TravelAsia

Malaysia Travel Guide

Harmony between Chinese, Indian, and Malay fuses into Asia’s epitome of multiculturalism. These are unmistakable influences in Malaysia’s heartwarming and ubiquitous celebrations and drop-everything-delicious food.

Kuala Lumpur’s sprawling skyscrapers and modern multi-level shopping malls draw in the urban explorer, offering both the exotic and familiar. Untouched nature flourishes in Borneo’s verdant jungles and Langkawi’s balmy beaches. Penang straddles both worlds with energetic historical Georgetown and carefree seaside resorts, not to mention the sensational street food acclaimed by Anthony Bourdain.

If you depart Malaysia with an expanded waistline, you’ll know your visit was triumphant. World-renowned eats reside not within 5-star resorts but in covert hawkers’ markets, known as “cafés”. Secret recipes handed down through generations create the most flavorsome curries, laksa, stir-fries, and satays you’ll ever taste.  

Modernization during the British colonial era resulted in further advancement than neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s integrated culture has forged a close-knit community ready to welcome jet-setters from all over the world.  

You'll Like Malaysia if you Like...

  • The Breakfast Club (1985)
  • Grunge
  • Pop music
  • Bubble tea
  • Satay chicken
  • Multi-level shopping malls
  • Smart watch
Inspiration

Top Sights & Attractions In Malaysia

Petronas Twin Towers

Tower $$$$$

Menara Berkembar Petronas, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Price: Adult: RM80 (USD$18.40), Child (<12): RM33 ($7.59), Seniors (>61): RM42 ($9.66), Infant (<2): Free Time spent: 1-1.5 hours

Hours: 9am-9pm Tuesday-Thursday
9am-1pm, 2:30pm-9pm Friday
9am-9pm Saturday-Sunday

Iconic twin skyscrapers that were the tallest buildings in the world at the time of their construction. The towers double as an entrance to KLCC park and the Suria KLCC shopping mall. Amazing city views can be admired from the observation deck and connecting sky bridge.

website email +60 323318080

Full attraction details...

KLCC Park

Park Free

Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Price: Free Time spent: 30-90 minutes

Hours: 7am-10pm, 7 days

A garden oasis in the heart of the busy city center providing a peaceful escape for a picnic, casual stroll, jog or bike ride. Kids love the large playground and water playground but the park’s main attraction is Lake Symphony and its daily water fountain shows. The fountains are spectacular at night when they light up and shoot into the sky in perfect timing with a musical score.

website

Full attraction details...

George Town UNESCO Heritage Site

Modern History Free

10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Price: Free Time spent: 1-6 hours

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days

A fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and British Colonial architectural styles resulting in an unconventional yet charming urban formation. George Town's rich cultural diversity saw it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Most recently, a dynamic street art scene has burst into George Town. Some wall murals, like Ernest Zacharevic’s "Boy on Chair", provide interactive settings for visitors to become part of the picture and pose beside painted characters.

website email +60 42616606

Full attraction details...

Batu Caves

Cave Free

68100 Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia

Price: Free Time spent: 1.5-3 hours

Hours: 6am-9pm, 7 days

This national treasure of Malaysia is one of the 10 most holy Hindu sites in the world. Batu Caves comprises a series of natural caves inside an ancient limestone hill. The caves originally served as shelters for Malaysia’s indigenous population before becoming a sacred Hindu site, housing a series of shrines. The main ‘Temple Cave’ (or Cathedral Cave) is located at the hill’s peak, only accessible by climbing 272 steep rainbow-painted steps. Perhaps the bright rainbow colors are intended to distract visitors from the burning climb. Naughty Macaque monkeys accompany climbers along the journey, keenly watching for tasty snacks to steal.

website email

Full attraction details...

