What to Wear in Malaysia: A Southeast Asia Packing List

Shawn Forno

Malaysia is fantastic, snd the best part is that you can easily pack everything you need to work or travel around Malaysia in just a carry on bag.

Malaysia is still (somehow) one of the most underrated backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia, largely thanks to the overwhelming popularity of places like Thailand and Bali. Luckily, that’s good news for you, because Malaysia is fantastic—especially if you can pack everything you need in carry on bag.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport is an excellent budget alternative to Bangkok Airport (BKK) , and makes a great jumping off point for travelers heading to Penang, Ipoh, or beautiful Langkawi (not to mention the rest of Southeast Asia).

Dotted with picturesque islands, lush jungles, secluded temples, rich highlands, and bustling cities, packing for the weather and cultural norms of Malaysia can feel overwhelming.

Luckily, packing for Malaysia is easier than you think. Here’s everything you need to pack for a better trip to Malaysia.

When to Visit Malaysia: Two Rainy Seasons

Ok, bad news first: Peninsular Malaysia (aka the “mainland”) is hot and humid pretty much year round. It also has two rainy seasons that span most of the year.

The first monsoon season is on the west coast from April to October. The second is on the east coast from November to February.

Now for the good news: The rainy season is predictable, and most travelers to Malaysia stay on the west coast (KL, Penang, Ipoh, Langkawi, and the Cameron Highlands are all in the west). So, if you plan your visit between October and March you can leave your rain gear at home.

Malaysia Monsoon Packing List

If you decide to brave the monsoon season in Malaysia (jk, it’s really not that bad) bring these three items to help you ward off the occasional afternoon shower:

  • Lightweight rain jacket: Make sure it breathes a little or you’ll never want to wear it in the Malaysian heat
  • Travel umbrella: I used to hate on travel umbrellas. Until I came to Malaysia. They keep you dry, you don’t have to wear them, and they even work when it’s sunny. Strong recommend, and you can pick one up when you land for cheap
  • 10L dry bag. Make sure your tech gear doesn’t get ruined if you get caught in a sudden downpour (it happens). A small dry bag is also great for beach days to keep pesky sand away from your phone or other electronics.

Now that you’re prepared for the worst, here’s everything else you need to pack for an awesome trip to Malaysia.

What to Pack for Malaysia

Carry On Backpack (35L or less)

The real secret to packing for Malaysia (and Southeast Asia in general) is to keep it light. And that starts with the right carry on bag.

The current weight allowance for carry on bags on most budget airlines in Asia is just 7kg. That means your personal item and overhead bag need to weigh less than 15 pounds—combined.

Pack everything in one small carry on bag—35L or less—to save on expensive fees and long check-in times.

Malaysia is also super muggy, and odds are you’ll be on the move a lot. Don’t stuff your “daybag” and wear it on your chest like a rookie. It’s hot, heavy, and honestly just a miserable way to travel.

Travel in one bag and you’ll not only avoid budget airline fees—you’ll be able to hop on a bus, catch a Grab, and maybe even zip off on your own scooter without worrying about your big heavy bag slowing you down.

Collapsible Water Bottle

If you don’t want to buy plastic water bottles every single day, pack a small collapsible water bottle (the Vapur .75L is perfect for me) thanks to the carabiner. You can buy a big jug of water or fill up at drinking fountains along the way. A collapsible bottle is also great for saving space on travel days and getting through airport security.

Slip on Shoes

I can’t stress this one enough—you will take your shoes off a lot in Malaysia. Going barefoot is just part of the culture, and not just in temples and homes. Island hopping, walking by the beach, or even just working in cafes are all barefoot activities. You need slip on shoes that can keep up with Malaysia.

Leave lace up sneakers at home, and don’t even think about bringing hiking boots to Malaysia. You’ll spend half your trip tying your shoes.

I snagged a pair of rubber bottom espadrilles in Spain for less than $20, but you can pack a pair of Toms or other shoes you can slip into and out of easily. Sandals aren’t always awesome, as your toes might get crunched or dirty walking around town.

