This is a summary (with some details) of all our expenses for the 70 nights / 71 days we spent in Malaysia during June / July / August 2019. You should keep in mind that if one travels at a slower pace it's easier to make savings as especially transportation can eat into your budget quickly. In this case, we particularly made use of long-stay discounts by booking with Airbnb for 28 day stays. That said, we found that if one can contain accommodation costs and avoid specialised or fine-dine restaurants, Malaysia is a fairly affordable destination. Travelling full-time changes the way one travels and it becomes less of a quest to tick off the 'popular' sights than it becomes a way of experiencing your surrounds in a slower, relaxed fashion. Many further cost savings are indeed possible, but one should also not completely deprive oneself of uniquely local experiences that ultimately add value to your visit to a foreign country. However, more often than not, the events, encounters and connections with people that stand out, are those that you do not foresee or could even have planned for. Like most things in life, a balance between being frugal and making use of opportunities should be sought.
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(Note that the following spending does not include flights to and from Malaysia, but does include local flights within Malaysia.)
Kuala Lumpur, 14 nights - Mercu Summer Suites
(AirBnB Studio Apartment)
The apartment is in the Mercu Summer Suites building on the 33rd floor. The apartment itself was fairly spacious with a couch, coffee table, dining table with 4 chairs and a moderately equipped kitchen (full fridge, microwave, 2 plate induction stove, kettle & toaster). The bathroom has a wet room style shower but with sufficient space. There is a small (1m wide) balcony with sliding doors, but unfortunately, the current construction of another even taller building right in front of it makes the balcony somewhat useless except to hang washing. Location was a 10-minute walk to Bukit Nanas Metro Station, 10-minute walk to two local supermarkets and also about a 15-minute walk to the Petronas Towers and KLCC. There was also access to a small gym, yoga deck, swimming pool and jacuzzi at all times, which was an added bonus. There are also 2 convenience stores on the ground floor of the building which can be very handy.
Georgetown, Penang 28 nights - Mansion One Airbnb Apartment
(Airbnb Studio Apartment)
The apartment is in the Mansion One building on the 20th floor. The apartment itself was very spacious with a lovely corner couch, TV, working desk space, dining table with 4 chairs and a moderately equipped kitchen (full fridge, microwave, 2 plate electric stove & kettle) as well as a laundry machine. The bedroom had a huge window which let in plenty of natural light and there was more than sufficient storage place for clothing. The bathroom has a separate shower, basin and toilet. There is a narrow “service” balcony where the air-conditioner units sit and this was a great space for drying our laundry. Overall, we found the apartment to be very comfortable for our needs and we enjoyed our month stay here. There is a Starbucks as well as a very small convenience store on the ground floor of the building. Location was perfectly suited to us as we were right at the bus stop which served both the free bus routes as well as all other local busses. We were within walking distance (1.5km) to a supermarket in both directions which we could also reach by free bus. The free bus routes went to Gurney Plaza, The Paragon Shopping Center and Gurney Drive Night Food Market in the one direction and to Komtar and from there to the centre of Old Georgetown in the other direction. We were just 5 minutes walk away from the Northam Beach Cafe Food Area and there are also a few other eateries along Gurney Drive, all within walking distance. Gurney drive has a pedestrian walkway all the way to the Night Food Market where we would run most mornings. Overall this apartment was great value for money.
Langkawi, 28 nights
(AirBnB 2 Bedroom Apartment)
The two-bedroom apartment is situated in Pantai Cenang area, within walking distance to the popular Pantai Cenang Beach and convenience stores, but a little inland amongst the fields and a few kilometres from a suitable grocery store. The apartment itself was very spacious with couches and coffee table, a working desk space, dining table with 4 chairs and a basic equipped kitchen (full fridge, 2 plate gas stove, kettle & toaster). The bedrooms were both air-conditioned and each had a double bed, small side table and wardrobe. The bathroom has a separate shower, basin and toilet. There was a lovely undercover patio with table and 4 chairs as well as a hammock. Overall, we found the apartment to be very comfortable for our needs and we enjoyed our month stay here. Location was perfectly suited to us as we were just 5 minutes walk away from Pantai Cenang Beach and the closest Thursday night food market. We also really enjoyed being able to run between the rice fields in the mornings. would run most mornings. Overall this apartment was great value for money.
