Choosing between Cambodia and Malaysia is no easy feat since both come in different packages.
I spent my whole life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and when the opportunity came to work abroad, I took it immediately. Living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for almost 5 years was a humbling experience. In both countries, I took every weekend I had to travel around the cities.
After getting to know both countries really well, I’ll be comparing these cities in the Cambodia vs. Malaysia showdown where one will come out on top.
We’re going to start with Malaysia which is home to Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world. This country is also known for its multiracial and multi-ethnic population with plenty of things to offer from heritage, authentic food, nightlife, and nature. Besides this iconic landmark, you could also visit the following places:
- Langkawi Sky Bridge in Kedah
- Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang Island
- Melaka for Portuguese and Peranakan heritage
- Perhentian Island in Terengganu
- Mount Kinabalu in Sabah
- Batu Caves Temple in Kuala Lumpur
- National Park in Pahang
- Legoland in Johor
- Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak
- Authentic local food in Kelantan
- Nightlife in Kuala Lumpur city
This and many more make Malaysia a memorable experience for travellers. While living here, I felt that the more I see the cities, the more there is to offer.
The iconic Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
While Cambodia seems visibly hectic in comparison with Malaysia, it is nevertheless a melting pot of cultures making it a truly Asia destination. This Indochina country consists of a developing nation rich with traditional beliefs, culture and a tragic past that is etched in their Cambodian hearts. I found the traditional landmarks to be charming and its people friendly. While Phnom Penh is the capital city, there are other places that are worth visiting when in Cambodia:
- Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap
- The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
- Killing Fields
- Psar Thmei (Central Market)
- Koh Dach Island to see home-grown silk
- Bamboo train in Battambang
- Kampot pepper and salt fields
- Sihanoukville beaches and islands
While both countries offer a good amount of tourism activities, I find Malaysia to have a good mix of attractions for all types of travellers.
Cambodia vs. Malaysia Tourism Winner: Malaysia
How easy is it to get around Cambodia and Malaysia?
Transportation wise, Malaysia has 6 international airports with buses, trains, taxis as the main mode for the locals as well as travellers. With rideshare apps like Grab entering Cambodia, it’s easy to get around in taxis, buses and 1 train that goes from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. Both offer cheap and affordable options.
Medical care is still developing in Cambodia and I often share this with friends who visit us to prepare medication or commit to a travel insurance. Expats and travellers, in general, will need to seek highly expensive care in private hospitals in case of emergency or travel to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia for affordable and quality services.
The one thing I loved about Cambodia is its excellent and cheap internet access throughout the country. While both countries are more or less at par in term of internet fees, Cambodia has faster broadband speed allowing users to watch videos all day, night and upload documents easily. You can easily get free wifi in any and most restaurants in Cambodia.
The final verdict goes to Malaysia for its accessibility, healthcare among the few.
Cambodia vs. Malaysia Infrastructure Winner: Malaysia
Tuk Tuks and other vehicles riding a ferry to cross the Mekong River
Most clubs and bars open until late at night in Malaysia but it comes with some restrictions since this is a Muslim administered country. Nevertheless, travelers would still be able to enjoy the buzzing nightlife in key cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi Island, Penang.
In Cambodia, the price of alcohol is very cheap compared to the ones in Kuala Lumpur, making this city a place to enjoy nightlife every single day. You’ll find travelers in Pub Street of Siem Reap or the Riverside area of Phnom Penh, clubbing at Epic, watching live bands and dancing the night away. With such a low price of drinks available throughout the country, Cambodia would be a better place to enjoy such nightlife experience.
Cambodia vs. Malaysia Nightlife Winner: Cambodia
Nature and Hiking
Malaysia is home to Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo’s Crocker Range and the highest mountain in the country. It is located in Sabah at a height of 4,095m above sea level. Many hiker lovers would make their way to join the expedition to the top of Mount Kinabalu which sits above the clouds. The country is also home to protected rainforests, thousand-year-old caves and botanical gardens within the city centre. These are all accessible, well organized and maintained by the local authorities.
