To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia - a bubbling, bustling melting-pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony. Our multiculturalism has made Malaysia a gastronomical paradise and home to hundreds of colourful festivals. It's no wonder that we love celebrating and socialising. As a people, Malaysians are very relaxed, warm and friendly.
Geographically, Malaysia is almost as diverse as its culture. 11 states and 2 federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) form Peninsular Malaysia which is separated by the South China Sea from East Malaysia which includes the 2 states (Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo) and a third federal territory, the island of Labuan.
One of Malaysia's key attractions is its extreme contrasts which further add to this theme of ‘diversity’. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts while five-star hotels sit just metres away from ancient reefs.
Rugged mountains reach dramatically for the sky while their rainforest-clad slopes sweep down to floodplains teeming with forest life. Cool highland hideaways roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Airport :Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) (IATA: KUL, ICAO: WMKK) is Malaysia's main international airport and one of the major airports in Southeast Asia
Country Code: 60
Credit Cards: All major credit cards are accepted at most hotels.
Currency: Ringgit (RM = 100 Sen)
Departure Tax: There is no departure tax.
Drives on the: Left
Electricity: 220V AC 50Hz
Ethnic Groups: 57% Malays, 43% Chinese, Indian, Bumiputeras and other
Location: Southeast Asia
Official Language(s): Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil. Bahasa
Religion: Islam, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Taoist
Time Zone: 13 hours ahead of Toronto and 17 hours ahead of Vancouver
Tipping: Generally, you are not expected to tip in Malaysia, but if you offer one, it will be appreciated. We suggest you tip a private tour guide around RM 20 – 30 per person, per day. At restaurants tipping is not required and a 10% service charge is usually added to the bill. Many locals round-up the bill and leave the change.
Temperatures vary little in Malaysia, hovering constantly at or just above 30°C by day, while humidity is high year-round. Showers occur year-round too, often in the mid-afternoon, though these short, sheeting downpours clear up as quickly as they arrive. The major distinction in the seasons, and worth bearing in mind when considering the best time to visit, is the arrival of the northeast monsoon (ushering in what is locally called the rainy season). This particularly affects the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and the western end of Sarawak, with late November to mid-February seeing the heaviest rainfall.
On the Peninsula’s west coast and in Sabah, September and October are the wettest months. Monsoonal downpours can be heavy and prolonged, sometimes lasting two or three hours and prohibiting more or less all activity for the duration; boats to most islands in affected areas won’t attempt the sea swell at the height of the rainy season. In mountainous areas like the Cameron Highlands, the Kelabit Highlands and in the hill stations and upland national parks, you may experience more frequent rain as the high peaks gather clouds more or less permanently.
The best time to visit most of the region is generally between March and early October, when you will avoid the worst of the rains and there’s less humidity, though air pollution, usually caused by forest fires in Indonesia, can cause hazy conditions and even cancel flights. Despite the rains, the months of January and February are rewarding, and see a number of significant festivals, notably Chinese New Year and the Hindu celebration of Thaipusam. Visiting just after the rainy season can afford the best of all worlds, with verdant countryside and bountiful waterfalls, though there’s still a clammy quality to the air. Arrive in Sabah a little later, in May, and you’ll be able to take in the Sabah Fest, a week-long celebration of Sabahan culture, while in Sarawak, June’s Gawai Festival is well worth attending, when longhouse doors are flung open for several days of rice-harvest merry-making, with dancing, eating, drinking and music.
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
These impressive twin towers in Kuala Lumpur used to be the tallest building in the world but are still the tallest twin buildings. These 88-floor towers resemble silver rockets which actually resemble motifs found in Islamic art, a reflection of Malaysia’s Muslim religion. Each tower has five tiers representing the five pillars of Islam. The Petronas Twin Towers feature a sky bridge between the two towers on the 41st and 42nd floors. The observation deck is on the 86th floor, something recommended on Malaysia vacations. The towers look particularly impressive when illuminated at night.
George Town, Penang
Named after Britain’s King George III, Georgetown is located in the north-east corner of Penang Island. Most of George Town’s population is of Chinese origin. Due to strict controls, George Town retains many of its colonial-era shop houses to this day. It is officially recognized as having a unique architectural and cultural presence without parallel anywhere in South East Asia. Most of George Town's heritage landmarks, including Fort Cornwallis, the City Hall, the High Court, St. George's Church and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel are located within a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city's main Central Business District at Beach Street is home to banks built in various Art Deco- styles. Aside from colonial European architecture, a huge range of Asian architectural styles also exist throughout the city. George Town comes to life in the evenings when most of the locals head to the nearby street hawkers to have their meals and drinks.
