Malaysia in a Nutshell

An Introduction to Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia

Situated in Southeast Asia, Malaysia’s tropical climate makes it the perfect place to visit in the winter when the chilly weather in other countries makes people want to head for the sun. Blessed with a number of beautiful beaches, sun-kissed islands and pristine rainforest, many people travel to Malaysia to enjoy the good weather and natural beauty.
A good way to reach Malaysia is by train from Thailand, which borders Malaysia to the north. First stop should be the pretty island of Penang, where you will find clean beaches, hilltop temples, large gardens and colonial buildings. To the south is the capital city of Kuala Lumpur with its famous Petronas Towers and great shopping and dining options.

Head to the Cameron Highlands to wander through lush tea plantations in the cool air and snorkel in amongst colourful coral on the Seribuat Archipelago before stretching out on one of the picture perfect beaches. There are a good number of national parks to explore, all offering stunning natural beauty such as sparkling waterfalls and caves as well as interesting wildlife. Soak away aches and pains in the Poring Hot Springs and head to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for an unforgettable experience.  

One of Malaysia’s big attractions is its cultural diversity. Malays, Chinese and Indians all live side by side here, adding their own individual style to the mix. This is a good place to experience festivals and particularly vibrant are the Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations.

Food lovers will never be bored in Malaysia as the blend of cultures means that there are a wide range of dishes to try. As well as traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, fusion food is also popular and western fast food restaurants are easy to find.

Malaysia is a country that truly offers something for everyone. Explore magnificent mosques and glittering temples in the country’s bustling cities before heading to the beach to soak up the sun or take part in a range of adventure activities such as diving, rock climbing, windsurfing and snorkelling.

Types of Transport in Malaysia

Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia

Transport in Malaysia tends to be safe and reliable and there aren’t really any no-go areas of the country. This usually means that getting around Malaysia is pleasant and hassle free.

However, most people return to their home town or village a day or two before public holidays, and public transport is usually very crowded during this time. Try to avoid travelling during public holidays and especially major festivals such as Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas.

Plane
Travelling across Malaysia by aeroplane is generally quite cheap and certainly the easiest way to get around. The main airline is Malaysia Airlines and booking in advance online can save quite a bit of cash. Cheap flights are also provided by AirAsia.

Boat
There are regular ferries running between the mainland and the numerous islands located just off the east and west coasts of Malaysia. Tickets are usually bought in advance from booths on the mainland. In a few states, such as Sarawak, express boats are the most common form of public transport, carrying passengers down the rivers and streams that run through the areas.

Train
Malaysia’s railway network is fast and efficient, consisting of three types of service: express, limited express and local trains. Express trains are reserved for 1st and 2nd class passengers, limited express trains usually just 2nd and 3rd coaches, while local trains are usually limited to 3rd class. There are overnight sleeper births available on Express and limited express trains. Tourist rail passes are a good way to save money if you planning on travelling by train a lot and last for five days, ten days and fifteen days.

The Jungle Railway runs across Malaysia, stopping at every station between Tumpat and Gemas. This service is 3rd class only and there is no air-conditioning or reservations, meaning that the trains tend to be rather hot and crowded. However, the stunning jungle views more than make up for the discomfort.

Bus
Buses are the cheapest way to get around Malaysia and the best place to catch the bus and guarantee a seat is at the town’s bus terminal. There are luxury buses available for long-distance travel and these can be booked a couple of days in advance. The air-conditioned buses can be rather chilly, so take a blanket with you. Although they tend to be rather slow, local buses are regular and reliable.

Car and motorcycle
Driving in Malaysia is safe and convenient as the roads are good and there are plenty of new cars available to hire. Road rules are basically the same as in Britain and Australia, with right-hand drive cars that stick to the left side of the road. Petrol is generally cheap and motorbikes can also be hired from guesthouses in tourist towns and cities. Although Malaysian drivers are generally good, drivers still need to be careful, especially in large towns and cities as animals often roam freely across the roads.

Taxis
Taxis can be found in all cities and larger towns and usually drive around looking for customers. You will usually need to negotiate the fare in advance and it is a good idea to ask the staff at you guesthouse for an estimate of the going rate.

Trishaws
These bicycle rickshaws seat two people and can be a romantic way to see the sights.

When to Visit Malaysia

When to visit Malaysia
When to visit Malaysia
When to visit Malaysia

The weather in Malaysia tends to be hot and humid throughout the year, usually reaching around 30?C or higher in the daytime. Even at night, the temperature rarely falls below 20?C.
Although it tends to rain throughout the year, rainfall is particularly heavy during the monsoon season, which lasts from November until February.
Many people find travelling in the hot and humid weather taxing, so allow plenty of time to recover after long journeys and carry plenty of water with you.

