Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Essential Malay Phrases For Travellers

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Malay or Bahasa Malayu is the official language of the country of Malaysia. 

Unlike many other languages of south east Asia, it’s a very simple language to learn and for travellers to pick up basic phrases when in the country. If you’ve been to Indonesia, you may notice that the two languages are basically the same and any Indonesian you’ve picked up will be useful in Malaysia and vice versa. 

Malay is an easy language to learn as there are no tenses to words, no masculine or feminine to remember and word order is similar to English (although not the same!). If you have a simple phrase book, it will be easy to remember some Malay words.

As someone that try’s to learn a little bit of the language everywhere I go, I know the essential Malay phrases that you’ll need when travelling Malaysia to be able to speak to locals, from greetings, asking for things and numbers. Finally, I’ll cover the most important Malay words, food!

Essential Malay words for travellers:


Good morning – Selamat pagi 

Good afternoon – Selamat tengahari

Goodnight – Selamat malam 

Goodbye – Selamat jalan

Please – Sila/ Tolong

Thank you – Terima kasih

Thank you very much – Terima kasih banyak

You’re welcome – Sama sama

How are you? – Apa khabar

I’m fine – Khabar baik

What’s your name? – Apa nama kamu?

My name is… – Nama saya….

Where is…? – …di mana?

Where is the toilet? – Tandas di mana?

How much…. – Berapa…?

I don’t understand – Saya tidak faham

I understand a little Malay – Saya faham sikit Malay

Man in traditional Malay dress, Dan, Kuching, Malaysia

Simple Malay phrases for travellers

Question words in Malay

What? – Apa?

Where? – Mana?

Who? – Siapa?

Why? – Kenapa?

Numbers in Malay

One – satu

Two – dua

Three – tiga

Four – empat

Five – lima

Six – enam

Seven – tujuh

Eight – lapan

Nine – sembilan

Ten – sepuluh

Eleven – sebelas

Twelve – duabelas

Thirteen – tigabelas

Fourteen – empatbelas

Fifteen – limabelas

Twenty – duapuluh

Thirty – tigapuluh

Fourty – empatpuluh

One hundred – seratus

One thousand – seribu

Langkawi, Malaysia

Malay food words

Rice – Nasi

Noodles – Mee

Bread – Roti

Chicken – Ayam

Beef – Daging

Shrimp/ prawns – Udang

Squid – Sotong

Vegetables – Sayur

Egg – Telur

Popular malay foods

Fried rice – Nasi goreng 

Fried noodles – Mee goreng

Add the meat to the end of the dish e.g. nasi goreng ayam – Chicken fried rice

I also have a guide for all the best foods you need to try when you’re in Penang!

Langkawi, Malaysia

How to order foods in Malay

Malay is a very direct language. For those that translate directly from English, it may seem rude but its pretty common to ask for things without a please or thank you.

I want to order – saya mahu pesan

Can I have…. – bagi saya (literally “give me”)

Summing Up

Malay is not a difficult language for English speakers to learn and it is easy to pick up a few phrases of Malay when you travel through Malaysia. The added bonus is that knowing a bit of Malay will also help you in Brunei, some parts of Singapore and in Indonesia where the language is very similar.

With this guide, you’ll now have enough of a grasp of some essential Malay words and phrases for when you’re travelling around the beautiful country of Malaysia!

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