A unique destination on Malaysia vacations is Malacca, the capital city of the state of Malacca. Situated near the Strait of Malacca, the city was an important trading port once. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Malacca is considered Malaysia’s most historic city. Under the rule of various empires throughout the centuries, including the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, Malacca features an interesting blend of Chinese and European influences. The most impressive relic from the Dutch period is the huge pink town hall, Stradthuys, built between 1641 and 1660. Located in the heart of the city, and believed to be the oldest Dutch building in Asia, it now features the Museum of History and Ethnographic. St. Paul’s Hill, located in the historic central area of Malacca, is home to ruins of St. Paul’s Church, built by the Portuguese over 400 years ago. The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple located in the old part of the city is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia, founded in 1646.
The Cameron Highlands is one of Malaysia’s largest hill stations, first developed by the British in the 1920s and created to get away from the summer heat as it offers low humidity. The attractions on a Malaysia tour in the Cameron Highlands include jungle walks, waterfalls, tours of tea plantations, beautiful gardens and wild flowers. Featuring a glimmer of its colonial heritage, the Cameron Highlands is an ideal spot for rest and relaxation on a Malaysia tour. It is renowned for its trails which take visitors through the forest to waterfalls and other tranquil spots. Apart from its jungle walks, it is also known for its tea plantations and visitors can book “tea factory” tours. You can also visit here a strawberry farm, a bee and insect farm and a mushroom farm.
Langkawi Malaysia’s best-known vacation destination, Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea. The largest of the islands is Pulau Langkawi, the only other one inhabited island is the nearby Pulau Tuba. Pulau Langkawi is fringed with long, white beaches and with an interior of jungle covered hills and craggy mountain peaks. The most popular beaches are located on the west coast with a wide choice of restaurants and some of the best resort hotels in Langkawi while on a Malaysia vacation.
Mount Kinabalu Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Borneo with a summit height at 4095 metres/13,435 feet. It is known for its exceptional botanical and biological biodiversity with over 600 species of ferns, 320 species of birds and 100 mammalian species. Mount Kinabalu is known to be one of the most accessible mountains in the world. The main peak of the mountain can be climbed easily by a person in good physical condition and does not require mountaineering equipment although climbers must be accompanied by guides at all times. With some of the richest and most important biological sites in the world, Kinabalu National Park is one of Malaysia’s most popular tourist destinations.
Mulu National Park
The Mulu National Park, located in Sarawak, Borneo is a combination of forests, caves, wildlife and outstanding karst stone formations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique scenery and extensive array of native plant and animal species. Some 3500 species of plants and 109 species of palm trees flourish here. The area provides protection for the wildlife as it includes a substantial area of Borneo’s primary tropical forest. There are enormous caves and vast cave networks together with rock pinnacles, cliffs, gorges, and it is home to Mount Mulu, Sarawak’s second highest mountain. The Sarawak Chamber is one of a few special caves. It is 700 metres/2300 feet long, 396 metres/1300 feet wide and around 70 metres/230 feet high. Clearwater Cave contains parts of one of the world's largest underground river systems and is believed to be the largest cave in the world.
Batu Caves is one of Malaysia’s national treasures and holiest Hindu sites. It is a complex giant limestone cave located 13 kilometres/8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. In late January or early February, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converge on the caves. The three main caves that make up Batu Caves are most popular Hindu shrine outside of India. The highlight of the site is a giant statue of a Hindu god, reached by climbing 272 steps to the Cathedral Cave which has outstanding Hindu art. Monkeys also enjoy the site and can be seen playing there.
Sepilok, Sandakan, Borneo
The Sepilok Forest Reserve is where, on Malaysia vacations, you find the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre for orphaned and injured orangutans who are eventually returned to forest life. In 2017, there were around 200 living in the reserve. At the outdoor nursery, a short walk from the feeding platform, you can watch orphaned toddlers at play. You can sit and watch them play and practice their swinging, just one of the skills they need to survive when they return to their rainforest home. It is better to get here early in the morning before they are fed and become sleepy. Feedings at the platforms are at 10 am and 3 pm and last 30 to 50 minutes. Tickets are valid for one day so you can see two feedings with the same ticket. Only around two to four of the population will feed at any one time. The morning feeding is always more crowded so if you want a quieter experience, try the afternoon.