Try to find waxed canvas closed-toe slip ons or some other slightly more water-resistant material so your shoes don’t stink, and embrace life with no socks.

Lightweight Pants

Malaysia is hot. Oh, and it’s muggy too. That means you probably won’t want to wear jeans or other heavy travel pants very often. However, I do recommend packing at least one pair of comfy travel pants for air-conditioned flights and malls, as well as more conservative outings like temple days or homestays.

If you don’t have a favorite pair of travel pants, don’t worry. Malaysia is full of local designer stores and kitschy shops where you can find amazing deals on clothing (and other souvenirs). Leave some room in your packing list for a pair of pants from local designers. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t have room to fit the clothing you (absolutely should) buy along the way.

Merino Wool T-Shirts

I know it sounds weird, but merino wool really is the best fabric for traveling in hot muggy places like Malaysia. Merino is just plain spooky good at absorbing your sweat and wicking away moisture so you and your clothing don’t stink after a few days.

Just one quality merino wool t-shirt will stretch your packing list way further than the budget 6-pack of t-shirts from Old Navy. Prepare for the muggy weather with shirts you can wear over and over and you’ll enjoy the trip a lot more.

Bug Spray and Sunscreen

Good bug spray (aka “bug spray with real ingredients that actually repel bugs”) is surprisingly hard to find in Malaysia. And it’s pricey. Mosquito-borne illnesses aren’t out of control here, but they’re also no joke.

If you believe that lavender scented potpourri will keep you safe from dengue, by all means use the local stuff. However, if you want mosquito spray with DEET or other active ingredients I recommend packing a small bottle of your favorite stuff.

Sunscreen in Malaysia is readily available, but it’s more expensive than back in the US. Not a deal breaker, but I suggest packing at least a small tin or tube of zinc-based sunscreen for your face, neck, and shoulders. You can buy the bigger tubes of sunscreen for beach days once you land.

Long Sleeve Shirt or Light Layer

Malaysia is mostly hot and muggy (did I mention that yet?). However, not all the time. It’s nice to pack a light layer like a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt for the occasional chilly day or (more likely) chilly interior.

Malls, planes, and busses crank the AC to keep people cool. And while it’s a nice change from the heat outside, it can get chilly after a few minutes if you’re not prepared.

Pack that pashmina or wrap for a little extra protection on long flights. It can also double as a great beach blanket or even a towel on day trips to the beach (or a waterfall).

Reliable Lightweight Daypack or Fanny Pack (aka sling)

Bring a reliable daypack for Malaysia as you’ll probably spend most of your time walking or mopeding (yes, that’s a word) around town. Pack a lightweight, collapsible daypack that’s weather-resistant, and capable of keeping your stuff organized with at least one small pocket for your phone, wallet, or other gear like earbuds.

If you’re into a super minimalist look, opt for the fanny pack over-the-shoulder look (or “bum bag” if you prefer). This is a great way to keep your valuables in front of your without looking like you’re a paranoid traveler. A fanny pack as a daybag is also a great way to keep your back from turning into a sweat factory.

It’s hot in Malaysia, guys. Really hot.

Dual USB Travel Adaptor

You need a standard travel adaptor to charge your electronics in Malaysia, just like most countries. I’ve been a huge fan of this $12 travel adaptor thanks to the easy to use USB ports. Honestly, if you’re not traveling with a laptop, this is all you need to stay charged and connected.

