Malaysia: What a Dollar Can Buy You

In many ways, Malaysia reminds me of the Philippines. It’s a country torn between development and deterioration where one can find open sewers right next to super-mega malls, biological wastelands next to intact jungle, and sea gypsy settlements right next to high-end resorts. While much of the Malaysia experience is decidedly third-world, the prices don’t always reflect that. In fact, Malaysia can be downright expensive.

Dragon Fruit

Although some food options can be quite cheap in Malaysia, accommodation and transportation are more expensive than other parts of Southeast Asia. But the greatest shock to the wallet is the very high cost of activities here. Although most temples and mosques are usually free, other entry fees are often quite pricey. And experiencing Malaysia’s natural heritage (or what’s left of it) can border on extortionate.

Prices are especially high when leaving peninsular Malaysia and traveling through Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. There, fueled by the logging and palm oil industries, prices can get a little crazy leaving visitors scratching their heads in disbelief and seriously asking themselves whether the trip was worth it. Here a dirty dormitory bed can cost more than an air-conditioned hotel room with cable TV in Bangkok. Anyone up for a $1000 3-day camping trip? Yikes. Let’s just say with the money we put out in Sabah, we could’ve spent a month in Paris.

But not to worry. Malaysia is not a lost cause for the budget conscious. There are still a few affordable things to be had for three ringgit or about a buck:

  • 3 roti canai and a small plate of curry (great lunch)
  • 1 hour of Internet access
  • 2 cans of coke
  • 9 minutes on a Rest’n Go massage chair
  • 1 mango lassi (if you look very hard)
  • 1.5 visits to the “premier paid toilet” at Suria mall in KL
  • 4 liters (1 gal.) of drinking water
  • 3 ferry crossings from Butterworth to Georgetown
  • 6 vegetable samosas
  • 1.5 km in a taxi (after the initial flag-down rate)
  • 3 Granny Smith apples
  • 1/2 kg of clean laundry
  • 1 large dragon fruit
  • 300 g of steel chain (don’t ask)

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