Langkawi Sky Bridge

Overlook $$$$$

Jalan Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia

Price: RM5 (USD$1.15) Time spent: 1-2 hours

Hours: 10am-8pm

A 125-metre-long suspended pedestrian bridge on top of Machinchang Mountain only accessible by cable car. A curved section of the bridge swings out around the mountain providing 360-degree views of the jungle landscape below.

website email +60 49594225

Central Market

Market Free

Pasar Seni, City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Price: Free Time spent: 1-3 hours

Hours: 10am-9:30pm, 7 days

Escape KL’s many shopping malls and find locally made Malay, Chinese and Indian handcrafts. Shop for gifts and souvenirs like batik fabrics, wood carvings, stone jewelry, clothing, and natural candles and soaps. The iconic market has been running since the 1940s in the Pasar Seni building, constructed in 1888. Central Market also hosts dozens of food vendors and regular cultural performances.

website email +60 1300228688

Full attraction details...

Mount Kinabalu National Park

Nature $$$$$

Ranau, Sabah, Malaysia

Price: RM15 (USD$3.45)

Hours: 7am-5pm

website +60 8888 9888

More Attractions:

Malaysia Photos

Ease Of Travel

Overall:
8.5Very Easy
Language:
7.9Quite Easy
Transport:
8.2Quite Easy
Accomodation:
9.3Very Easy
Affordability:
8.8Very Affordable
Access:
8.7Very Convenient
Money:
8.7Very Convenient
Communications:
9Very Convenient
Food:
7.3Convenient
 

Driving side of road: Left

Nearby destinations: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore

Food & Drink In Malaysia

Malaysia’s naturally growing spices like curry, chili and turmeric earned it a place on the world stage during the 16th century spice trade between Asia, Europe and Northeast Africa. Modern Malaysian food relies heavily on local ingredients while delivering punchy flavors originating from its Chinese, Indian and Malay roots.

Malaysians love their food. Food is such an important part of Malay culture that a common greeting phrase translates to “have you eaten yet?”. Typical meals include curries, noodles, rice and laksa with closely-guarded recipes handed down between generations. 

Although Malaysia has its share of international restaurants, the best food is usually found in unsuspecting hawkers markets. Most hawker stalls only sell one cuisine, or even just one dish.
Their mastery can’t be missed in the mouth-watering flavors dished up on plain plastic plates at ultra-budget prices. 

Malaysians enjoy sugar almost as much as Americans do and it’s hard to sip an iced tea or fruit juice without feeling the sugar high. Even small juice stands on the side of the road mix fresh fruit juice with sweetened condensed milk. Feel free to request “no sugar” with your juice or tea.

Must try:

01
satay-01323.jpg

Satay

Peanutty goodness

Dairy-free

Tender skewers of meat tossed in an aromatic satay sauce and grilled to order. Often served with squares of cold, glutenous rice and a small cucumber salad. Hawker stalls commonly sell satay chicken in batches of 5, 10 or more, while sit-down restaurants tend to serve a mix of chicken, beef, and pork skewers.

02
beef_rendang.jpg

Beef Rendang

Tender and spicy

Spicy

A flavorsome and aromatic dish of beef slowly simmered in coconut milk, chili, and spices. Historically saved for festive celebrations and ceremonies, it’s now a staple in all Malaysian restaurants. May be available with chicken or lamb. Projected onto the world culinary stage when Gordon Ramsay visited Malaysia to learn how to master this dish.

03
mie_goreng_malaysia.jpg

Mie Goreng (Fried Noodles)

The classic Malaysian staple

Dairy-free

A spicy fried noodle dish made with yellow egg noodles, spices, fried egg, vegetables and either chicken, beef, or shrimp. A specialty at many Malaysian hawker stalls.

04
laksa.jpg

Laksa

Tangy & spicy

Spicy Dairy-free

Rice soaked in coconut cream and pandan leaves then wrapped in a banana leaf. Served with spicy sambal (chili paste) and sides including cucumber, peanuts, anchovies, vegetables, hard-boiled egg, and lamb, chicken, or beef curry. Enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

05
nasi_lemak.jpg

Nasi Lemak

Local favorite

Very Spicy Gluten-friendly

Rice soaked in coconut cream and pandan leaves then wrapped in a banana leaf. Served with spicy sambal (chili paste) and sides including cucumber, peanuts, anchovies, vegetables, hard-boiled egg, and lamb, chicken, or beef curry. Enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

06
pisang_goreng-00192.jpg

Pisang Goreng (Fried Banana)

Sweet treat

Vegetarian

Fresh bananas tossed in flour batter then deep fried resulting in a scrumptious banana fritter that is crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth gooey on the inside. Made to order at many night markets and hawker stalls.

