Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Malaysia
Malaysia  is a country in South-East Asia, located partly on a peninsula of the Asian mainland and partly on the northern third of the island of Borneo. West (peninsular) Malaysia shares a border with Thailand, is connected by a causeway and a bridge (the 'second link') to the island state of Singapore, and has coastlines on the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. East Malaysia (Borneo) shares borders with Brunei and Indonesia.
Malaysia is a mix of the modern world and a developing nation. With its investment in the high technology industries and moderate oil wealth, it has become a rich nation in South-East Asia. Malaysia, for most visitors, presents a happy mix: there is high-tech infrastructure and things generally work well and more or less on schedule, but prices remain more reasonable than, say, Singapore.
Before the rise of the European colonial powers, the Malay peninsula and the Malay archipelago were home to empires such as the Srivijaya, the Majapahit (both ruled from Indonesia) and the Melaka Sultanate. The Srivijaya and Majapahit empires saw the spread of Hinduism to the region, and to this day, despite being nominally Muslim, many Hindu lengends and traditions survive in tradtional Malay culture. Mass conversion to Islam only occured after the arrival of Arab traders during the Melaka Sultanate.
This was to change in the 16th century when the Portuguese established the first European colony in Southeast Asia by defeating the Melaka Sultanate. The Portuguese subsequently then lost Malacca to the Dutch. The British also establised their first colony on the Malay peninsula in Penang in 1786, when it was ceded by the Sultan of Kedah. Finally, the area was divided into Dutch and British spheres of influence with the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. With this treaty, the Dutch agreed to cede Malacca to the British and in return, the British ceded all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch. The line which divided the Malay world into Dutch and British areas roughly corresponds to what is now the border between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Before World War II, the Malay Peninsula was governed by the British as the Federated Malay States (Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang), which were governed as a single entity, the Unfederated Malay States (Johor, Kedah, Perlis, Terengganu and Kelantan), which were each governed as separate protectorates, and the Straits Settlements (including Malacca, Penang and Singapore), which were crown colonies. Northern Borneo consisted of the British colony of North Borneo, the Kingdom of Sarawak, which was ruled by a British family known as the "White Rajas", and the British protectorate of Brunei.
World War II was disastrous for the British Malayan Command. The Japanese swept down both coasts of the Malay Peninsula and despite fierce fighting, much of the British military was tied down fighting the Germans in Europe and those that remained in Malaya simply couldn't cope with the Japanese onslaught. The British military equipment left to defend Malaya were outdated and no match for the modern ones used by the Japanese, while the only two battleships based in the region, the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, were sank by Japanese bombers off the East Coast of Malaya. By 31 January 1942, the British had been pushed all the way back to Singapore, which also fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. The situation was no different on Borneo, which fell to the Japanese on 1 April 1942 after months of fierce fighting.
After World War II, the Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States and the Straits Settlements of Malacca and Penang were federated to form a single British colony known as the Malayan Union, with Singapore splitting off to form a separate colony. In the Malayan Union, the sultans of the various states ceded all their powers except those in religious affairs to the British crown. However, widespread opposition to the Malayan Union led the British to reconsider their position, and in 1948, the Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya, in which the executive positions of the sultans were restored. In Borneo, the White Rajas ceded Sarawak to the British crown in 1946, making it a crown colony of the United Kingdom.
Malaya gained independence from the British in 1957. The Union Jack was lowered and the first Malayan flag was raised in the Merdeka (independence) Square on midnight 31st August 1957.
Six years later, Malaysia was formed on 16th September 1963 through a merging of Malaya and Singapore, as well as the East Malaysian states of Sabah (known then as North Borneo) and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo, with Brunei deciding not to join. The first several years of the country's history were marred by the Indonesian confrontation (konfrontasi) as well as the Philippines' claims to Sabah. Singapore was expelled from the federation on 9th August 1965 after several bloody racial riots, as its majority Chinese population and the influence of the People's Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew (later the long-ruling Prime Minister of Singapore) were seen as a threat to Malay dominance, and it became a separate country.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler (Yang di-Pertuan Agong), who is "elected" by the sultans for a five-year term from among the nine sultans of the Malay states, though in practice the election usually follows a prescribed order based on the seniority of the sultans at the time of independence. This gives Malaysia a unique political system of rotational monarchy, in which each of the sultans would take turns to be the king of Malaysia. The current king, from Terengganu, was sworn in on 13 Dec 2006.
Malaysia's government is largely based on the British Westminster system, consisting of a bicameral national parliament, with each of the states also having their own unicameral Dewan Undangan Negeri (State Legislative Assembly). The lower house, known as the Dewan Rakyat (Hall of the People) is elected directly by the people. The upper house, known as the Dewan Negara (National Hall), consists of 26 members elected by the state governemnts, with each state having 2 represenatative, while the remaining members are appointed by the king. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is the party leader of the winning party in the lower house. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party and its National Front (Barisan Nasional) coalition have ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since its independence, and while periodic elections are contested by feisty opposition parties, the balance has so far always been shifted in the government's favor, partly due to press control and use of restrictive security legislation dating from the colonial era.
In practice, the king is only the nominal Head of State, while the Prime Minister is the one who wields the most authority in government.
Peninsular Malaysia (Malay: Semenanjung Malaysia) occupies all of the Malayan Peninsula between Thailand and Singapore, and is also known as West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat) or the slightly archaic Malaya (Tanah Melayu). It is home to the bulk of Malaysia's population, its capital and largest city Kuala Lumpur, and is generally more economically developed. Within Peninsular Malaysia, the West Coast is more developed and urbanised, and separated from the more rural East Coast by a mountain range.
