Getting Around Malaysia

A Local’s Guide: Getting Around Malaysia

It’s easy to see why tourists and locals alike recommend travelling in Malaysia. Aside from featuring iconic attractions, it also often offers travellers quick and inexpensive ways to get from point A to point B.

You see, by Southeast Asian standards, you’re looking at the cream of the crop regarding well-developed public transportation systems. Don’t believe us? Find out how cheap and easy it is to get around the country, whether it be by train, car, taxi, or bus in this comprehensive guide!

By Plane

Pros: Fast, comfortable, perfect for long distances

Cons: Pricier rates

Of course, the fastest way to get around the country (long distance-wise) remains to be by plane. Luckily for you, Malaysia features low-cost carriers, meaning you can fly domestically without breaking the bank!

The two main domestic carriers in Malaysia are AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines and the main gateway in Peninsular Malaysia is KLIA in Kuala Lumpur. Here, you can catch flights that will take you to remote areas and islands such as Tioman, Penang, Langkawi, etc.

Other carriers in Malaysia: 

Pro tips:

  • Make sure to regularly check the websites and social media pages of the carriers in Malaysia. They often hold discounts and promos that can help you score amazing deals that can sometimes be as cheap as a bus ticket!
  • Try to book your tickets in advance, more preferably 2 weeks. Last-minute booking will cost more–or worse, seats won’t be available anymore.

By Bus

Pros: Cheap, efficient

Cons: Uncomfortable, some drivers are reckless

One of the most efficient ways of getting around Malaysia, whether short or long distances, is by riding the bus. There are tons of bus operators in the country, which helps to keep the fares low, and they’re a great option if you’re travelling light.

What makes it such an efficient way of getting around is that there are several bus stops across the country, making commuting way more accessible. This is true for both local and intercity travel.

The same can’t be said for long-distance travel, as you’ll have to book tickets in advance to save your slot. This is because there are not a lot of buses that travel these kinds of routes so be sure to plan accordingly.

Pro tips:

  • If you’re in Kuala Lumpur and you’re looking for the most efficient way to get around, we recommend riding the Go KL City Bus. These buses have a planned route around the capital, featuring stops at some iconic attractions.
  • In true public bus fashion, some of the ones you’ll find here are freezing. Be sure to bring a blanket or at least wear layers to keep warm!
  • If you want to enjoy scenic views, ride the train from KL to Kuantan.

By Train

Pros: Fast, calm, comfortable

Cons: Pricier than buses, slightly inconvenient locations of stations, less frequent

For those who want to zip through cities, riding the train is the fastest way to get around on land. Malaysia features four key rail operators, allowing commuters and travellers alike an accessible way to get around the country thanks to the many train stations here,

What’s great about trains is that they won’t only take you to cities and places in Malaysia but in neighbouring countries as well! For instance, if you want to stop by Thailand or Singapore, you can easily do so by riding the ETS train.

Some trains offer scenic rides, more particularly the famous diesel-powered jungle train, which is the last of its kind.

Pro tips:

  • If you want a more convenient way of acquiring train tickets, we recommend purchasing them through KTM’s official website here.
  • If you’re going to be using the train most of the time during your visit, you can get a touch-and-go store value card, which is a reloadable cashless way to pay for your fare.

By Taxi

Pros: Fast, comfortable

Cons: Prone to traffic jams, some drivers charge higher rates for tourists

Taxis are a great way to get around any city, as they’re the perfect short-distance vessel. You can hail them from just about everywhere, especially in the big cities, and they can take you to your destination in a jiff, given that there are no traffic jams.

If you’re travelling outside the city, don’t worry, as there are also taxis that are solely dedicated to long-distance travel. How this works is that the driver will wait until the cabin is full (four passengers) before heading to the destination.

Pro tips:

  • If you don’t want to wait for other passengers or you simply want to travel alone, you can also pay for the entire taxi for a more comfortable and private travel experience–be prepared to pay more though!
  • Make sure to bring physical money with you if you’re planning on riding taxis frequently in Malaysia, as drivers only accept cash.
  • Tipping is not required and is purely at your discretion. Try to reserve this act for drivers who go above and beyond like those who will give you an educated tour as you’re getting to your destination.

By Grab

Pros: Fast, comfortable, pick up from anywhere

Cons: Prone to traffic jams, pricey fare (especially during rush hours)

Booking a ride through Grab is a great alternative to riding taxis. Simply put, Grab is Southeast Asia’s version of Uber or Lyft, where you can book a ride from anywhere and pin your destination in just a few taps on your smartphone.