More Food:

Restaurants In Malaysia:

Planning

Areas of Malaysia

malaysia_areas.svg
  1. Peninsular Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Malacca Penang Lankawi Johor Baru Cameron Highlands Bustling cities, peaceful beaches and viridian mountains to explore. Home to over 80% of Malaysia’s population and the center of Malay food culture.
  2. East Malaysia Kota Kinbalu Kuching Large areas of untouched jungle and rainforest. Find endangered wildlife like orangutans, tigers, and rhinos, snorkel among tropical fish and turtles and explore the majestic Mount Kinabalu. Located on the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei.

How Long To Stay & Where To Go

Exploring both “halves” of Malaysia calls for a minimum of 3 weeks. Here are suggested cities to include in your vacation to Malaysia:

  • 3 weeks: Spend 5 days in Kuala Lumpur, 3 days in the Cameron Highlands, 3 days in Penang, and 3 days in Langkawi. Spend 1 week in Borneo, focusing on Kota Kinabalu.
  • 2 weeks: Spend 4 days in Kuala Lumpur, 4 days in Penang, and 3 days in either Langkawi or the Perhentian Islands. Head over to Borneo to spend 3 days in Kota Kinabablu. 
  • 10 days: Focus on Peninsular Malaysia. Spend 4 days in Kuala Lumpur, 3 days in Penang, and 3 days in Langkawi.
  • 1 week: Spend 4 days in Kuala Lumpur and 3 days in Penang, Langkawi, or the Perhentian Islands.
  • 4 days: Focus on either Kuala Lumpur or Penang.

Malaysia Travel Ideas For...

Food Connoisseur

Indulge in legendary hawker’s markets and delight in the explosion of flavors at dirt-cheap prices. Check out Penang’s Northam Beach Café and Long Beach Café or Kuala Lumpur’s Alor Street Food Night Market.

Culture Buff

Visit Hindu temples at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur or visit in February to celebrate Chinese New Year at KL’s Chinatown or Penang’s Weld Quay Clan Jetties. Explore UNESCO Heritage site Georgetown in Penang and mix British colonial history with modern Malaysian food culture.

Nature Lover

Explore rolling hills and fresh produce at the Cameron Highlands and soak up the sun on Langkawi's beaches. Move on to Borneo to see endangered wildlife up-close, and go snorkeling off Layang Layang Island or Sipadan Island.

Outdoor Trailblazer

Head over to Borneo and explore the Mount Kinabalu National Park and see tigers, rhinos, and orangutans in their natural habitat. Book in advance and tackle the 2 day climb up Mount Kinablu.

Luxury Maven

Check into a luxury hotel in Kuala Lumpur and spend your days exploring KL’s dozens of shopping malls. You won’t want to miss Suria KLCC, The Garden, and Starhill Gallery.

Retail Therapist

Explore Kuala Lumpur’s many themed shopping malls like the luxurious Suria KLCC and tech-centric Low Yat Plaza. Find imitation designer labels at Chinatown and hand-made clothing, homewares, and souvenirs at Central Market.

Relaxation Guru

Escape to the dreamy Perhentian Islands and recline on pure white beach sands beside the crystal-clear sea.

Where To Stay In Malaysia

Peninsular Malaysia boasts a thriving hotel industry that caters to every budget and appetite. Luxury hotels are plentiful in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Langkawi, while mid-range hotels and budget hostels are easy to find across the country.

Travelers planning to stay in one city for 2 weeks or longer may be better suited to a short-term apartment rental, easily found in most major cities. 

Accommodation around East Malaysia’s attractions like Mount Kinabalu has been largely privatized by National Parks. The Kota Kinabalu coastline, however, has plenty of options from luxury beach resorts to budget hostels.
 

Kuala Lumpur:

Penang:

Getting Around Malaysia

Plane

Flights between major cities on Peninsular Malaysia are relatively fast and cheap. Major airports are located in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi, and Johor.

Major Airports in East Malaysia are located in Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

Plane is the only direct route to travel between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia.

Train

Most major cities on Peninsular Malaysia are connected by train, presenting a fast and cheap way to get around the country. For example, trains regularly run between Kuala Lumpur and Butterworth, a short bus, taxi, or rideshare can then be taken to reach Penang Island.

