Malaysia is right on our doorstep, but it’s a big place, and where and when to go are frequently asked questions. Before you head off, it’s a good idea to know some of the do’s and don’ts, along with info about visas, money, weather and more. A visit to Malaysia can be very memorable, so here’s a mini guide to help you plan!
Population: 32.3 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
- The Sarawak Chamber, in Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, is one of the biggest known enclosed spaces on the planet – enough space for 40 Boeing 747s!
- 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.
- 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.
Hot spots and itineraries
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
Staying safe and 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); also, take precautionary measures, such as acclimatising, resting and drinking plenty of fluids.
- Always check for the latest COVID-19 updates and restrictions.
While you’re there, please don’t…
- Be embarrassed if you burp – in Malay etiquette burping or belching after a meal is considered acceptable.
- Mess with illegal drugs – there is a mandatory death penalty for trafficking. (This law is likely to be revised in the second half of 2022.)
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.
- The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw – another novel set in colonial Malaya, this one telling the story of a textile merchant named Johnny Lim.
Before you go, watch …
- The Sleeping Dictionary – a story of forbidden love set in Sarawak during British colonial rule during the 1930s.
- PASKAL: The Movie – critically acclaimed 2018 military action film and the most expensive Malaysian film ever made.
- 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
Do I need a visa?
Most nationalities don’t need a visa to enter Malaysia for up to a month (three months for many countries). Others, including citizens from China and India, do need to meet certain visa requirements. Check details at malaysiavisa.imi.gov.my.
How long will it take me to get there?
One hour (Kuala Lumpur) or 2.5 hours (Kota Kinabalu) flying time from Singapore. Malaysia is 8 hours ahead of GMT, the same as Singapore. Crossing the border at Tuas or Woodlands, it’s around a 40-minute drive to Johor Bahru, 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). You’ll also hear English, Cantonese and Tamil. 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
Last but not least
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. Clothing and fabrics are also a good option.
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