Stay safe in Malaysia
The crime rate is higher than in neighbouring Singapore. Crimes against tourists are usually limited to pickpocketing, purse snatching and petty theft. It is important to keep a close eye on valuable items. Thefts are more common in busy places such as markets and public transport. In general, if you avoid deserted areas, return to your hotel before midnight and use common sense, you are unlikely to be robbed. Homosexuality is a crime, so gay and lesbian tourists should be confident and careful.
While Singaporeans often tell stories about the “wild north”, keep in mind that the crime rate in Singapore is remarkably low and the crime rate in the border town of Johor Bahru is particularly high by Malaysian standards. Any comments you hear about Malaysian crime rates should be seen in this context, and with the exception of Johor Bahru, tourists from the US would not find Malaysia particularly more dangerous than back home.
Many taxis will refuse to use the meter, although the official fare has recently changed and most taxis now have a sticker on the back door informing tourists that haggling is prohibited. Be aware that taxi drivers who sense that you are a tourist may drive around and take a very long route to reach your destination.
If you are using a taxi late at night, it is best to use the Dial-a-Taxi service as there have been incidents of taxis hailed at these times being fake/unregistered. The unregistered taxi drivers could then rob their victims or use assailants to rob them. You are also more likely to get a metered taxi if you hail it on a street than at a taxi rank.
It is advisable to study maps and compare fares on the internet before visiting the country. Knowing the distances between places is helpful when negotiating with taxi drivers. They will not try to deceive even a foreigner who clearly shows that he knows that the distance from point A to point B is 50 km and not 150 km.
Do not accept the first prices for travel by car between towns offered by hotels, as these can be up to double the normal prices. In this case, negotiate directly with a taxi driver for a better and fair price (for example, a hotel near Balok Beach, not very far from Kuantan, charged RM800 for a ride to Johor Bahru, while a negotiated price with a taxi driver found in downtown Kuantan came down to a normal RM400). But for all this, you need to know the exact distance and if possible even the exact itinerary between your departure and arrival points.
Public demonstrations are uncommon in Malaysia due to the police crackdown, but there have been a number of anti-government demonstrations recently. Should one occur, they may be dealt with harshly, so avoid them at all costs.
Finally, it is generally not allowed for non-Muslims or non-Sunnis to proselytise. In particular, trying to persuade Muslims to leave their religion is illegal, and if you are caught doing so, you will at best be expelled from the country.
Crime in Malaysia
|Malaysia treats drug offences extremely harshly. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 g of heroin, 30 g of morphine, 30 g of cocaine, 500 g of cannabis, 200 g of cannabis resin and 1.2 kg of opium, and possession of these quantities is sufficient to be convicted.|
Illicit consumption can lead to up to 10 years in prison or a heavy fine, or both. You can be charged with illicit consumption as long as traces of illegal drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove they were consumed outside the country, and you can be charged with trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags that are in your possession or in your room, even if they do not belong to you and regardless of whether you are aware of them – so be vigilant about your possessions.
In major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, George Town and Johor Bahru, there are occasional reports of pickpockets and thieves on the run. As a general precaution, never carry your bags on the side facing the road and always walk towards oncoming traffic. Also, walk a few metres lower away from the roads. Female travellers should take extra precautions at night.
Johor Bahru is known to have a relatively high crime rate compared to the rest of Malaysia. Armed robberies and kidnapping thefts could happen at night in the city’s run-down neighbourhoods. Travel documents and valuables are best left in a hotel safe.
Note that in Malaysia, certain crimes are punishable by caning. You can be caned for rape, vandalism, illegal entry, bribery, overstaying your visa and certain other offences. This is not a slap on the wrist! The blows with the thick rattan cane are very painful, it will take some time to heal and will probably leave a permanent scar. This technique is also used in Singapore.
Credit card fraud is a growing problem in this country, especially if you order from an online shop while you are there. Only use credit cards in reputable shops. If you are unsure about the reputation of a particular shop or service, there are several services that can help identify scams and frauds, such as Trustedcompany.com for any online service you want to use.
Never bring any recreational drugs into Malaysia, even as a transit passenger. Possession of even minimal amounts can result in a mandatory death sentence.
Traffic safety in Malaysia
Drunk driving is a serious offence and alcohol tests by the police are common. You should definitely not offer bribes – if found guilty you can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison! Anyone who tries to bribe officers can be arrested on the spot and locked in a cell overnight to be charged with the offence the next morning. If this happens on a Friday or the eve of public holidays, you will spend a few nights in jail as the courts are only open from Monday to Friday. Don’t let this deter you from asking for help – in general, Malaysian police are helpful to tourists. You should just accept whatever traffic summons you receive.
If you are on foot, be careful when crossing the road. Vehicles will often ignore pedestrian crossings (zebra crossings). However, reports of road bullying in accidents are still common. So if you are involved in an accident, be very careful when negotiating or dial 999 for help.
Stay healthy in Malaysia
Tap water is drinkable straight from the tap as it is treated, but even locals boil or filter it first to be on the safe side. When travelling, it is best to stick to bottled water, which is very cheap.
Ice in drinks can be made from tap water, but nowadays most restaurants and even street stalls use the cylindrical variety with a hollow tube in the middle, which is mass produced in ice factories and safer to consume.
Heat stroke is rare, but drink plenty of fluids, use a hat and sunscreen and shower often!
Peninsular Malaysia is largely malaria-free, but there is a significant risk in Borneo, especially in the interior and rural areas. Dengue fever occurs throughout Malaysia in both urban and rural areas and can only be avoided by avoiding mosquito bites. The mosquito that transmits dengue fever feeds throughout the day and is most active at dawn and dusk. If you experience sudden fever with pain and lethargy, seek medical attention immediately. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be used until dengue fever has been ruled out. Mosquito repellents (ubat nyamuk) are available everywhere. Be careful with mosquito coils, which can easily start fires: place them on a plate or other non-flammable surface and extinguish them before going to bed.
Haze caused by burning vegetation in neighbouring Indonesia can come and go without warning from May to August, so travellers with respiratory conditions should be prepared.
Most public washrooms charge a small fee (usually between RM0.20-RM2.00, mostly depending on the standard of the facilities), so have some change ready. If the condition of the sit-down toilets is questionable, use the squat toilets instead – both are usually available, and some believe the latter are more hygienic and (if you can get used to them) just as easy to use as sit-down toilets.
Peninsular Malaysia is largely earthquake-free as there are no fault lines nearby, although occasional tremors are felt when a major quake occurs in neighbouring Indonesia. In East Malaysia, on the other hand, especially in the area around Mount Kinabalu, earthquakes occasionally occur, most recently in 2015 with a fatal outcome. Typhoons also generally do not occur. However, flooding from torrential rains is common during the monsoon season from November to January, and landslides have been known to occur, especially on the east coast. Tsunamis are a rare occurrence, although Penang and some islands on the north of the west coast were affected by the infamous tsunami in 2004.
Government health facilities are cheap but good in the larger cities, but many visitors prefer to seek private medical care. The cost of private medical care can be high and travel insurance is a very good idea. The standard of medical care tends to drop sharply once you leave the big cities and travel to rural areas.
The HIV rate in Malaysia was 0.5% of the population in 2014.