MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL IN MALAYSIA – PRACTICAL INFO
ALONE OR IN A GROUP?
A melting pot of races, religions and cultures, Malaysia offers visitors unique landscapes and experiences thanks to its rich and vibrant atmosphere. Its land, like its culture, is highly diverse in terms of its geography: Malaysia is divided into 13 states and 3 federal territories, separated by the South China Sea.
11 of these states and 2 of the federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) are in Peninsular Malaysia, while the remaining 2 states and the third federal territory (Labuan) are in East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo).
Motorcycle tours are not difficult to organise, and allow visitors to enjoy all of the extreme contrasts that represent one of the country’s main attractions. Futuristic skyscrapers overlook ancient wooden dwellings; the bracing air of the highlands quickly gives way to warm, idyllic beaches; 5-star hotels are located a stone’s throw from wet mangrove forests.
Alone or in a group? Although Malaysia is one of the safest and, nowadays, most westernised countries in South East Asia, this decision depends on the extent of each traveller’s experience. Anyone familiar with the Asian continent will doubtlessly be able to handle a trip to Malaysia with the right attitude and level of caution. Those who have mainly travelled in western countries, however, should opt for an organised motorcycle-tour; or in the case of a group of friends on motorcycles, for the support of a guide in a 4×4.
PERSONAL AND MOTORCYCLE DOCUMENTS
Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your entry into the country. British nationals do not require a tourist visa to enter Malaysia, and will normally be given permission to stay for 3 months on arrival. During your stay, it is recommended that you keep an authenticated photocopy of your passport with you at all times (assuming that your motorcycle tour intends to return to a starting point where you can leave the original for safekeeping). Anyone deciding to hire a two-wheeler for local travel can acquire a permit — in order to drive in Malaysia, you must hold a valid national licence and an international driving permit.
Direction of travel: drive on the left, overtake on the right.
Most roads in Malaysia are in good condition. The long motorway connecting Thailand and Singapore makes north-south transit particularly convenient in the western part of the country. Traffic in large cities is comparable to that found in major European cities, becoming more chaotic only during certain rush hours or when weather conditions slow the progress of vehicles. However, greater care should be taken when driving in smaller cities, rural areas and villages.
Kuala Lumpur boasts an efficient metro system (partly on elevated tracks), taxis are affordable and private transport services such as Uber and Grab are widely available.
It is important to note that a Carnet de Passages en Douane(international vehicle passport) is needed in order to temporarily import a vehicle (for further information, see the following website: www.carnetdepassage.org/country/malaysia/)
A temporarily imported vehicle can remain within Malaysia’s national borders for a period of up to 90 days, with the option of extension for another 90. At the end of this period, the vehicle must be exported or nationalised.
Currently, no public order problems are being flagged. Nonetheless, it is advisable to adopt normal precautionary measures given the possibility of petty crime, particularly in the areas most frequented by tourists. As in other South East Asian countries, there is a risk of terrorist attacks, including attacks against foreigners. The first reported attack by ISIS in Malaysia was in June 2016, when a grenade was thrown into a bar in Kuala Lumpur, injuring 8 people. Counter-terrorism measures were stepped up in the aftermath of the attack, particularly in big cities, which represent the main target of potential attacks.
Environmental risks: air pollution is a recurring issue. Travellers are advised to consult their doctors, particularly those belonging to so-called “at risk” categories (the elderly, asthmatics, children, pregnant women, etc.).
During the monsoon season (August to January), torrential rain is to be expected. On the west coast, the rainy season lasts from October to December, while on the east coast and in Borneo it lasts from October to February. Seismic events have occurred in Sabah.
Trips to the coastal area including the provinces of Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau are not recommended, due to the relatively widespread presence of criminal/terrorist groups.
Legal aspects to take note of include the heavy custodial sentences for drug use, including “soft” drugs. Homosexuality is considered a crime (even if it is not prosecuted in most Malaysian states, apart from more traditional ones such as Kelantan).
Country code: MY
Capital: KUALA LUMPUR
Population: approximately 28 million
Area: 329,847sq km (0.3% water)
Neighbouring countries: Thailand, Singapore.
Time zone: 8 hours ahead of the UK (7 hours during daylight saving time)
Languages: the official language is bahasa melayu(Malay). Mandarin is widespread among the Chinese ethnic community, while Tamil is mainly spoken among communities of Indian origin. Most of the population speak English, particularly in the cities.
Religion: Islam is the official religion. Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity are also practised.
Currency: Ringgit (RM) or Malaysian dollar. 1 Ringgit corresponds to around $0.24 and £0.19. All main credit cards are accepted in hotels, shopping centres, shops and restaurants in major cities.
Electricity: 240V (230V in Penang). 50Hz. The mains frequency is quite stable.