Some 800km to the east is East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), which occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Partly covered in impenetrable jungle where headhunters roam (on GSM networks if nothing else), East Malaysia is rich in natural resources but very much Malaysia's hinterland for industry and tourism.
The terrain consists of coastal plains rising to hills and mountains. Peninsular Malaysia consists of plains on both the East and West coasts, separated from each other by a mountain range known as the Barisan Titiwangsa which runs from North to South.
Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays make up a 54% majority, there are also 25% Chinese (especially visible in the cities), 7.5% Indian and a miscellaneous grouping of 13.5% "others", such as the Portuguese clan in Melaka and 12% of indigenous peoples (Orang Asli). There is hence also a profusion of faiths and religions, with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and even shamanism on the map.
Most notably in Malaysia, unlike in other countries, the Chinese community is not assimilated and has managed to maintain a distinct cultural identity from the rest of the population. Many traditional Chinese customs, including some no longer practised in China itself due to the cultural revolution, are widely practised by the Malaysian Chinese.
Multicultural Malaysia celebrates a vast range of festivals, but the ones to look out for nationwide are Islamic holidays, most notably the fasting month of Ramadan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset. People get up early before sunrise for a meal (sahur), and take off early to get back home in time to break fast (buka puasa) at sunset. At the end of the month is the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, known locally as Hari Raya Puasa or Aidilfitri, when pretty much the entire country takes a week or two off to 'balik kampung' or return to their home towns to meet family and friends, this is the one time of year when Kuala Lumpur has no traffic jams, but the rest of the country does, and traveling around Malaysia is best avoided if at all possible. Another important festival is the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Adha, known locally as Hari Raya Haji or Aidiladha. It is during this festival that Muslims perform the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. In local mosques, lambs donated by the faithful are sacrificed, and thier meat is distributed to all. These family reunions are also celebrated during other main festivals in the country. With people decked out in their traditional finery, these festivals are an integral feature of Malaysia society.
Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims traveling (musafir), are exempt from fasting but it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public. Many restaurants close during the day and those that stay open maintain a low profile. Business travelers will notice that things move rather more slowly than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave. The upside for the traveler is the bustling Ramadhan bazaars in every city and town, bustling with activity and bursting at the seams with great food. Hotels and restaurants also pull out all stops to put on massive spreads of food for fast-breaking feasts.
Other major holidays include Chinese New Year (around January/February), the Buddhist holiday of Wesak (around May/June), Deepavali or Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (around October/November) and Christmas (This is definitely on 25 December!).
Some uniquely Malaysian festivals of note include the Harvest Festival at the end of May each year and the 'Pesta Gawai' in early June, both thanksgiving celebrations held in East Malaysia.
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that falls in January or February and is one of the must-see events. The largest procession in the country takes place at Batu Caves, north of Kuala Lumpur. Devotees carry decorated altars or kavadi up a flight of 272 steps towards the temple, all this while also having spears and hooks pierced through various parts of their bodies. This masochistic practice does not harm the devotees in any way! The ability is attributed to divine intervention and religious fervor.
The climate in Malaysia is tropical. The north-east monsoon (October to February) deluges Borneo and the east coast in rain and often causes flooding, while the west coast (particularly Langkawi and Penang) escape unscathed. The milder south-west monsoon (April to October) reverses the pattern. The southern parts of peninsular Malaysia, including perennially soggy Kuala Lumpur, are exposed to both but even during the rainy season, the showers tend to be intense but brief.
Malaysia is close to the equator, therefore a warm weather is guaranteed. Temperatures generally range from 32°C at noon to about 26°C at midnight. But like most Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia's sun-shining days are interrupted by Monsoon season from November and February every year, and night temperatures can hit a low of about 23°C on rainy days.
Temperatures tend to be cooler in the highlands, with the likes of Genting Highlands,Cameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill having temperatures ranging from about 17°C at night to about 25°C in the day. Mount Kinabalu is known to have temperatures falling below 10°C.
Most Western nationalities can enter Malaysia without a visa, and are normally issued 30, 60, or 90 day entry permit stamps.
Some nationalities that are not eligible to enter without a visa can get a tourist visa on arrival; other nationalities must apply for a visa in advance - see the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website  for up to date information. (Update as of 15 August 2010: According to a recent announcement on AirAsia's website, Malaysia may no longer be issuing VOAs; the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs site  still seems to indicate they are being issued. Check directly with the authorities for details.) If you need a visa to enter Malaysia and plan to visit Sarawak, state this when applying as a separate visa is required for Sarawak.
Israel, Republic of Serbia and Republic of Montenegro nationals must obtain permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs in advance.
For people with Dual Citizenship (two passports), Malaysian immigration is pretty strict about this. It is advised that you exit your last port and enter into Malaysia with the same passport.
National carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has extensive worldwide network coverage and regularly ranks high in airline quality assessments, while no-frills low-cost carrier AirAsia and her sister company, AirAsia X, now covers an ever-expanding set of destinations including Australia, China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)  (IATA: KUL | ICAO: WMKK), although AirAsia flights use the LCC terminal, a 20km road transfer away from the main KLIA terminal. KLIA's predecessor, the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (IATA: SZB | ICAO: WMSA) in Subang near Kuala Lumpur handles chartered and turboprop aircraft for regional operators Firefly  and Berjaya  +60 3 7846-8228 (ticketing only); +60 3 2145-2828. See the Kuala Lumpur Get in section for detailed airport information.
