Things to Know: Singapore & Malaysia

Things to Know: Singapore & Malaysia

Before we packed up for this trip, we read tips in our Lonely Planet travel book. Once we arrived in Singapore and asked our local friends about some of the travel tips, we realized the book was a little more conservative than we needed to be.

  1. Everyone speaks English in both countries. They even speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and Malay as in almost everyone we met spoke all four if not at least two of those languages. It’s extremely easy to get around and ask questions if you need help.
  2. Don’t J walk in Singapore. Everyone obeys the laws including the drivers. Smokers only smoke near trash bins and you will not see cigarette butts or litter.
  3. You can walk all over Singapore to get around or ride the bus. It’s pretty easy but we liked walking to most places.
  4. All credit cards are accepted so try to get a Discover Card, Capital One or Chase Sapphire card to avoid foreign transaction fees. All three cards offer points and/or cash back for your purchases.
  5. Carry cash with you because the vendors do not accept plastic. The cabs and pedicabs also only accept cash. Singapore uses the Singapore Dollar and Malaysia uses the Ringgit. If you want to bring the foreign currency with you from the States, be sure to visit your bank at least two weeks early so they can order you the currency needed. There are ATMs everywhere. We only brought $500 USD in cash with us and exchanged it at a bank in Singapore. Then we went to the ATM for however much we needed. Plus the conversion rate between a Singapore Dollar and a Malaysian Ringgit is horrible.
  6. If you do need to convert money before heading into Malaysia from Singapore, we suggest doing it at the Marina Bay Sands Casino. They don’t charge a fee but it’s a rinky dink casino. I don’t know why the locals would want to pay the required entrance fee to gamble there. It’s free for foreigners to enter as long as you have a valid passport with you.
  7. Get your flu and tetanus shots a month before the trip. Asia and Asians have a lot of hepatitis so I recommend getting this but this vaccine requires a succession of shots over time.
  8. Restaurants and food vendors don’t typically provide napkins. You will see many people carrying around small packets of tissue.
  9. Some of the restrooms don’t have toilet paper in the stalls. The toilet paper is most likely located in a communal roll on a wall so if there’s a line, start scoping out the toilet paper. Grab some before you hop into a stall.
  10. The restrooms in Malaysia are very clean as well but the floors are always wet because every stall has a hose for people to wash their privates and people do it. So I recommend wearing skirts, shorts or capris pants. You will often see people come out of the stalls with rolled up pant legs so they don’t get their pants wet.
  11. The water is safe to drink in Singapore but not Malaysia so don’t get ice or drink unfiltered water in Malaysia. Just ask if the water is filtered. Popular restaurants such as Geographic Cafe in Malacca serve filtered water.
  12. It is extremely safe in Singapore. So safe that people will leave their wallets or purse on a table to save their seats while ordering food. On the other hand, you can’t do that in Malaysia. In both countries, there were under cover police and security everywhere and if needed, they will let you know to secure your personal belongings.


  13. Your hotel key needs to be slid into the slot on the wall by the your front door in order to have electricity. Steve hates entering a warm room so he’d leave an old hotel key in the slot and a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door so that the AC would stay on. Electricity is expensive there so this is kind of a no-no to keep the AC on.
  14. The book recommended you have a Doctor’s note about all your prescriptions and medicines but customs did not ask a single question. Most of the bottles and packets had my name on them and I stored them all in a Ziploc bag.
  15. Don’t get too excited about the Duty Free shopping. You can only bring 19 cigarettes into Singapore, which is less than a pack. They will make you open the pack and remove one. You can bring only 750 ml of alcohol into Singapore. We bought one bottle at the airport upon arrival for our hosts.
  16. When traveling to Malaysia, don’t load up at the Duty Free store. You won’t be able to bring carton of cigarettes or a bottle of alcohol in with you. These items are expensive in these countries so they make you pay for them there. If you try to purchase the items at the Duty Free store in either country, they will ask for your passport and boarding pass so they can check your destination.
  17. Since Malaysia is a Muslim country, alcohol cost a lot more than you’d probably expect.
  18. There was also a tip about women dressing conservatively for fear of consequences but you should see the skimpy outfits worn in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I wore mostly tanks and shorts as well as strapless dresses and it was fine. I only felt out of place in Putrajaya, the administrative hub of Malaysia but even then, I only got stares from men in turbans and women in berkas. Now, one thing I did notice was that on my entire trip, I didn’t see a single girl wear a strapless dress or top. I did see a lot of short shorts and skirts while the shirts were long sleeved and covered their breasts.

    statue breasts

    Funny…a good friend of ours likened this image to her breastfeeding on her blog Eighth Rising.

  19. Singaporeans and Malaysians love Christmas, even Muslims. They are a very accepting group of people that have over time, combined many cultures and traditions.
  20. And it’s not true that everyone is Muslim or that everyone wears turbans, berkas or hijabs.
  21. You can almost eat off the restroom floors and toilets in Singapore. The restrooms are extremely clean, especially in the super high class malls.

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