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

Malaysia Budget Guide – How Much Does It Really Cost to Travel in Malaysia?

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. 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? If you pay attention to what you are doing, know where to eat and are savvy with how you get around, you’ll find Malaysia surprisingly wallet-friendly!

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Malaysia Budget Travel Guide

Cost of Backpacking in Malaysia – Quick Answers!

  • Cost of Street Food: 7-25RM ($1.50-5.40USD)
  • Cost of Local Food in a Restaurant: 12-30RM ($2.50-6.50USD)
  • Cost of Western Food in a Restaurant: 21-75RM ($4.50-16USD)
  • Cost of Water: 2-7RM ($0.50-1.50USD) per litre
  • Cost of Beer: 7-40RM ($1.50-8.70USD)
  • Cost of a Hostel Bed: 36-80RM ($8-17USD)
  • Cost of a Private Room: 70-320RM ($15-70USD)
  • Cost of a Trishaw Ride: 40-120RM ($8.70-26USD) per hour
  • Cost of Scooter Hire: 28-130RM ($6-28USD) per day
  • Cost of Long Distance Buses: 30-120MR ($6.50-26USD) per journey

Suggested Budgets for Travelling in Malaysia

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Shoestring Backpacker: 100-160RM ($22-35USD) Per Day

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

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

Living It Large Backpacker: 175-275RM ($38-60USD) Per Day

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

Flashpacker: 275+RM ($60+USD) Per Day

Malaysia is so well connected that flashpackers can easily blast around the country in comfort! Private rooms in 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!

Good to Know!

Travellers exploring Borneo should be prepared to pay more than those sticking to Peninsular Malaysia. The majority of tours are focused on and around the national parks which are pricey. Foreigners also have to pay an average of 20-400% more than locals for various activities in Malaysian Borneo!

Currency in Malaysia

Malaysians use the Malaysian Ringgit (RM) as their currency. The name comes from the Malay term for jagged (ringgit) which was used to refer to the dodgy coins minted by colonial powers. 

Over the years, ringgit came to mean ‘money’ in Malay pop culture so 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

  • $1USD = RM4.62
  • £1GBP = RM5.77
  • €1EUR = RM4.97

Currency conversions fluctuate often, always see where the markets are at before you embark on your trip!

How Much Does a Trip to Malaysia Cost?

Cost of Street Food in Malaysia

7-25RM ($1.50-5.40USD)

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 sink their teeth into. And the best bit? The best 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 a serving of Nasi Lemak, one of the top-rated street foods in Southeast Asia, for around 7-10MR.

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

12-75RM ($2.50-16USD)

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

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 but don’t expect the pricing to be the same. It’s standard for Western meals to be twice the price of local food in Malaysia!

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

Cost of Water in Malaysia

2-7RM ($0.50-1.50USD) per litre

Tap water in Malaysia is a contentious issue. While the government claims that it’s perfectly safe to drink, local news has continuously reported that the water is not safe unless boiled first. They claim that boiling helps remove chlorine and heavy metals 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 but it appears that whenever work is done on the pipework, heavy metals leech into the water. To be safe when travelling in Malaysia, either filter tap water using a water bottle with an inbuilt filter or stick to bottled water. 

 Cost of Beer in Malaysia

7-40RM ($1.50-8.70USD)

Beer 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) = 36-80RM ($8-17USD)

Throughout Malaysia, you’ll be able to find some really nice, well-rated hostels for well below $10USD per night! Almost all come with free WiFi and breakfast is usually included. 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 Penang 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 it!

Capsule beds at ioHotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Capsule beds at ioHotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Hostel Double Room (per night) = 45-185RM ($10-40USD)

Much like dorms, private rooms in hostels are common across the country. The average price is between 60-110RM ($13-24USD per night) but it can vary 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) = 70-320RM ($15-70USD)

Hotels in Malaysia vary greatly in quality and cost. On the cheapest end, you can pick up a crummy hotel room for around the same price 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, taxis are good if you can get a driver that follows the rules. 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 a choice, refuse and find yourself an honest driver who will use the meter. It is common practice 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 don’t go for the first price the driver offers. It is also 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 lower than grabbing a taxi on the street and they’ll know exactly where you want to go! This is the option we recommend for getting around.