Other airports which have significant numbers of flights to regional destinations are Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak), Penang, Langkawi and Johor Bahru. Many major Malaysian cities have service to Singapore via AirAsia or Firefly. Berjaya Air also operates routes Singapore to the popular dive spots of Tioman and Redang.
Long-distances buses/coaches into Malaysia run from Brunei, Indonesian Borneo, Singapore and Thailand. Please see the relevant city pages for more details.
Land crossings are possible from southern Thailand and Singapore into Peninsular Malaysia, as well as from Brunei and Kalimantan (the Indonesian side of Borneo) into Sarawak. An International Drivers Permit (IDP) is required. See the respective city or state pages for more detailed information.
Ferries connect various points in Peninsular Malaysia with Sumatra in Indonesia and southern Thailand, Sarawak with Brunei, and Sabah with East Kalimantan in Indonesia and Mindanao in the Philippines. Luxury cruises also run from Singapore and sometimes Phuket (Thailand) to Malaysia.
You can walk in/out of Thailand at Wang Kelian and Padang Besar (both in Perlis), Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah), Pengkalan Hulu (Perak) and Rantau Panjang (Kelantan). However, crossing the Causeway on foot from Singapore is now illegal (Jan 2009).
Largely thanks to budget carrier AirAsia , Malaysia is crisscrossed by a web of affordable flights with advertised "promotional" prices starting at RM9 for flights booked well in advance. Flying is the only practical option for traveling between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, as well as reaching some of the more remote outposts of Borneo. State carrier Malaysia Airlines  also has competitive fares which now offers equal or even lower priced tickets if booked in advance through the internet, with sustaining class of hospitality. And their offshoot Firefly  has a handy network radiating out of Penang previously, has also began operating from the Subang (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah) airport.
Berjaya Air  also flies small Dash-7 turboprops from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to its own airports on the resort islands of Pangkor, Redang and Tioman. Prices are steep (from RM214 plus fees one way), but this is by far the fastest and more comfortable way of reaching any of these.
In Sabah and Sarawak, MASWings , operates turboprop services linking interior communities, including those in the Kelabit Highlands, with coastal cities. MASWings took over the rural air services network from FlyAsian Express on October 1, 2007, which in turn took the service over from Malaysia Airlines 14 months before that.
Long-distance trains in Malaysia can rarely match road transport in terms of speed, but state operator KTMB  provides relatively inexpensive and generally reliable services around Peninsular Malaysia (but not Sabah/Sarawak in Borneo). The main western line connects Butterworth (near Penang), Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, while the eastern line runs through Gua Musang and the Taman Negara National Park to Kota Bharu, near the Thai border and the Perhentian Islands.
The pride of KTMB's fleet is the ETS (Electric Train Service) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, running modern air-conditioned trains 10x/daily at 140 km/h with a travel time of just over 2 hours. The rest of the network, though, is mostly single-track, with slow diesel locos and all too frequent breakdowns and delays. First and second class are air-con, third class has fans instead. For sleeper trains, KTMB's epitome of luxury is Premier Night Deluxe (ADNFD - between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur only) featuring individual cabins containing two berths and a private shower/toilet unit. More economical are the Superior Night (ADNS) sleeper cars, which have upper and lower berths along each side, each bunk having a solid partition at each end and a side curtain for privacy. The carriages shake and rattle quite a bit but are comfortable and clean.
The Jungle Railway is the apt description for the eastern line between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut (for Taman Negara National Park) and Wakaf Bahru (for Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands). The original "Jungle Train" is the slow daytime service which stops at every station (every 15-20 min or so). It's 3rd class only, meaning no air-con and no reservations, and some stops may be lengthy as it's a single line and all other trains have priority - hence the "Jungle Train" waits in side loops along the way so that oncoming or overtaking trains can pass. Tourists may use this service to travel to Some find it to be a fascinating and stunningly scenic ride; others feel there's not much to see when you're in the jungle. Eastern line night trains (for which reservations are possible and recommended) also have 2nd class berths and seats, and some have 1st class sleepers too.
Tickets can be booked and even printed online at KTMB's site. Enquiries and reservations can be made by phone at KTMB's call centers +60 3 2267-1200 (Malaysia) or +65 6222-5165 (Singapore).
Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway along the West Coast from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. Petrol is slightly cheaper than market prices at RM1.85/litre (Ron 95) (in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak). Tolls are payable on expressways, but these are reasonably priced: driving the length of the country (734 km) from the Thai border to Singapore costs RM 108 (~US$25). While you can drive from Singapore to Thailand within a day on the West Coast, the highway system is considerably less developed on the East Coast, with no expressways, and even less so in Sabah and Sarawak, so be sure to factor in additional travel time if travelling in those areas.
While driving habits in Malaysia are head and shoulders above most of the rest of Southeast Asia, they are still not necessarily great, especially if you are coming from a Western country. Traffic drives on the left, a legacy left by the British. Beware of reckless motorcyclists (Mat Rempits), especially at night, and especially if you are a pedestrian: they typically disregard a red light for left turns, putting you at risk even though you cross the road with a green walk sign. As a motorist, at traffic lights, they will accumulate in front of you - let them drive away first to avoid accidents.
In general, cars and motorcycles rarely indicate lane changes and often change from the far right to the far left at the very last minute, so always pay attention to what the cars ahead are doing or what they possibly could do!
