Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays make up a 52% majority, there are also 27% Chinese, 9% 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.
To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia – a bubbling, bustling melting-pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony. Our multiculturalism has made Malaysia a gastronomical paradise and home to hundreds of colourful festivals. It’s no wonder that we love celebrating and socialising. As a people, Malaysians are very relaxed, warm and friendly.
Geographically, Malaysia is almost as diverse as its culture. 11 states and 2 federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) form Peninsular Malaysia which is separated by the South China Sea from East Malaysia which includes the 2 states (Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo) and a third federal territory, the island of Labuan.
One of Malaysia’s key attractions is its extreme contrasts which further add to this theme of ‘diversity’. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts while five-star hotels sit just metres away from ancient reefs.
Rugged mountains reach dramatically for the sky while their rainforest-clad slopes sweep down to floodplains teeming with forest life. Cool highland hideaways roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.
For the perfect holiday full of surprises, the time is now, the place is Malaysia.
Further information on the country can also be obtained from the Malaysian government’s official portal,www.malaysia.gov.my.
The Federation of Malaysia comprises of Peninsular Malaysia, and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
Situated between 2º and 7º to the North of the Equator line, Peninsular Malaysia is separated from Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea.
In the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia lies Thailand, and in the south, neighbouring Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by Indonesia while Sarawak also shares borders with Brunei.
329,758 square km
Visitors to Malaysia must hold a valid passport or travel document with a minimum validity of six months beyond the intended visiting period.
Most nationalities do not require visas for social or business visits. For further information, please contact the nearest Malaysian diplomatic mission or Tourism Malaysia office.
Immigration and customs checkpoints are situated at all air, sea, road and rail entry points.
Visit the Malaysian Immigration Department or Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more info.
Having had an interesting past and being a part of the international spice route many hundreds of years ago, Malaysia has turned into a mosaic of cultures. Everything from its people to its architecture reflect a colourful heritage and an amalgamated culture. To understand Malaysian culture, you must first get to know its people.
Discover a Land of Intriguing Diversity
Malays, Chinese, Indians and many other ethnic groups have lived together in Malaysia for generations. All these cultures have influenced each other, creating a truly Malaysian culture.
The largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. In Sabah and Sarawak, there are a myriad of indigenous ethnic groups with their own unique culture and heritage.
Today, the Malays, Malaysia’s largest ethnic group, make up more than 50% of the population, although this drops to less than 25% in East Malaysia. In Malaysia, the term Malay refers to a person who practices Islam and Malay traditions, speaks the Malay language and whose ancestors are Malays. Their conversion to Islam from Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism began in the 1400s, largely influenced by the decision of the royal court of Melaka. The Malays are known for their gentle mannerisms and rich arts heritage.
The second largest ethnic group, the Malaysian Chinese form about 25% of the population. Mostly descendants of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century, the Chinese are known for their diligence and keen business sense. The three sub-groups who speak a different dialect of the Chinese language are the Hokkien who live predominantly on the northern island of Penang; the Cantonese who live predominantly in the capital city Kuala Lumpur; and the Mandarin-speaking group who live predominantly in the southern state of Johor.
In Sarawak this 25% is made up of a mix of dialect groups including Foochow, Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese and Puxian Min while in Sabah the population of Chinese drops to around 10% who predominantly speak the Hakka language.
The smallest of three main ethnic groups, the Malaysian Indians form about 10% of the population. Most are descendants of Tamil-speaking South Indian immigrants who came to the country during the British colonial rule. Lured by the prospect of breaking out of the Indian caste system, they came to Malaysia to build a better life. Predominantly Hindus, they brought with them their colourful culture such as ornate temples, spicy cuisine and exquisite sarees.
Indigenous Ethnic Groups
The general term used for any of the indigenous groups that are found in Peninsular Malaysia is ‘Orang Asli’ which literally translates as the ‘original people’. They are divided into three main tribal groups: Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay. The Negrito usually live in the north, the Senoi in the middle and the Proto-Malay in the south. Each group or sub-group has its own language and culture. Some are fishermen, some farmers and some are semi-nomadic.
The largest indigenous ethnic groups of Sabah’s population are the Kadazan Dusun, the Bajau and the Murut.
The largest ethnic group of Sabah, the Kadazan Dusuns form about 30% of the state’s population. Actually consisting of two tribes; the Kadazan and the Dusun, they were grouped together as they both share the same language and culture. However, the Kadazan are mainly inhabitants of flat valley deltas, which are conducive to paddy field farming, while the Dusun traditionally lived in the hilly and mountainous regions of interior Sabah.
The second largest ethnic group in Sabah, the Bajaus make up about 15% of the state’s population. Historically a nomadic sea-faring people that worshipped the Omboh Dilaut or God of the Sea, they are sometimes referred to as the Sea Gypsies. Those who chose to leave their sea-faring ways became farmers and cattle-breeders. These land Bajaus are nicknamed ‘Cowboys of the East’ in tribute to their impressive equestrian skills, which are publicly displayed in the annual Tamu Besar festival at Kota Belud.
The third largest ethnic group in Sabah the Muruts make up about 3% of the state’s population. Traditionally inhabiting the northern inland regions of Borneo, they were the last of Sabah’s ethnic groups to renounce headhunting. Now, they are mostly shifting cultivators of hill paddy and tapioca, supplementing their diet with blowpipe hunting and fishing. Like most indigenous tribes in Sabah, their traditional clothing is decorated with distinctive beadwork.
Collectively known as Dayaks, the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu are the major ethnic groups in the state of Sarawak. Typically, they live in longhouses, traditional community homes that can house 20 to 100 families.
