Malaysia does not require visitors to obtain specific vaccinations to enter, with the exception of travelers arriving from areas where yellow fever is present, mainly Africa and South America. Sun exposure and insect bites will be your main worry in Malaysia, whether you are in a city, jungle trekking, or lying on a beach. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid the outdoors during the middle of the day, if possible, and wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Day or night, mosquito repellent is a must, and for certain heavily forested areas, I've found only products containing DEET will work. In general, the quality of healthcare in Malaysia is very good, with most doctors educated overseas and many hospitals awarded international accreditation. Over-the-counter medications are easy to find at well-stocked pharmacies in major towns. Note that some drugs have different names; for example, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is sold under the brand name Panadol (paracetamol) in Malaysia.
- Dietary Red Flags -- The tap water in KL is supposedly potable, but I don't recommend drinking it -- in fact, I don't recommend drinking tap water anywhere in Malaysia. Bottled water is inexpensive enough and readily available at convenience stores and food stalls. Food prepared in hawker centers is generally safe -- I have yet to experience trouble, and I'll eat almost anywhere. If you buy fresh fruit, wash it well with bottled water, and carefully peel the skin if you are really concerned. Vegetarians will find variety in southern Indian vegetarian curries, known locally as "banana leaf," and a smattering of Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurants.
- Tropical Illnesses -- Malaria has not been a continual threat in most parts of Malaysia, even Malaysian Borneo. Dengue fever, on the other hand, which is also carried by mosquitoes, remains a constant threat in most areas, especially rural parts. Dengue, if left untreated, may cause fatal internal hemorrhaging, so if you come down with a sudden fever or skin rash, consult a physician immediately. There are no prophylactic treatments for dengue; the best protection is to wear plenty of insect repellent -- the aedes mosquito that carries dengue bites during the day, as opposed to malaria-carrying varieties that bite at dusk. Choose a product that contains DEET or is specifically formulated to be effective in the tropics.
Before you travel, check with your airline, credit card issuers, and any medical plan you have in your home country to find out what kind of coverage you have for things like flight delays, loss of luggage, theft, accident, or illness while traveling. Additional travel insurance can be purchased on an annual basis or per trip through your insurance company. If you're planning adventure and other sports travel, make sure your travel insurance covers such activities. Medical evacuation is also recommended if you plan to visit nature reserves or islands. For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancelation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, visit www.frommers.com/planning/.
Malaysia has an unfortunate problem with thievery, though the crime rate in the country has been decreasing. "Snatch thieves" have been known to ride on motorcycles through heavily populated areas in KL, Johor Bahru, and other cities, snatching handbags from women's shoulders. When you're out, don't wear your handbag on your side that's facing the street -- or better yet, don't carry a handbag.
The first thing I do when I check into a hotel is put my passport, international tickets, extra cash, and traveler's checks, plus any credit or ATM card I do not have immediate plans to use, straight into the safe, either in my room or behind the hotel's front desk.
Be careful when traveling on overnight trains and buses, where there are opportunities for theft. Keep your valuables close to you as you sleep.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.