Sunday, 28 April 2013

Top 5 Things You Need as A Traveller in Malaysia

Throughout my travels I have found there are a number of skills, products, services, and pieces of advice that have come in very useful while on the road. Below are my top 5 essentials for long term travellers to Malaysia.

The cityscape of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia.
Connectivity – Skype, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are critically important to most travellers, especially when you are into blogging and travel writing. As a traveller, you wouldn’t have to worry so much about that because Malaysia is generally well connected. Broadband connectivity is available in every towns and cities, even in the kampongs (villages), unless they are in the remote areas. East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo) which consists of Sabah and Sarawak, is less connected due to its large area and lesser population density. However, you shouldn’t have much problem in the town areas. In recent years, the applications have been installed onto mobile phones so you don’t even need to have access to a computer to use it. 

A demonstration of a  trained monkey plucking coconuts at a homestay.

Homestays - Couchsurfing might be a great way of finding free accommodation around the world. Unfortunately it is not so popular in Malaysia. However, there is an even better option. Homestays! Well, they might not be free but they are real Value-for-Money. Various local and traditional programmes are lined up for homestayers and on top of that, it really allows you to see this country from a local's perspective, meet new people and see a side of a place that you couldn't experience staying in other types of accommodation. Malaysia has one of the best homestay programmes in the world, so much so that last year, we won the United Nation World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance. The award recognises the government's efforts to promote tourism in the rural areas where they have homestay programmes.

Homestayers trying their hands at batik painting.
Negotiating Skills - As travellers, we are continually spending money on things like flights, buses, trains, hostels, foods, drinks and tourist attractions. Often the fact that you are either a tourist or traveller stands out, and except in circumstances where there is a set price for something, locals will inevitably try to charge you more. The key to reducing costs is to use some negotiating skills. Always start very low when offering a price for something you want to purchase, or offer half the price advertised. It gives a bit of a leeway if they try to up the price and can truly reflect the real value of the product. Also being able to speak a bit of the language goes a long way. Learning the Malay language is relatively easy. If you can try to pass off as a resident/long term visitor, or even better a local (if you are fluent), then they often dont start at as high a price as they would if you come with a backpack, guide book and an expectation of everybody speaks English. A little bit of negotiation can go a long way and save you that much needed cash!

Negotiating skills are a big advantage to travellers.
Having A Good Backpack - If you are going to spend long periods of time plodding around the world with all your belongings on your back, then you need to have something that is both comfortable and fits all your stuff without being too heavy. Probably the first rule is to only take with you what you actually need. I think the problem with most first time backpackers is that they pack what they think they will need, rather than thinking about what they will actually use on a daily basis. Once you have riddled your belongings down to as little as you can, I would advise you to invest in a backpack that is both comfortable and secure. These days I only take a small backpack or case with me that is small enough to fit in with hand luggage. I know this probably wouldnt suit everybody but it allows me to reduce the time spent waiting on luggage at the other end, which is the most time consuming part spent in airports, and also means there is no risk of airports losing your luggage!

Don't be too rigid. Just relax and enjoy every moment of your trip. 
Dont Go Around "Ticking Boxes" - Don't get me wrong. Guide Books are an important start, especially if you are new about Malaysia. Often though, some travellers seem more pre-occupied with 'ticking-off' certain tourist attractions or places on the map, than actually experiencing the culture, local people, or the true joys of travel. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you have done or where you have been as long as you're happy. The best experiences for travellers are the people they met, or the unexpected things that happen along the way. Spend more time in each place, get to know where you are staying, find the best places in town by asking the locals, and be willing to change your plans at any given moment should the mood take you. there are times when I have missed on the occasional 'must see' destinations because I have been having so much fun where I was. I don't regret it for one second, and remember, just because you have visited somewhere doesn't mean you can't go back. If you miss out something the first time you can always make plans to see it another time. my advice to any travellers out there would simply be just to go with the moment. If something feels right, more often than not it is. 

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