Care is needed when driving in larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Problems include apparently suicidal motorcyclists, massive traffic jams throughout the day, and bewildering roads especially in the older parts of the city where planning is virtually nonexistent. Out of town however, cars and motorcycles are the best and sometimes the only way to explore the country. Some of the more rural areas have motorcycles and scooters to rent for as little as RM25/day, a great way to explore the local area or larger islands like Langkawi. Most rental agencies will require a valid car drivers licence to be presented upon rental (or at least be told that it is at your hotel) - this is because the police make random checks, and the rental agency does not wish to be held responsible for renting out a vehicle to an unlicensed driver. Fuel levels are often compared before and after rental, as well as for damage, so make sure everything is documented, and request a refund of any excess fuel if possible.
Taxis are available in all cities and larger towns, although in smaller places you may have to call one (ask any shopkeeper). You will generally need to negotiate the fare in advance, even in notionally metered Kuala Lumpur, although prepaid coupon taxis are usually available at airports. RM5 should suffice for a short cross-town trip, while RM100 is enough to hire a taxi for a full day. In Kuala Lumpur, the budget taxis are usually coloured Red and White or Yellow. These taxis are usually small saloons such as Proton Wira and run on NGV (Natural Gas). The luxury taxis are blue in colour and are larger saloons or MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles). These cost typically 25 - 30 % more than the budget taxis. But beware of unlicensed taxis (taxi sapu) at the airport. They can literally take you for a ride! Popular shopping malls like Pavilion have dedicated Taxi stands with Taxi's from reputable companies. Another tip is to book your Taxi in advance. Taxi companies like "Sunlight Radio Taxi" http://www.sunlighttaxi.com/ & "Public Cab" http://www.publiccab.com are a good choices.
If travelling on holidays or even over the weekend, it is advisable to reserve your seats in advance. Note that air conditioning on some buses can be extremely cold so don't forget to bring a good sweater, pants and socks, especially for overnight journeys on luxury buses!
The sole official language of Malaysia is Malay (Bahasa Malaysia or colloquially, Bahasa Melayu), which is very similar and to a large extent, mutually intelligible with Indonesian. Some parts of Malaysia near the Thai border, most notably Kelantan, have dialects of Malay which are nearly incomprehensible to speakers of standard Malay, though most people in these areas will be able to converse in standard Malay if needed. English is compulsory in all schools and widely spoken in the larger cities, although in rural areas a little Malay will come in handy. There is also a colloquial form of English spoken among Malaysians in urban areas, not inappropriately known as Manglish, which takes a bit of getting used to if you intend to join in the conversation on local topics. Malaysians will almost always try to speak 'standardized English' when approached by Western travellers. In general, police stations and government offices will have English-speaking staff on duty.
Arabic is taught to those who attend Islamic religious schools, and many clerics as well as other very observant Muslims will have a functional command of Arabic. However, it is not widely spoken, though the Malay language does have a large number of loan words from Arabic. You also might notice some examples of Malay written with Arabic letters. This is called Jawi, and it is still used for religious publications and inscriptions, especially in conservative states like Kelantan, although the Latin alphabet is much more commonly used throughout the country.
The Chinese community in Malaysia speaks a wide variety of Chinese dialects including Cantonese, Mandarin, Teo-chew, Hakka, Hainanese, Hok-chew and Hokkien. Mandarin is taught in most Chinese schools while Cantonese is commonly heard in the mass media, so most Malaysian Chinese would be conversant in both, regardless of their native dialect. The most commonly spoken Indian language is Tamil; others include Malayalam, Punjabi and Telugu.
In the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia bordering Thailand, there are various ethnic Thai communities, known locally as the Orang Siam, who speak various dialects of Thai. Malacca in the south is also home to a Portuguese community which speaks a Portuguese based creole. The remote forest areas of Peninsular Malaysia are also home to various tribal people known as the Orang Asli, who speak various indigenous languages such as Semelai, Temuan and many others. In East Malaysia several indigenous languages are also spoken, especially Iban and Kadazan.
See also: Malay phrasebook
There are various beautiful national parks in Malaysia. There are many different types of expeditions available, ranging from those where you hardly lose sight of the hotel to those were you are fully immersed in the jungle with only the guide and yourself if you are willing to pay the money! Tours vary from about 4 days to 2 weeks or more. It is very unlikely in most of the national parks for you to see a tiger or an elephant as it is really likely only if you are going to be staying for longer than a few days, i.e., for a couple of weeks at least. One of the most common forms of wildlife that you will encounter in the jungle however are definitely leeches! In the rainforest it is very very humid but actually it is not incredibly hot. This is because of the large amount of shade afforded by the canopy created by the interlocking trees. Shop around for deals of getting into the jungle and make your decision based on what type of person you are. If you are going to enjoy a lot of hiking without seeing any other people for days or even weeks then you can have that choice, alternatively you can have a much more 'packaged' tour in which you will probably stay in a very built up tourist town which has probably just grown out of the demand for people wanting to stay in the jungle.
To escape from the muggy tropics, do as the English did and head up to the cooler highlands of West Malaysia.
There is a zoo at Taiping .
Malaysia has excellent scuba diving. The most popular spots are the islands off the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia (Perhentian, Redang, Tioman and many more), although the dive season is limited to April to September. However, the most famous dive site — often ranked among the best in the world — is Sipadan in at the easternmost tip of Malaysian Borneo, and there are many other less well known sites like Layang Layang.
Try whitewater rafting in Malaysia's many national parks, where you can find anything from tame Grade I to incredibly difficult and dangerous Grade V rapids.
The Malaysian currency is the ringgit, informally known as the dollar (the "$" symbol can be seen on older notes) and abbreviated RM or MYR, is divided into 100 sen. There are coins of 5, 10, 20, and 50 sen as well as bills of RM1, 2 (rare), 5, 10, 50 and 100. 5 sen coins are mainly given as change in large establishments and supermarkets, peddlers and street vendors might be reluctant to accept them. Note that the Singapore and Brunei dollars are also known as ringgit in Malay, so when near border areas you might want to check to be sure which currency they are quoting the price in.
