Malaysia Budget Guide – How Much Does It Really Cost To Travel In Malaysia?

Thousands of people congregate outside the gold statue of Lord Murugan at the Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur.  

Malaysia is a country literally made up of two halves. Peninsular Malaysia borders Thailand in the north and Singapore in the south, while Malaysian Borneo is located on the predominantly Indonesian island of Borneo. The tiny country of Brunei is also located here. Whether you’re looking for amazing nature, fantastic architecture or quiet days on the beach, Malaysia has something for everyone! 

So how much does it cost to travel in Malaysia?

Malaysia didn’t make it into our readers poll of the cheapest countries to travel in Southeast Asia but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. If you pay attention to what you are doing, know where to eat, how to get around and other tricks of budget travel, you’ll find Malaysia surprisingly friendly on the wallet!

Botanical Gardens in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Whether you’re a city lover or prefer the countryside, Malaysia has something for you!

Cost Of Backpacking In Malaysia – Quick Answers!

  • Cost of Street Food: 5 – 25RM ($1.20-$6USD)
  • Cost of Local Food in a Restaurant: 15 – 30RM ($3.50-$7USD)
  • Cost of Western Food in a Restaurant: 30 – 75RM ($7-$17USD)
  • Cost of Water: 3 – 5RM (70 cents – $1.20USD) per litre
  • Cost of Beer: 5 – 40RM ($1.20-$10USD)
  • Cost of a Hostel Bed: 10 – 80RM ($2.60-$20USD)
  • Cost of a Private Room: 27-170RM ($6.50-$40USD)
  • Cost of a Trishaw Ride: 40-100RM ($10-$24USD) per hour
  • Cost of Scooter Hire: 10-40RM ($2.40 – $10USD) per day
  • Cost of Long Distance Buses: 21 – 100MR ($5-$23USD) per journey

Suggested Budgets For Travelling In Malaysia

Shoestring Backpacker: 100-150RM ($23-$35USD) per day

The shoestring backpackers among you will be comfortable travelling around Malaysia, providing you are happy with street food, dorm rooms and not drinking. Even the tightest budgets can extend to some of the more expensive tours, like orangutan spotting, if you are careful throughout the rest of your trip!

Living It Large Backpacker: 175-250RM ($40-$60USD) per day

A living it large backpacker will easily get by on less than $60USD per day in Malaysia. You’ll be able to afford cheap private rooms, food from either street food stalls or restaurants and maybe even afford the odd alcoholic beverage! Trips and activities shouldn’t be an issue for you but if you are starting to feel the pinch, stop at just one beer! 

The foyer at BackHome Hostel, Kuala Lumpur
The lovely BackHome Hostel, Kuala Lumpur, from $12 US per night.

Flashpacker: 250+RM ($60+USD) per day

Malaysia is so well connected that the flashpackers out there can easily blast around the country in comfort! Private rooms at all but the swankiest hotels will be in your price range, as will good quality restaurant food and more days out than you can dream of! Malaysia is a great spot for flashpackers to visit!


Currency In Malaysia

Malaysians use the Malaysian Ringgit (RM) as their currency. The name comes from the Malay term for jagged (ringgit) which was always used to refer to the dodgy coins minted by colonial powers. Over the years, ringgit came to mean ‘money’ in Malay pop culture so even the Singapore or Brunei Dollars are sometimes referred to as ringgit by Malaysians. This is also the reason ringgit is referred to as RM or Ringgit Malaysian. 

Malaysian Ringgit
The Malaysian Ringgit is the official currency of the country.

Malaysia Currency Conversions

Conversions correct as of August 2020. Unless something drastic happens between then and now, these conversions will give you a good idea what your money is worth in Malaysia!

  • $1USD = RM4.20
  • £1GBP = RM5.50
  • €1EUR = RM5

How Much Does a Trip to Malaysia Cost?

Cost of Street Food in Malaysia

5 – 25RM ($1.20-$6USD)

Much like neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia is a nation built on immigration. This influx of cultures has created some of the most delicious and varied culinary options for backpackers to dig their teeth into. And the best bit? Even the best tasting street food is cheap and easy to find!

