I am a retail pharmacist who works in the middle of the town in Borneo so I usually get travelers visiting me. Being an avid traveler myself, I am usually quite empathetic. That gave me the idea to give out some tips I think would be useful when you’re in Malaysia, or just travelling in general.
ALL STAR ADVICE
Public Toilet kit – Malaysia is a lovely place but its public toilets are notorious! Locals like to clean up with water after doing their business but leave the floor all wet. Some tend to squat ON the sitting toilet bowl so you will see footprints. Toilet paper? Only if you’re lucky. So my advice is, to always carry a little bag with flushable wipes/tissue with all the other things you might need like a dry soap/hand sanitizer. Tailor your own! Otherwise there are premium toilets for a fee. Usually MYR2 and you can poo poo and have those ultra high tech bidet cleaning your sacred places.
Language medium – I recently met a Belgian guy(Mai’s salsa buddy) who is learning Malay but now think it’s actually redundant because (pretty much) everybody speaks good English. We basically learn English since playschool and to a lot of us it’s our first language. However, there are some who do not speak very well but in general, communicating in English is not a problem. It’s still cool if you can speak some local language to the people though. We just love it when foreigners speak our language. Just look at this guy! Mat Salleh speaks Malay
(ps: Mat Salleh = Angmoh = White people)
Cell/Data – Few major providers like Digi, TuneTalk, Celcom, Maxis, U Mobile. Most if not all offer the cheap Sim Pack for tourist for ~10MYR. If your smart phone is unlocked, you’re good to go. Usually all they need is your passport details. Google up for whichever provider you like. I personally prefer TuneTalk and Digi.
Wifi – Almost every cafes/hotel/hostel have wifi. Don’t worry about getting disconnected.
Pharmacy etiquette – OK not so much a tip. But it really annoys me to get tourist from all parts of the world coming in demanding for antibiotics or Viagra without a prescription because “my friend said you can get anything in Malaysia without a prescription”. While the scene here is quite sad to be honest, we are trying to change that. I feel molested whenever I get that line especially from a tourist who knows that certain things are only allowed with prescription.
Things you can do to avoid the pharmacy – Bring your regular meds from home. Check the country’s regulation on how many months med supply you’re allowed. Each country is different. Other things you should prepare: antihistamines, painkiller, antidiarrheal(Smecta FTW yo), Morning After pill(ladies, you never know. But please use the rubber. Condoms are super easily accessible, you can get them anywhere.).
Insect bites – try not to scratch and get them all infected. Steroid cream is magic. Ya ya I get the “oh steroid is bad” all the time. Unless you carry your complete magic case full of natural remedies, hydrocortisone or betametasone will do the job. Point being, you want that shit to go away fast so you don’t scratch and invite infection instead. Crotamiton(Eurax/AoBite) is a non steroidal alternative which eases itchiness but not the inflammation. You can take oral antihistamines too, for the allergy reaction.
When you get sick – I’ve seen a few tourists with some sort of infection that isn’t looking good and is still trying to get something from the pharmacy. If it’s necessary, please visit a GP. Most GPs don’t charge an outrageous consultation fee(goes from ~50MYR) depending on the issue. They also dispense medication at the clinic. Basically it’s a one stop center. A bit sad for pharmacists but hey if it’s helpful for you. Why not. I’ve had customers who by the sound of it got swindled by the doctor’s in some other developing countries they have visited. Doctors in Malaysia in general have good ethics so trust them as long as your gut is feeling good. Malaysia is also a Medical Tourism hub so we do have the reliable technology/expertise here(in the cities) although certain practices/medication might be different from back home.
Tropical Infectious Diseases – My 1.5 year working in the main hospital in Kuching City, I’ve never encountered Malaria/Thypoid/Leptospirosis/Meliodosis etc. In other words, they’re not common in cities. Don’t be afraid. But when I started working in a small district hospital in Sabah, the diseases mentioned was pretty common. We also had some pretty cool strains of Malaria specific to Borneo. How proud right? Anyway, how to keep yourself away from these? INSECT REPELLENT. And mosquito nets. And don’t go into dirty water or play in soil and not get properly cleaned up.
Things you can do to avoid getting sick – Stay hydrated but don’t drink from tap water. Our water are safe to drink after boiling but it usually has that funky chlorine taste to it. Just buy the dirt cheap distilled/R.O. water. Take your high dose vitamin C/Multivitamins. Eat well.
And that brings me to…
Fast Food – Almost everything American you can think of. McDonalds, KFC are two famous ones. But they are a bunch of others which I don’t bother to remember.
Local Cafes/Kopitiam/Stalls/Mamak – Malaysia is really a heaven for food. Stall foods are really good and cheap and I’ve never gotten sick from them. If you want to try good and cheap local food, this is the place. Usually flooded for breakfast. Or 24/7.
Eating clean – I find it pretty difficult to eat out and eat clean. Gluten free scene exists but not widely. You just have to choose what to order carefully. If you have specific requests or things you need to highlight, you can probably make a little card that says ie. “lactose intolerant” in the local language wherever you may be visiting. Same thing when you’re trying to find something, or say, go shopping at a farmer’s market. Why would you be at a farmer’s market? Because this is where you will try the local fruits, and they’re cheap!
Hipster much? – If you’re not a fan of monster chains like Starbucks or Coffee Bean, there abundant of hipster cafes with pretty neat coffee and good ambience. (To name a few I love in Kuching: Bing! Coffee, Rusty Bean&Batter, Earthlings, Black Bean Coffee).
Although Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, you can wear whatever you want just like back home. If you’re wearing excessively skimpy outfits then of course you will get some admiring ogles, like anywhere else. So short shorts are fine, tank tops are fine, bikini in a mall is not fine. So, nothing new here.
Anything else you need to know? Just ask. I have lived in Kuala Lumpur(Cyberjaya actually, Penang, Pahang, Sabah, and my hometown, Kuching.