Bus

Large, comfortable, and cheap buses regularly run between major cities on Peninsular Malaysia. Bus tickets should be booked online in advance. 

Car Rental

Most roads in Malaysia are easy to drive with chaotic traffic confined to Kuala Lumpur. An enjoyable way to see Peninsular Malaysia is by hiring a car and driving between major cities for example, from Kuala Lumpur, through the Cameron Highlands to Penang. Penang Island is connected to the mainland by a 13.5km toll bridge.

Ride Share

It is possible to drive between major cities by rideshare or taxi but drivers should always be booked in advance for long, intercity journeys.

Ferry

Ferries do not run between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia.  Regular ferries run between Butterworth and Penang Island; Kota Bharu or Kuala Terengganu and the Perhentian Islands; and Kuala Kedar or Kuala Perlis to Langkawi. Ferry tickets should be booked online in advance.

Malaysia Travel Guides

Best Time of Year to Visit Malaysia

Malaysia has a tropical monsoonal climate with temperatures ranging from 22°C to 32°C throughout the year. Cooler temperatures can be enjoyed in the highlands and islands, while cities are predictably hot and humid. Mid-afternoon showers are common throughout the year. 

The best time to visit Malaysia is between March and November when rain is least likely and humidity is at its lowest. However, it’s smart to always bring an umbrella.

Southwest Monsoon

May-September: between 22°C and 32°C, dry season with minimum monthly rainfall.

Northeast Monsoon

November-March: between 22°C and 32°C, primary rain season with frequent thunderstorms.

Essentials

Money

Malaysian Ringgit is the official currency. 1 Malaysian Ringgit (RM) is divided into 100 sen (cents). Frequently used notes: RM1, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50, RM100. Frequently used coins:1 sen, 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen, 50 sen.

Live exchange rates (to Malaysian Ringgit):

USD$1 = RM4.36 CAD$1 = RM3.16 GBP£1 = RM5.36 EUR€1 = RM4.77 AUD$1 = RM2.89 JPY¥1 = RM0.04

Credit cards accepted: Almost everywhere

Major shopping malls, hotels and restaurants readily accept VISA, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro credit cards.

Contactless payments accepted: Almost everywhere

Apple Pay: Not available yet

Google Pay: Not available yet

Samsung Pay: Available

ATM Access: Very easy to find

ATMs widely available within major bank branches, most shopping malls, airports, bus terminals, and convenience stores. Many ATMs are shut down after midnight for security reasons.

Currency exchangers: Very easy to find

Foreign currency can be exchanged in banks, airports and money changers across Malaysia. Some businesses, like larger hotel chains, may accept payment in foreign currencies such as Yen, US Dollars or Euro. Malaysian Ringgit is not freely convertible in many countries outside Southeast Asia. It's best to convert any excess ringgit back into your local currency before leaving Malaysia.

Budget

Daily Budget

BudgetRM100-RM150 (USD$23.00 - $34.50)

ComfortableRM250-RM350 (USD$57.50 - $80.51)

LuxuryRM700-RM900 (USD$161.01 - $207.02)

Accommodation

BudgetRM53-RM100 (USD$12.19 - $23.00)hostel or 1 star hotel

ComfortableRM150-RM250 (USD$34.50 - $57.50)3 star

LuxuryRM400-RM800 (USD$92.01 - $184.01)4-5 star

Food

Street FoodRM6-RM15 (USD$1.38 - $3.45)

Mid-Range RestaurantRM20-RM30 (USD$4.60 - $6.90)

Fine Dining RestaurantRM50-RM100 (USD$11.50 - $23.00)

Transport

RideshareRM10 (USD$2.30)Short ride

TrishawRM30 (USD$6.90)1 hour ride

BusRM35 (USD$8.05)Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands

TrainRM2 (USD$0.46)Short ride, 2 stops

TaxiRM15 (USD$3.45)Short ride

Activities

Observation TowerRM50 (USD$11.50)

National parkRM15 (USD$3.45)Mount Kinabalu National Park

Batik paintingRM60 (USD$13.80)Small cotton handkerchief

Bird parkRM63 (USD$14.49)

Souvenir shoppingRM15 (USD$3.45)Handmade bracelet

Souvenir shoppingCanvas bag

Internet, Mobile & Tech

Internet

Average Internet speed in Malaysia: 13.30 Mbps

Public wifi access: Readily available

Modern Malaysians are heavy Internet users. Most areas offer fast Internet coverage. Watch out for short-term rental apartments with slower 4G WiFi dongles instead of faster wired Internet connections.