Generally, the best time to visit Malaysia is from May to September. However, the heaviest rail tends to occur from May to October on the west coast of Malaysia and those intent on soaking up the sun on the beach should avoid arriving during this period. However, the monsoon season is the best time to spot some of Malaysia’s coastal wildlife such as turtles, who pick this time to lay their eggs on the beach.

The best time to see some of Malaysia’s most colourful festivals is during the winter months of November, December and January. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Puasa are all vibrant affairs and celebrated throughout Malaysia.

Survival Tips for Malaysia

Survival Tips for Malaysia
Survival Tips for Malaysia
Survival Tips for Malaysia

When travelling in Malaysia it is important to remember that this is a conservative country. Consequently, things that may not seem like a big deal in western countries or only receive a slight fine are seen as major offences in Malaysia and receive severe punishments.
Possession of drugs in Malaysia can be punished by the death sentence, even if you are carrying a small amount for personal use. It is best to avoid all contact with drugs in Malaysia and be suspicious of any stranger who offers to give or sell you drugs. Gambling is also highly illegal and can receive a heavy punishment.

Pick pocketing is a common crime in large towns and cities, especially Johor. There are also incidents of people driving up on motorbikes and snatching bags, often taking their victim along with them if they refuse to let go. Carry your bag on the shoulder facing away from the road and keep a close eye on your possessions in crowded areas.

Vehicles do not stop at pedestrian crossings and it is safer to cross busy roads at pedestrian bridges and pedestrian traffic lights.

Buy a good padlock for your bag and hotel door. You may find that windows don’t always fasten properly and you should fasten them securely with a cable lock. Don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms: carry your passport or ID document and other valuables with you at all times or deposit them in the hotel safe.

Make sure you negotiate the taxi fare with the driver before getting in and try to avoid fake or unregistered taxis late at night by using a dial-a-taxi service.  

Although female travellers who dress conservatively will rarely have trouble in Malaysia, it is best to avoid travelling alone at night. Also, make sure you lock you hotel room door when in the room to discourage unwanted visitors.

Money Matters in Malaysia

Money Matters in Malaysia
Money Matters in Malaysia
Money Matters in Malaysia

Malaysia’s currency is the Malaysian ringgit, which is pronounced rin-gay and written as RM. There are 100 sen in one ringgit, which is also often referred to as a dollar. Notes come in RM1, RM2, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100 notes, while the available coins are 1 sen, 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen and 50 sen.

Costs

Generally speaking, the cost of living in Malaysia in higher than in many Asian countries, especially Thailand and Laos, although it is cheaper than is Indonesian and significantly less than in western countries. Those on a tight budget should be able to spend just $20 a day, although this will only buy the absolute basics and $35 a day will allow you a few small luxuries. Those who can afford to spend $150 each day will be able to stay in some of the country’s top hotels and dine in style, while for those with a real taste for luxury $275 a day should be more than enough to experience the best of Malaysia.

ATMs
ATMs are abundant in all Malaysian cities, especially in shopping areas. The most reliable machines are attached to banks and it is probably best to stick to these as ATM machines to occasionally swallow cards.

Travellers’ Cheques and Credit Cards
Most major credit cards are generally accepted in top of the range hotels, shops and restaurants throughout Malaysia. Check for surcharges added to your bill before you pay as these are illegal. Travellers’ cheques in pounds sterling or US Dollars can be cashed in most banks and even some shops.  

Changing Your Money
It is illegal to carry more than RM1000 into or out of Malaysia, so most of your money will need to be changed within the country. Although there are a large number of banks located around Malaysia with money changing facilities, the best deals are found at licensed moneychangers’ kiosks. These kiosks pop up all over Malaysia and tend to stay open until about 6pm.

Location and History of Malaysia


Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia

Covering 329,847 square kilometres, Malaysia is situated in Southeast Asia and is bordered by Thailand, to the north, Indonesia and Singapore to the south, and Brunei and the Philippines to the east. Malaysia is divided into two separate land masses – known as Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo – by the South China Sea.

Malaysia has a tropical climate, with a hot summer and intense rainy season. With forest and mountain ranges running through the country from north to south, there are mangrove swamps and mudflats on the west coast, which separate into bays and inlets. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the west coast as well as dense forests to explore.