We generally try to eat like and with the locals. In Malaysia, this is very easy with the exception of breakfast. We prefer a western-style breakfast and although this can easily be found in Malaysia, it is not the local custom and is thus relatively expensive. For this reason, we choose to rather prepare our own breakfast at our accommodation. The most traditional local breakfast dish would be nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk) with various accompaniments.
Traditional cuisine in Malaysia is incredibly diverse, mainly due to the diverse cultural history of Malaysia. You will find Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Bornean cuisine with strong influences from Thai, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabian and even British cuisines. You can also find western food very easily available but at a slight price premium.
In Kuala Lumpur we ended up preparing our own dinners roughly half of the time and eating out at night markets or small local eateries the remainder of the time. In Penang and Langkawi, we ended up preparing our own dinners most of the time and eating out at night markets or small local eateries around twice a week. It can definitely be slightly cheaper to eat local dishes (particularly rice and noodle dishes) all the time, however, we prefer to be able to vary our diet with salads and vegetables where and when possible. The supermarkets in Kuala Lumpur and Penang have a great variety of fresh produce and we found it easy to cook for ourselves. The choice of fresh products in Langkawi is somewhat more limited and less predictable, however, we were always able to find something suitable to prepare.
Being a predominantly Muslim country, although alcohol is available in some places, it remains relatively expensive. We did not make a habit of consuming alcohol in Kuala Lumpur or Penang, only having beer one evening at the top of the Heli Lounge Bar for sunset in Kuala Lumpur and the occasional beer in Penang. Langkawi, on the other hand, is a duty-free island and alcohol is significantly more affordable. Here we purchased beer as well as Gin & Tonic from the supermarkets to enjoy on our patio daily.
We make use of local transportation as much as possible and only resort to taxis if there's a good reason or no alternative. Public transport is very easy and convenient to use in Kuala Lumpur. We purchased 2 KL Travel Pass Cards (you need one per person) which included return transportation from and back to the airport as well as two consecutive days unlimited use of the LRT (metro), monorail & all local busses, but excluding commuter trains. This was by far the majority of our transportation cost for the 2 weeks (MYR 240 of MYR 268)! We could have made use of a local bus from and to the airport which would have been a fraction of the price, but considering our time of arrival, we opted for the metro. The card is a convenient and efficient way of using public transport if you load it with credit and are going to be using it often and regularly, but using cash is just as easy and recommended if you are only going to be doing a few trips. We used cash for the rest of our trips. The road traffic in Kuala Lumpur can be rather extreme, so although taxis and Grab are easily available, often public transport will be the faster alternative! Grab is the Malaysian equivalent of Uber and can even be used for food deliveries (GrabFood). The city is fairly pedestrian-friendly, and if you can bear the humidity, you can explore a large area by foot. The public transportation stations are within such close proximity of each other that it is really easy to find a station when you want to. There are also public shared bicycle rental facilities if you care to brave the traffic!
We make use of local transportation as much as possible and only resort to taxis if there's a good reason or no alternative. Public transport is very easy and convenient to use in Penang. The local bus system extends across the entire reach of the island and is very affordable. There are even a few free bus routes in and around the George Town area which we found very useful. We made use of a local bus from and to the airport which cost a whole MYR3.5 per person all the way to George Town! You will need to have some small notes and coin change with you when using the busses as they do not give any change. The road traffic in Penang can be rather bad at times, but the island is so small that nowhere on the island really takes much longer than an hour to get to at the worst. Taxis and Grab are easily available, and if you don’t like waiting for the bus, these are definitely a much faster alternative, but also a lot more costly! Grab is the Malaysian equivalent of Uber and can even be used for food deliveries (GrabFood). The city areas are fairly pedestrian-friendly, and if you can bear the humidity, you can explore a large area by foot. The bus stations are within such close proximity of each other that it is really easy to find a station when you want to. There are also public shared bicycle rental facilities if you care to brave the traffic!
