Cost of budget travel in Malaysia: how expensive is Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi & more!

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Malaysia is one of the most developed countries in Southeast Asia. Home to numerous beautiful beaches, historical buildings and biodiversity, I’d say Malaysia shouldn’t be missed out in your Southeast Asia travel itinerary. Today, let’s talk about how much does it cost to travel in Malaysia to help you plan your Malaysia travel budget focusing on affordable travel in Malaysia and backpacking.

This is a guest post written by our fellow travel blogger, Yen from Wandering Journal. He will share some really amazing insights on the cost of travel in Malaysia and how much does it really cost to travel in Malaysia on a budget!

The exchange rate that was used in this post – 1USD = 4.09 MYR

How expensive is Malaysia: what to expect? Cost of travel in Malaysia on a budget

First of all, if you want a quick answer, Malaysia is a lot cheaper than you think. The cost of affordable travel in Malaysia is slightly higher than in Vietnam, for example, but overall, Malaysia is not expensive. Reasonably-priced accommodations can be found almost all year round through online booking websites. You’ll travel comfortably if you’re willing to spend $50 (MYR200) per day. For budget travelers, $30 (MYR120) per day is enough to take everything in. Let’s dive into the details now.

How expensive is food in Malaysia?

Depending on which city in Malaysia you’re traveling to, the food prices vary.

In Kuala Lumpur, be prepared to spend around MYR8-10 ($2-3) for a simple lunch or dinner in a local café. In restaurants, you’ll need to budget around MYR20-30 (up to $7-8) for a meal.

In smaller cities like Penang, Ipoh, and Melaka, street foods or foods in local cafes cost around MYR5-8 (up to 2 USD) for a fulfilling meal. In the restaurants, the prices will be almost the same, around MYR15-30 (up to $7) for each meal. Not a big difference compared to Kuala Lumpur.

For Johor Bahru, due to its close location to Singapore, everything tends to be more expensive there, especially when it comes to foods. However, the great thing about Johor Bahru is that the price differences between local cafes and proper restaurants do not differ a lot. That means, the foods in local café cost around MYR6-9 per meal, while the restaurants’ menu can fill your stomach in under MYR15. Not much of a price gap compared to other cities, right?

Cost of travel in Malaysia: how expensive is Kuala Lumpur, Penang & more!

Alcohol prices in Malaysia

Malaysia is a Muslim country. 70% of Malaysians are Muslim, while 30% are not, so you’ll meet multiple religions in the country. And just so you know, alcohol is prohibited to Muslims in Malaysia. That’s probably why alcohol is taxed extremely heavily in Malaysia, with prices on par with Western countries. One can of 325ml beer in a convenience store cost you around MYR9-12 ($3) In restaurants and bars, be prepared to pay 1.5 times more, or even double!

But still, that depends on where you’re traveling. Have you ever heard of tax-free destinations in Malaysia? Without the tax, a can of beer costs only MYR2-3, as compared to MYR9 in other cities. The most famous tax-free island would be Langkawi Island. Pretty ridiculous, right? That’s why I don’t drink beer in Malaysia.

alcohol in Malaysia

Transportation costs in Malaysia

Intra-city Transportation

Within a city, GrabCar is the most popular and efficient way of transportation. There used to be Uber in Malaysia until GrabCar acquired it in 2018, now, there are no significant competitors for this giant car-sharing app company. How does it work? Well, it works the same way as Uber, other than the fare is fixed. There were cases where drivers take the longer routes and take advantages of the Uber meter system.

In Kuala Lumpur, if you prefer a more economical way, take public transport. There are a dozen of railways, bringing access to all locations in the Klang Valley. Outside of Kuala Lumpur, public transports are not as reliable. In Penang, public transportation might take you a long time because they never arrive at bus stations on time. So I’d go for GrabCar especially if I don’t have much time to explore around.

Inter-city Transport

For flights, AirAsia has the cheapest flight if you’re traveling within West Malaysia. If you’re going for flights, be sure to buy your tickets long before your flight, because it could surge up to hundred of MYR if you’re purchasing a week before your departure. You can also check the prices and the availability on Skyscanner.