In Cambodia, the rainforests are covers for beautiful waterfalls which can be found in Phnom Kulen National Park or Kirirom National Park. Although most of these natural places are free, you’ll find them to be of poor state (not properly maintained). The good ones are in remote areas which are not open to the public.
Cambodia vs. Malaysia Hiking Winner: Malaysia
While living in Cambodia, I spent a lot of weekends at nearby cafes as they have good wifi connections (and coffee). Co-working spaces such as Impact Hub Phnom Penh, The Factory Phnom Penh, The Working Desk, are the top places for remote work. While some find the co-working space to be productive, I find that cafes work best too and they’re not necessarily expensive. These spots are also easy to reach within minutes on a motorbike, by foot or on a tuk-tuk.
In Malaysia, there are plenty of co-working spaces that can be found in shopping malls of community buildings. However, the fees compared to the ones in Cambodia can be slightly higher as they sometimes charge the hours and wifi usage separately.
Cambodia vs. Malaysia Remote Work Winner: Cambodia
Working in the Museum Cafe, Phnom Penh with excellent internet connection
In both countries, it is important to exercise some safety precautions while roaming about the city. You’ll be reminded to keep your handphone away and to hold on to your bags tightly when walking the streets of Malaysia for fear of it being snatched. It’s good to also walk facing the traffic and to stay alert at all times. There are also a lot of restrictions when it comes to drugs and guns. Drug is considered a big crime with a punishment of death if you’re found guilty of trafficking. This reminder will be heard over the announcement by flight attendants before the plane descends in Malaysia.
I found that Cambodia is generally safer as people go about doing their things and not care so much about travellers walking about the streets. I’ve walked home before from a nearby restaurant in the middle of the night but stayed on the main street for visibility. The same rules for snatch thieves alert applies here as most of these vigilantes aim for the handphones instead of money. Keep them away when you’re walking on the streets. There have a been a few cases of gun shooting but these are normally targeted. As long as you don’t create any conflict with the locals, your trip should be pretty good and calming.
Overall I’ve felt safer while living in Cambodia than in Malaysia because the city is smaller and there are lesser crimes that happened in this country.
Cambodia vs. Malaysia Safety Winner: Cambodia
Living in a multiracial country only means one thing; a smorgasbord of delicious food that makes eating a never-ending experience in Malaysia. Travellers who visit Malaysia will have no problems in finding their food preference as we serve local as well as international cuisines. You can visit the local night markets for the best street food such as apam balik, banana fritters, murtabak, putu piring and even nasi lemak, the national dish of Malaysia. I usually leave this country with more weight in my belly than when I arrived.
In Cambodia, you’ll find authentic dishes such as num banh chok (Khmer noodles with curry), fish amok and beef lok lak to be a favourite among the travellers. Besides this, you can enjoy street food snacks along the Riverside of Phnom Penh, such as lotus seeds of fried crickets, spiders, grasshoppers to name a few.
There are not many choices of food in Cambodia compared to the ones in Malaysia, therefore, this one definitely goes to Malaysia.
Cambodia vs. Malaysia Food Winner: Malaysia
Try the Nasi Lemak, a Malaysian national dish when visiting the country
And the winner is…
It’s definitely a close call since both are considered my home for the past few years. Although they differ in terms of categories, one thing similar that you can find in Malaysia and Cambodia is its warm hospitality. The locals are always smiling, friendly and they go out of their way to help you if you need any. This is also one of the reasons why I’ve called them homes.
However if there was one place to choose, Malaysia wins in this race for its infrastructure, food and tourist attractions which are widely available throughout the country. The mix of culture, religion, and heritage makes it a unique Asia experience altogether.
Yafieda is your friendly Travel Chameleon currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In her writing, you’ll find stories about her life as a wanderer, tips on weekend getaways, road trips, food hunts and great stays. Find her at travelchameleon.net.
Malaysia comes out ahead this time, but how does it stack up against Thailand? And how does Thailand stack up against Vietnam? Read the rest of the showdowns in the Country Comparison Series before you choose your next vacation destination!