Malaysia’s modern history dates back to the 2nd century AD, when there were a collection of up to 30 separate Malay kingdoms. The Malay kingdoms gained power and riches as costal city ports, which were established in the 10th century. Originally Hindu or Buddhist states, Islamic found a place in Malaysia in the 14th century.

The Sultanate of Malacca was established at the start of the 15th century by prince Parameswara, from Palembang, who fled to the area from what is now known as Singapore. Prince Parameswara turned Malacca into an important trading port, putting Malaysia firmly on the map. However, Malacca was conquered by Portugal in 1511 and a Portuguese colony was established there.

In 1786 Britain established a colony in the Malay Peninsula, with the British East India Company leasing the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty was signed in 1824, which divided the Malaya archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands.

Although there were Malaysian figureheads, the British mostly ruled Malaysia until the Japanese occupation during WWII. The Federation of Malaya was established in 1948, which reinstated the independence of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.

From 1948 to 1960 the Communist Party of Malaya embarked on a guerrilla campaign known as the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 to force the British out of Malaya. Independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was finally granted on 31 August 1957, and the Federation was renamed Malaysia in 1963.

At first there was much fighting with Indonesia over boundary lines, culmination in the racial riots of 1969. The New Economic Policy was established to restore peace to the country and since then Malaysia’s various ethnic groups have lived more or less in harmony.  

These days Malaysia’s economic and social structures are good and the country’s affluence can be seen in modern structures such as Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers and the Sepang F1 Circuit.

Food and Drink in Malaysia

Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia

Malaysia is a great place for people who love to eat and experiment with food. There are a wide range of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes available through the country and some interesting mixtures of culinary styles. As you travel through Malaysia, look out for regional specialities and try to experience the full range of Malay cuisine.
Hawker stalls and coffee shops are good places to find a cheap and tasty meal. Hawker stalls tend to be very clean and open until late in the evening. Curry dishes and other meals in western style restaurants, while seafood restaurants serve fresh fish prepared in the Chinese style. For western food, head to the shopping malls, where you will usually find a large food court with a number of well known fast food restaurants.

Here is a selection of the numerous dishes you will find on your travels in Malaysia:

Nasi lemak – the most common Malaysian breakfast dish consists rice cooked in light coconut milk with anchovies, peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a little chilli.

Rendang – usually made with beef, this dry curry dish consists of stewed meat in a spicy curry paste.  

Chilli crab – a whole crab is covered with a generous amount of sticky, strong chilli sauce.

Laksa – this dish varies from place to place but is basically a coconut both with seafood or chicken.  

Bak chor mee – this noodle dish is cooked in a chilli-based sauce with minced pork, fried anchovies, vegetables and mushrooms.

Popiah – these delicious spring rolls can be either fried or raw. Filled with boiled turnips, fried tofu, fried shallots and garlic, chopped omelette, chopped stir fried long beans, there is usually a sweet chilli sauce to dip them in.  

Hainanese chicken rice – usually found on street stalls, this steamed chicken dish is served with special gently spiced rice and tasty ginger.

Bubur cha-cha – a traditional Malay desert with cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added to coconut milk soup.

Kuih – this sweet desert is made with coconut milk, coconut flesh and either glutinous rice or tapioca. It is often made into cute and colourful designs.

Avoid drinking tap water and drinks with ice in Malaysia. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find.  

Coffee – known as kopi – and tea – teh – are both popular and tasty drinks in Malaysia as well as a local variation known as teh tarik. Tea and coffee usually comes hot, with condensed milk to sweeten it. If you don’t want milk ask for teh o, while teh ais will get you iced milky tea.
Also popular is a drink known as kopi tongkat ali ginseng, which is a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root and ginseng served with condensed milk.

Despite being a predominately Muslim country, alcohol is widely available throughout Malaysia. Beer and other alcohol can be bought in bars, restaurants and 7-11 shops. The local brew is tuak, which fermented rice wine that comes in many forms. Usually served lukewarm, tuak is often flavoured with sugar or honey.

Festivals and Holidays in Malaysia

Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia

Malaysia is a real melting pot, where a large number of cultures live side by side. This means that the country celebrates a large number of festivals, with the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist religious festivals all being observed.
Malaysian festivals tend to be loud and colourful, marked with plenty of singing, dancing and parades through the streets. Malaysian people tend to be tolerant of people from other faiths and welcome them into their homes to celebrate with them. These festivals are a good opportunity for foreigners to learn more about Malaysian culture and hospitality.