Often the cheapest time to eat street food is breakfast, where you can expect to pick up a cup of teh tarik (Malaysian pulled tea) and dish of Nasi Lemak, one of the top-rated street foods in Southeast Asia, for around 5-10MR. 

Buying Nasi Lemak in Nasi Lemak Wanjo
Waiting in line for a taste of Malaysia’s national dish – Nasi lemak.

Cost of Restaurant Food in Malaysia

15 – 75RM ($3.50-$12USD)

If you stick to eating Malaysian food in restaurants, you’ll find that the prices really aren’t that much more than in hawker centres or street food stalls. You’ll easily find great dishes for under 20RM in small local eateries. Whether you fancy Chinese, Indian or a mix of the two for lunch, Malaysia never fails to deliver on delicious and cheap food.

Santa Chapati Indian Restaurant, Kuala Lumpur
Must try! Santa Chapati Indian Restaurant, Kuala Lumpur.

If you’re suffering an epic hangover that only western food can cure, or are just fed up with months of eating rice and noodles, you’re in luck. Sort of. Burgers, pizzas and a whole range of western meals are available throughout the country but don’t expect the pricing to be the same. It’s standard practice for western meals to be 3-4 times the price of local food in Malaysia!

Cost of Water in Malaysia

3 – 5RM (70 cents – $1.20USD) per litre

Tap water in Malaysia is a contentious issue. While the government claims that it is perfectly safe to drink, local news outlets have been continuously reporting for years that the water is not safe unless boiled first. This, they claim, helps remove chlorine and heavy metals from the water but there is no scientific evidence to back this up. In fact, the evidence is clear that boiling water does not remove chlorine or heavy metals! 

The infrastructure to provide safe drinking water is in place in Malaysia but it appears that whenever work is done on the pipework, they often let heavy metals leech into the water. 

To be safe when travelling in Malaysia, either filter the tap water using a water bottle with an inbuilt filter or stick to bottled water. 

Cost of Beer in Malaysia

5 – 40RM ($1.20-$10USD)

Beer, the backpacker favourite, might be worth avoiding in Malaysia. As a predominantly Muslim nation, any form of alcohol comes with a hefty price tag. You’ll be lucky to find beer cheaper than in Europe or the USA. If your budget is starting to look tight, not drinking in Malaysia is a great way to conserve it!

But if you just can’t help yourself, then drinking in Malaysia doesn’t have to break the bank. You’ll find beer at the cheaper end of this estimate at food centres or small local shops. Avoid the popular bars and tourist hotspots unless you want to be paying out of your derriere for a cheeky pint!

Cost of Accommodation in Malaysia

  • Hostel Dorm (per night)

10 – 80RM ($2.60-$20USD)

Throughout Malaysia, you’ll be able to find some really nice, well-rated hostels for well below $5USD per night! Almost all come with free WiFi and having breakfast included is the norm. Sadly for those on a proper tight budget, access to cooking facilities in Malaysian hostels is not as common as in other parts of Southeast Asia.

Hostels in big cities and popular tourist spots, such as Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown will command a slightly higher price but even the nicest of these won’t break the bank! We recommend using Booking or HostelWorld to secure the best deals and make sure you have a place to sleep when you first arrive in a new city!  

Hostels in Malaysian Borneo are less common than those on the peninsular but are still readily available. Don’t expect the amenities to be quite the same quality but the stunning landscapes and amazing activities on offer in Malaysian Borneo more than make up for this!

Capsule beds at ioHotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Capsule beds at ioHotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • Hostel Double Room (per night)

27-135RM ($6.50-$32USD)

Much like dorms, private rooms in hostels are common across the country. The average price is between 40-80RM ($10-$20USD per night) but it can vary slightly depending on where you are. Much like dorm rooms, locations such as Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur are on the higher end of this range!

  • Double Hotel Room (per night) 

27-170RM ($6.50-$40USD)

Hotels in Malaysia vary greatly in quality and cost. At the cheapest end, you can pick up a crummy hotel room for around the same as a basic private room in a hostel. Although, they are not likely to be as nice. On the realistic high end, a backpacker can expect to pay no more than $40USD per night for a decent hotel. Of course, you can go much higher than this range if you want to stay somewhere with a good chunk of stars next to its name but that’s not really backpacking is it?

