lumpur has the best Indian food we’ve eaten outside of India and that’s all we ate, either banana leaf meals (all you can eat curries and rice) for 5.50 MYR or our favourite masala dosas (rice and lentil pancakes stuffed with curried potato) for even less. There are loads of vegetarian South Indian restaurants in Brickfields and near Masjid Jamek station. Our favourite was Sangeetha (65 Lebuh Ampang).
Most of the restaurants on Cenang Beach in Langkawi are aimed at tourists and pretty expensive. We had a few splurge meals at Yasmin for good Syrian mezze and falafel, and L’Osteria at Pantai Tengah for upmarket Italian, but most of the time we ate in cheap Indian places.
Our favourite was Restoran Almaz (opposite Casa del Mar hotel) which was close to Soluna and very cheap. We loved watching our roti canai and dosa made from scratch in front of us. We liked roti pisang (banana flatbread/pancake) for breakfast (2 MYR) and masala dosa for dinner (3.50 MYR). The plain roti canai is also good and comes with dahl to dip it in for only 1 MYR each. For lunch we might have vegetable fried rice (4.50 MYR) or a selection of three vegetable dishes and rice from the buffet (6-7 MYR).
Simon’s coffee budget was quite high in Malaysia as he struggled to find good coffee on Langkawi so was “forced” to go to Starbucks every day (12 MYR). He also bought a lot of snacks and developed a daily Magnum ice cream habit on our sunset walks.
Transport (9.48% of total, £4/ $6.74 a day)
In Kuala Lumpur this included the airport bus and getting around by metro which is inexpensive.We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi which only cost 74 MYR each on Air Asia.There’s no public transport on Langkawi so we had to take a taxi from the airport to Cenang beach (20 MYR) and to Telaga Harbour for our sailing course.Motorbike rental was more expensive than in Thailand and Cambodia and they also asked to see a licence valid for motorbikes. Luckily they didn’t question us when we said it was. We rented an automatic scooter twice from T Shoppe on Cenang beach. The first time we got there before they opened at 9am to be one of the first three to get the early bird special—21 MYR for 12 hours. Usually it’s 33 MYR for 24 hours.The second time we paid 35 MYR for 24 hours for a bigger 150cc motorbike which was much more powerful, comfortable, and had more space under the seat.Petrol was cheap at 2.1 MYR a litre.
Entertainment (7.97% of total, £3.44/ $5.80 a day)
I went to four beachfront yoga classes with Langkawi Yoga at 20 MYR a class. Dorothy offers free pick up along Cenang beach.We rented a jet ski for 100 MYR for 30 minutes.We bought beer and chocolates as a present when we were invited for dinner on a yacht.
Miscellaneous (8.23% of total, £3.55/ $6 a day)
We spent a lot on data as we used it on the boat and when our guesthouse internet was too slow including to download a huge file. We first got a free U Mobile SIM at the airport and paid 45 MYR for 2GB data. We used this up and couldn’t buy a new data plan so bought a Hotlink SIM for 10 MYR and paid 68 MYR for 3GB data, and later spent 30 MYR on even more data.Toiletries and suncream.Towels (which we needed for the sailing course).Another hat (Simon constantly loses them).Laundry (around 10 MYR a load).
Costs Not Included Here
In the budget above we haven’t included a few costs that aren’t normal travel expenses or our transport to and from the country.
Two month tourist visas for Thailand—110 MYR each.Six day Competent Crew sailing course —usually 3000 MYR each but we got a 40% media discount.Extra expenses during the sailing course—445 MYR for us both. For more details see our Langkawi Sailing School review.Flight Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur—$103 each on Air Asia.Ferry Langkawi to Koh Lipe, Thailand—135 MYR each.
We also spent a few more days in Langkawi after the sailing course and spent around the same as we did in the budget above.
We were worried that Malaysia was going to be a lot more expensive than Thailand and Cambodia and though some things are (motorbike rental, western food, most hotels), we managed to save money by eating cheap but delicious Indian food and finding a great value guesthouse on Langkawi. As Kuala Lumpur is Air Asia’s hub it’s also very inexpensive to fly.
We travel flashpacker style and don’t worry too much about sticking to our budget, so you could definitely spend less in Malaysia by choosing more basic accommodation, sticking to street food, and avoiding Starbucks. Like elsewhere in Southeast Asia though, Malaysia is a great value destination if you want to splurge a little. We’re going to miss these prices in Europe this summer.