  • Buses = 1-10MR ($0.22-2.40USD)

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 in 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 daunting to try to work it out. You can always ask a local or if that fails, use Grab. It will cost a little more but will be much quicker and easier!

  • Trishaws (per hour) = 40-120RM ($8.70-26USD)

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 about life in Malaysia as well as give you some 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 is and use this as a guide. If there is more than one of you, remember to check whether the price 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 = 28-130RM ($6-28USD) per day

Hiring a scooter in Malaysia is 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! 

  • Metro (MRT) = 1.10-7.90RM ($0.25-1.70USD) 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 less than 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 journey!

Good to Know!

Fares are cheaper using contactless. You’ll save an average of around 15%!

Long Distance Transport

  • Buses = 30-120MR ($6.50-26USD) per journey

The most cost-effective way to travel long distances in Malaysia is by bus. Most journeys cost less than $20USD and are 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! Redbus is a great place to book buses in advance. 

As with all buses in Southeast Asia, if the air conditioning is working, you’ll know about it. Make sure you pack an extra layer to keep you warm for the journey!

  • Trains = 28-180MR ($6-42USD)

Peninsular Malaysia has two main arteries for train travel. One begins in 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 high-end express trains to economy-class 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’s possible to get a train from Kuala Lumpur 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 = 50-400MR ($10-95USD)

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 every day and often the flight search engines will reroute you through up to five different airports 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 should travel sustainably!

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

Cost of Activities in Malaysia

Here are the basic costs of some of the most popular trips around the country so you can get an idea of how much you’ll be spending on sightseeing in Malaysia!

Visit The Petronas Towers – 98RM ($21USD)

A visit to KL is not complete without going to see the largest twin towers in the world. Standing at an incredible 451 metres tall, you can’t 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 see it from the outside. 

Marvel at Street Art – Free

Street art is no longer the graffiti tags of the 90s and now belongs in the realm of ‘real art’. While Penang is the best 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 KL, 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-49RM ($10.60USD)

While a visit to the world’s seventh 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 Skydeck, which offers some of the best views around Kuala Lumpur, it will set you back an additional 50RM (86RM total).

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 world’s largest BASE jumping festival. Although BASE jumping is probably beyond the scope of most backpackers, for 189RM ($41USD) you can get to the top of the tower to witness scores of nutters throw themselves into the abyss.  

See Wild 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 orangutans in the wild in Malaysian Borneo is unforgettable!

See the great apes from a boat along the Kinabatangan River, or go jungle trekking in the Danum Valley. 4×4 rides along little-used logging roads are available in the Sabah region too. Almost all the tours to see wild orangutans 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 ($6.50USD), or 40RM ($8.60USD) if you want to take photos, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is the most affordable way to catch a glimpse of these elusive creatures. Here you are highly likely to see orangutans but as with all 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 before they are released into the wild!

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 meals each night, you’ll be looking at the higher end of this price range! 

For the ultimate animal experience, opt for a 5D4N tour which covers Sepilok (a chance to see wild orangutans and sun bears), Kinabatangan and the majestic Danum Valley. This package costs around 3,325 RM ($720USD) per person for a private chalet. Of course, there are options to splash even more on even fancier accommodation too…

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

Tea Plantations (Cameron Highlands) – Free-90RM ($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 tea. 

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

Although entry to the BOH Plantation is free, it can be cheaper to visit 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, you’ll pay 46-90RM ($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!

BOH tea plantation
Tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, Peninsular Malaysia.

Batu Caves – Free 

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 place 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.

Also read: How to save money for travel

How much would you budget for a trip to Malaysia? Head over to our Facebook community to share your tips!

Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

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

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