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Scratching the Surface: 4 Things Every Traveller Should Be Aware of Before Travelling To Kuala Lumpur

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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.

Know Before You Go

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.

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16 thoughts on “Scratching the Surface: 4 Things Every Traveller Should Be Aware of Before Travelling To Kuala Lumpur

  1. Clare

    Hi, I am an expat in KL and have lived here for over 3 years and this post is total rubbish apart from number 4. Taxis are my only mode of transport and I’m still alive and not in prison! Firstly, taxis are not 100% safe in any city but you are considerably more likely to have an accident due to a driver falling asleep at the wheel (working long hours and NOT taking drugs to stay awake) or bad driving skills than any small minority of drivers that use drugs, which I personally have never encountered.

    I have never had a bad tummy in Malaysia and I drink bottled water of numerous brands and filtered tap water.

    The police are corrupt, yes. There is no charge for reporting a crime, however, but it is a long and tedious process which I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s to discourage further reporting.

    Also, Muslims do mind very much even being near pork which is why restaurants and food courts state clearly if they are not halal and why pork products are sold in a hidden part of supermarkets where you cannot pay at the main tills that could be manned by Muslims.

    My guess is that the locals were making fun of a paranoid foreigner by telling them scary stories. It’s exactly the locals’ sense of humor! I know lots of locals and expats and this nonsense is totally new to me.

    Rather irresponsible sharing this when it’s just false.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Hi Clare,
      Thanks for your feedback. I’m glad clearly everything has been going well for you but I beg to differ that the rest is ‘rubbish’ and locals were making fun of me. I hardly consider myself to be a ‘paranoid traveller’ and I don’t know a single local anywhere who talks poorly about their city knowing that someone is a writer- consider how defensive you got just as an expat. I appreciate your opinions however further stories I have privately received from reads since publishing this article, especially regarding the police, have only strengthened my point. Please keep in mind this is not a warning article against going to KL as I stated several times i this piece, I had a lot of fun there, just some things to keep in mind.

      1. jessica

        lol I’m Malaysian and I’ve lived abroad on and off and this is exactly our kind of humour. I’ve entertained many of my foreign friends and we tend to exggerate dumb rumours to get a reaction out of tourists especially western ones and then go “just kidding lol” because of the stereotype of developing nations that paranoid tourists take on as gospel. everything clare said is true and right and you do not need to pay the police regarding reporting any crimes, it is common for people though to bribe their way out of a fine or a difficult situation they are guilty of. this is all ridiculous and is scaremongering.

    2. Rose

      I know 2 Batswana girls who were raped by taxi men at different intervals during our stay in Malaysia between 2007 and 2009.Both of them we picked up by the those culprits in Limkokwing Cyberjaya.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Hi Fred,
      Thanks for your input but I’m not taking it off. As I said in the article it’s not a warning against people going to KL just things I was told for people to keep in mind, and since I was told each point more than once by separate people I figure it was relevant. I’m glad though that clearly nothing of the sort has ever happened to you while in the city.

  2. James

    Are you for real? Where did you hear the story about the crystal meth? I’ve lived here for a number of years and never heard anything like that? I’m not sure it actually has any basis in fact.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Hi James,
      As I indicated in the article these were things that I was told by people I met during my travels- I personally didn’t have an experience with taxi drivers so I can’t give you any facts, but since I heard it for more than one person I thought it was relevant.

  3. Paul

    Did any of this stuff actually happen to you or anyone you personally know?

    It’s a shame that aspiring travel bloggers have to resort to click-baity rumour-mongering like this.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Hi Paul, if you bothered to actually read the entire article you would have noticed I said I felt safe during my time and nothing happened to me although I did notice all the separation. A couple incidents regarding unsafe taxi and corrupt police have happened to actual friends, not just acquaintances, however those are not my stories to share.
      Fact is travel isn’t all sunshine and rainbows- bloggers are allowed to write the good and bad- just as any journalist would. A journalist doesn’t have to be a victim to write about it do they? As for the rumours- I am hardly the first person to bring this up. Take a minute to look up even just police corruption and unsafe taxis in KL- You will get thousands of hits with this piece being nowhere near the top.

  4. Claus Andersen

    One of the reason why you see protests in Malaysia is also because you are allowed to protest there, unlike many other countries in Southeast Asia.
    Try and hold an anti governement rally in Thailand for instance and the royalist dictatorship will be all over the place arresting people and locking them up for severla years in the name of their lousy old king.
    I usually joke that the malaysian national sport is complaining about politicians, but at least they are allowed to have that sport, unlike many of their dictatorship neighbours.
    I have been over 30 times in KL and i will say that the cab drivers stink quite a bit, but I have never had any trouble with the police. I don’t do drugs and don’t buy prostitutes and this might be why. This is certainly why many of the expats hates Malaysia, as many of them mainly come to Southeast Asia to buy young girls. The lack of open prostitution is the mahor complaint I hear when I am in a group of all foreign males in Malaysia. I actually have Malaysia as my main hangout because I don’t have to watch the white trash of the western world buying young girls and being able to say loudly that I am against monarchy is nice too.

  5. kiki

    i agree bout the police. bout the water we r nothing like india so no doubt bout it. taxi? better take uber. equallity of all race, nah it just politic everywhere in this world have their conflict but malaysia is safe asia country to visit 🙂

  6. Michelle | michwanderlust

    I see a lot of people attacking you for this post so I’m just going to leave this here. Things that have happened to my (Malaysian) husband’s work associates and relatives in KL include: (1) getting held up at an ATM, just off a busy road; (2) getting attacked in his car while stopped at a traffic junction; and (3) getting a piece of jewellery ripped off his neck while he was getting out of his car in an upmarket area. All of these happened in broad daylight. And my husband has spent most of his life abroad so doesn’t exactly know a lot of people – if the sample size were wider I’m sure the anecdotes would increase as well.

    So please, all these people getting defensive – the mere fact that nothing has happened to you or your loved ones doesn’t make this post “rubbish”. Travellers should always be street-smart and vigilant. Better safe than sorry!

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