Mobile

Four main cell providers cater to International travelers. 4G coverage tends to be limited to major cities while 2G and 3G coverage is fairly strong across populated areas of Malaysia.

  • Maxis - "Hotlink Tourist SIM" Package for RM10 (15 days, RM5 credit, 8GB high-speed Internet, free 60 minutes domestic calls & free 60 minutes IDD calls to China & India). Network has best overall coverage in Malaysia.
  • Celcom - "Xpax Prepaid" package for RM10 (7 days, RM6 credit, free 300 MB for 5 days, free 10GB basic Internet monthly). Network has best coverage in rural areas of East Malaysia.
  • Digi - "4G Plus Internet Traveller Sim" package for RM40 (15 days, 25GB 4G Plus Internet, free 30 min local calls and free 30 min IDD calls). Cheaper package for RM20 (7 days, 9GB 4G Plus Internet, free 10 min local calls and free 10 min IDD calls)
  • U Mobile - "Traveller Sim" for RM30 for 30 days (free SIM card, “unlimited” data, includes 3GB data to hotspot with family/friends, unlimited Waze, free data for WeChat, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify and Tonton). Available in KLIA and KLIA2 airport terminals.

Phone country code: +60

Power

Power outlets in Malaysia:

Type C
Type C
Type G
Type G
Type MType M

Voltage: 230 V, 50 Hz

Recommended buy: Universal power adapter

Drones

Drone regulations: Easy to fly in most places

Drone regulatory body: Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM)

Drones are fairly easy to fly in Malaysia, but be mindful of the following restrictions: Can't fly higher than 400 feet (122 meters). Can't fly within 50 meters of any person, vehicle or structure. Do not fly over crowds or densely populated areas Must fly during daylight hours. Do not fly your drone within 4.5km of airports or in areas where aircraft are operating. Don't fly your drone in sensitive areas including government or military facilities. If you are flying a drone that weighs more than 20kg you must hold a private pilot license and obtain a permit for every flight you intend to operate.

What's on Netflix in Malaysia?

Getting Into Malaysia

Plane is the fastest and most popular way to reach Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a major airport hub handling thousands of international transfer flights each day.

Plane

Malaysia’s 2 main International Airports are located in Kuala Lumpur, KLIA and KLIA2 (KUL).

Smaller International airports are located in Penang (PEN), Langkawi (LGK), Kuching (KCH), Kota Kinabalu (BKI), and Senai (JHB). These airports mainly receive flights from within Asia.

Train

Malaysian railway service KTM run regular trains between Singapore and Malaysia (10 hours), and Thailand and Malaysia (7 hours). Trains travel between the Woodlands Train Checkpoint in Singapore and Johor Bahru Sentral station in Malaysia; and between Padang Besar and KL Sentral station. Tickets should be booked online at least 48 hours in advance.

Bus

Regular bus services run between Lavender MRT in Singapore and TBS Kuala Lumpur (5-6 hours); and between Hatyai, Thailand and TBS Kuala Lumpur (8-9 hours).

Ferry

Ferries regularly enter Malaysia from southern islands of Thailand, like Trang Had Yao pier in Krabi; and from Indonesian Islands Jakarta, Batam, and West Kalimantan. Luxury cruises are available from Singapore and Phuket, Thailand.

Taxi

Taxis from Thailand can drop visitors at the Padang Besar or Sadao border checks to go through immigration and then find a different taxi in Malaysia.

Visas

Passport holders from countries including the US, Canada, UK, and Australia do not require a tourist visa for stays under 90 days. Some common requirements for entering Malaysia include:

  • 6 months validity on your passport
  • At least two blank visa pages on your passport.
     