Ringgits are freely convertible. Foreign currencies are not generally accepted, although you might get away with exchanging some Euros or US dollars even in more remote areas, but do expect a lot of stares and some persuasion. The major exception is Singapore dollars, which are accepted by KTMB and toll roads, but at a highly unfavorable 1:1 exchange rate (an anomaly dating back to when the ringgit was interchangeable with the Singapore dollar, prior to the 1970s).
Banks and airports are not the best places to exchange money if it is not urgent. Licensed money changers in major shopping malls often have the best rates - be sure to say the amount you wish to exchange and ask for the 'best quote' as rates displayed on the board are often negotiable, especially for larger amounts.
ATMs are widely available in cities, but do stock up on cash if heading out into the smaller islands or the jungle. Credit cards can be used in most shops, restaurants and hotels, although skimming can be a problem in dodgier outlets.
Banks in Malaysia, especially those in major towns and cities, have staff who are trained to handle international transactions. For any enquiries and transactions, get a number, sit down and wait for your turn to be served (There is no need to queue while you wait in air-conditioned comfort!).
Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9.30AM to 4PM and selected banks are open on Saturday from 9.30AM to 11.30AM except on the first and third Saturdays of each month. In the states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, they are open Saturday to Wednesday from 9.30AM to 4PM and Thursday from 9.30AM to 11.30AM.
Most visitors will find Malaysia quite cheap, although it is noticeably more expensive than neighbouring Thailand and Indonesia. You can live in hostel dorms and feast on hawker food for less than RM50 per day, but you'll wish to double this for comfort, particularly if travelling in more expensive East Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is also generally more expensive than the rest of the country. At the other end of the spectrum, luxury hotels and air fares are comparatively affordable, with even the fanciest 5-star hotels costing less than RM400/night.
Tipping is not customary in Malaysia. However, hotel porters and taxi drivers will appreciate a small tip if you have been provided with exemplary service. Most expensive restaurants, bars and hotels may indicate prices in the form of RM19++, meaning that sales tax (5%) and service charge (10%) will be added to the bill. Hotel tax of 5% may also be added to this.
Kuala Lumpur is a shopping mecca for clothes, electronics, computer goods and much more, with very competitive prices by any standard. Traditional Malaysian fabrics (batik) are a popular souvenir. The cheapest place to easily buy ethnic souvenirs (especially wood-based) is in Kuching, East Malaysia, and the most expensive place is in the major, posh KL shopping centres.
In general shops open from 10.30AM until 9.30PM (or 10PM) in the large cities. They open and close for business earlier in the smaller towns and rural areas.
If you buy too much shopping in Malaysia - quite easy to do - surface postage rates are very reasonable. Excess luggage at the airport is still high, but its not as high as others. Check first with your airline.
The crossroads of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, Malaysia is an excellent place to makan (eat in Malay). Look out for regional specialities and Nyonya (Peranakan) cuisine, the fusion between Malay and Chinese cooking. There is even unique Eurasian cooking to be found in the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca, the heartland of the Eurasian community of Portuguese descent.
Malaysians are very proud of their cooking and most towns or even villages have their own delicious specialities such as Penang char kway teow, Kajang satay, Ipoh bean sprout chicken, Sarawak laksa, Kelantanese nasi dagang, Sabahan hinava, and many, many more. Most of them rely on word of mouth for advertising and are frequently located in the most inconvenient, out-of-the-way places so you might want to try asking the locals for their personal recommendations.
If you intend to travel around Malaysia trying out the local food, don't be fooled by the names. Sometimes two entirely different dishes from different parts of the country can be known by the same name. An example will be laksa, which refers to completely different noodle dishes in Penang and Sarawak.
Generally, you can eat pretty much anywhere in Malaysia. Food outlets are comparatively clean - the only thing you should avoid is ice for your drinks, when you frequent the street or hawker stalls since the blocks of ice used there might not be up to your hygienic standards. In actual restaurants this is not a problem. Also you might want to avoid ordering water from hawker stalls or the mamak restaurants as they are usually unboiled tap water.
Eating habits run the gamut, but most foods are eaten by fork and spoon: push and cut with the fork in the left hand, and eat with the spoon in the right. Noodles and Chinese dishes typically come with chopsticks, while Malay and Indian food can be eaten by hand, but nobody will blink an eye if you ask for a fork and spoon instead. If eating by hand, always use your right hand to pick your food as Malays and Indians traditionally use their left hand for dirty things like washing up after using the restroom. When eating with chopsticks at Chinese restaurants, take note of the usual ettiquette and most importantly, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of incense sticks burning at the temple and has connotations of wishing death on those around you. If eating in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup.
The Malays were Malaysia's original inhabitants and their distinctive cuisine is popular to this day. Characterized by heavy use of spices, most Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another and nasi kandar restaurants, offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice, are very popular.
Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih or kueh) made largely from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka, named after Melaka), bear a distinct resemblance to those of Thailand. But in the sweltering tropical heat, try one of many concoctions made with ice instead:
Besides these dishes, the Peranakans are also known for their kueh or snacks which are somewhat different from the Malay versions due to stronger Chinese influences.
Chinese food as eaten in Malaysia commonly originates from southern China, particularly Fujian and Guangdong. While "authentic" fare is certainly available, especially in fancier restaurants, the daily fare served on the streets has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the fairly heavy use of chilli and the Malay fermented shrimp paste belachan as condiments. Noodles can also be served not just in soup (湯 tang), but also "dry" (干 kan), meaning that your noodles will be served tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl, and the soup will come in a separate bowl.
