5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Malaysia

Below is a list of a few handy things I learned while staying in Malaysia, including how to interpret a drink menu, where to find cheap drinking water, what economy rice is, and how to find the cheapest accommodation.

1. How To Order Tea and Coffee

When I went to order my first drink in Malaysia, I had no idea how to interpret the menu. I had no idea what the difference was between a Kopi, a Kopi O, or a Kopi C. I’ve written a quick list of what each thing is below to make your tea and coffee experience so much easier.

Coffee

  • Kopi: Coffee (generally with condensed milk)
  • Kopi O: Black coffee (no milk) with sugar
  • Kopi C: Coffee with condensed milk and sugar
  • Kopi kosong: Black coffee, no sugar (kosong is Malay for zero)
  • Kopi panas: Hot coffee
  • Kopi sejuk/Kopi ais: Iced coffee
Iced tea
Teh Ais (iced tea)

Tea

  • Teh = Tea (generally with condensed milk)
  • Teh O = Black tea (no milk) with sugar
  • Teh C = Tea with condensed milk and sugar
  • Teh kosong = Black tea, no sugar
  • Teh panas: Hot tea
  • Teh sejuk/Teh ais: Iced tea
  • Teh Tarik: Pulled tea, this is the one with the frothy, foamy top due to being poured from one jug to another multiple times. Delicious.

Remember, you can mix and match these things, such as a Teh O Ais (Iced black tea with sugar). If in doubt, you can always try asking in English, as most Malaysians know a little bit, but it helps to understand the menu!

2. There Are So Many Refreshing Drinks

If you get sick of the teh and kopi for some reason, don’t worry, there’s a bunch of other drinks to try! Here’s a short list of ones that I liked, and didn’t like so much.

Iced lime juice.
Limau Ais (iced lime juice)

Drinks I loved

  • Limau – This was my favorite drink after tea and coffee. It’s such a refreshing sweet lime drink. Just be careful not to drink the lime seeds, as they tend to be put into the drink whole.
  • Barley drink – This is a slightly cloudy liquid with whole barley pearls mixed in (you can eat them). Normally it comes with a bit of sugar and lime for taste. You can ask for it without sugar, but I definitely prefer the sugared version as it has a lot more taste.
  • Ambra juice – This is a very hard flavor to describe. It’s green and not overly sweet, but quite refreshing. It’s probably one of those flavors that you either love or hate.

Drinks I didn’t like

  • 932 – I had to try this drink because I wanted to know what it was, and I regretted it instantly. It turned out to be a mix of lime and sour plum, a lot of sour plum, which is way too sour and salty for my taste. However, if you are a fan of sour plum, this drink will be great for you.
  • Anything with sour plum – A little sour plum was okay, perhaps in the Ambra juice, but anything that had more than one tiny sour plum in it was too much for me.

3. How To Get Cheap Water

As you probably know, it’s safer to buy bottled water when travelling, rather than drink tap water. One place we stayed at had a filter and a large kettle, so we spent some time filtering and boiling water and refilling our water bottles, but not everyone has this option. Bottle water can cost 2 MYR for a 1.5 liter bottle, which can add up, especially if you’re drinking your recommended 2 liters a day or more. This is why you should keep an eye out for water refill stations.

Drink refill station in Langkawi
Drink refill station in Langkawi

These stations allow you to refill water bottles at a very low cost. We paid 0.2 MYR per liter using this water station. All you have to do is put your coins into the machine, hold your water bottle underneath and press start. I highly recommend holding it, as the water can come out fast and tip your bottle over – yes, we learned this the hard way.

If you’re filling multiple water bottles, you can press the stop button when one bottle is full, and get your next bottle underneath and press start again, so you don’t have to measure the liters exactly to each bottle, which is handy.

It’s also a way to get rid of all those annoying coins that weigh your walled down. And it meant that we were saving plastic too. Feels good, right? Then you can put those few extra ringgit towards buying some economy rice.

4. How Economy Rice Works

While travelling around, you’ll come across vendors selling rice, vegetables, meat, and eggs in metal serving trays. Each item will have a different price. The price of the vegetables is normally 1-2 MYR per scoop, while the price of the eggs is generally 1-2 MYR per egg, and meat can be 4-5 MYR per piece of meat.

Economy rice in Langkawi
Economy rice in Langkawi

Make sure you serve up heaps of the white rice, as that is generally free or very cheap. Another important thing to note is that you can serve yourself just the curry sauce from any of the dishes for free!

Economy rice, where to get the white rice from.
Economy rice station with the bucket of white rice to start

If you watch the locals, they simply serve up what they want, pass their plate to the vendor and get told how much it is. However, being a foreigner, you should always ask how much each thing you want is per scoop or per piece before loading it up to avoid being overcharged or being surprised at how expensive something is. I’ve found most vendors to be really friendly and willing to tell me how much for each item. That way, you know exactly what you’re paying for, and the prices of some things might surprise you.

I learned this the hard way after buying economy rice from one vendor who didn’t want to tell me how much things were, and I was charged a lot more for my plate of food that I had previously been charged for similar items from other vendors.

5. You get cheaper accommodation deals in person

If you’re staying for a longer time, you’re better off not booking the whole stay in advance. Book a few days and then take a walk around the area and speak to the locals and hotel managers about longer term rates. This way, you’ll be able to negotiate a lot better rates than you can find online, especially if you’re visiting in the low season.

We got talking to a local who knew many of the hostel owners in the area and offered to give us a hand finding a place. We gave her a description of what we were looking for and our ideal price, and she was able to take us to see a place that we booked the next day.

Always compare the prices on sites like Hostelworld, Agoda, and Booking.com and if you find a good price there, ask the manager in person if they can give you a cheaper rate if you pay them cash directly, rather than booking online. This works out better for you because you get a cheaper rate, and better for them because they don’t have to pay the commission fees to the website.

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