Is Malaysia safe to travel solo?
Whereas Malaysia isn’t a dangerous country, there are risks involved. Crime is common in certain parts of most cities, especially in Kuala Lumpur. Always remain vigilant of bag snatchers from people on motorbikes who drive up behind and grab your bag. Others include petty theft if you leave items unattended. Kuala Lumpur’s monorail, or LRT, is a prime spot for pickpockets. If you follow precautions, safe travel isn’t an issue in most parts of Malaysia and the level of crime is around the same as other SEA destinations such as Vietnam. But crime isn’t the only concern for solo tourists. Many worry about Malaysia’s status as a conservative Muslim country.
Safe Travel to Malaysia: Religion
Malaysia is a multicultural society with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus among others living together with Muslims making up a majority. Out of these religious groups, you’ll find Malays, Indians, Chinese and those with an indigenous heritage in East Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak. Religious and ethnic tensions do exist, but there’s nothing to worry about as a tourist. In fact, you won’t even be aware of any underlining issues when you visit the country.
Regarding religion, certain parts of Malaysia are very conservative including Kuala Lumpur, Shah Alam, Kedah and Kelantan. Other states, such as Penang, with a Chinese majority, are less.
The only issues you’ll face on a solo trip to Malaysia is the relative difficulty of buying alcohol compared to other SEA countries and finding open restaurants during Ramadan.
Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, which often creates concern in the LGBT community. However, in the same manner as heterosexual couples, as long as you don’t display public affections, you’ll face no problems at all.
Safe Travel to Malaysia: Food
One of the best parts about travelling to Malaysia is the abundance and variety of food. Eating street food is often on the must-do list for people backpacking Malaysia alone. Restaurants serve Malay, Indian and Chinese food along with vendors on the street having satay (kebabs on sticks), fried bananas and steamboat (boiled stuff on sticks). Some places are more hygienic than others, and if you don’t have a stomach of steel, it may be better to choose the cleaner restaurants.
In general, Malaysian food isn’t spicy like Thai or Indonesian dishes, but some are. It’s also worth mentioning that street restaurants often use MSG and you should learn how to ask in the local language if you have allergies.
Solo female travellers in Malaysia
If you want to do solo female travel Malaysia, there are a few things you need to be aware of, especially after dark.
What’s safe during daylight hours, may not be after nightfall. You may get unwanted attention as a woman solo tourist at night as groups of men stare at you or make catcalls. Thieves and drug addicts would typically target the more vulnerable young females too. Foreigners are no exception.
Local Malaysian women, in general, try not to go out alone late at night, and when they do, often travel in groups. If you’re staying at a hostel and make friends with another backpacker, try to stick together. Stay in well-lit areas when you can’t find someone to hang out with.
Malaysian women often complain of getting unwanted attention of some Malaysian men on public transport. Crowded buses and train carriages give some the opportunity to grope or even take compromising photographs of women. Not everyone is like this, but it does happen. Many of the carriages on public transport now have women-only areas. Stay in these if you can.
As mentioned above, bag snatching is a common occurrence in the touristy parts of both east and west Malaysia. Hold your bags close and sling them over your body if possible. The risk isn’t significantly higher than other destinations SEA, apart from Singapore, but you still need to be very careful.
- Another safety issue for a solo female traveller is to be aware of people approaching you to either ask a question or offer a service. The person may be a scammer trying to distract you while someone else takes your possessions. Other times they may try to convince you to join their tour or go for a drink. Never follow up on anyone’s suggestions unless you know who they are.
How solo female travellers should dress
One of the questions women ask before visiting is what to wear in a country with a conservative Muslim population. In the tourist areas such as Langkawi, Penang and the backpacker areas of Kuala Lumpur, you’re free to dress how you want. Sleeveless tops and shorts are popular among the non-Muslim Malaysians, and you should be fine too.
But, in the more conservative areas or the neighbourhoods away from the touristy areas, it’s advisable to cover your arms and legs. It’s not uncommon for locals in the northern states such as Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu to get unwanted male attention, catcalls or people shouting obscenities if you wear the same here.