Health & Safety

Malaysia is safe and hygienic with low levels of crime. The highest health and safety risks come from dehydration, sunburn, and mosquito bites. Malaysia’s prominent street food culture poses some risk of stomach bugs. Most vendors are clean and hygienic but to be on the safe side, order dishes that are hot and cooked to order and eat at stalls popular with locals.

Quite Good68.1 Healthcare Access
and Quality
Index
Fairly Safe79 Safety Index
Very Peaceful98.86% Global Peace Index

Is it safe to drink tap water? Boil water first

Tap water in Malaysia is usually clean and safe to drink, although its best to boil water first or leave a glass of water in the sunlight for at least 3 hours to kill any bacteria. Large bottles of water are readily available in supermarkets and minimarts.

Important Phone Numbers:

Tourist Police: 03 2149 6593

Emergency: 999

Police: 999

Ambulance: 999

Fire: 994

Consular Help: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia

Doctors:

  • Most doctors in Malaysia speak fluent English and most were trained in the UK, USA, or Australia, meaning they are familiar western standards of care.
  • Most pharmacists also speak fluent English and are very knowledgeable about general healthcare and medical needs.  Prescriptions are not required for some medications so it’s often easier to visit a chemist before a doctor.  
     

Hospitals:

  • International tourists commonly travel to Malaysia for cheaper cosmetic surgery and medical procedures. Most Malaysian doctors are highly qualified and hospitals are fitted out with the latest equipment.
  • Both public and private hospitals cater to international patients. Public hospitals are cheaper but have much longer waiting queues. 
  • Taking a taxi to the nearest hospital (public or private) can often be faster than waiting for an ambulance. 

Scams:

  • Expensive taxi fares. Some taxi drivers insist on charging an inflated fixed price for fares. Always insist on using the taxi meter, or use rideshare app, Grab, instead.
  • Inflated meal prices for tourists. Some food vendors will charge a higher meal price if you look like a tourist. To avoid being scammed, eat at food courts with menus and fixed prices signposted at their kiosk.
  • Begging monks. It’s not uncommon people claiming to be from a charity approach tourists asking for money. These are almost never legitimate charity organizations. If you want to help the needy in Malaysia, approach official organizations.
  • Begging children at Jalan Alor. Children selling flowers or begging for money are regulars at popular food market, Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur. Again, if you want to help Malaysia’s needy, go through official organizations.
  • Pick pocketing can occur in popular tourist areas of Kuala Lumpur, like Petaling Street. Handbags as well as pocketed phones, and wallets are common targets. Keep valuables in an over-the-shoulder bag or backpack to avoid being targeted.
Avoid:
  • Bringing illegal drugs into the country.
  • Receiving cosmetics and pharmaceuticals via mail (from outside the country).
  • Exercising or walking in the sun during the middle of the day. Wait until the cooler evening.
Do:
  • Boil tap water before drinking.
  • Carry valuables in a secure bag.
  • Wear sunscreen when outdoors.
  • Drink plenty of water and remember alcoholic drinks make dehydration worse, not better.
  • Wash your hands before eating.
  • Carry and use mosquito repellent especially in evenings.
Travel Deeper

Malaysia's Culture

Malaysia is a multicultural society with three main ethnic groups; Malay, Chinese and Indian. Each ethnic groups’ religions, customs, and ways of living are welcomed throughout Malaysia.

Tradition:

  • Eat with your right hand: Many popular Malay dishes, like nasi lemak and roti canai are traditionally eaten with bare hands. The right hand, not left, should be used for eating food served without utensils.
  • Take off shoes before entering homes, restaurants and shops. If you see a pile of shoes outside a shop door, take yours off too. 
  • Maintain face by preserving a respectful name, good character, harmonious relationships, and by being held in high esteem by peers.
  • No PDAs. Public displays of affection are not encouraged in Malaysia. Signposts often warn against kissing, hugging and even touching your significant other in public.
  • Adopting Western names. Malays, specifically Chinese Malays, like to adopt a Western name for visitors to use instead of their given name. Try not to chuckle if you meet a Tom Cruise.
  • Shaking hands is a common way to greet people of the same gender, but men may decline to shake a woman’s hand, choosing to respectfully bow his head to her instead. 
  • Never show up empty-handed. If invited to someone’s home, always bring a small gift of fruit or dessert. Although a gift is expected, it may initially be rejected so the host does not appear greedy. Saying the gift is for the children will always result in acceptance. 
  • Squat toilets are common in public buildings, restaurants, and shopping malls. Although half of the toilets are usually western style, expect to use a squat toilet at some stage during your visit.