Cost of Transport in Malaysia

Short Distance Transport

  • Taxis (Teksis)

Starting from 3RM with an extra 0.25RM added for every 200 metres travelled

Officially, taxis in Malaysia have to use the meter but this rule is often ignored, especially if you are a tourist. The driver is likely to claim that during rush hour (4 pm-8 pm) the meter isn’t necessary.  Instead, they’ll try to get you with an overinflated flat fare. If you have the option, refuse the ride and find yourself an honest driver who is willing to use the meter. It is common practice among travellers to tip a taxi driver who uses the meter, this helps to keep honest cabbies working!

If you are unable to find another option, then it’s time to unleash your haggling skills. Make sure you do not go for the first price the driver offers and instead haggle them down. It would also be prudent to make sure the price you are haggling over is for the entire trip and not per person. A common scam performed by dodgy taxi drivers is to let you haggle the price down and then claim it was per person, essentially making you pay four times more!

To save the stress and confusion of flagging down taxis, Grab and Easy Taxi are commonly used in Malaysia. Just download the mobile app and you’re away. The prices will be a little lower than grabbing  a taxi on the street and they’ll know exactly where you want to go!

  • Buses

1-10MR (24 cents – $2.40USD)

Before we dive into the cost of short bus trips in Malaysia, it is worth noting that most major tourist spots actually offer a free bus service to the main sights! Kuala Lumpur and Penang both have these buses. For Kuala Lumpur’s free bus, check out the route map and timetables here and for Penang’s free CAT (Central Area Transit) bus check here.

Even if you are heading a different direction to the free buses, the fares on local buses are super affordable, often costing less than a dollar on shorter trips! If you don’t know which bus you need, it can be a daunting task to try to work it out! You can always ask a local, or if that fails, just get a taxi using Grab. It won’t cost much more but will be much quicker and easier!

  • Trishaws (per hour)

40-100RM ($10-$24USD)

Much like in Myanmar, Trishaws are a great way to get a new perspective on city life. If you’re lucky enough to get a good guide, they’ll be able to tell you all about life in Malaysia as well as give you some great insider tips for things to do!

There is no set price for Trishaw rides but they will be more expensive in popular tourist locations. Ask in your hostel what the going rate usually is and then use this as a guide in your haggling! If there is more than one of you, remember to check whether the price is total or per person to avoid a nasty surprise at the end of the ride!

Trishaws in Melaka, Malaysia
Look out for the colourful trishaws in Melaka!
  • Scooter Hire 

10-40RM ($2.40 – $10USD) per day

Hiring a scooter in Malaysia, while not as common as in Thailand or Vietnam, is still a great way to get around the country without having to rely on public transport routes and schedules! The cost of renting a scooter will depend on where you are. For example, Langkawi has some of the cheapest prices whereas Kuala Lumpur will have some of the highest. 

Wearing a helmet is technically required by law in Malaysia. Although this is often flouted by locals, a foreigner on a motorcycle is an easy target for the long arm of the law, so make sure you wear one! That said, even if it weren’t a legal requirement, we here at South East Asia Backpacker always recommend wearing a helmet while riding. Take it from someone who understands how badly motorcycle accidents can go: wear the right gear!

  • Metro (MRT)

1 – 5RM (24 cents – $1.20USD) per trip

Malaysia’s Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) system covers Kuala Lumpur with one of the fastest and most efficient public transport systems in the world. A combination of light rail, monorail and underground trains make getting anywhere in the capital as easy as pie. Oh, and it’s super cheap at below a dollar for most journeys!

If you think you’ll be using the public transport system a lot, consider getting hold of a Touch N Go card. You can load money onto the card and use contactless technology to pay for each train or bus you use in the city!

Long Distance Transport

  • Buses

21 – 100MR ($5-$23USD) per journey

The most cost-effective way to travel long distances in Malaysia is by bus. Most journeys cost less than $20USD and providing you don’t choose the most economic option, will be pretty comfortable. The higher-end buses, which are still very affordable for even shoestring backpackers, often come with a free meal and inbuilt entertainment systems for each seat! As with all buses in Southeast Asia, if the air conditioning is working, you’ll bloody know about it. Make sure you pack an extra layer to keep you warm for the duration of your journey!

