Getting There and Around
Practical advice for Malaysia healthcare and wellness travel
The public transportation system in Malaysia’s major urban areas includes buses, trains, monorails and taxis. At between RM2 (US$0.60) and RM4 (US$1.20), monorail tickets are a slightly more expensive, but more modern way of getting around the city. With tracks elevated above the streets, they are also good for avoiding heavy traffic, although you may be faced with packed cabins during rush hour. Trains are also available, although other more convenient modes of transport make them more suited to long-distance travel.
Medical travelers journeying to Malaysia are very welcome guests. After you decide on a medical procedure and obtain a letter from your chosen medical center, you can receive a six-month visa that you’ll present to immigration officials when you enter the country. The top three areas for medical tourism in Malaysia are Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Malacca, and each has an airport serving it.
While Malay is the official language, most of the people you will meet also speak English fluently. Chinese and Tamil are also widely spoken. Many healthcare facilities also speak Japanese, Indonesian, Arabic and other languages making it comfortable for numerous overseas patients.
Malaysia is a friendly place and most people do not encounter problems. Be on guard for pickpockets and scams are common here—including fake tickets, tours and goods—and that a dark alley in Kuala Lumpur can be just as dangerous as it is back home. Female tourists should be especially careful. The same goes for animal life; in Penang, for example, wild monkeys and mosquitoes are two of the more troublesome. Traffic is also chaotic in Malaysia, so whether you’re a pedestrian or a passenger, take care.
Airports and Transportation
The three main air destinations in Malaysia are Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Malacca, all of which have airports serving them. It should be noted that Kuala Lumpur International Airport is 80 kilometers away from the center of the city.
Train travel in Malaysia is safer than flying or driving and very reasonably priced; the only downside is that the trains do not cover the whole country. There is a light rail system in Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding areas. The national rail company, KTM Berhad or KTMB, operates what are called the Intercity Routes. The left-hand route is known as the West Coast Line, and runs up the western side of Peninsular Malaysia past Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Penang and up to and across the Thai border. This western arm is the route the famous Eastern & Oriental Express takes through the Bangkok-Singapore sector.
The right-hand route is called the Jungle Railway, and goes through the heart of the country, including rainforests, villages and various plantations. Overnight trains (with sleeper carriages) operate on these longer routes.
You can buy tickets from any KTM railway station, but it’s better to use KTMB’s computerized booking system, which allows you to select your seat, pay online by credit card and print out your ticket. Note: You should not board a train without a ticket showing a pre-assigned seat number.
Taxis are fairly inexpensive in Malaysia and readily available, and can be identified by the 'TAXI' sign on the roof. When you board, always make sure the driver turns on the meter before you start off to avoid the classic ploy of overcharging based on inattention and circumstances.
Driving in Malaysia requires some bravery, especially in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Traffic signs aren't the best, so renting a GPS is a necessity. Most drivers do not clearly indicate their intentions, and motorcycles often go in totally different directions from the rest of the traffic.
If you do choose to rent a vehicle, it’s wise to check out prices online first, because renting on the spot after arrival is often not the best deal.
All-day bus tickets can be purchased for around RM2 (USD0.60), and you can get off or board at any stop. Since September 2012, Kuala Lumpur also offers a free bus service called Go - KL City Bus that follows two circular routes covering many of the main sightseeing attractions in the city. These comfortable, air-conditioned buses are disabled-friendly, run at five-minute intervals during peak periods and every 15 minutes otherwise, and operate from six in the morning until eleven at night.
Malaysia is a prime tourist destination, so accommodations are plentiful and range from inexpensive youth hostels, motels and inns all the way up to posh island resorts and six-star luxury hotels. Even at the five-star level, you can find incredibly inexpensive accommodations for between US$100 and $200 a night.
It is wise to book hotels here at least a month in advance, especially during peak holiday seasons such as the mid-year school holidays and the year’s end. The MHTC Careline (+ 603 272 68 688; email@example.com) can tell you more about the various accommodations available, while HealthyIM (CONTACT US) can help you identify the best accommodations near the medical or wellness facility of your choice.
Cellphones and Wi-Fi
Cellphone roaming service is available in Malaysia; check with your carrier at home on availability and cost. You can easily purchase SIM cards for phones and smart tablets at the airport or at any number of electronic kiosks, and the cards can be charged at most convenience stores. Free Wi-Fi is readily available, but make other arrangements (tether your cellphone or rent/buy portable Wi-Fi) if you must have a connection everywhere you go.
The food in Malaysia has such diverse culinary influences that eating here is a never-ending exploration of novel tastes and singular fusions. The three major influences are Chinese (primarily Cantonese), Indian (Northern and Southern) and Malay/Nyonya, the traditional culinary style that incorporates ingredients and cooking from the Middle East, Indonesia, India and China.
Fresh herbs and spices abound, you can go spicy, sour or sweet, and rice is the staple that many dishes are built around. Some of the traditional Malay recipes require hours to prepare, and the results are mouthwatering and unforgettable. Seafood in this country of many islands is naturally a prime ingredient, but there are several other options, including beef, mutton and chicken. (Consuming pork is against religious beliefs here, however.)
Malaysia also has a growing list of restaurants that serve Western, Continental and European food. Middle Eastern restaurants are common, serving shawarmas, hummus and other popular dishes, and quite a few restaurants here offer Eurasian cooking, Peranakan dishes and even African food. Other Asian cuisines—including Japanese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese and even Indonesian—are well represented as well.
Travel and Sightseeing
Malaysia’s major metropolises offer museums, galleries and a thriving nightlife scene, and the vast choices of flora, fauna and other natural attractions—jungles, forests, mountains, caves, beaches and islands—as well as shopping in venues such as Kuala Lumpur's enticing night markets present something memorable for everyone. The Waterfront Promenade in Sungai Sarawak is great for a leisurely stroll, and the Sarawak Cultural Village is a living museum featuring seven traditional Malaysian dwellings.
For entertainment, the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas—holding concerts at a hall at the base of the soaring Petronas Towers—will satisfy any music lover. Places like Zouk, a club in Kuala Lumpur, and the Terminal One Lounge in Kuching draw crowds with international DJs and big dance floors. Along with world-class drinking and dining establishments, they’re open well into the wee hours.
Options for adventurous visitors include canopy walks, rock climbing, kayaking and white water rafting, cycling and caving. Fans of the latter will find some of the most spectacular caves in the world here. You might want to check out the Gomantong Caves, for example, or Mount Kinabalu. Malaysia has more than 4,600 km of coastline, too, and dozens of stunning tropical islands, so if you’re in love with sea, sand and other aquatic pursuits you’ll feel right at home.
Some useful sites for information about Malaysia:
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