Kuala Lumpur is a great city and a must-see for anyone travelling through South East Asia. Unfortunately, it’s by no means a crime-free oasis – as with any popular tourist destination, there are always people looking out to fleece international visitors. Some vigilance is required when navigating the area, but as long as you exercise some caution, you should be able to enjoy your time there without falling prey to any local misdemeanours.

Here are some tips to help you on your way:

Snatch Theft

One of the most common crimes in Malaysia – especially in urban areas – is for bags to be snatched either by thieves on foot or who ride by on motorcycles for a quick getaway. If walking around the city, try to walk in a direction so that you’re always facing oncoming traffic. Better yet, don’t carry a large or expensive-looking bag and keep your valuables and cash on your person rather than in a bag. Flashy jewellery is equally at risk of being snatched off you, so if you’re particularly attached to any pieces you habitually wear (like wedding rings, etc), it may be wiser to lock them in a hotel safe. Be especially wary of your surroundings in places like car parks, or anywhere particularly secluded.

Taxis

There are various forms of public transport in Kuala Lumpur – both aboveground and underground trains, as well as a monorail system. I tend to avoid buses, so I have less advice to offer there, but many tourists obviously opt for taxis (though I do add that while signs in Kuala Lumpur are in Malay, people in Kuala Lumpur on the whole speak English well). Some taxi drivers try to go off-meter in order to charge tourists higher prices, but most short cab rides shouldn’t set you back more than RM10 (that’s ten Malaysian ringgit). Insist on a meter reading, and don’t leave your bags or valuables displayed prominently on the seat next to you – bolder thieves have been known to break car windows in order to make off with valuables they spot inside.

ATMs

Kuala Lumpur, an ATM in a shopping mall (photo by Nicholas Chan)

If you need to withdraw cash, refrain from doing so at night – or by anywhere too busy. Your best option is to go into a bank rather than withdraw cash from externally located machines. It might be annoying having to traipse to the nearest  bank whenever you need cash, but it’s definitely worth the added safety. When you do head over, be sure to check your surroundings when leaving the bank so that nobody follows or sneaks up on you. As the usual advice to anyone travelling dictates, keep your money in your shoes or elsewhere in your clothes for added protection.

Pickpockets

If you’re thinking about paying a visit to Chinatown, or stopping by one of the local pasar malam (or night markets), you should definitely do so – but not without a healthy dose of caution beforehand. Pickpockets abound in such crowded areas, and you don’t want to find yourself the unwitting victim of theft. Equally, be very careful on local trains, particularly during rush hour when pickpockets will take advantage of proximity to quickly and unobtrusively steal your phone or your wallet. If you do carry a bag around with you, don’t use one that can’t be securely closed – otherwise, someone could just reach in and take your wallet. Refrain from using your phone while waiting for the train to arrive, especially if the platform is crowded – it just gives thieves the opportunity to see where you keep your phone, especially if you leave it sticking out of your trouser pocket.

Scam Artists

Unless you’ve pre-booked a tour or anything already specifically arranged, don’t fall prey to locals offering to show you the sights – more likely than not, you’ll be duped in one way or another. Perhaps more disquietingly, there are monks who sometimes hang around train stations, silently offering tourists gold tokens – and if you take one, you’re immediately presented with a small donation book and expected to make a donation in exchange for the gold token. I have no idea whether these monks are the genuine article, but either way it’s not the most upfront of donation requests and definitely comes off as a cheap trick. If you’re approached by such monks, it’s a better idea to excuse yourself politely and not take anything they’re offering.
Being the victim of crime while you’re on holiday can really sour the experience and makes for a lot of tedious bureaucracy, but by following these tips and generally staying careful, you should be able to enjoy your time abroad. Feel free to share your travel tips and advice in the comments!