  • Trains

50 – 180MR ($12 – $42USD)

Peninsular Malaysia has two main arteries for train travel. One spans from Singapore and heads along the western side of the country, right to the Thai border. The other, known as the jungle railway, goes from the town of Gemas in the South and runs up the eastern side of the country until Tumpat, near the Thai border. 

There are different classes of trains depending on the route you take and the time you are travelling. These range from the high-end express trains to economy class local trains at the low-end. Local trains will often not be air-conditioned and are likely to have cramped, uncomfortable seating. Express trains, on the other hand, have air-conditioning, food, comfortable seats and on longer journeys, really nice sleeper cabins! 

The price of your journey depends on the total distance and the class of carriage you choose. Either way, when you consider it is possible to get a train from Kuala Lumpur, all the way to Bangkok for under $50USD, train travel is easily affordable in Malaysia!

You can book train tickets on the KTM website or via 12goasia

  • Planes

100 – 400MR ($24-$95USD)

Being the home country of every backpacker’s favourite airline, AirAsia, Malaysia is a Mecca for low-cost flying. While flying is a good chunk more expensive than getting a bus or train within the country, for those of you short on time, flying domestically won’t force you to sell a kidney! 

Flights are available to and from most major cities but you’ll have to do some planning to arrange them. They do not have routes flying every day and often the flight search engines will reroute you through up to five different airports in order to make the journey work! Not only does this waste your time and money but it also has a very negative effect on the environment. As backpackers, we are supposed to be travelling sustainably!

Airport departures at Kuala Lumpur airport
The pristine airport departure zone at KL airport.

Cost Of Activities In Malaysia

With a country as large and varied as Malaysia, there is no way I can list all of the activities and their prices in this one section. Instead, I will give you the basic costs of some of the most popular trips around Malaysia so you can get a good idea how much you’ll be spending on sightseeing during your trip!

Visit The Petronas Towers – 56RM ($13USD)

A visit to Kuala Lumpur is not complete without going to see the largest twin towers in the world. Standing at an incredible 451 metres tall, you really cannot grasp how massive these buildings are until you are standing below them, craning your neck to try and see the top. 

The Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
The Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur.

A paid visit to the towers involves a guided tour of three different floors, including the famous Sky Bridge and the soaring observation deck. For those of you not wanting to fork out on visiting what is essentially just a big building owned by an ethically questionable oil company, then just visit from the outside. Words cannot describe the sense of awe one feels standing beneath those giant structures. 

When I visited in 2015 I was lucky enough to see a replica of Lewis Hamilton’s world title-winning Formula One car sitting in the entrance lobby. That was a real treat!

Marvel at Street Art – Free

Street art is no longer the graffiti tags of the 90s and now 100% belongs in the realm of ‘real art’. While Penang is the favourite spot in Malaysia to bear witness to the continuously evolving street art scene, the rest of the country is catching up quickly. Cities such as such Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Ipoh and Kuching all have beautiful murals created by world-renowned street artists!

Penang Street Art
Penang’s funky Street Art!

Menara KL Tower – Free – 36RM ($9USD)

While a visit to the world’s 7th largest communication tower, standing at over 420 metres, might not seem like a must-do activity, a visit to the Menara KL Tower is well worth your time. A stop off at the tower’s observation deck is completely free but if you want to visit the sky deck, which offers some of the best views of the area around Kuala Lumpur, it will set you back 36RM.

View of the KL SkyTower from the Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
View of the KL SkyTower from Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.

The Petronas Towers are actually taller than the Menara KL Tower but the latter is built on a hill, giving it a commanding view over the city. It is also home to the worlds largest BASE jumping festival. Every September, hundreds of adrenaline-seeking daredevils jump from the tower. Although BASE jumping is probably beyond the scope of most backpackers, for 150RM ($35USD) you can get to the top of the tower to witness scores of nutters throw themselves into the abyss.  

See the Orangutans – 500-6000+RM ($120-$1430+USD)

Malaysia is often touted as the number one place to see wild orangutans anywhere in the world! While it is certainly not the cheapest way to spend your time in Malaysia, as long as you invest in an ethical experience, seeing the orangutans in the wild is unforgettable!

The tours differ drastically. There are options for seeing the great apes from a boat along Kinabatangan River, options for jungle trekking in Sandakan or 4×4 rides along little used logging roads around the Sabah region. Almost all the tours to see orangutans in the wild are multi-day trips. If you are short on time and/or cash but still want to witness these graceful apes then a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre might be your best option. 

