I want to start this post by clarifying that I did enjoy my time in Kuala Lumpur. It’s a really cool city and I do suggest people visit. However, like most cities around the world, it has it’s problems.
I spent 5 days in the capital of Malaysia. I never felt particularly unsafe and the people were nothing but kind to me. However I did get the opportunity to speak with some locals and expats who allowed me a little more insight into the city and what goes on behind the scenes. I was told some things that I believe all visitors should be aware of; not necessarily as a warning, but just further knowledge to take into consideration during your stay. Some points have been backed up by further research that I have linked to, others are just based on what I was told. True or not, as a solo female traveller, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
So with that in mind, here are 4 things to keep in mind before travelling to Kuala Lumpur.
1) Be Careful Taking Taxis
Generally you figure taxis, particularly the official ones, are safe. This isn’t necessarily the case in Kuala Lumpur, which is already known to have the worst taxi’s in the world. I’ve been told that some taxi drivers are drug users; relying on crystal meth (the cheapest and most readily available drug) to keep them awake, because longer shifts equal more money.
Not only is this dangerous in terms of accidents, but if the police pull the driver over they are likely to consider you, as the passenger, to be the dealer or a buyer. Which means your ride to the airport might land you in a Malaysian prison, and I think it’s safe to say no one wants that to happen.
KL taxi drivers have also been reported many times for using violence against foreign travellers. A couple of years back plenty of solo female travellers were kidnapped and raped by Malaysian taxi drivers.
KL has an awesome public transportation system and a train direct to the city from the airport. It’s easy and affordable and I always felt safe on it, so use that as much as possible.
*Since publishing this article readers have since shared that using MyTeksi is also a safer choice.
2) Not all Drinking Water Sold in Stores is Necessarily Safe
Travelling in Southeast Asia means you can’t drink the tap water (unless you are in Singapore). Technically, drinking water in stores should be safe and monitored however studies have shown that certain brands of Malaysian mineral water contain traces of human waste. The companies are able to buy off the authorities so they can be selective when it comes to labelling (same as in many other countries). Evian and Spritzer are said to be your best bets.
3) The Police Aren’t Necessarily Your Friends
Corrupt police are a common problem in various places around the world, Kuala Lumpur included. In fact Numbeo lists the city at 86.85/100 for bribery and corruption. And while they are perfectly fine to approach on the street if needing directions (and very helpful too!), you might want to reconsider going to them with a problem. Often you spend more money dealing with the police then you would if you handled the situation yourself. There also seems to be some sort of ‘disturbing the police’ charge for any type of complaint… mainly requiring bribery so the issue is taken care of in a timely fashion, if at all. Of course this doesn’t mean every officer is corrupt but you may want take a second to think whether the police actually need to be involved before you go to them.
4) Things Are not As Equal As They Seem
One of the first things you think about Kuala Lumpur is how amazing it is that there are mosques, temples, and churches all in the same area and everyone seems to get along. It’s something that many people in my hostel commented upon on arrival.
Sadly, it’s too good to be true. And while a couple of days may not be enough for a traveller to notice, a month is. Or just pay attention to the news; there are frequent protests in which the Chinese and Indian rally to be treated the same. In fact it’s so severe that there have even been studies on the matter.
The Malay people are primarily Muslim, and are given plenty of advantages over the many Hindu and Buddhist people of the city. If you look for it, separation is prominent around the city, especially in food courts. There are separate food courts for the Malay people (I stumbled upon one and had lunch there myself) and while they explain it by saying they don’t eat pork and the other cultures do, my personal experience with my Muslim friends is that as long as the Muslim people don’t have to eat it themselves, most don’t care if those around them do.
So why does everything seem so perfect on the surface? The government puts a lot of effort to keep up appearances, and those locals that speak out get punished. (Fingers crossed this doesn’t include me!)
Again this is not a waring against going to Kuala Lumpur, just a couple extra things to keep in mind during your visit. KL is a great city to explore, but, like with everywhere else in the world, you need to be safe when you do it.