Malaysia at a Glance
Population: 30,652,000 Million
Capital City: Kuala Lumpur
People: 50% Malay, 22.6% Chinese, 11.8% Indigenous, 6.7% Indian
Language: Bahasa Malaysia
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
Time Zone: Malaysian Standard Time (MST+08:00)
International Dialing Code: +60
Passport and visa
Passports must be valid for six months beyond the date of departure. Visas are not required for United States passport holders to travel to Malaysia for tourism purposes. Australian, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canadian, German passport holders are required to have visas for visits up to 90 days. However, you will have to provide a confirmed return or onward international ticket. Other nationals are advised to check with the Malaysian embassy for more details on visa requirements.
Phones & Internet service
Network coverage is reliable unless you travel to remote areas of Borneo or Peninsular Malaysia. Also, SIM cards are available to purchase from 7-Eleven stores found throughout the country and telecommunication shops in malls. You are required to register with your mobile supplier for international roaming services. Also, a passport or some form of identification is required when purchasing a SIM card. Local and international calls can also be made at public phones, which take coins or phone cards.
Free Wi-Fi is widely available at cafes, public hotspot areas and hotels in developed areas.
People, History & Culture
Malaysia is one of Southeast Asia's most culturally and ethnically diverse nations, with only around half of all Malaysians being of ethnic Malay descent. Much of its population originates from China, India or further abroad, resulting in an astounding melting pot of culture. Another distinction that Malaysia has when compared to neighbouring countries is the country's state adherence to Islam, which has a substantial influence both culturally and politically throughout the country. Many Malaysians are proud of the country's diversity, though, and it's not uncommon to see a Christian church within earshot of calls to prayer over a megaphone at a nearby mosque.
The epicentre of Malaysia's cultural diversity is the buzzing metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, a dynamic city as vast and varied as its population. With a collection of ethnic enclaves, commercial centres and vibrant nightlife, Kuala Lumpur is notably less conservative than other cities. Beyond Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is also home to some of Southeast Asia's most fascinating historical and cultural hubs, such as Malacca and Penang, both recognised by UNESCO for their outstanding cultural and architectural heritage.
Though Malaysia is home to a host of incredible cities brimming with culture and history, the biggest draw for many travellers to Malaysia is its coastal and tropical charm. Home to countless beaches and nearly 900 islands, Malaysia is a fantastic destination for sand and sun. For adventure seekers looking to test their trekking limits, Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is one of the region's most iconic destinations. Foodies will find no shortage of delights in the food-Mecca of Penang, which is world-famous for its incredible street food and unique flavours. Overall, Malaysia's cultural offerings are just as diverse as its people, making it well-worth exploring firsthand.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) makes Kuala Lumpur a top contender for being Southeast Asia's most well-connected city. With direct connections to most major hubs throughout the world, getting to Malaysia, and away from it, is about as easy as easy gets. Domestic travel within the country is just as easy, with low-cost flights connecting Kuala Lumpur with all of Malaysia's most iconic destinations. Adding to the convenience of air travel from Kuala Lumpur is the highspeed KLIA Ekspress rail connecting the airport to the city in as little as 30 minutes.
Within Malaysia's cities and towns, buses are the preferred mode of local transportation. Both are timely, comfortable and convenient. Like most of Southeast Asia, however, the quickest way to get around within cities is by taxi, but drivers will often ask for a fixed fare rather than using the meter standard in all cars. Be sure to negotiate a fair price before your board the taxi. In Kuala Lumpur, it's also easy to get around by Monorail, also known as the LRT - though beware during rush hour, as this is a popular mode of transportation for the city's office workers and it can often be quite crowded.
Between cities, trains can be a great way to get around. They're relatively modern and comfortable, though not as quick as other means of transportation. Since flights between major tourist destinations are fairly cheap in Malaysia, the quickest and easiest way to connect the dots between destinations is by plane -although journeys by train often offer unique perspectives into little-seen areas of Malaysia that make them worthwhile.