Orangutan in Sarawak Borneo
You can see orangutans in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

At just 30RM ($7USD), or 40RM ($9.50USD) if you want to take photos, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is possibly the most affordable way to catch a glimpse of these elusive creatures. Here you are highly likely to see wild orangutans but as with all wild animals, sightings are not guaranteed. If you don’t get to see them swinging freely through the trees, you certainly will be able to see younger orangutans in their final stages of rehabilitation, learning how to survive before they are finally released into the wild!

Obviously, the more comfort you want from your multi-day tour, the more you’ll be paying. If you are happy sharing a room with strangers and slumming it a little, then you’ll not need to eat too deeply into your budget to see orangutans in Malaysia. However, if you expect a private ensuite room with all the mod cons, comfortable transport and nice classy meals each night, you’ll be looking at the higher end of this price range!

Check out this itinerary for more ideas on how to spend 3 weeks in Eastern Malaysia!

Tea Plantations (Cameron Highlands) – Free – 80RM ($20USD)

Since the British colonial rule of Malaysia in the 1800s, The Cameron Highlands has been a popular spot with tourists wanting to escape the humidity of Malaysia. This gave rise to British style mansions as well as plantations growing the favourite drink of us Brits. Tea. 

Today you can visit the most famous of these plantations, the BOH (Best Of Highlands) Tea Plantation for free. You can explore the 8000-acre site, witness how the tea is picked and processed, before enjoying a cup in the on-site cafe, complete with stunning views!

Cameron Highlands
Tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, Peninsular Malaysia.

Although entry to the BOH Plantation is free, it can actually be cheaper to go as part of an organised tour. This seems counter-intuitive but if you visit on your own, you have to pay for transport. If you jump on a cheap tour, booked through your hostel, you’ll pay 40-80RM ($10-$20USD) per person and get all your transport included. You’ll also get a guide who can teach you more about how tea goes from the plant to your cup!

Batu Caves – Free – 80RM ($20USD)

Located just 13 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur, The Batu Caves are the most sacred site in Peninsular Malaysia. Every year hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees make the pilgrimage to The Batu Caves, making it the most popular Hindu shrine outside of India! 

Around the end of January/beginning of February, the festival of Thaipusam takes places in the caves. This three day Hindu celebration is one of the largest festivals in Southeast Asia and has to be seen to be believed. Thousands of people descend on the site and non-Hindu visitors are more than welcome. If you want to see with your own eyes what people put themselves through for the sake of religion, this is the place to do it. Many of the followers will have metal lances penetrating their bodies as well as through their cheeks and tongues. Some people go as far as gouging hundreds of big hooks into their skin before using them to drag heavy objects along behind them as they walk!

The main cave, known as Cathedral Cave, is over 100 metres high and is completely free to enter. It is filled with colourful shrines, ornate carvings and the entrance is guarded by a 42-metre golden statue*!

*Gold in colour, it’s not actually made of solid gold. That would be bonkers…

Lord Murugan stands proud outside the Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur.
Lord Murugan stands proud outside the Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur.

The other caves, known as Dark Cave, Cave Villa and Ramayana Cave all have a small entry fee attached which is only a few RM. Dark Cave is the most expensive to enter because you must do so with a guide. For the full 4-hour adventure tour, expect to pay 80RM ($20USD). This will see you scaling rock walls, swimming across pools and crawling through tiny tunnels! There is also the option of the educational tour for 35RM ($8.50USD). During this tour, you’ll be taught about the cave and the animal populations that live within it. Apparently, the communities of animals living within Dark Cave were undisturbed for over a hundred million years!

Where to next? Check out the average costs for Southeast Asia here!

If you’re still in the planning phase of your trip, check out this how to save money for travel guide to make sure your bank account is as healthy as it can be before you set off!

How much money would you budget for a trip to Malaysia? Head on over to our Facebook community to let us know and join thousands of like-minded travellers sharing hints and tips about travelling in Southeast Asia!

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since the incident, he has travelled in South East Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and is currently backpacking around South America. His first book 'From Paralysis to Santiago' chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident that changed his life and will be released later this year.