Here are some major Malaysian festivals to look out for. Many festivals revolve around the lunar calendar, so dates vary slightly from year to year.

New Year’s Day
January 1st is a public holiday and New Year’s Eve is marked in most cities with sporting events, competitions, exhibitions and cultural performances by Malaysian multi-ethnic groups.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days and is very colourful, filled with feasting and firework displays.  Gather to watch the traditional dragon and lion dances, which take place to the beat of gongs and drums. Penang is the best place to experience Chinese New Year in Malaysia.

Thaipusam
This festival is celebrated by Hindus on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is a day for penance and atonement and during this time devotees to fulfill a vow they have made to Lord Muruga, who is also known as Lord Subramaniam. Devotion is demonstrated by fasting and piercing their bodies with elaborately decorated metal structures decorated with colored paper, fresh fruit and flowers and parading through the streets. To get the most out of this festival, head to Kuala Lumpur to watch Lord Muruga’s jeweled chariot carried  through the streets to the Batu Caves in Selangor.  

Wesak Day
Buddhists celebrate this festival in May to remember the birth, enlightenment and ascension of Lord Buddha. The daytime is filled with visits to the temple and merit making, while there are processions of floats and candles in the streets after dark.

Gawai Dayak
On the 1st of June the people of Sarawak celebrate the good annual with parties, games, processions and feasting. People gather to sing traditional songs, dance and drink the locally produced rice wine. Children bring their parents plates of food and cattle is sacrificed to ensure that there is a good harvest the following season.  

Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Also known as Hari Raya Puasa, this Muslim festival marks the end of fasting throughout the month of Ramadhan, which is the tenth month of the Muslim calendar. The celebrations last for one month and feature bright decorations, feasting and parties

Lantern and Moon Cake Festival
This festival is celebrated by all Malaysians, who hang colourful lanterns on their houses and eat moon cakes in this celebration of peace and unity. 

Hungry Ghost Festival
According to Chinese tradition the gates of hell are opened during the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to allow the hungry ghosts to wander the Earth in search of food and possibly seek revenge. The Chinese hold a festival at this time to remember their dead ancestors and pay tribute to them, setting aside food for them and burning money so that their relatives can use it in the afterlife.

Deepavali
The Festival of Lights, also known as Deepavali, is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil, marking the legendary time that Lord Krishna is said to have defeated Narkansura. Mainly celebrated by Hindus, people visit the temple during the day and lit candles and oil lamps in the evening. There are colourful parades through the street and much merrymaking.

Christmas
Unlike most Asian countries, Malaysia celebrates Christmas much like people do in western countries. Houses are decorated with lights and a large Christmas tree, carols are sung and the traditional roast turkey dinner is often eaten to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Dos and Don’ts in Malaysia


Dos and Don'ts in Malaysia
Dos and Don'ts in Malaysia
Dos and Don'ts in Malaysia

Malaysia receives a large number of tourists and the Malay people are used to the different habits of foreigners. Although Malay people tend to be tolerant to cultural differences, it is important to remember that this is a conservative country and you should show respect by trying to follow the established customs. While some customs may sound a little bit complicated at first, simply observe the behaviour of other people and all will become clear.
Clothing
The people of Malaysia generally dress conservatively by Western standards, and showing too much skin in public is sure to cause offense. Although the high temperatures and humidity levels throughout the country may make visitors want to strip off, it is best to wear long, loose clothing at all times. Wearing shoes indoors is also considered to be rude, and visitors will usually notice a place to put shoes just outside temples and private houses.

Greetings
Malaysian people usually greet each other with a salam, which is a type of handshake that it made with both hands. When greeting someone for the first time, the protocol is for you to stretch out your hands in greeting. The other person will touch your outstretched hands, and then bring them to their chest in a gesture that means “I greet you from my heart”. Now it is the visitor’s turn to return the gesture. In some cases, someone may offer to shake hands instead, although this isn’t common and shouldn’t be initiated.

Eating etiquette
Eating etiquette is important in Malaysia and varies depending on the type of food you are eating. While Malay and Indian food is usually eaten with the right hand (never the left, as it is considered to be unclean), chopsticks tend to be used to eat Chinese food. Those who prefer to use cutlery than their right hand will be supplied with a spoon and a fork. Knives are not commonly used here, as most dishes feature pieces of meal that are small enough to scoop into your mouth without cutting them first.

Showing Affection
People rarely show affection in public, aside from the traditional salam greeting, and kissing and holding hands when in a public area is sure to cause embarrassment to onlookers and attract unwanted attention.