Some tourists commit a few mistakes during their vacation in Malaysia. The result is often unnecessary expenses or losses. The article is a distillation of the more common pitfalls to avoid so that you can steer away from the rough edges of the tourism industry.
FREE AMULETS OR SOUVENIRS
You are enjoying a meal at a hawker stall or in a coffee shop. In walks a bogus monk (or nun) with amulets and prayer beads in tow. He blesses you: “May Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, bestow you with health, wealth and longevity” or some other mumbo jumbo. He gives you a small amulet or just a length of “blessed” yellow string, and say it is free. This is not your lucky day, however. Once the trinket changes hands, you will be “forced” to give a donation. Sometimes, the trickster can be a souvenir seller, who gives you a “free” key chain or some other collectible.
PICKING UP WOMEN
Many posh nightspots as well as hotel dance clubs, especially in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, are packed with women on “Ladies Night”, when they get free entrance plus a free drink to boot. You are sipping a Bloody Mary and a girl in skin-tight clothes sidles up to you, introducing herself. A conversation is struck, and a price is negotiated; you take her to a hotel room. She asks you to take a shower, and drinks are consumed. The next minute, you are in dreamland after having consumed a spiked drink. Your cash and valuable are all stolen. Perpetrators of this con job are mainly Filipinas – either tourists themselves or contract maids working in the country — whose main targets are Westerners.
In the historic cities of Penang and Malacca, a trishaw ride is a great way to see the sights. However, always agree on the price and the route to be taken. Along the way, there will be requests to take a break for a dinner or supper, or a detour to another interesting spot. Avoid all these distractions. At the end of your journey, the trishaw rider will demand his “pound of flesh” for the diversions from the original route, and you will have busted your budget. (In Penang, taxis don’t use meters but charge a flat rate, so agree on the fare beforehand before boarding.)
In Kuala Lumpur, a taxi driver may offer to take you to see visit a jade museum or factory. Don’t expect to see workers carving or polishing jade pieces at these places. They are just stores housed in refurbished bungalows selling jade jewellery. Anyhow, these are excellent places to shop for jade if you want to buy them. (I fell for this fake-museum caper when I was in Colombo. A motorcycle-taxi took me to visit a so-called gems museum. Upon arriving at the destination, I was disappointed that it was just a huge gems retail shop with a mock underground mining tunnel at its entrance.)
MASSAGE BY BEAUTIFUL LADIES
Inside your hotel room, you catch sight of this glossy card offering a variety of massage services, ranging from Shiatsu to Traditional Thai to what-not. The picture shows a pair of beautiful hands kneading at a client’s back. After a hectic day of sightseeing, you yearn for her invigorating touch, and book a room-service call. When the “massage lady” arrives, she turns out to be a blind man or a forty-ish woman with the built off a gorilla. As the legal saying goes — caveat emptor.
Sometimes, in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, you may be accosted by a peddler offering porn VCDs featuring local or international celebrities, including politicians involved in sex scandals. The price can range from RM15 to RM30. You see the famous person on the VCD cover. You buy it. After you have arrived home and tried to play it, you realize that it is just a blank VCD. You have been duped!
NUTS AND TOWELS
This unethical practice of some Chinese restaurants has been around for ages that it has been part of “dining etiquette” so to speak. Before a meal, nuts, picked vegetables or prawn crackers are sometimes served without you ordering them. After the meal, you will also be given a wet towel to wipe your face and hand. Of course, you will be billed for these extras. If you don’t want these items, just tell the waitress politely.
Most shopping complexes in major cities sell toilet paper at the entrance of the washrooms. However, always carry a toilet roll or facial tissue paper with you to be on the safe side. Many washrooms in economical eateries don’t supply them.
BATIK PAINTING LESSONS
Nothing is free in this world. In the East Coast, especially, a factory or handicraft centre may offer you free batik painting lessons. Please realise that you will need to buy a piece of cloth. a brush and bottles of paint; then only the lesson will commence.
BAZAARS & NIGHT MARKETS
“Haggling” has probably been written to death in travel literature; but let me again remind tourists that bargaining is the name of the game in Malaysia’s bazaars and night markets. Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur and Batu Ferringhi on Penang Island are famous tourist-spot-tourist-prices hotspots for collectibles so always bargain. Walk off and go to other stalls to compare prices. Also, always be aware that your imitation Rolex or Tag Heuer watch may stop ticking after a week.
Yippee! It costs only dirt-cheap to fly to a certain destination, according to an airline’s advertisement. You book online but realize that the return fare costs almost the same or even more than that of a regular airline’s. Again, get all complete facts, including surcharges, if any, before making a commitment.