Most people prefer traveling by bus because it’s more economical, and there are lots of buses traveling between cities — for instance, Penang to Kuala Lumpur or Johor Bahru and even Singapore.

Nope, there are no sleeper buses like those you found in Vietnam and Laos. So if you’re traveling 8 hours, make it a night bus because you’ll never want to waste a day on the bus. Not much scenery outside the windows either, unlike New Zealand.

From Penang to Kuala Lumpur, the buses cost around MYR30-40, while buses to Johor Bahru might cost up to MYR70-100.

Cost of travel in Malaysia: how expensive is Kuala Lumpur, Penang & more!

Accommodation prices in Malaysia. Budget travel in Malaysia

If you look deeper and compare the Google Reviews of the hostels and hotels in Malaysia with, say, those in Vietnam, you’ll find that Malaysia’s hostels usually have a very low review rating, which might be distracting for backbackers and budget travelers in Malaysia and would make them book a more expensive accomodation type.

I’ve stayed in lots of hostels up until now, and most of them just don’t seem to be that bad after all. So don’t care too much about the ratings.

To find the best deals, always use online booking from websites like Booking and Agoda. Agoda is particularly huge in Asia, so definitely check it out. You’re very likely to get deals at 50% discount or more.

For example, if you book a room at the counter physically, the double room might be MYR80, but if you’re lucky, you can get the double room for MYR40. I’ve done that, several times, so give it a go!

Backpacker hostels in Malaysia range between MYR20-30 for a dorm bed could be more if you prefer more comfortable beds. A double room would be around MYR50-80 for those who’re traveling on a budget in Malaysia. The range would be too big if I were to talk about more luxury options. Note from Liza: As you know, luxury hotels are expensive everywhere. But in Asia, you can afford luxury for less, for example, we stayed in a really amazing hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia for a very affordable price. In case you’re interested, here’s my post.

But comparatively, accommodation in Malaysia are not the main spending of your Malaysia travel budget, unless you’re a proper luxury traveler. Let’s talk about the cost of traveling in Malaysia of a daily basis – where would you spend money in Malaysia.

Cost of travel in Malaysia: how expensive is Kuala Lumpur, Penang & more!

Daily travel budget in Malaysia – how expensive is backpacking and budget traveling in Malaysia?

Let’s say you’re a solo backpacker who is tight on budget and doesn’t care much about being comfortable; it’s possible to get by at MYR50 per day (that’s around $13 – which is wow, pretty cheap). But that would be compromising everything, no drinking, no nightlife, everything would be basic.

Here’s a rundown:
Accommodation – MYR20
Food & Snacks – MYR20
Transport – MYR10

But for me, I would expect to spend at least MYR100-120 per day, (that’s up to $40) and I don’t drink. There are a lot of attractions in Malaysia, and most of them charge entrance fees. Some are really worth visiting, so don’t be too tight on yourself. Did I mention the great foods too?

Cost of travel in Malaysia on a budget: how expensive is Kuala Lumpur, Penang & more! Backpacking in Malaysia

Summary of the cost to travel in Malaysia on a budget

Malaysia is a wonderland if you’re looking for different cultures and vibes. It’s multiracial, with 3 very different main ethnics: Malays, Chinese and Indians. All with different religion and cultural practices. In Malaysia, you’ll get a taste of them all in one go. Malaysia is not expensive and it’s possible to enjoy Malaysia on a budget. I hope you enjoyed this post about the cost of travel in Malaysia on a budget / budget for backpacking in Malaysia. As usual, happy traveling!


Guest post by Zheng Yen Ang

Travel blogger at Wandering Journal

Yen is a full-time university student who always takes full advantages of his holidays to travel for new experiences. He’s been to New Zealand for Working Holiday, volunteered in Kathmandu and exchanged in California along with several backpacking trips through Southeast Asia. He gives in-depth travel tips and guides in his travel blog.

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