The smallest of Malaysia's 'Big 3', the Indians have had a disporportionately large impact on the culinary scene, with the mamak (Indian Muslim, see below) stall being a fixture in every Malaysian city. Authentic Indian food in Malaysia includes south Indian typical meals such as dosai, idli, sambar, and others, as well as north Indian meals including various curries, naan bread, and more. In addition, however, a number of Indian dishes have been "Malaysianized" and adopted by the entire population, including:
East Malaysia, especially Sarawak, also offers a wide range of local dishes, but these are very rarely seen in peninsular Malaysia. See Sarawak#Eat for details.
Where to eat
The cheapest places to eat are hawker stalls and coffeeshops, known as kedai kopi in Malay or kopitiam in Chinese. Despite the name, these usually sell a lot more than coffee! Particularly popular and tasty are mamak stalls, run by Indian Muslims and serving up localized Indian fare like roti canai. Most hawker stalls stay open till late and some even operate on shifts so you can find the same stall offering different food at different points throughout the day. You can also do take away from any stall, just ask for bungkus (Malay) or ta pao (Chinese). A hawker meal will rarely cost you over RM5. Hygiene standards in Malaysia, while not up to that of neighbouring Singapore or Western countries, is still reasonable and much better than say, China or most of the rest of Southeast Asia. Just be observant, and generally speaking, if a stall is patronised by locals, it should be safe to eat there.
One step up on the scale is the kedai makanan or the more Western-style restoran. A type to look out for is the nasi kandar restaurant (also known as nasi campur or nasi padang), with a vast range of curries and toppings to ladle on top of your rice.
Seafood restaurants (makanan laut) are comparatively pricy but still excellent value by most standards; do check prices before ordering though. Local prawns are gigantic, Chinese-style steamed fish is a treat and crab served with sticky chilli sauce is particularly popular.
Last but not least, some less adventurous options. Food courts in shopping malls are a good way to sample local delicacies in air-conditioned comfort, paying only a small premium over hawker prices. And yes, you can also find McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and the usual suspects plus imitators throughout Malaysia.
Being a Muslim country, finding halal food in Malaysia is easy, but most Chinese stalls and restaurants are not halal — ask if in doubt. Meals at Malay restaurants and Western fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut are halal. Restaurants at major hotels serve halal food. Generally local Muslims will eat at Western, Chinese and Indian eateries if there is a halal sign or a framed picture of Quranic verses on the walls at the payment counter. Most of the restaurants tend to display their halal certification or halal sign on their places.Halal certification was awarded and enforced by government agency usually JAKIM.
Vegetarianism is well-understood by the Chinese and Indian communities (not so by the Muslim Malays and other indigenous minorities) and many restaurants or hawker stalls will be able to come up with something on request (DO state "no meat, no fish, no seafood - ASK for vegetables and/or eggs ONLY"), but don't rely entirely on menu descriptions: innocuous-seeming dishes like "fried vegetables" etc will often contain pork bits, shrimp paste (belacan, commonly used in Malay and spicy Chinese dishes), fish sauce, etc. Indian restaurants usually have very good vegetarian selections - the roti (Indian flat bread - any kind; including roti canai, roti naan, capati, tosai) are good choices, and DO insist on being given dhal (lentil-based curry dip) lest you'll be given a fish curry dip. Purely vegetarian Chinese restaurants (often serving remarkable "mock meat" products made from tofu, gluten etc) are quite easy to find in big urban areas with a large ethnic Chinese population. Getting vegetarian food in rural areas, especially those near fishing villages or in Muslim/Malay-dominated regions, may be more difficult, but learning some basic Malay vocabulary will go a long way to help you get your message across — see the Malay phrasebook. Upmarket Western restaurants, such as those serving Italian cuisine will normally have some good vegetarian options.
Veganism is rarely understood in this part of the world and is largely mistaken as a synonym for vegetarianism, yet the safest bet for a vegan is to patronize a Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurant (most Chinese vegetarian restaurants are essentially vegan and operated on Buddhist principles of non-killing and compassion, and thus they abstain from using dairy products, eggs, nor the 5 fetid vegetables (onions, garlics, leeks, etc) discouraged in Mahayana Buddhism). And if you're still feeling uneasy or unsure, do not hesitate to ask.
Budget hotels and youth hostels are available in most cities and around most tourist destinations. As with most budget accommodations, some are more reliable than others. Be cautious when selecting budget accommodation to avoid places that house illegal vice activities.
Larger cities will have YMCAs that are safe bets. Another noticeable budget hotel chain is Tune Hotels,  an affiliate of the budget airline, Airasia. They are expanding and have hotels at numerous locations throughout the country
Mid range hotels are readily available just about anywhere. Prices of 3 to 4 star hotels are upwards from RM100 and are generally reliable in terms of quality.
5 star hotels, service apartments and resorts are located in larger cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. Also, almost all islands have upscale resorts and spas for the wealthy traveller.
Malaysians like both coffee (kopi) and tea (teh), especially the national drink teh tarik ("pulled tea"), named after the theatrical 'pulling' motion used to pour it. By default, both will be served hot, sweet and with a dose of condensed milk; request teh o to skip the milk, teh ais for iced milky tea, or teh o ais for iced milkless tea. Drinking with no sugar at all is considered odd, but asking for kurang manis (less sugar) will ease the pain.