Religion:

The official religion of Malaysia is Islam. Although Malaysia is a multicultural country, ethnic Malays are required by law to be Muslim. Non-ethnic Malays have more freedom to choose their religion.

Malaysians are generally tolerant of different religious groups, nationally declaring Eid, Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Deepavali as public holidays.

  • Islam: 66.72%
  • Buddhism: 17.92%
  • Christianity: 8.96%
  • Hinduism: 5.12%
  • Chinese traditional religion: 1.28%

Social:

Malaysian social class depends on a variety of factors including political connections, specialized skills, English language skills, and family money.  Most upper-class Malaysians study overseas in the USA, UK, or Australia but are expected to return home to work in Malaysia.

Marriage is considered a crucial step toward adulthood. Muslim Malaysians who marry non-Muslims risk government sanction unless their spouse converts to Islam. Non-Muslim Malaysians are free to marry people of other religions, only answering to their own family and belief system. 

Family is extremely important to Malaysians and is the center of their social structure, with friendships second. It is extremely important to show loyalty to family and respect for the elderly. Newborns are considered a great joy and shown the highest standards of care. Grandmothers often move in to help care for their new grandchildren for the first few months of their life.

Arts & Style:

Traditional Malaysian art is centered around carving, silversmithing, and weaving. Islamic taboos restricted artwork of people until the mid-20th century.

Traditional performing arts and shadow puppetry reflecting Indian influences are still popular today, as is Malaysian wax-based fabric painting, batik. 

Jewelry in Peninsular Malaysia is traditionally made of pure silver and gold set with precious gems, while eastern Malaysian jewelry is often made of leather and beads.

Government & Law:

Form of government: Constitutional monarchy

The nation of Malaysia comprises of 13 states operating under a federal government, headed by the Prime Minister. 

Federal laws, enacted by Parliament of Malaysia, apply throughout the country while state laws, enacted by the State Legislative Assemblies, only apply to a particular state.  

The constitution of Malaysia operates a dual justice system with secular laws (criminal and civil) and sharia laws.

53.85% World Press Freedom Index

Calendar & Time:

Malaysia officially observes the Gregorian calendar for national anniversaries, most holidays, official events and daily activities. The Chinese lunar calendar is observed to celebrate some traditional festivals, like Chinese New Year. 

Timezone: UTC +8

Language:

Malaysia has two official languages, Malay and English. Students are educated in both Malay and English, so most Malaysians speak English fluently or near fluently.

Chinese dialects of Mandarin and Hokkien are also widely spoken in Malaysia.

Basic Phrases:

  • Hello: Halo
  • Goodbye: Selamat tinggal
  • Thank you: Terima kasih
  • Please: Sila
  • How are you: apa khabar
  • I’m fine thanks: saya baik terima kasih
  • How much does it cost?: Berapa kosnya
  • I'm sorry: Maafkan saya
  • Yes: ya
  • No: tidak

Etiquette:

Do:
  • Remove your shoes before entering a home, temple, or mosque, and before entering some shops.
  • Use your right hand not left, to give or receive something.
  • Show respect to senior citizens and never smoke around them.
  • Dress conservatively and don’t wear skimpy swimsuits at beaches or public swimming pools.
  • Give a considerable amount of space to Malaysians of the opposite gender.
  • Compliment people on their hospitality.
  • Wash your hands before eating or serving food.
Don't:
  • Be affectionate in public
  • Be critical of locals with poor English skills.
  • Smoke around members of the royal family.
  • Shake hands with Malay women unless they offer.
  • Touch the head of a Malaysian adult.
  • Point your feet towards people or sacred images.
  • Discuss ethnic relations or politics in public.
  • Point with your index finger. Use your right thumb instead.

