Heading to Malaysia? Before you leave space in your suitcase for souvenirs, don’t pass up the opportunity to get your hands on these authentic, unique buys! Check out our guide to buying souvenirs in Malaysia.
Apart from a sun tan and a smile, bringing something special home from a Southeast Asian getaway is all about finding the perfect souvenirs. In Malaysia, some of those souvenirs are more than just trinkets picked up in a tourist area – Malaysia’s best souvenirs are each equally-fascinating testaments to the country’s heritage and culture.
Finding the right souvenirs (that are both unique and sustainable) is a matter of knowing Malaysia’s most important cultural elements. These are some of the souvenirs that have a little bit of Malaysia’s cultural pride interwoven in them – and you’re unlikely to find them anywhere else in Asia.
Batiks are not just a Malaysian phenomenon. Batik painting is a popular handicraft throughout Southeast Asia, with batiks in Vietnam’s Hmong communities different than those made in Indonesia and Malaysia – but all use a similar method for creating them. In Malaysia, the most popular designs are leaves and flowers, but batik is so popular in the country that you can find designs of nearly everything – including architectural landmarks!
The bold, vibrant colours and stunning geometric designs of batik make these a great fabric to use for tablecloths, pillow cases and art pieces. It’s possible to buy both the raw fabrics or completed pieces. These are perhaps one of Malaysia’s most prized handicrafts, so it’s a fantastic souvenir to bring home.
Malaysian Batiks are sold throughout the country, but one of the best places to pick up some of these beautiful textiles is at the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. Expect to pay between 8 and 10 dollars for most of these, but at least 25 dollars for hand-painted batiks.
Unlike Batiks, Songket doesn’t use wax or paint to create its intricate designs. Songket is a handwoven textile made of either silk or cotton, and uses silver or gold threads to create detailed designs on a darker fabric. These are painstakingly tedious to create, but some of the best artisans in the world live in Malaysia.
You’ll find versions of this very detailed textile in Thailand and Indonesia, where shared heritage makes this an important artform all three countries. In Malaysia, Songket was once made using real gold, which established the textile as one reserved only for the most well-to-do. Now, Songket is a popular textile for special occasions like weddings or official ceremonies.
Just like Batiks, Malaysian Songket textiles are easily found at the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. Songket textiles are also popular in the country’s numerous flea markets, which are usually reserved for weekends – some favourites are Bangsar Baru in the capital, or the Sunday Flea Market in the historic city of Malacca.
Malaysia has its fair share of herbal medicines and teas – many coming from Chinese descent – but the most popular among locals is nutmeg oil. Traditionally, nutmeg oil is used to relieve muscular pain, sprains, cramps, headaches and stomach pain – or nearly every other bodily ailment.
Made using natural extract from the nutmeg seed, the oil is put directly on affected areas – but plenty use nutmeg oil as an inhalant to either improve concentration or induce sleep. However you plan to use it, Malaysia’s locals will likely have plenty of tips and tricks for how to get the most out of their favourite herbal remedy.
Since Penang Island is the largest producer of nutmeg oil in the country, this is also the best place to get your hands on the best brand – Cheong Kim Chuan. Along with this popular brand, you’ll find plenty of nutmeg products in Chowrasta Market in Penang for roughly 2 or 3 dollars a piece.
Malaysia leads the world in pewter production – an alloy metal blending tin with copper or lead. It’s considered the fourth most precious metal after platinum, gold and silver. Popular mainly because its soft and easily carved with hand tools, pewter is used for a whole host of items, including children’s toys, candle holders, plates, trophies, mugs, jewelry and trinkets.
While there are plenty of pewter producers in Malaysia, the root of pewter’s popularity in Malaysia is most certainly Royal Selangor – a company that’s operated in Malaysia for over a century. Here, expert craftsman and metal-smiths create detailed items that depict the cultural backdrop of Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market has plenty of pewter items – as does most of its markets and shops. The very best pewterware, though, is found in Royal Selangor shops throughout Malaysia. These are intricately-crafted pieces of art, so don’t expect to pick up a piece for less than 50 dollars or so.
Pandanus leaves are perhaps one of the most prolific plants you’ll find in Southeast Asia, behind bamboo and palm. Pandanus is a popular leaf to add as flavouring to plenty of Asian cuisines, but its a particularly popular addition to Malaysian and Thai food. In true Southeast Asian fashion, though, Pandanus leaves are not just used for a single purpose.
The leaves of the Pandanus are shiny and thin, and tough enough to make for a great woven creation. By weaving these leaves together in intricate designs, these brightly-coloured and light weight souvenirs are easy to carry on board your plane home – and since this tropical plant is mainly found in Southeast Asia, these are a unique gift for friends at home.
There isn’t a particular place where woven Pandanus is sold – instead, these are popular buys throughout Malaysia’s markets. Like many souvenirs, the Central Market in the capital city is probably the best place to pick up a few Pandanus goods. Expect to pay 12 dollars or above for these, as they are handwoven and often take quite a bit of time to produce.
Northern Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands aren’t just a breezy, scenic alternative to the country’s islands and beach escapes – the Cameron Highlands are one of the best places to find tea plantations. It’s not wonder, then, that Malaysia’s tea is considered some of the best in Asia, and a visit to the Cameron Highlands isn’t complete without a guided wander through a tea plantation.
Even if you aren’t planning on heading to the Highlands, some of the famous tea produced in these areas is easily found throughout Malaysia. Those wanting to get their hands on the most authentic (and delicious) selection should pick up Boh Tea, grown right in Malaysia.
You’ll find packs of Boh Tea in most supermarkets, as well as many of the country’s night or flea markets. If you want to get a look at what tea production looks like in this scenic corner of the country, head to the Boh plantations in the Cameron Highlands for a breezy reprieve from the cities. Thankfully, the Cameron Highlands make for great trekking as well as tea tasting!
Ready to explore Malaysia? Leave some space in your suitcase for a highlights journey – with tours visiting its best sites and cities.