The usual sensible health precautions for life in the tropics apply to Malaysia: because of the sun and heat apply sunscreen regularly and generously, avoid spending excessive time in the sun and drink lots of water to replace lost fluids in the humid climate (tap water is portable in KL, but bottled water is recommended everywhere else).
There are no recently reported malarial outbreaks in Malaysia, but Dengue Fever sometimes appears. Prevention is much better than cure with mosquito-borne diseases, so applying strong insect repellent (especially in the jungle) and wearing clothing that covers your ankles and the back of the neck and knees at dawn/dusk is recommended. Good mosquito repellents can be purchased at most Pharmacies upon arrival.
Heat rash and upset stomachs from the spicy cuisine are the two most common issues for tourists, so carrying an antihistamine cream and digestive aids are advised to overcome these minor discomforts.
Jellyfish can be a problem in the waters around Penang during certain times of the year, so a rash vest is recommended when swimming.
The standard of medical care and facilities in Malaysia is very good, including several teaching hospitals in KL with Australian affiliations.
Malaysia is a Muslim country which adds to its exotic nature as a destination. The call to prayer (or Izan), magnificent mosques, delicious halal food and colourfully dressed locals are all integral parts of Malaysian culture. While it’s a completely different culture to Thailand, Bali and Fiji, it’s also an extremely tolerant Muslim country. The Malaysian people do not have a problem with foreigners drinking alcohol and expressing affection in public, such as holding hands and kissing. Women do not need to cover themselves as required in stricter Muslim countries, either. Going topless is strongly discouraged, however, and nude bathing is considered public indecency (as it is in most places) and could land you in prison.
To extend a traditional male Malay greeting extend both hands for alight handshake, say ‘Salaam’ then touch your chest where your heart is with your left hand. For women, it’s simply a smile and a nod.
It is customary when visiting homes, in rare cases some restaurants and shops, mosques to remove your shoes at the front door. A good indication of this will be removed shoes outside the entance. Always use your right hand to give and receive things, and always point with your thumb and not the index finger, which is considered a rude gesture.
Taxi’s are readily available in Malaysia, in the past there has been a lot of confusion and problems caused by unscrupulous Taxi Drivers, not using a taxi meter and haggling over pricing to transport you to your destination. The Malaysia government has made significant efforts to correct this and many now use the meter. Our advice would be to only take a taxi from an official rank, check that the driver has his meter turned on and is using it, otherwise politely ask for him to turn it on. If the Taxi driver refuses, then we would recommend that you exit the taxi and engage a different one.
On the ground, buses are the local’s preferred mode of transport because they’re cheap, safe and connect directly to many remoter areas. Comfort levels may vary, but they’re a good choice. Trains do run along a few lines but are mostly slower, more expensive and less convenient than buses.
On the East Coast regular ferry services allow for easy island hopping, with tickets pre-sold from nearby office outlets. In Sarawak, travel to really remote places, such as longhouse villages in the jungle, is only possible via longboat rides upriver, making the journey an exciting part of your adventure