Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen
First impression of Malaysia: we are going to like it here. The people seem kind so far. They smile a lot. There is such a mix of people here – same as Singapore: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhists, Christians. And we, as Americans, have it so good. Our dollar will go much further here than it did in Singapore and Europe. Not everyone is as lucky.
A security guard at our high rise complex rental in or Melaka welcomed us to our new, temporary home by asking us for a donation of $5 in Malaysian money, called ringgits. “Give me gift, give me $5,” he said a few times, as soon as he learned we are Americans. He’s from Nepal. We told him we didn’t have any ringgits, because we had only just arrived. He nodded and smiled, and dropped it. Hey, can’t hurt to ask, right?
A quick Google search reveals more than 2 million foreign workers came to Malaysia last year. I saw a remittance notice on a foreign currency exchange window. The notice has rules for sending money to places like Pakistan. As lower-priced as some Asian countries might be for us Americans, places like Malaysia are kingdoms of opportunity for people from places like Nepal or Pakistan.
A quick price comparison on a few items from grocery stores similar to something like Kroger’s or Albertson’s in the U.S. reveals stark price differences between Singapore and Malayasia. A quart of milk in Melaka is about $1.60. In Singapore, it’s two dollars more — $3.60!
I thought Tedly was going to faint over some prices in Singapore – especially beer. In Melaka, it’s about $1.87 for a half-liter can of Asian brewed beer. That’s certainly better than Singapore, where it cost $2.70 for the same half-liter can – but it’s still not cheap. Tedly laments he could get three half-liter cans for less than $2 in Mexico. (Low beer prices make the spouse happy.)
The cheapest snack chips we could find in Singapore are $2.19 a bag for 125 grams. In Melaka, it is $.82 for the same weight.
One oddity in Melaka: we were unable to find plain coffee grinds for a drip brew method at the grocery store. All coffees – in an entire supermarket row – had additives like sugar, salt. “margarine”, and/or wheat! The beans are roasted with palm oil or wheat and sugar and non-dairy creamer can be added to the grinds. The product is marketed as a 3-in-1, easy to make drink. However, there has been a recent backlash against the sugar added to coffee, and some companies have started marking the move to a 2-in-1 drink.
We ended up buying good old Nescafe instant coffee — it was the only ‘pure’ coffee — to which I have to add sugar anyway because, well, it’s instant coffee and rather rough compared to smooth brew.
Restaurants are cheaper in Melaka, too. We’ve eaten at a range of restaurants. You can get plates of food for $4 or $5 dollars in Singapore at the “hawker” style fast food stands, not including drinks. For the same price, you can get a heaping plate of Asian food – plus drinks – at a restaurant. Street food undoubtedly is even cheaper.
All prices are relative to how much money you have, of course. There are wealthy people who won’t bat an eye at prices in Singapore.
Singapore was a great place to visit — for a few days. As budget travelers, it was rather expensive to play tourist. We will stay for a longer time period in Malaysia, and we certainly will live well here. Despite the heat and the mosquitoes, I’m grateful and excited. We are in a new city and country to explore. And we don’t have to ask strangers for five dollar gifts. I really can’t ask for anything more.
The bus from Singapore to Melaka
We went to Melaka, Malaysia, from Singapore with Starmart Bus. With the border crossing, it took about four hours. Singapore has a biometric exit system, so we never were “stamped out” – we simply put a thumb on a scanner, as we did when we arrived. (But we do have stamps into the country in our passport books.)
The bus ride was great. It was roomy with reclining seats that at some point were massage chairs, but they weren’t working on our trip. The air conditioning did work well, and the driver was courteous and helpful with our bags.
If there was a drawback, it’s that we were not on the bus at the time we booked. We arrived at our pickup point and a worker told us the bus was delayed, and to save time we would be taken by taxi to another pickup point. We ended up leaving town about 45 minutes beyond our scheduled time, so not a huge drawback. Apparently, these kinds of time and bus shifts happen frequently, according to other reviews online. Tedly suspected this might happen to us when he booked our tickets, so we were not totally surprised. We are guessing the “schedule” is adjusted by the company based on how many fares are sold.
The ride cost just $15 each, and it was otherwise a pleasant experience, so we would use this company again. Its website is here.
- Malaysian food: cheap prices for any palate
- Million dollar views in Kuala Lumpur for a reasonable price
- Things to do in Penang on a budget
Earth Vagabonds Newsletter