Malaysian Carry On Packing List

Here’s the full packing list for Malaysia:

Bags

  • Carry on backpack (35L or smaller)
  • Daybag (you’ll need a lightweight durable daybag pretty much every single day)
  • Fanny pack (sling it across your shoulders like a local to keep a few things safe and close)

Clothing

  • 3-4 t-shirts (merino wool is best, but anything you can wear for a few days works)
  • 1 tank top or undershirt (for muggy days)
  • 1 long sleeve “dress” or button up shirt (great for cold flights with too much AC)
  • 1 pair of travel pants (zippered pockets and a little stretch are key)
  • 1 pair of shorts (make sure it has good pockets and a little stretch)
  • 1 pair of gym shorts
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 4 pairs of travel underwear (four good pair is more than enough)
  • 1 pair of socks (yup, one is actually more than you probably need because…)
  • 1 pair of slip on shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals

Other Gear

  • Zinc sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Lightweight rain jacket or travel umbrella
  • A good hat
  • 1 pashmina or travel scarf (doublse as a wrap or blanket for cold flights, temple coverup, towel & beach blanket)
  • Collapsible water bottle
  • Dual USB Universal travel adaptor (Get a travel adaptor with built-in usb ports for easier charging)
  • Small purse or clutch
  • 1 pair of culottes (Lightweight breathable pants keep the mosquitos away while also looking great. Good news, you can buy these in Malaysia for a fraction of the price)
  • 1 sundress/beach cover up
  • 1 swimsuit (ladies, get a swimsuit top without cups or padding so it dries more quickly)
  • 1 sports bra
  • 1 travel bra

What Not to Pack for Malaysia

Remember, the secret to better travel in Malaysia is a lighter bag. Laundry is cheap and easy to do while traveling. It’s also fairly inexpensive to pick up clothing you need (or really just like) along the way.

Here’s everything you shouldn’t pack for Malaysia:

Jeans

Jeans are actually great travel pants, but not for Malaysia. Leave the jeans at home unless you’re absolutely in love with them. It’s hot and muggy pretty much all the time in Malaysia meaning, heavy pants just aren’t a great idea.

More Than One Pair of Pants

I know it’s scary to pack just one pair of pants for any trip, but Malaysia is not the place for pants. Bring one pair of travel pants with a little stretch and zippered pockets for travel days (the ac on flights and busses in Malaysia can be overwhelming) and pack shorts for every other day. Need more pants? Pick up a trendy pair of lightweight, linen or cotton pants while you’re in Malaysia.

Fancy Shirts

Noticing a theme here? You don’t need more than one “nice” shirt for Malaysia, as it’s a fairly casual country in general. A comfy long sleeve shirt or even a nice henley shirt gives you the versatility to dress up a normal outfit for rare special occasions, while still providing protection from the sun during the day and mosquitos at night. If you really want another long sleeve shirt there are literally hundreds of places to buy one inexpensively And you might even find one with a sweet print.

Lots of Socks

You only need one pair of socks (if that). You’re going to take your shoes on and off a lot in Malaysia, so don’t wear shoes that require stinky socks. It seems like a small thing, but taking your socks on and off all day is a bummer.

Hiking Boots

Again, you’re not going to wear shoes all that much here. Find a pair of shoes or sandals you can slip into and out of, because (again) you’ll be doing this all the time. At temples, in homes, at the beach, on the way to a waterfall.

Leave the trekking boots at home and you’ll trim tons of weight out of your backpack. Bonus points if you can travel with just one pair of shoes.

Too Much Stuff

Don’t pack your bag to the brim. Leave space for inexpensive and stylish clothing because the malls and markets in Penang, Langkawi, and Kuala Lumpur are full of amazing (and affordable) finds.

TL;DR: How to Pack for Malaysia

Malaysia is one of the most consistently underrated destinations in Southeast Asia. It’s affordable, approachable, easy to travel to and around, and it’s packed with some of the best natural beauty, metropolitan cities, and some of the loveliest people in the world.

And the best part is that you can easily pack everything you need to work or travel around Malaysia in just a carry on bag.

  • Keep it small. Pack in a 35L bag (or less)
  • You only need one pair of pants (bring your favorite and leave the rest at home)
  • Get a great pair of slip on shoes, because you’re going to need em
  • Merino wool is the fabric of choice for hot muggy destinations
  • Bring a reliable daybag for exploring Malaysia
  • Pack your own (small) bug spray to stay safe while trekking
 

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