Malaysia vs The Philippines: Your Ultimate Guide

Stairs down to sandy beach in Malaysia
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Dreaming of white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, secluded inlets, and fascinating landscapes? If so, you’ve likely landed yourself on the seemingly impossible task of comparing Malaysia vs the Philippines.

At first glance, Malaysia and the Philippines appear similar, each with a big city, numerous islands, and an inland filled with unique jungle landscapes. However, we take a closer look at the culture, the food, the price, and more to decide what makes each country shines and where your money will go the furthest.

We caution you now, if you’re not prepared to hop on the next flight out, this reading may prove difficult. With fresh food, best in the world beaches, and endless adventure activities, this ultimate comparison of Malaysia vs the Philippines will have you packing your swimsuit immediately.

Malaysia vs the Philippines: Food

traditional meal in Malaysia
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Malaysia has a definite head start when it comes to cuisine. Malaysian food is known around the world for its fragrant dishes, with the perfect touches of spicy and sweet. Beef and chicken rendang is becoming a common occurrence on western menus, with its slow-cooked meat in coconut milk, chili, and spices making it a delicious companion for rice. You’ve also likely heard of satay, which are delightfully seasoned skewers of meat served with a rich peanut sauce.

On the other hand, Philippines cuisine has long flown under the radar and tends to be overshadowed by Thailand’s and Vietnam’s more boisterous dishes. That’s not to say the Philippines can’t hold its own, though. One of the best parts about traveling to the Philippines is being pleasantly surprised by the country’s unique and mouth-watering food. If you don’t mind unusual ingredients, a must-try is their sisig. This Filipino fajita consists of chopped-up parts of a pig’s and chicken liver that is seasoned with onions and chili peppers. For something less unusual, kinilaw is another popular dish and is very similar to ceviche, making it great for a light lunch or appetizer.

Overall, you’ll be surprised that both Malaysia and the Philippines have a rather heavy cuisine with a focus on meat and fish – and rice will always find a way onto your plate. For us, what takes Malayasian food a step above the Philippines is its diversity. With influence from Chinese, Indian and local flavors, you’re always in for something new to try.

Verdict: Malaysia, for its mix of authentic and influenced flavors. 

Malaysia vs the Philippines: Price

Beach resort in Malaysia
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Apple for apple, the Philippines is less expensive than Malaysia. Even before putting them side by side, it’s easy to see that Malaysia is the more developed of the two countries, and with that comes a higher price tag. Everything from food and accommodation to entertainment and tourist excursions is less expensive in the Philippines, and your dollar will stretch much further than in Malaysia.

Also driving the price up is Malayasia’s rising economy. As wages become higher and the Malaysian people become wealthier, finding ultra-cheap accommodation and restaurants is becoming harder. Have no fear, though. Prices in Malaysia are still generally well below what you’d pay in Europe or North America, with a private room in a hotel costing around US$40 and a good meal is typically less than US$10.

When it comes to the Philippines, you’ll notice the most significant difference is the price of accommodation. It’s easy to secure yourself a beach-front bungalow for as little as US$20 per night and enjoy a meal at a high-end restaurant for no more than US$15. Interestingly, transport around the islands tends to be more expensive in the Philippines, which can have an enormous impact on your budget if you’re traveling around a lot.

Verdict: The Philippines. With an average cost of US$58 per day for a middle-of-the-road vacation, it’s hard to beat.

Malaysia vs the Philippines: Travel

Traveling: Malaysia vs the Philippines
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Traveling to the Philippines and Malaysia is easy. Malaysia has Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a major transport hub for Asia, and the Philippines has Ninoy Aquino International Airport (also known as the Manila International Airport). On top of that, with plenty of flights to and from the countries, flight prices tend to be quite reasonable. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about traveling within the countries. 

While both Malaysia and the Philippines are inexpensive destinations, you’ll find your money disappears much faster when you start planning to travel around or island-hop. If you’re on a budget, you’ll want to choose one or two destinations within the country and stick close by. Flights and ferries add up quickly, and you’ll find you may have to spend much longer than you thought getting from one place to another.

You’ll especially want to leave plenty of travel time in the Philippines as it doesn’t take much to delay transport or for flights or ferries to be canceled. In more remote parts of the Philippines, you’ll find there’s only one flight or ferry a day, so if bad weather rolls in, expect delays and a backlog of passengers. Public transport in Malaysia is much better, especially on the mainland, so if you want to travel and sightsee, it’s best to stick there.

The verdict: Malaysia – both getting to Malaysia and traveling around the country is easier and cheaper than the Philippines.

Malaysia vs the Philippines: Nature

Chocolate Hills in the Philippines
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When considering a trip to Malaysia or the Philippines, it’s easy to focus on the endless stretches of stunning coastline. And for good reason. We’ll go into more depth about the beaches of Malaysia and the Philippines in a later section, but both have world-class beaches, turquoise waters, and numerous hidden coves that feel like your own private sanctuary.

Heading inland, we soon find that both Malaysia and the Philippines have amazing landscapes just waiting to be explored. Mount Kinabalu on Borneo island is a must conquer for those who love a challenge and have an adventurous spirit. Standing at 4095 meters (13,435 feet) tall, it’s no easy climb, and in fact, takes two to three days to reach the summit. Be aware you’ll have to pay a fee of around US$200, which covers accommodation, a guide, meals, and permits and keep watch for dangerous animals in Malaysia. Also located in Borneo, Gunung Mulu National Park is famous for its vast caves systems and some of the rarest animals in the world.

