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Everything you need to know about Malaysia!

Malaysia is on our doorstep, but where and when to go is a frequently asked question. Before you head off, do a bit of research and know the do’s and don’ts. It’s worth a visit, so here’s a mini guide to help you plan.

The basics

Population: 30 million

Capital: Kuala Lumpur

Religion: 60% Muslim, 19% Buddhist, 9% Christian and 6% Hindu

Emergency numbers: 999, or the standard GSM 112 number for smartphones


Fact file

• The Sarawak Chamber, in Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, is the world’s largest underground cave.
• Sabah is home to the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world.
• The longest king cobra in the world, measuring 5.54 metres, was captured alive in Port Dickson in April 1937 but later grew to 5.71 metres in captivity in London Zoo.
• Penang Free School is the oldest English school in Southeast Asia, founded by the Reverend Sparke Hutchings in 1816.
• Malaysia’s national drink is teh tarik (pulled tea).
• Malaysia is the birth country of world famous shoe designer Jimmy Choo.

The key dates

1 May: Labour Day.

1st Saturday in June: King’s birthday.

As in Singapore, Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji, Hungry Ghost, Mid-Autumn and Dumpling Festivals, Thaipusam, Deepavali and Vesak are all celebrated.

The hot spots

Popular destinations include Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Penang, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and the Cameron Highlands. There are four World Heritage Sites, including historic Melaka and George Town.

Some itinerary ideas
• Peninsula Malaysia: Melaka – Kuala Lumpur – Cameron Highlands – Ipoh – Georgetown
• Sarawak: Kuching – Bako National Park – Mulu National Park
• Sabah: Kota Kinabalu – Sandakan – Sepilok – Pulau Sipadan (check travel advice before visiting parts of Eastern Sabah)

How to stay healthy

• Malaria and dengue fever are prevalent, so see your health practitioner before travelling
• Planning on conquering Mount Kinabalu? Watch out for acute mountain sickness (nausea, headaches, fatigue), and take precautionary measures, such as taking time to acclimatise, resting and drinking plenty of fluids

While you’re there, please don’t…

• Be embarrassed if you burp – in Malay etiquette burping or belching after a meal is considered acceptable.
• Ever get involved in illegal drugs – there is a mandatory death penalty for trafficking.

Before you go, read …

  • The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka – the story of Lakshmi, a Ceylonese girl brought to Malaya in 1930, as the young bride of an older man.
  • A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute – a tale of love and war, which follows an English heroine’s journey from Malaya during World War II to the Australian outback.

Before you go, watch …

  • The Sleeping Dictionary – a story of forbidden love set in Sarawak during British colonial rule during the 1930s.
  • Entrapment – the Petronus Towers in Kuala Lumpur get a star turn in this movie, featuring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

They said it

“Do not be tricked into thinking that there are no crocodiles just because the water is still.” – Malay proverb

“We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us. Let us always remember that unity is our fundamental strength as a people and as a nation.” – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister

“If it is heavy, we carry it together on our shoulders; if it is light, we carry it together in our hands.” – Malay proverb

Malaysia has a great variety of wildlife

Important questions

Do I need a visa?

Most nationalities don’t need a visa to enter Malaysia for up to three months. However, citizens of China, India and Taiwan must obtain a visa prior to entry.

How long will it take me to get there?

1 hour (Kuala Lumpur) or 2.5 hours (Kota Kinabalu) flying time from Singapore. Malaysia is 8 hours ahead of GMT, the same as Singapore. Over the border at Tuas or Woodlands,  30 to 45 mins drive depending on where you live in Singapore, and how busy the border post is.

What’s the money situation?

The official currency of Malaysia is the Malaysian ringgit (RM). Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs available in most places.

When’s the best time to visit?

Many resorts on the peninsular east coast close from October to February due to the monsoon weather. The west coast, including Langkawi, Penang and Melaka, receives the most rain from July to mid-September. Malaysian Borneo has a typical equatorial climate. Most rainfall occurs between November and January, while the dry season runs from May to September.

What’s the lingo?

The official language is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay or Bahasa Melayu). English, Cantonese and Tamil are also spoken.

Here are some phrases to get you started:

Hello/Good morning Hello/Selamat pagi

What is your name? Apaka nama anda?

My name is __ Nama saya __

How much? Berapa banyak

Thank you Terima kasih

Yes Ya

No, thank you Tidak terima kasih

Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?

Handshakes are the most common form of greeting. They are usually gentle and not too prolonged. You should wait for a Malaysian woman to initiate a handshake.

What’s a must-try dish?

Sure, they’re readily available in Singapore, but you still shouldn’t miss Malaysian satay (served with peanut sauce and ketupat rice cakes) or a plate of nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, usually eaten with fried anchovies, cucumber slices, roasted peanuts, hard-boiled egg and sambal chilli paste.

What should I buy as a souvenir?

Some Royal Selangor pewter.


Where to stay

In Langkawi…


Tropical settings don’t get much more idyllic than that of The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort. Set between a 10-million-year-old rainforest and the tranquil Datai Bay, and fringed by an 8,000-year-old coral reef, the Andaman gives guests the best of land and sea.

 theandaman@luxurycollection.com | theandaman.com


This article first appeared in the June 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!

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