Fortunately, this convenient mode of transportation is readily available in major places such as Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Penang, and more. This is perfect for those who don’t want to hail taxis or deal with drivers who insist on not using the metre.

Pro tips:

  • You can enter your card details on the Grab app if you want to enjoy cashless transactions with every ride.
  • Avoid booking rides during rush hour, as this will make it hard for you to find a car. Moreover, the prices are significantly higher during these times.

By Car Rental

By Car Rental
(Photo from: Wikimedia)

Pros: Private, comfortable, can avoid traffic jams

Cons: Expensive, added worry of finding a parking space

One of the best ways to get around Malaysia is to rent a car. This way, you and your loved ones will have the utmost privacy and comfort wherever you go–perfect for families and friend groups who want to sing their hearts out to their favourite tunes!

Also, renting a car will give you the pleasure of choosing your own route. This will give you the ability to avoid traffic jams and make as many stopovers as you want.

Pro tips:

By Boat or Ferry

By Boat or Ferry
(Photo from: Wikimedia)

Pros: Cheaper than planes, scenic views

Cons: Slow

If you’re planning on hopping from one island to another (Penang, Langkawi, etc.), we recommend riding a boat/ferry. Not only will this give you a cheaper rate compared to aeroplanes, but you’ll also be treated to scenic views.

Riding a boat can also take you to other countries like Singapore and Thailand–how cool is that?

Pro tips:

  • One of the most scenic boat rides you can take is the three-hour river trip to Taman Negara National Park from Kuala Tembeling. Here, you’ll get to witness beautiful jungles as well as the various wildlife they house.

By Moped Rental

By Moped Rental
(Photo from: Wikimedia)

Pros: Cheaper than cars (perfect for backpackers), easy to maneuver

Cons: Risky, pricey compared to public transportation

If you’re going to visit some of Malaysia’s famous areas like Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Cameron Highlands, etc., we recommend renting a moped. These are motorcycles that are cheap to rent per day and easy to maneuver–perfect for exploring small areas.

Before you can ride one, you must first possess a standard home driving license. However, if you’re renting bigger bikes, you’ll have to present a motorcycle license–it’s for your own good!

Pro tips:

  • Make sure to run through the terms and conditions before renting one of these motorcycles. Some companies will require you to leave your passport as a deposit and if you’re not okay with that, you can move on to the next.

By Kereta Sapu

By Kereta Sapu
(Photo from: Wikimedia)

Pros: Comfortable, can take you to neighbouring countries

Cons: Pricey compared to public transportation

You can also find private cars that are known as “kereta sapu”, which operate much like taxi cabs and buses that have specific routes. You’ll usually find them waiting outside bus stations and they can take you to different countries such as Thailand and Brunei.

Essential Malay Vocabulary for Drivers

Essential Malay Vocabulary for Drivers
(Photo from: Wikimedia)

Driving can be a bit challenging for first-time visitors, most of the signs are in Malay. To help you navigate your way through the country, here are some essential Malay road lingos that you should know:

Malay English
Di belakangBehind
Di hadapanAhead
Beri laluanGive way
Dilarang meletak keretaNo parking
Dilarang memotongNo overtaking
Had laju/jamSpeed limit/per hour
Ikut kiri/kananKeep left/right
Jalan sehalaOne-way street
Kawasan rehatHighway rest stop
Kurangkan lajuReduce speed
Pembinaan di hadapanRoad works ahead
Pusat bandar/bandarayaTown/city centre
Simpang ke… Junction/turning for…
Zon had lajuZone where speed limit applies

Useful Tips for Getting Around Malaysia

When in doubt, fly!

When your choices are between a 45-minute flight and an uncomfortable 12-hour ride, it’s a no-brainer to go for the former. Not only will you get to your destination quicker but you’ll also be saved from the discomfort of long rides, especially those that go through dirt roads.

For instance, if you’re planning on remote places such as Gunung Mulu National Park and the Kelabit Highlands, your best bet is hopping on a domestic flight. This is also true when you have to travel between the Malaysian Peninsula and East Malaysia.

Rent a moped if you’re going solo

Riding a motorcycle is one of the best ways to get around a certain area if you’re on your own, as it’s fast, cheap and easy to maneuver. This mode of transportation can come in handy on trips to places like Cameron Highlands, Penang, Langkawi and Kuching.

Ride a rickshaw if you want to experience a unique trip

Rickshaws are small and colourful tricycles that offer tourists a cheap way to get around town. They’re perfect for short-distance rides within a certain area, as it’s breezy and the driver sometimes doubles as a tourist guide!

You’ll find these rickety bikes in places such as Melaka and Penang.