Backpacking solo in Malaysia
Backpacking around Malaysia is a rewarding experience. Solo travellers will find like-minded people in the major tourist spots such as Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Bintang and Penang’s Georgetown. Almost everyone in the country can speak English to some degree making travel much more manageable. Beds in a hostel or a budget hotel are very affordable, and most people could comfortably live on less than $40 a day.
The café culture is very active around Malaysia too with people either drinking coffee or tea in a restaurant, at one of the large chain coffee shops or by the side of the road. Alcohol is more restricted outside of the tourist areas, and you should expect drinks in bars and nightclubs to be very expensive by local standards.
Solo vs guided travel: what to choose
Some like to travel independently whereas others prefer guided tours. Both are common ways to travel around Malaysia. Younger backpackers almost always travel alone and more often than not stick to Western Malaysia. Older tourists, especially those from Mainland China, practically always visit as part of a tour.
If you’re visiting Malaysia alone, travelling independently is cheaper and gives you more flexibility. Public transport is efficient, and long-distance bus routes connect major cities on a regular basis. Trains in Kuala Lumpur are a good way to get to the capital’s outer districts as well as to northern parts of the country. You can also rely on domestic flights connecting most states in both East and West Malaysia.
Guided tours may be restricted and limited. You may not find an organised tour in English at the price you want to pay to visit the destinations on your list. People who want to take a guided tour of Malaysia usually arrange everything before they arrive in the country and are met at the airport.
Instead, it could be a good idea to combine independent travel with day trips if you like the experience of having a guide. Plot out a route to the places you want to visit and organise a day trip or find a local guide when you arrive. Day tours often take place in a minibus or the guide’s private car. Alternatively, another option is to base yourself in Kuala Lumpur and go on a guided tour to either Malacca, Cameron Highlands or Genting. However, you could visit them independently by relying on public transport without many difficulties too.
Recommended itinerary for a solo travel in Malaysia
The first stop on any trip to Malaysia is more often than not starts in Kuala Lumpur. International flights from around the globe arrive here, and the city centre has a range of attractions and opportunities for shopping. If you’re travelling to Malaysia alone, explore the city for a few days. This is a great place to get a feel for what the country is like and to meet other solo travellers at your hostel.
Next, take the bus to Cameron Highlands, which is a mountain resort a few hours to the north of the capital. The air temperature is cooler making it a favourite spot for local tourists. Strawberries grow in the mountains, and you can buy fresh ones around the town. The town centre is small, and there are a few museums such as the Time Museum with a collection of memorabilia from around the world. But the main highlights are relaxation and hiking.
You can then take the bus to Penang and base yourself in Georgetown. Penang has a Chinese majority, which tourists often appreciate for the colonial architecture and alcohol is more widely available. The state covers a section in the northwest part of the Malaysian Peninsular and Penang Island. The first gets very few tourists and the second is a hotspot. Attractions include the colonial architecture, street art and food.
After Penang, you have the choice to take a domestic flight to either Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur or other parts of Malaysia. Langkawi is a tropical paradise with duty-free alcohol, excellent beaches, endless resorts and a range of water sports. This is one of the best places in Malaysia if you want to relax for a few days under the sun. A top tip is to rent a motorbike and drive around the perimeter of the island to the capital, Kuah and visit the Langkawi Wildlife Park.
Alternatively, you could return to Kuala Lumpur and take a trip south to the former Portuguese Melaka or visit either Sabah or Sarawak to the east.
All of the destinations are safe places to visit for any solo traveller, and you should face few problems in places like Langkawi, Penang and Cameron Highlands. Just be more careful when you’re in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is a hotspot for backpackers and those travelling solo on their trip to SEA. Most tourists love the country for the food, culture and prices. Any solo traveller is likely to have the time of their lives exploring this diverse country, and you’re never too far from meeting fellow travellers or making new friends. Just take care of your possessions and be careful if you’re a solo female tourist.