Telephones: the cellular network operates throughout the national territory, offering good coverage. The prefix for making calls to Malaysia is +60. To make calls from Malaysia to Malaysian landlines, dial 03 + the phone number. It is cheap and easy to purchase a SIM card (about 10 RM, i.e. €1.92, in addition to the price of the Internet package). There are 3 main telephone operators, all of which offer excellent 4G coverage. CELCOM offers an Internet package with costs starting from 3 RM per day. HOTLINK offers Internet at 3 RM per day or 10 RM per week. U MOBILE charges 5 RM per day and 9 RM per week.
In any case, Wi-Fi connections are available in most hotels, city centres, restaurants, cafés and shopping centres.
Emergency medical services: 999
Police services: 999
Fire services: 994
Tourism Board in Malaysia: Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB).
Address: 9th Floor, No.2, Tower 1, Jalan P5/6, Precint 5, 62200, WP Putrajaya, MY
Tel: +603 8891 8000; Fax: +00603-8891-8070
email address: email@example.com Website: www.tourism.gov.my
The office can provide a lot of information in English as well as brochures and maps to download.
Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board in the UK: Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board,
Malaysia House, 57 Trafalgar Square, St. Jame’s, London WC2N 5DU, United Kingdom Tel.: +39 02 796 702, Fax: +39 02 796 806
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Automobile Association of Malaysia: Persatuan Automobil Malaysia (AAM),225 Block 4, No. 7 Persiaran Sukan, Laman Seri Business Park,Section 13, 40100 Shah Alam,Selangor Darul Ehsan. Tel.: 0060 3 55111932, Fax. 0060 3 55113314, Website: aam.org.my,email address: email@example.com
USEFUL INFORMATION FOR MOTORCYCLISTS FROM THE UK:
British High Commission: KUALA LUMPUR – British High Commissioner: Charles Hay MVO – Address: Level 27 Menara Binjai, 2 Jalan Binjai, 50450 Kuala Lumpur – Tel: +6 03 2170 2200 Homepage: www.gov.uk/world/organisations/british-high-commission-kuala-lumpur
Private healthcare is of a higher standard than public healthcare. In general, all treatments can be performed and necessary medicines can be located in the country. Nonetheless, in the event of serious problems or if a surgical operation is required, it is advisable to return to the UK, as treatment in private clinics can be significantly expensive. For this reason, it is strongly advised that travellers take out health insurance before their departure.
Disease: dengue fever, spread by Aedes Aegyptimosquitoes, is fairly common. It displays symptoms very similar to those of the flu (headache, high fever, muscle and joint pain); or, in its rarer but more serious (and potentially deadly) form, haemorrhoids.
The use of insect repellent, suitable clothing and mosquito nets is recommended. If you suspect a case of dengue fever, it is essential to go to a doctor or a hospital as soon as possible. Moreover, occasional cases have been recorded of hepatitis and Japanese encephalitis, a disease transmitted by the culexmosquito which exists throughout all of South East Asia. Cases of the Zika virus have also been recorded, as well as leptospirosis (a bacterial disease transmitted through contact with contaminated water and soil or infected animals), the symptoms of which are muscle pain, fever and headache. You are urged to attend the closest emergency room upon the onset of these symptoms.
Under no circumstances should the animals which are frequently encountered during trips (especially monkeys) be approached, as cases of rabies have been reported.
Obligatory vaccinations: a yellow fever vaccine is required for all travellers aged 1 year and older coming from countries with a risk of yellow fever virus transmission, including travellers who have spent over 12 hours in an airport located in an at-risk country. From a medical point of view, vaccinations against hepatitis, antimalarials and vaccinations against cholera are recommended (the latter two only if the trip includes visiting the forests of Borneo).
Given the hot and humid climate that prevails for almost the entire year, lightweight technical clothing is recommended, including rain gear and a full-face or modular helmet (the most highly recommended when travelling on a two-wheeler). If you are arriving overland, you will of course have a specially prepared kit for tackling asphalt and dirt tracks. If, on the other hand, you are planning to rent a bike, find out about the options for renting travel accessories in advance. The alternative is to arrive via aeroplane with bags suitable for mounting on the model of motorcycle that you have booked, which can also hold a first aid kit, a puncture repair and prevention kit, accessories for smartphone/GPS recharging while the motorcycle is running, your photo/video camera and/or tablet and related accessories. It is absolutely essential to have a backpack (30 litres is ideal) with wide shoulder straps and separate compartments, as well as a belt bag to wear around the waist, with pockets for holding tools, documents and other small items that are useful to have to hand at all times.
Currently (May/September 2019), the average cost of one litre of petrol in Malaysia is 2,080 Malaysian Ringgit.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The best period for visiting Malaysia depends on the area you intend to see.
Peninsular Malaysia: the most highly recommended period to visit the east coast is between April and October; while the west coast is recommended between November and March.
East Malaysia: the best time of year to visit this area is between January and May.
Malaysia has an equatorial climate, with temperatures fluctuating between 23°C and 33°C throughout the year, while humidity ranges from 70% to 90%. Hilly inland areas, at an altitude of 1,500 metres, feature temperatures of 17°C/18°C.
Water temperature is mild enough to allow bathing.