What we spent on 9 days in Malaysia: A Malaysia budget for couples

The Jonker Walk Night Market in Malacca

I was nervous about our Malaysia budget, as many of the blogs I read spoke about it being a much more expensive destination than the rest of Southeast Asia. While that may be true, the damage was not nearly as bad as I expected. Infrastructure is better in Malaysia than I expect to find in many other places, yet there are fewer tourists, increasing competition. Bus travel is easy and cheap (expect a full post on that soon), and the street food is delicious and safe to eat (read our full guide on eating in Malaysia here). Here’s what we spent, all in, for 9 days in Malaysia.

Total: RM1890.75 / $459.86
Per day: RM210.08 / $51.10
At the time of our visit, US$1=RM4.11; unless otherwise noted, all costs are for two people traveling together.

Malaysia Budget Breakdown

On the whole, we ate at very budget-friendly places — either street food stalls or budget restaurants. By far the most expensive meals were in the Cameron Highlands, where there were very few street food options and we ate multiple meals around RM30-40. The other thing worth noting is that there were several times when we were traveling during lunchtime, and we simply ate snacks like chips or pastries instead of a proper meal. That said, there are probably just as many times where we added a snack in addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so this probably averages out to three square meals a day.

Total: RM582.20 / $141.57
Per day: RM64.69 / $15.73
Average prices: RM2 for a cup of coffee, RM2-3 for a breakfast dosai, RM 7-15 for an entree at a budget restaurant.

Alcohol in Malaysia is expensive (taxes on vices are high in this Muslim country), which is part of why we limited our imbibing. In 9 days, we drank on 3 occasions a total of 9 drinks between the two of us.

Total: RM120 / $29.18
Per day: RM13.33 / $3.24
Average prices: RM10 for cheap beer, RM20-25 for a glass of wine

Transportation was one of our bigger expenses in Malaysia, as we traveled to 5 different destinations (if you count the two visits in KL separately) in just 9 days. We traveled between cities by bus exclusively (train is pricier and not much more efficient for the destinations we visited), and by public transit within cities. We took only two taxis, and both were to or from bus terminals upon arriving/departing.

Total: RM328.50 / $79.88
Per day: RM36.50 / $8.88
Average prices: RM2-5 for commuter train, RM20-30 for taxi to transit hubs outside city center, RM 30 for bus ticket between major cities.

In general, we did one bigger ticket paid attraction in each city, but steered clear of anything we weren’t really excited about. This meant eliminating the majority of the sights in Kuala Lumpur, doing just one paid attraction there (you can read our thoughts on KL’s sightseeing here). We spent the most on sightseeing in the Cameron Highlands, where we spent RM106 (for two) for a tour of the Mossy Forest and tea plantations. I’m OK with this huge expense, as it got us a free ride all over the mountains of the highlands, and driving is really the only transportation option there other than hoofing it several miles.

Total: RM185.40 / $45.08
Per day: RM20.60 / $5.01

Generally, we stayed in private double rooms with A/C (sometimes with private bath, sometimes shared). Like food, lodging options in the Cameron Highlands are limited, which increases the price. That said, it was by far our nicest lodging situation. We stayed in a shared apartment through AirBnB for US$22 per night (RM94), but the other rooms were unoccupied for two of the three nights, meaning we had our own living room and kitchen. Our cheapest lodging was in Malacca where we paid RM21.30 for two bunks in a shared dorm, but were upgraded to a private en suite for free.

Total: RM596.90 / $145.15
Per day: RM66.32 / $16.13
Average prices: RM50-60 for a cheap double room

We did a little shopping, bought some postcards, and paid to use the bathroom a few times (which is a thing that happens occasionally — about RM0.30). Overall, souvenirs, like textiles are cheap here. I bought a caftan to sleep in for RM10 ($2.43).

Total: RM77.75 / $18.91
Per day: RM8.64 / $2.10

Not included:
I never count transportation in or out of a country in the daily budget, as that can vary enormously depending on whether you’re coming overland from a nearby country or from across the globe. I also don’t count our particular screw-ups in the regular budget. Here’s what’s not included above:

  • Bus from Singapore to Malacca: S$46 / $32.78
  • Transit to Kuala Lumpur Airport: RM100.40 / $24.41
  • Flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok: $98.60
  • Accidental hotel cancellation without refund fiasco: RM90 / $21.89

Total including these: $637.54
Per day: $70.84

Where you can save

There’s very little I would recommend doing to spend less — I think you’d start to miss out on the whole point of being here. That said, there are a few ways you could scrimp and save:

  • Visit either Malacca or George Town: I loved both of these places and I actually felt they were very different, despite being lumped together as the two “Baba & Nyonya” communities in Malaysia. But if you couldn’t stretch your budget across both, I would do only Malacca, as it was all around less expensive and a shorter bus ride to Kuala Lumpur. If George Town made more sense for your itinerary, though, you could bypass Malacca instead.
  • Don’t drink: We barely drank as it was, but you could cut out about 30 bucks by not drinking at all.
  • Skip the Mossy Forest tour: I’m very hesitant to suggest visiting the Cameron Highlands and not taking a guided tour, as it’s difficult to see much on foot. That said, if you were really committed to hiking around, you could save yourself RM100.
  • Stick to food stalls: At the end of the day, we often felt like sitting in an air conditioned restaurant for dinner instead of eating from a food stall. Food is already really cheap, but you could save RM10-20 per day by eating exclusively from food stalls.

Where you could spend

  • Party! Kuala Lumpur seems to be a big party town, and you could definitely blow loads of cash if you made drinking a big part of your visit.
  • Upgrade your lodging: Several of the places we stayed bordered on grody. They were fine, but I wouldn’t have minded quieter, less backpacker-appealing spots.
  • Visit a few more of the key sights in KL: As I’ve already mentioned, we skipped almost all of the paid attractions in Kuala Lumpur. If you’re all about those sights, though, that would tack on a fair bit to this budget.

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