Another peculiar local favourite is the kopi tongkat ali ginseng, a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root, and ginseng served with condensed milk that's touted as an alternative to viagra and red bull combined and is usually advertised with a picture of a bed broken in half.
Other popular nonalcoholic options include the chocolate drink Milo and lime juice (limau). Freshly made fruit juices are also widely available, as well as a wide range of canned drinks (some familiar, some less so).
Topically and perhaps, rather un-PC, is a local drink comprised of white soya milk and black grass jelly (cincau) called a Michael Jackson and can be ordered at most hawker centre and local roadside cafes ("mamak")
Although Malaysia is a self-proclaimed Islamic country, alcohol is widely available on licensed outlet; however, some states (notably Kelantan and Terengganu) ban alcohol. With the exception of tax-free islands (Labuan, Langkawi, Tioman) and duty free shops (for example in Johor Bahru), prices are comparatively high, with a can of beer costing RM7.50 or more even in supermarkets or 7 elevens. However, in East Malaysia, smuggled liquors are widely available.
In East Malaysia, particularly Sarawak, tuak is a common affair for any celebration or festivals such as Gawai Dayak and Christmas Day. Tuak is made from fermented rice which sometimes sugar, honey or other various condiments are added. It is normally served lukewarm without ice. Visitors can choose from 'strong' flavour of tuak (which is normally being fermented for years), or 'mild' flavour (which sometimes just being prepared a week or even a day before). Tuak in Kelantan is also can be considered as a liquor since that it contains trace amount of fermented nipah or sap juice. The alcohol content in Kelantan tuak can easily reach 50% after 3 days from the time it was extracted.
Tapai, which consists of cassava that is fermented and eaten as a food (though the liquid in the bottom can also be drunk) is a similar but milder alcoholic item. It is traditional for Muslims to consume it on the East Coast of the Peninsula (Kelantan, Terengganu, etc.) on Hari Raya (Eid), and Islamic legal authorities associated with the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) have expressly given Muslims a dispensation to eat the sweet, somewhat fermented item.
Malaysia's universities are generally well-regarded and draw exchange students from near and far.
In addition to this, several foreign universities have established campuses in Malaysia, providing the opportunity for foreign education in a Malaysian atmosphere. Among them are Monash University, Swinburne University of Technology and Nottingham University.
Obtaining a working visa takes some effort. The easiest way to work in Malaysia is probably to work for an overseas company and get posted to Malaysia. The Malaysian Immigration Department website  has basic advice. In order to obtain a work permit, you need to have an offer from your future employer who will have to do the paperwork for you. It's very expensive and comes with many restrictions if a company wants to hire a foreigner and as such next to impossible. As stated above, a feasible way is to get transfered. Finding a job is otherwise unlikely unless you are getting married to a local and even then it remains difficult.
Reports on Pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves have been sometimes heard in large cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Georgetown and Johor Bahru. As a general precaution, never carry your bags on the side facing the road. Women travelers should take extra precautions at night.
Johor Bahru is known for having a relatively higher crime rate compared to the rest of Malaysia, and armed robberies and snatch thefts could happen at night in run-down areas of the city. Travel documents and valuables are best deposited in a hotel safe.
Credit card fraud is a growing problem. Use it only in reputable shops.
Never bring any recreational drugs into Malaysia, even as a transit passenger. Possession of even minimal amounts can lead to a mandatory death sentence.
Drunk driving is a serious offense and breathalyzer tests by the police are common.
Traffic police in Malaysia are known for asking for and accepting bribes. A fair amount of traffic violations will be ignored for a fee (usually between RM 50-200 depending on severity). Do not be alarmed if you are asked for money, but if possible let your host do the talking. It is best practice to pay the officer what they want and not ask any questions, as a disgruntled officer can create issues for you and your host. Note that this is generally restricted to traffic stops/offences only, and you should not offer bribes in other situations, especially with government officials or customs & immigration agents. Do not let this dissuade you from requesting help - generally Malaysian police are helpful to tourists. If however you feel morally wrong about bribing, you should just accept whatever traffic summons you are being issued.
When on foot, be careful when crossing the street. Vehicles will often ignore pedestrian (zebra) crossings but most Malaysian motorist have learned to respect the pedestrians. However, reports of road bullying during accidents is still common so if you are involved in an accident be very careful when negotiating or dial 999 for help.
Many taxis will refuse to use the meter, even though the official rate has changed recently and most taxis now have a sticker on the rear door that informs tourists that haggling is prohibited. Be aware that taxi drivers, sensing that you are a tourist, may drive around and take a very long route to reach your destination.
If using a taxi late at night, it is best to use the dial-a-taxi service as there have been incidents where taxis flagged down during those hours being fake/unregistered. The unregistered taxi driver might then rob or assault their victims with the help of assailants. You are also more likely to get a metered taxi by flagging one at a street than a taxi stand.
Public demonstrations are uncommon in Malaysia, but a number of anti-government demonstrations have been held recently. Should one occur it may be dealt with in a heavy-handed manner, so avoid them at all costs.
Tap water is drinkable in some areas and not others, but even locals boil or filter it first just to be on the safe side. When travelling it is best to stick to bottled water, which is very inexpensive.
Ice in drinks might be made from tap water but nowadays, most restaurants and even roadside stalls use the cylindrical variety with a hollow tube down the middle that are mass-produced at ice factories and are safer to consume.
Heat exhaustion is rare, but do consume lots of fluids, use a hat and sunscreen and shower often!