When to visit Malaysia
The whole of Malaysia is within just a few degrees of latitude from the equator, making it a decidedly tropical nation. Along with this distinction comes a notable simplicity when it comes to weather. With the exception of a few high-elevation areas such as Cameron Highlands in Peninsular Malaysia or Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, variations in weather are more or less binary -hot, hotter and rainy or not.
Beach holidays are possible within Malaysia throughout the year, as the east and west coasts experience their wettest months at alternate times of the year. The west coast mainland and islands off the Malay Peninsula are hot and humid, with the wettest months coming during September and October.
The east coast, while also hot, is a bit less humid, as it experiences less rain throughout the year. Breezes coming off of the South China Sea also serve to mitigate the tropical heat, making the East Coast slightly more pleasant for those who are sensitive to heat. Northeast monsoons strike between November and February, however, so islands on the east coast tend to be avoided during this time.
Kuala Lumpur and Malacca are both hot and humid throughout the year, with brief showers occurring almost daily. A very slight uptick in rainfall occurs between April and October and, if anything, serves to cool things down a bit. Due to sea breezes, Malacca is slightly cooler than Kuala Lumpur.
The central highlands of Malaysia enjoy a much more temperate climate due to its high average elevation of around 1,500m above sea level. Temperatures average a very pleasant 22C in the daytime and a brisk 15C at night, making it the perfect environment for growing tea, flowers, and fruit.
Festivals and National Holidays
Religious holidays in Malaysia are pluralistic and represent the respective religions of its major ethnic populations: Malay, Chinese, and Indian. However, with a large portion of Malaysia's population being practicing Muslims, many of Malaysia's national holidays revolve around the Islamic calendar. Of these holidays, the most important is Ramadan, when many Muslim-owned shops close for a month, and the following Eid holiday, also known as Hari Raya, or Breaking of the Fast. Expect to see all of Malaysia's residents in on the celebrations for Hari Raya, regardless of their religious views. Festivals, parties and even parades are common throughout the country during this time.
Here is a list of Malaysia's most important holidays:
Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday: January 3
The Prophets Ascension: May 16
Chinese New Year: February 19-20
Easter: April 3
Harvest Festival: May 30-31(Sabah, Labuan)
- Hari Gawai: June 1-2 (Sarawak)
Hari Raya Aidelfitri: July 17-18
National Day: October 14
Deepavali: November 10
Christmas: December 25
Top places to visit in Malaysia
The bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur is a veritable paradise for anyone seeking urban delights. With delicious food, diverse cultures and impressive architecture, Malaysia’s capital is one of the region’s most modern cities. Whether you’re in sprawling Chinatown or the undeniably authentic Little India, the city’s cultural enclaves are some of the most robust in Asia. No trip to Kuala Lumpur is complete, however, without a visit to the Petronas Towers, twin towers that are nothing short of opulent. Just outside of the city are the Batu Caves, a massive cave complex that is equal parts cultural experience and natural wonder.
Nowhere else in Southeast Asia garners more buzz about its food culture than Penang. Nearly every street and alley on the island is awash with the tantalizing aromas of spicy Malay specialties, Chinese noodles, and Indian curries. The colourful, crumbling facades of Penang’s historic architecture create a unique backdrop for enjoying a steaming bowl of Penang laksa, while jovial locals give the place a sense of authenticity that is hard to beat. Near the foodie action of Georgetown is the sprawling incense-filled complex of Kek Lok Si, Southeast Asia’s largest Buddhist temple. The culturally-curious can also head down to the Chew Clan Jetty, where descendants of Penang’s first Chinese immigrants live on precariously perched stilted houses along the historic shipping channels of the island.
Perhaps one of Malaysia's most stunning historical cities is Malacca, fittingly located in the heart of the "Historic State". Once the site of Malaysia's earliest Malay sultinates, the local monarchy of Malacca was overthrown by the Portuguese in the 16th Century, and later the British Empire. This long-standing combination of colonial influence gave rise to a beautiful mixture of architecture and culture, which is now distinguished by a fierce Malaysian pride. Rust-red buildings in the administrative quarter and a collection of crumbling facades along walking streets make Malacca a fascinating place for a wander, and a perfect destination for history-buffs in search of some journeys into the past.
Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, represents the zenith of tropical paradise, offering such staggering and diverse natural beauty that it squarely qualifies as being one of the most beautiful places in the world. With some of the deepest and densest rainforests on earth, Sabah is home to a myriad of iconic species, including the jovial orangutan and adorable pygmy elephant. Sabah is also home to some of the most celebrated diving sites in the world, including Sipadan Island in the east. Perhaps the biggest draw to Sabah, however, is Mount Kinabalu. This mountain offers adventure enthusiasts one of the world’s premier trekking opportunities, and is the highest peak in Borneo.
Often referred to as the “Amazon of Borneo,” Sarawak is one of Southeast Asia's best places to go for natural exploration. On any given outting into the dense tropical rainforests surrounding Borneo's most metropolitan city, Kuching, one stands a chance of spotting wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, all manner of reptiles and even pygmy elephants. Among the rocky formations of Gunung Mulu National Park, one can also witness a natural miracle as hundreds of thousands of bats head out for their nightly meal. One can also visit the famous “longhouses” of Sarawak to experience the famous hospitality of Sarawak's unique indigenous people.
After sweating it out in Malaysia's jungles, beaches and lowlands, travelers to Cameron Highlands will find a refreshing respite from sweltering tropical heat. With an altitude between 1300 and 1800 meters, the temperature in Cameron Highlands ranges from 10C to 21C, making it perfect not only for tourists looking to escape the heat, but also for the cultivatoin of tea. As such, the area is characterised by a unique alpine-esque landscape covered in seas of wavy green tea plantations dotted with charming villages and occasional waterfalls, making it the perfect place to go for relaxed trekking and tea-tasting experiences.
Top things to do in Malaysia
Few places in Asia offer such a diverse collection of natural wonders as Malaysia. A foray into the country's deep, dense rainforests offers chances to see a myriad of exotic creatures from jovial orangutans to adorably pygmy elephants. Explore the depths of the oldest rainforest in the world at Taman Negara, reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu for unrivaled panoramic views or explore the rolling scenery aand tea plantations of Cameron Highlands for a unique departure from the urban jungle of Kuala Lumpur.
With some of Asia's most pristine underwater landscapes, Malaysia promises an unforgettable adventure for those that venture beyond the water's surface. Just off the coast of Peninsular Malaysia is a collection of incredible islands fringed with thriving coral reefs where sightings of manta rays, pelagic fish and even hammerhead sharks are not uncommon. Malaysia's underwater scenery isn't just for divers, either. Snorkeling is a great way for those new to water adventures to get a taste of what's waiting beneath the surface of Malaysia's translucent waters.
Relax on the beach
Peninsular Malaysia has more to offer than just diving. With a collection of vast white-sand beaches and spectacularly remote islands, finding the perfect spot for your beach holiday is easy. For an adventure far beyond the tourist track, head to the Perhentian Islands or Tioman Island. Alternatively, lounge out at a luxury beach resort in stunning Langkawi.
Though many Malay people are practicing Muslims, the country's religious and cultural diversity lends itself to a fantastic range of Buddhist and Hindu temples. For a dose of cultural discovery on your trip to Malaysia, put Penang's Kek Lok Si Temple high on your list, as well as the arresting Batu Caves, which is guarded by the towering Golden Murugan Statue. For a look at Malaysia's Indian influence, head to Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the capital, where Hindu festivities and holidays are celebrated in vibrant and dramatic fashion.
Beyond the scenic pleasures of Malaysia, the country is brimming with culture and heritage. The very best way to explore the sheer depth and diversity of religious and ethnic heritage here is to go straight to the source with a wander through Malaysia's ethnic enclaves. Head out for an in-depth guided discovery Kuala Lumpur's ethnic neighbourhoods for an up-close look at how different cultures live harmoniously in multi-cultural communities.