More Culture:

Malaysia & The World

Quick Recap

Malacca Kingdom founded1402
Malacca conquered by Portugal1511
Malacca conquered bu the Dutch1641
Establishment of British Malaysia1874
Independence of Federation of Malaya1957
Singapore separated from Malaysia1965
End to 61-year coalition party rule2018

Famous People From Malaysia

Jimmy ChooFashion designerFounder of Jimmy Choo Ltd
Tony FernandesBusinessmanFounder of AirAsia
Lee Chong WeiBadminton playerRanked world #1 for 199 consecutive weeks
Dr Sheikh Muszaphar ShukorAstronautFirst Malaysian into space

Other Stuff From Malaysia

BrandJimmy Choo LtdHigh-end designer shoes, handbags and accessories
BrandShangri-La HotelsLuxury hotel and resort chain
BrandPremier Tissue & Royal Gold TissueWorld-class paper products manufacturer

Events & Festivals In Malaysia

Malaysia’s annual festivals reflect its vibrant diversity and religious tolerance with Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultural events nationally recognized. These are some key festivals and events celebrated in Malaysia. 

January/February 

  • Thaipusam. A 3-day Tamil festival commemorating the victory of Lord Muruga over the evil spirit Soorapadam. Celebrated throughout Malaysia with the largest celebrations at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur.

February 

  • Chinese New Year. Celebrated across Malaysia with firecrackers, dragon dancers, and rituals to deter bad luck. Large celebrations are held at Petailing Street in Kuala Lumpur and at the Weld Quay Clan Jetties and Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang. 
Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang during Chinese New Year

May

  • Wesak Day. The celebration of Buddha’s Birthday on the Sunday closest to May’s full moon. Celebrated with religious ceremonies at Buddhist temples. 
  • Kaamatan Harvest Festival. An ancient pagan celebration to honor the successful harvest by the ethnic Kadazan-Dusun. Annually celebrated in Sabah on May 30th and 31st. 

May/June

  • Ramadan. The 9th month of the Islamic calendar observed as a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.

June

  • Eid al Fitr. The celebration of the end of Ramadan. The only day during the lunar month of Shawwai that Muslims are not allowed to fast. Celebrated with feasting and religious prayers. 
  • Gawai Harvest Festival. Sarawak’s version of the Harvest Festival, annually celebrated on June 1st and 2nd. 

August

  • Independence Day/ National Day. Celebrated on August 31st each year to commemorate Malaysia’s independence from Britain and the formation of the Federation of Malaya. Celebrated with fireworks, parades, and exhibitions throughout Malaysia with largest celebrations in Kuala Lumpur.

November

  • Deepavali / Diwali / Dipavali. The Hindu ‘Festival of Light’ which honors the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. Celebrated with colored chalk drawings and scattered rice on the ground.  KL’s Little India, is full of color and activities at during Deepvali.

December

  • Penang Dragon Boat Festival. A 2-day festival that sees over 40 Malaysian and international dragon boat racers compete at the Teluk Bahang Dam. The colorful boats race to the sounds of traditional beating drums.
Last Bit

Myth Busting

  • Malaysians don't drink alcohol – Malaysia is a Muslim country and while Muslim Malaysians don’t drink alcohol, many non-Muslim Malaysians do. Cities like Kuala Lumpur and Penang have many popular bars and nightclubs.  
  • Malaysian women have less freedom - Malaysian women are actually welcome in politics, managerial positions, and the armed forces. 
  • Malaysians are unaccommodating to foreigners – This misconception is largely due to negative perceptions of Islam. Malaysia is actually very welcoming to foreigners and has one of the best “second home” programs in the world. 
  • Malaysians only speak formal English  Many Malaysians lack confidence in speaking English even though their skills are often fluent or near fluent. Malaysians may adjust their tone or accent when speaking English to be better understood by foreigners. This can make them sound either unusually formal or unusually conversational.

Tourism Insights & Useful Stuff

26.00 million interntational tourist arrivals per year.

Population of Malaysia: 30.00 million

Tourism as a share of GDP: 14.90%

Top international tourists by country:

  1. Singapore
  2. Indonesia
  3. China
  4. Thailand
  5. Brunei
  6. India
  7. South Korea
  8. Japan

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After Malaysia, Go Further

Kuala Lumpur is a major international hub, meaning it’s very easy to get to many other countries. Short fights run regularly to nearby countries Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Brunei.

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