Peninsular Malaysia is largely malaria-free, but there is a significant risk in Borneo especially in inland and rural areas. Dengue fever occurs throughout Malaysia in both urban and rural areas, and can be avoided only by preventing mosquito bites. The mosquito that transmits dengue feeds throughout the daytime, and is most active at dawn and dusk. If you experience a sudden fever with aches and lethargy, seek medical attention immediately. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be used until dengue fever has been ruled out. Mosquito repellents (ubat nyamuk) are widely available. Be careful with mosquito coils, which can easily start fires: set them on a plate or other non-flammable surface and extinguish them before going to sleep.
Haze from burning vegetation in neighbouring Indonesia may come and go without warning from the months of May to August so travellers with respiratory ailments should come prepared.
Most public washrooms make a small charge (generally between RM0.20-RM2.00, usually depending on the standard of the facilities) so keep some loose change to hand. If the condition of the sitting toilets is questionable, use the squatting toilets instead - both are usually available, and some believe that the latter are more hygienic and (if you can get used to them) are just as easy to use as sitting toilets.
Malaysia is largely free from earthquakes as there are no nearby faultlines, though tremors can occasionally be felt when a major quake occurs in neighbouring Indonesia. Typhoons also generally do not occur. However, the Nov-Jan monsoon season often results in flooding due to torrential rains, and landslides are known to occur, most notably on the East Coast. Tsunamis are a rare occurence, though Penang and a few islands on the north of the West Coast were hit by the famous tsunami in 2004.
Government health care facilities are cheap but good, but many visitors prefer to seek out private medical care. Private medical costs can be high and having travel insurance is a very good idea.
In a predominantly Muslim country, Malaysian tends to be conservative over sexuality. While gay bashing is rarely heard of, display of public affection is no-no for any sexuality and any genders and overtly gay couple may highly likely attract curious stares.
It is technically illegal for men to have sex with other men but prosecution of gay couples are not common. Anwar Ibrahim is the only high profile case in recent years, although many are convinced that it was a political case.
Despite all these, big cities like Kuala Lumpur still have a fairly active gay scene.
This is a predominantly Muslim country and you should dress respectfully, particularly in rural areas (wearing trousers or a long skirt, not shorts, and covering your shoulders is recommended but not essential). In more metropolitan areas such as Kuala Lumpur, as well as towns and cities such as Penang and Ipoh with a larger non Muslim population, attitudes are more liberal.
As a tourist, it is best not to criticize the Government or the Malay royal families.
When entering a home or a place of worship, always take off your shoes. Also, never eat with your left hand, or give a gift with your left hand; and never point with your forefinger (you may use a closed fist with the thumb instead), point the bottoms of your feet at a person or touch a person's head.
Public showing of affection in larger cities is tolerated but might invite unnecessary attention from the public. In more rural areas it is frowned upon and is to be avoided.
Same-sex relationships are a taboo subject in Malaysia. Gay and lesbian travellers should avoid any outward signs of affection, including holding hands in public. Due to the strong influence of Islam, homosexuality is technically illegal.
Swastikas are commonly seen in Hindu and Buddhist temples, and are regarded as a religious symbol by these communities. It emphatically does not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism, so Western visitors should not feel offended when seeing it in the homes their hosts.
Connecting to the Internet in Malaysia is easily accessible in most cities and towns. Malaysia's Internet Service Providers offer affordable unlimited broadband services throughout Malaysia. Therefore broadband Internet is available in most hotels, Internet cafes, and some restaurants. Wireless broadband (WiFi) is usually available in hot spots in almost all restraunts and almost all fast-food outlets, shopping malls and City-wide wireless connections. Prepaid Internet cards are also available to access wireless broadband, in some cafes.
Customers usually pay RM2.50 to RM5.00 per hour for Internet services in the cybercafe (depending on which city you're in). Internet connections offered in restaurants and cafes are usually free, and more and more food outlets are offering this. These include all Starbucks and Coffeebean, and some McDonald's and Subway, and an increasing number of smaller places.
The country code for Malaysia is 60.
Malaysian landline telephone numbers have either seven or eight digits. The country is also divided up into areas which have been assigned two or three digit area codes, which have to be dialled when calling from outside the area. The area codes are:
Area code 02 has been assigned for calls made from Malaysia to Singapore. This means there's no need to call Singapore's country code 65 when calling from Malaysia. International direct dialing (IDD) calls from landlines to all other countries should use the prefix 00 followed by the country code.
To call a Malaysian number:
Malaysia also has four mobile telephone service providers, Maxis , DiGi , Celcom , and U Mobile  which utilise codes 012, 013, 014, 016, 017, 018, 019. Network connection in Malaysia is excellent. Mobile number portability has been implemented in Malaysia, meaning a code like 012 that traditionally belonged to Maxis, can now be a DiGi subscriber. Mobile networks utilize the GSM 900 and 1800 systems. 3G (WCDMA), EDGE & HSPDA networks available in larger towns. International roaming onto these networks is possible if your operator allows it.
To call a Malaysian mobile number:
To call from Malaysia to another country:
Many international courier services like Fedex, DHL and UPS are available in towns and cities but the main postal service provider is Pos Malaysia  which reliably provides postal services to most countries in the world.
Postage rates in Malaysia are cheap. Much much cheaper than Thailand ,Singapore or Vietnam, and surface post is available as well. In addition the mail is reliable and trustworthy. When posting, do not seal the box. The must see it open.
Non-urgent letters and postcards can be dropped in postboxes inside post offices or red postboxes found outside post offices and along main roads. If there are two slots in a postbox use the one that says "lain lain" for international post.
Post offices are open from 8AM to 5PM daily except Sundays and public holidays, although a few in Klang Valley stay open till 10PM. In the states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu they are closed on Fridays and public holidays.