Langkawi does not have much of a public transportation system other than the local minibuses that serve the island. Metered taxis and Grab are however easily available and fairly affordable. If you stay in the Pantai Cenang area, you will be able to walk to the beach and nearby convenience stores and restaurants. The best way to get around, visit the sites of Langkawi and explore the island is by means of a rental vehicle, preferably a scooter if you are comfortable riding one. We rented a scooter for a few days during our 28-day stay to explore the island. Scooter rental is fairly affordable with a “newer” model scooter including half insurance costing us MRY30 per 24 hour period from a reputable rental shop.
Long-distance overland buses are a popular means to travel between cities. There are however also such cheap internal flights available, that it can often be both quicker and cheaper to fly to your next destination. We took an internal flight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang and again from Penang to Langkawi.
In Langkawi, we rented a scooter for a few days during our 28-day stay to explore the island. Scooter rental is fairly affordable with a “newer” model scooter including half insurance costing us MRY30 per 24 hour period from a reputable rental shop.
CELLPHONE & DATA
Being very dependent on data for getting around and rather heavy data user generally, this is one of the first things we investigate when staying in a country for a period of time. We found the best option for us was purchasing a local prepaid Tune Talk SIM Card (MYR 10 each) which included some slow-speed data. We then each purchased 1GB of high-speed data and unlimited calls between same network valid for a period of 30 days for an additional MYR 10 each time. There are generally plenty of free wifi spots all around Malaysia, although we never had the need to connect to many of them. All our accommodations also had free wifi included.
Our "General" category includes everyday expenses like toiletries, medical, laundry & small shopping items.
We generally try to stay away from very touristy places and prefer to explore independently. In Kuala Lumpur, there are many “tourist activities” which do not need to cost money. Even visiting the Batu Caves and KL Forest Eco Park is free. It’s the entrance fees to observation decks which are expensive and can quickly add up. For this reason, we chose to rather pay for a drink (MYR 30 will get you the cheapest beer) at the Heli Loung Bar where we could enjoy the sunset and a stunning view over the whole of Kuala Lumpur. Public toilet facilities are available at most tourist attractions, and although they may often be pay facilities, the fee is usually very low. Just keep in mind that the facilities are very seldom western-style toilets. They are usually the Asian style (hole in the ground) without any toilet paper provided.
We generally try to stay away from very touristy places and prefer to explore independently. In Penang, there are many “tourist activities” which do not need to cost money. Walking around George Town, visiting most Temple Grounds and even the Penang National Park and Penang Botanical Gardens are free. It’s the entrance fees to observation decks which are expensive and can quickly add up. For this reason, we did not go to The Top Penang at Komtar. We climbed up Penang Hill so only paid for one-way tickets for the Funicular down (MYR15 per person one-way). At the Penang National Park, we took a scenic boat ride from Pantai Keracut Beach to Monkey Beach and back to the Park Entrance which cost MYR20 per person. Public toilet facilities are available at most tourist attractions, and although they may often be pay facilities, the fee is usually very low. Just keep in mind that the facilities are very seldom western-style toilets. They are usually the Asian style (hole in the ground) without any toilet paper provided.
Langkawi has so many tourist attractions, many free but also some rather expensive ones. We had a friend visiting us for a week, so we did end up spending a little more on sightseeing than we usually would. Our best value for money excursion was a Langkawi Island Hopping Tour, for only MYR30 pp for a half-day trip to three islands including visiting the Pregnant Maiden Lake. We also went up the Langkawi SkyCab and walked across the Langkawi SkyBridge (MYR55 pp). A fantastic free activity is to visit the 7 Wells Waterfall. We also spent MYR180 to rent a boat for the three of us to tour Kilim Geo Park which was well worth the experience and worked out to a similar cost compared to joining a group excursion.