Taman Negara literally means “national park” in Malay and is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. It features enormous trees, waterfalls, jungle treks of various durations and the world’s longest canopy walkways. Several trails enable the visitor to explore the forest without a guide. It is a haven for endangered species such as the Asian elephant, tigers, leopards and rhinos but numbers are low and sightings are very rare. You are more likely to see birds, small deer, lizards, snakes and perhaps a tapir. You can choose from a number of adventure activities such as canopy walk, night jungle trekking, rapid shooting and even tapir watching. Apart from dense rainforest jungle, mangroves and grasslands, there are endless stretches of beach. The Kampung Orang Asli, an aboriginal settlement, is one of the main attractions in Taman Negara. This is a group of people still living in a remote area. They are gentle people with dark skin and tight curly hair who live a nomadic lifestyle. During a visit to their villages, they will share with you how to use their bamboo hunting blowpipe and make fire. They speak their own language.
Located on the Celebes Sea, Sipadan is a diver’s paradise to be experienced on a Malaysia tour. It is Malaysia’s only oceanic island and was formed by living coral on top an extinct volcano cone. Because of its rich marine life, it’s one of the best diving spots in the world. Sipadan has more than 3000 species of fish and hundreds of different corals waiting to be explored. There are hawksbill and green turtles, manta rays, schools of barracudas and whale sharks. The island also has some nice sandy beaches.
Stay at a Longhouse in Malaysia A unique experience in Malaysia is a visit to an Iban longhouse in Sarawak which gives a glimpse into the daily lives of indigenous people. Whichever Longhouse visit you choose, the further it is from the city the better. These people were originally headhunters. The concept of a longhouse is where families live together under one roof. The Iban people can be shy but offer a very warm welcome to outsiders. You will sleep in separate quarters but nothing fancy, sleeping on a mattress with a mosquito net. On arrival, after introductions, you will have dinner followed by a short performance of local dance and music. You can expect an invitation to join in. You will be shown around the longhouse and given small demonstrations of daily life. The evening usually includes tuak, a local rice whiskey. The next morning may include a short hike into the jungle, a tour of their garden and a chance to learn how to shoot the blowpipe gun. While not officially required, you can boost your welcome by bringing a bottle of spirits or some small gifts (not trinkets or souvenirs). Only a few members of the longhouse may speak English so you need to rely on your guide.
The Cat Museum, Kuching, Borneo
This is the world’s first Cat Museum devoted to all things feline. You don’t need to be a cat lover to enjoy a range of exhibits, photos, feline art and cat souvenirs. The museum is spread over four galleries which contain over 4000 artifacts including paintings and memorials related to cats. Exhibits include a mummified cat from ancient Egypt, a gallery of feline-related advertising, and the five species of wild cats found in Borneo. The Cat Museum has many interesting historical stories about cats. There are even real stuffed cats here and famous cats such as Garfield, Felix and Hello Kitty.
Chinese New Year
Malaysia is made up of three main nationalities; Malays, Indians, and importantly, the Chinese, which is why the country is one of the best in the world to celebrate Chinese New Year. It’s traditional for families to cleanse the house in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Spanning a 15 day period between January and February, you’ve got a good chance of catching it if you time your trip right (the place to be is in Penang), so join in the celebrations and bring in the New Year with a bang.; there are more fireworks here than at a Disney 4th of July parade!
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community in January / February. In Malaysia, it takes place in the Batu Caves (which are a sight in themselves and a must see in Malaysia) and attracts over one million devotees each year. It all kicks off in the centre of the capital Kuala Lumpur and the procession walks 15km to the caves. You can’t be blamed if you meet them there; after all, it takes about eight hours to walk! Many fanatical devotees go to such extent as to torture their bodies to appease the Lord, so a major feature of Thaipusam celebrations is body piercing with hooks, skewers and small lances called ‘vel’. Be warned; this festival is crazy.
Malaysia Water Festival
If water is your thing then you’re going to want to go to the Malaysia Water Festival on your gap year. Things kick off at the beginning of April in Kuantan and end in a climactic finish towards the end of April in Labuan. There are a number of activities to choose from, namely an international fishing tournament, a kayak sprint challenge and most importantly a sandcastle building competition. However, you might be more interested in the ‘pillow fighting challenge’; either way there’s something for you! The best thing about the Water Festivals in Malaysia is its open to everyone.
Celebrated around May by Buddhists, Wesak Day marks three momentous events in Buddha’s life – his birthday, enlightenment, and achievement of Nirvana. As the most important figure in Buddhism his life is celebrated and revered. The celebration begins at dawn when devotees gather at the temples to meditate on the Eight Precepts. The ‘Bathing the Buddha’ ceremony is often part of Wesak celebrations. Water is poured over the shoulders of the Buddha and serves as a reminder to purify the mind from evil. Donations, giving food to the needy, offerings of incense, joss sticks, releasing of pigeons, ordination of monks and the offering of flowers normally takes place in temples. Chanting and praying are an important part of the Wesak celebration. At night, processions of floats parade the streets, with devotees carrying candles. If you can be in Malaysia for Wesak Day you really won’t regret it.
