Malaysia is my first true taste of solo backpacking in Southeast Asia. I spent three weeks in the country spending time in Penang, Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, and Malacca. Below, I will give you my budget breakdown to show you how to spend less than $30 CAD per day in Malaysia!
I started my trip in Penang, flying from Medan, Indonesia. I slowly made my way down the peninsula stopping in the hilly Cameron Highlands, the largest city, Kuala Lumpur and the cultural city of Malacca. After Malacca, I made my way to Singapore to visit my cousin before I flew to Thailand.
Currency Info: In October 2018, the exchange of the Malaysian Ringgit to the Canadian Dollar was around 3.19 MYR to $1 CAD.
I flew across the Strait of Malacca from Medan, Indonesia to Penang on Air Asia. The flight was a short 50 minute ride on the cheapest flight I have ever booked at $28.17 CAD! The flight was comfortable for a 50 minute ride, there was no delays, so there was really nothing to complain about.
Food & Drinks
I found food in Malaysia to be pretty cheap. You can get a variety of awesome Chinese, Indian, and Malay food everywhere. Even restaurants and food courts in malls, I found the prices to be reasonable. Alcohol on the other hand, is expensive especially compared to how much food and non-alcoholic drinks you can get from the price of a beer or a cocktail at a bar. In Malaysia, I spent a total of $311.68 CAD on food & drinks, which included:
- Watermelon fruit juice 2.80 MYR ($0.88 CAD)
- Wantan Mee 8 MYR ($2.50 CAD)
- Honey Char Siew noodles 11.55 MYR ($3.61 CAD)
- Char Kway Teow 5 MYR ($1.56 CAD)
- Roasted pork and spring roll with rice 5.5 MYR ($1.72 CAD)
- Asam laksa 6 MYR ($1.88 CAD)
- Banana leaf set with Chicken Tandoori 12.60 MYR ($3.94 CAD)
- High tea (shared with two others) 17 MYR ($5.32 CAD) per person
- Rum and Coke (Happy Hour Promo) 17 MYR ($5.32 CAD)
- Teh tarik (pulled tea, a must in Malaysia!) 2 MYR ($0.63 CAD)
Make sure you check out what I think are the Top 5 Eats in Malaysia!
The best way to get from city to city within Malaysia is using coach buses. They are comfortable, cheap and most routes run pretty often each day. A website I found useful in booking buses is www.easybook.com. It is very easy to use and you get the ticket sent right to your email.
Here are the bus journeys I took in Malaysia.
- Penang to Cameron Highlands for 40 MYR ($12.52 CAD)
- Cameron Highlands to Kuala Lumpur for 35 MYR ($10.94 CAD)
- Kuala Lumpur to Malacca for 12.20 MYR ($3.81 CAD)
South East Asia’s answer to Uber is the ride sharing app, Grab. It is super popular in Malaysia as it first started there. Where as Uber gives you an estimate of how much your fare will be, Grab will give you the exact price you will pay. You can also choose to pay with cash or with credit card. It is so convenient, cuts down any language barriers between you and the driver, and is super cheap!
Here is some examples of rides I took with Grab:
- 17 km ride in Penang for 24 MYR ($7.47 CAD)
- 14 km ride in Kuala Lumpur for 27 MYR ($8.44 CAD)
- 4 km ride in Malacca for 4 MYR ($1.26 CAD)
In Kuala Lumpur, they have an extensive metro system which will take you to most places in the city. It is convenient, clean and cheap. Fares depend on the distance and but they start around 1.30 MYR ($0.43 CAD).
I was more or less pleased with the accommodations I chose in Malaysia. They were clean and great amenities whether a bar or a common area where you can meet other backpackers.
- Drippin Dragon Hostel for 3 nights at 33.33 MYR ($10.42 CAD) per night
- Cameron Highlands
- Map Travelodge for 10 nights for FREE due to my Workaway experience
- Kuala Lumpur
- Dorms KL for 3 nights at 26.51 MYR ($8.29 CAD) per night
- Sunshine Bedz for 3 nights at 25.16 MYR ($7.92 CAD) per night
- Olive Flashpackers for 2 nights at 25.16 MYR ($7.92 CAD) per night
You can find many affordable and even free activities within Malaysia. Here are some of the activities I paid for in Malaysia.
- Taking the cable car up to Penang Hill 30 MYR ($9.41 CAD)
- Full day tour of Cameron Highlands (strawberry farms, tea plantations & factory, museum, butterfly farm, mossy forest) 90 MYR ($28.14 CAD)
- Malaysian National Museum 5 MYR ($1.56 CAD)
- Watching First Man in cinema 10 MYR ($3.13 CAD)
- Karaoke jam 27 MYR ($8.44 CAD)
- Lounging and drinking at a helipad in Kuala Lumpur 31 MYR ($9.69 CAD)
and did FREE activities such as:
- Taking in the many street art in Penang
- Hiking the many trails in Cameron Highlands
- Walking on charcoal as part of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival
- Walking in the jungle within the city at KL Eco Forest Park
- Exploring the Batu Caves
- Being in awe of the Petronas Towers and fountain show at night
- Exploring the many historic buildings in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Malacca
I got a data package from Maxis, under the brand of Hotlink. I got the 8 GB of data for 54 MYR ($16.88 CAD) which included the SIM card. I was satisfied with the speeds and coverage. Also by downloading their RED app, you can also choose unlimited usage between either the Chat pack (WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, QQ, IMO) or Social pack (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat). In Malaysia, I encountered NO ATM FEES! I primarily used the national bank, Maybank! Make sure you don’t get any additional fees from your bank by using a debit card that doesn’t charge you for any foreign transaction fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend using STACK!
The other budget also includes:
- a travel adapter as my travel adapter didn’t work in the hostel in Penang for 3.30 MYR ($1.03 CAD)
- tried out laughing gas for the first time 15 MYR ($4.69 CAD)
- a hair cut for 10 MYR ($3.13 CAD)
- a fee for losing my hostel key, 30 MYR ($9.38 CAD)
- a Mi band 3 to replace the one I lost for 129 MYR ($40.37 CAD)
- a shirt from Uniqlo for 39.90 MYR ($12.58 CAD)
- a stamp to send a postcard that will hopefully make to Canada, 0.50 MYR ($0.16 CAD)
The Sum of Three Weeks Backpacking Malaysia
Being in Malaysia for three weeks, I spent a total $631.56 CAD. That amounts to a very affordable $28.71 CAD per day. Big part I was able to spend so little was my Workaway experience in Cameron Highlands. Not only did have free accommodation there, it was also the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and the local Chinese temple gave out FREE vegetarian food!
I can see why Malaysia is not as popular among backpackers as other Southeast Asian destinations such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Alcohol and it’s nightlife are significantly more expensive, but this country offers many other great things such as great food, wonderful people, and amazing sights.
Hopefully I have shown you how to spend less than $30 per day in Malaysia!