Living in Malaysia on a Budget: Week 15 (Sandakan --> Ipoh)

Planes, trains, and automobiles! This week we went WAY over our $50 per day budget, because we traveled from Sukau to Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh (all in Malaysia), using all three aforementioned transportation options. We even spent time on a boat (although it was recreational, not necessary). Borneo is expensive, but going over budget was worth it to see wild animals, dense jungle, and truly get to know Sabahan people.

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Our goal: $50 per day total, including transportation, accommodation, visas, and bills back home. For two people.

In every budget update I will add a prorated estimate of our bills back home (loans, phone plan, etc. which may vary slightly by month), to include in our $50/day travel budget. I am not including travel insurance -- this would add about $5.75 per day to our total.

  • Days: 7
  • Location(s): Sandakan and Ipoh, Malaysia
  • Splurges: transportation and jungle adventures
  • Avg. spending per day: $62.05
  • Avg. spending per day incl. bills back home: $65.25
  • Avg. spending per day overall in Asia: $46.03

So cute!

So what are our living expenses in Sandakan and Ipoh this week?
  • Conversion rate: 1 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) = US$0.24 (about 4 MYR to $1 US)
  • Accommodation: $ 112.58 
    • We started our week during our trip to Sukau, where we stayed at the Sukau Backpackers B&B on the Kinabatangan River. We haggled the nightly rate down to $16 per night. I've reviewed it in my spotlight on the Kinabatangan river.
    • We spent another three nights at the Sandakan Backpackers Hostel for $16.86 per night after taxes and tourism fees, which we talked about in Week 14. Book it on the cheap here:

    • After flying into Kuala Lumpur we Couchsurfed for free one night and it was awesome! We stayed with a cool guy called Vik and we drank beer (his treat), ate pizza (our treat), and shared travel stories. He even had a precious Shih Tzu called Lucy who snuggled us whenever we let her. We will absolutely be couchsurfing again.
    I did not ask them to pose
    • We just got to Ipoh, Malaysia where the Vintage Cafe Guesthouse is about $23 per night. Check out my video tour below!
First impressions of Ipoh: the beautiful train station.
Video tour. That preview image is not my favorite
We also found some excellent dried snake medicine.
Also, shark cartilage.
Old and new Ipoh buildings.
  • Transportation: $190.10
    • Heading from Sukau back to Sandakan via private car was booked through the Sukau Backpackers B&B. This cost 50myr per person each way ($12) for the 2-3 hour journey.
    • Buses getting us to and from Sepilok where we went to the Orangutan Rehab Centre and Sun Bear Conservation Centre were 6myr per person each way, so 24myr ($5.76)
There are lots of animal statues in Sandakan roundabouts, but this one was the sassiest

We have seen lots of McDonald's drive-thru stickers on cars but this is the first KFC. "What does that do for you?" I once asked. "I don't know," was the reply.
Pretty comfortable drive for 6myr.
    • Traveling from Sandakan to Ipoh was elaborate and expensive. Ubers from Sandakan to the airport ($3.3624); flight from Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur ($121.84); Uber from airport to Kuala Lumpur (72.80/$17.472); train into the KL Sentral station (3.60myr/$0.864) and ETS train from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh (70myr/$16.80). The ETS should have been around 22myr per person (instead of 35myr) but I didn't pre-book, like a dummy, and the only seats left were on a nicer train. It was nice, though!  
Sandakan from above, during our flight out. So colorful!
  • Food and drinks: $43.16
    • We had free breakfast mostly, lunch snacks, and local dinners. In Ipoh we got some decent Thai food, which was a nice change of pace. We didn't buy any booze and basically paid for one meal a day. Nothin' to see here -- check out previous weeks for details!
  • Entertainment and misc.: $88.47
    • Kinabatangan River cruises and walks were part of a package deal in Sukau -- read more in my spotlight look -- and ran us 220myr or $52.80 (60/person river cruise, 50/person night time jungle trek).
    • We loved the Orangutan Rehab Centre and Sun Bear Conservation Centre and highly recommend them. Entry to Orangutans was 30myr per person and the Sun Bears was 31.80myr per person. Pricey, but they go to a very worthy cause! 123.60myr ($29.67)

Matching yoga poses
Macaques ate the leftovers
I couldn't help myself
The video is a much better representation!
    • Books! We have been reading like crazy and while we had some time to kill in the KL Sentral train station, we found a used book store and picked up three novels for 25myr ($6).

Travel budget saving tips:

  • Order your train tickets in advance in Malaysia. They're no more expensive, and the train DO sell out.
  • Couchsurfing is not sketchy! Try it out!

Curious about Malaysia? Find out more below:

Borneo was beautiful but we are excited to settle into Ipoh, Malaysia. It's a quiet town with a lot of history (tin mining made it the "city of millionaires" in the 1800s) and a diverse population, with more than half of the population being Indian or Chinese. Ipoh is known for good coffee, food, and a relaxing atmosphere. Sounds perfect for normal nomads!


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