Tadau Kaamatan (Harvest Festival)
In Sabah, the aboriginal tribes of Kadazan, Dusun and Murut come together to commemorate their harvest festival in May. At the occasion, offerings are made to the spirit of paddy, Bambaazon. Expect lots of dancing and some cracking food. Oh, and Tapai (rice wine). Everyone drinks the stuff like it’s going out of fashion. Partying usually involves agricultural shows, exhibitions, cultural programs, buffalo races and other customary games. And a beauty pageant.
Hungry Ghost Festival
Hungry Ghost Festival is said to be the day when the gates of hell open to release all the hungry ghosts who wander to seek food on Earth; that is according to the Chinese belief. It is observed on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month (so July) by the Buddhists and the Taoists. On this day, people remember their deceased family members and make offerings to ward off bad luck. Sacrificial offerings are made by burning fake money notes, which are also known as ‘hell money’, so pick up some notes and get fired up.
Hari Merdeka, which is also known as Independence Day, is celebrated on August 31st each year and is the day that Malaysians celebrate, well, their independence. They threw off the yoke of British colonial rule in 1957 and Hari Merdeka signifies that date.
Malaysians love shopping, which explains the vast number of luxury malls, stores and street-side stalls in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. From designer goods to the latest electronic gadgets, the constantly changing product range includes an extensive collection of designer labels from the fashion capitals of the world. If you are a shopaholic, the best time to visit is during the 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival, which takes place around June– September every year.
The exemption of duty on a range of items has made shopping in Malaysia even more attractive. Duty-free items like cameras, watches, pens, cosmetics, perfumes, mobile phones, computers, cigarettes and liquor are among the cheapest in the world. If you’re shopping for these, check out the duty-free islands of Labuan and Langkawi, and the duty-free shops in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, international airports and city centres.
Local regulations ensure items are price-tagged and prominently displayed, particularly at shopping complexes where prices are fixed. Malls are also where you can conveniently find banks, foreign currency exchange counters, supermarkets and hundreds of shops offering a tremendous variety of goods.
For light, casual shopping, there are roadside stalls, bazaars and night markets in towns throughout the country. And don’t forget to visit one of the colourful, bustling night markets or 'pasar malam' – found in most neighbourhoods on certain days of the week. Here you’ll find a great array of items, local foods and fruits, available for a steal depending on your bargaining skills. It can be quite a humorous exercise as the traders are generally enthusiastic and friendly.
The rule of thumb is that anything with a price tag on it cannot be bargained, particularly at supermarkets and malls. However, if you’re shopping at by the roadside stalls or at night markets, this is where you may put your haggling skills to good use.
Cash is accepted at night markets while major credit cards are accepted in most shops in the malls and shopping complexes.
Many malls in Malaysia open till late at night, around 10pm, ensuring there is plenty of time for your shopping adventures.
Malaysian cuisine is a mixture of hot and spicy influences including Chinese, Indian and of course, traditional Malay dishes. The best places to try real, local foods are in hawker stalls at the side of roads and in coffee shops. In these places, visitors will find cheap, but delicious menus to sample.
Popular dishes in Malaysia include:
Nasi Lemak: this is the most common breakfast food found in Malaysia. Rice is cooked in a light coconut milk with anchovies, peanuts, cucumber and a bit of chili.
Rengand: this dry curry dish is usually made with beef and consists of stewed meat in a spicy curry paste.
Chili crab: this dish is essentially what the name suggests, a whole crab that has been covered in sticky chili sauce.
Laksa: the exact recipe of this dish changes depending on region, but it usually just coconut served with seafood or chicken.
Bak chor mee: this is a noodle-based dish cooked in a chili sauce with minced pork, fried anchovies and vegetables.
Drink It is best to avoid tap water in Malaysia and visitors should try to stick to bottled water. Coffee (kopi) and tea (teh) are popular drinks usually served with condensed milk. Visitors are encouraged to try “teh ais” which is an iced milky tea. Kopi tongkat ali ginseng is a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root and ginseng which is then served with milk. Locally brewed beer includes Tiger and Anchor while local brew is called tuak and is fermented rice wine that has been flavoured with either sugar or honey.
Things to know: Malaysians don’t normally adhere to the practice of tipping as a service charge of 10% is already added to your bill.
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