The Philippines also lays claim to more than its fair share of unique landscapes. The mystifying Chocolate Hills are an Instagrammer’s dream, with 1200 natural and symmetrical mounds poking up from the forest. Another famous landscape of the Philippines is El Nido, where towering limestone cliffs giveaway to sandy beaches and mirrorlike waters.

The verdict: Malaysia – thanks to its large island of Borneo, Malaysia is packed full of impressive landscapes that dare to be explored.

Malaysia vs the Philippines: Culture

Culture: Malaysia vs the Philippines
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One of the first things you’ll notice when arriving in Malaysia or the Philippines is how friendly and genuine everyone is. Locals truly want you to enjoy their country and feel safe, and it’s not just because tourism plays a large part in their economy. Both Malaysians and Filipinos have a deep pride for their country, and it shines through in every aspect of their culture.

You’ll also notice that both Malaysians and Filipinos drastically avoid confrontation and awkward situations. Filipinos even have a word for it, ‘hiya,’ which is similar to the concept of the Malaysians ‘saving face’ but runs even deeper. For example, Filipinos hate confrontation so much that if the waiter gets their order wrong, they would prefer to accept their fate and eat what was given rather than say anything. No matter the problem, it’s always solved quietly and patiently.

One of the biggest cultural differences between Malaysia and the Philippines is religion. Malaysia is largely a Muslim country, whereas the main religion in the Philippines is Catholicism. You’ll notice much more modest clothing in Malaysia, more expensive and harder to find alcohol, and almost no PDA. On the other hand, in the Philippines, locals wear western clothing, and there’s much less taboo around alcohol and PDA.

The verdict: Philippines – being an island nation, or rather an archipelago, the slow-paced, relaxed, and friendly culture is impossible to beat.

Malaysia vs the Philippines: Weather

Bad weather in the Philippines
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Comparing the weather in Malaysia to the Philippines is like comparing fresh mango to juicy pineapple – very similar and wonderful, yet each has distinctive characters that could sway you one way or another. Both Malaysia and the Philippines have a tropical climate, with small variations in temperatures throughout the year and distinct wet and dry seasons. Similarly, both countries have a high season, when the accommodations and beaches are at their fullest, and shoulder seasons when you might be the only one around for miles.

In the most straightforward answer, the best time to visit Malaysia is from February to September, when much of the country has emerged from the wet season. At this time of the year, landscapes are green from the recent rain, and especially in March and April, the peak tourist season has yet to begin. When it comes to visiting the Philippines, most aim for November through February when both rain and typhoons are unlikely.

Overall, there’s no bad time to visit either country. You’ll find the rainy season brings a consistent and short downfall of rain, then you’re back to the beach or exploring. However, if you’re a fan of the classic spring, summer, winter, and fall – look elsewhere.

The verdict: This one has to be a draw. Both Malaysia and the Philippines has incredible weather, with year round pleasant temperatures and warm waters.

Malaysia vs the Philippines: Beaches

El Nido in the Philippines
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We promised beaches, and we saved the best for last. When it comes to awe-inducing, postcard-perfect beaches, Malaysia and the Philippines top the charts. With Malaysia’s 878 islands and the Philippines’ staggering 7,640 islands, you’re not going to have to look hard or fight the crowds for your spot on a stunning beach.

Many of Malaysia’s most famous beaches are on the Perhentian Islands. And with slow development, you’ll feel like you’ve landed yourself on a remote tropical island complete with palm-lined shorelines, mesmerizing turquoise waters, and coral reefs filled with marine life. Plus, you’ll have access to cozy accommodations and accessible public transport. For a truly authentic slice of paradise, Kota Kinabalu on the northern tip of Borneo is an ideal location. Or, for those who want a bit of nightlife with their beach, Batu Ferringhi is the perfect mix of golden sand beaches and live music playing well into the night.

Heading over to the Philippines, the hardest part is deciding which beaches you want to explore. As we’ve mentioned before, transport around the islands can be tricky and costly, and getting to the more remote beaches proves to have its challenges. However, even the most popular beaches of the Philippines, like Borocay, hardly see a crowd and still showcase authentic Philippino charm. If you’re heading to El Nido, be sure to visit Nacpan Beach, which is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and exploring. Also in El Nido is Hidden Beach, which is only accessible by boat or kayak. We could continue on all day.

The verdict: The Philippines. While you might have to put a bit more planning effort into finding the more remote beaches, it’s well worth it.

Malaysia vs the Philippines: The Final Verdict

Malaysia vs the Philippines the final verdict
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This is a tricky one, but after comparing the ins and outs of both countries, Malaysia takes the win by a thread. There’s something about the country that keeps you coming back for more.

Malaysia truly has something for everyone from stunning beaches to mind-blowing jungles. No matter if you’re a backpacker, family on vacation, a couple on their honeymoon or just a group of friends looking for a good time, you’ll find Malaysia ticks all the boxes. Plus, with friendly locals, you’ll always have a helping hand nearby should you get lost.

Do expect to spend slightly more than you would in the Philippines, but in return you’ll get a friendly, modern country that looks after its nature and its people.

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