The largest of Sarawak’s ethnic groups, the Ibans form 30% of the State’s population of 2.5 million. Sometimes erroneously referred to as the Sea Dayaks because of their skill with boats, they are actually an upriver tribe from the heart of Kalimantan. In the past, they were a fearsome warrior race renowned for headhunting and piracy. Traditionally, they worship a triumvirate of gods under the authority of Singalang Burung, the bird-god of war. Although now mostly Christians, many traditional customs are still practised.
Peace-loving and easy-going, the gentle Bidayuh are famous for their hospitality and tuak or rice wine. Making their homes in Sarawak’s southern regions, they are mostly farmers and hunters. In their past headhunting days their prized skulls were stored in a ‘baruk‘, a roundhouse that rises about 1.5 metres above the ground. Originally animists, now most of the 200,000 strong population have converted to Christianity.
Some 130,000 or 6% of the population of Sarawak are Melanau, believed to be among the original people to settle in Sarawak. Their language has different origins to the other ethnic groups of the state and today they are found mainly along the rivers and coastal plains of central Sarawak. Originally animists most have converted to Islam although some of the inland communities are Christian.
27 of the inland tribal groups of Sarawak are collectively called Orang Ulu or upriver people. A total estimated population of around 100,000 people belong to tribes varied in size from 300 to 25,000 individuals.
Arguably Borneo’s most artistic people, their large longhouses are ornately decorated with murals and superb woodcarvings; their utensils are embellished with intricate beadwork. Traditional tattoos are a very important part of their culture; aristocratic Orang Ulu ladies also cover their arms and legs with finely detailed tattoos.
The aboriginal Penan people are also included as Orang Ulu by government census but the Penan are traditionally nomadic people living in small family groups constantly moving from place to place within the rainforest. Today most of the estimated 16,000 Penan people have settled in longhouse communities where their children have the chance togo toschool. Like the Iban and Bidayuh, most of the Orang Ulu have converted from animism to Christianity or Islam.
More than any other spot in the country, Kuala Lumpur, or “KL” as it is commonly known, is the focal point of new Malaysia. While the
city’s past is still present in the evocative British colonial buildings of the Dataran Merdeka and the midnight lamps of the Petaling Street nightmarket, that past is everywhere met with insistent reminders of KL’s present and future. The city’s bustling streets, its shining, modern office towers, and its cosmopolitan air project an unbounded spirit of progress and symbolize Malaysia’s unhesitating leap into the future. To some, this spirit seems to have been gained at the loss of ancient cultural traditions, but in many ways KL marks the continuation rather than the loss of Malaysia’s rich past. Like Malacca five hundred years before, KL’s commercial centre is a grand meeting place for merchants and travelers from all over the world.
In the same way, the city brings together Malaysia’s past and present, its many constituent cultures, and even its remarkable natural treasures, allowing first-time visitors an invaluable opportunity to see Malaysia as a whole before setting off to explore its parts. In the botanical and bird parks of the Lake Gardens one is treated to a first glimpse of the unsurpassed beauty and variety of Malaysia’s plants and animals. In the vibrant Central Market, music, crafts, and cultural practices from Kelantan to Sarawak can be explored and experienced. And in the National Museum, the dizzying multiplicity of Malaysia’s cultural history comes into focus. As the entry point for most visitors and the meeting point of the country’s many attractions, Kuala Lumpur is a grand gateway to a fascinating destination.
With a height of 1,453 feet, one of the world’s tallest buildings rise above the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. They are called the Petronas Towers, and, inevitably, they have become the symbols for the astounding growth that has taken place in Malaysia over the last two decades.
Kuala Lumpur is situated midway along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, at the confluence of the Klang and Gombek rivers. It is approximately 35 km from the coast and sits at the centre of the Peninsula’s extensive and modern transportation network. Kuala Lumpur is easily the largest city in the nation, possessing a population of over one and a half million people drawn from all of Malaysia’s many ethnic group
Penang needs little introduction to many visitors to Malaysia, having long been known as one of Southeast Asia’s finest destinations. Penang’s outstanding beaches and exotic sights have made it one of the most popular destinations in the region.
As fabulous as its beaches are, some of Penang’s deeper mysteries should also be experienced. According to local folklore, the Snake Temple, dedicated to a Buddhist healer-priest, was inhabited by snakes who crawled out of the jungle on the night of the temple’s completion. The snakes are still there today. The Kek Lok Si temple, at Air Itam, is reputed to be the most beautiful and largest temple complex in Southeast Asia. Its seven-story pagoda, over 90 feet high, is a harmonious blend of Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture and craftsmanship.
Other worthwhile stops are the delightful Penang Bird Park, the romantic peak of Penang Hill, Fort Cornwallis, the site of Light’s first landing, and the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve (crisscrossed with beautiful trails leading to isolated beaches). A trek through the reserve’s interior reveals rare flora, monkeys chattering in the trees, sea eagles surveying their prey, and maybe a glimpse of a Hawksbill turtle heading for the sea. Some hotels organize early morning treks through the forest.
All roads away from Kuala Lumpur lead to the state of Selangor, Malaysia’s most populated and prosperous state. Selangor surrounds the burgeoning capital with green suburban arms and industrial tracks, but as the city is left behind, a different, older and more natural order quickly unfolds.
To the west is the Klang Valley, whose tin mines were inextricably linked to the history and development of modern Malaysia. It was here that much of Malaysia’s Civil War was played out. Continuing past the city of Klang, one eventually comes to Port Klang, where sampans come and go. Both to the north and south, Selangor is dominated by fishing villages on the coast and the Kampung inland. Heading east from KL, it is not the ocean but hills and forests that dominate. This is the beginning of the lush Malaysian heartland, and the spiritual connection to the landscape first takes hold at the extraordinary Batu Caves. Even further inland are the Genting Highlands, one of Malaysia’s finest hill stations
Any direction one takes in Selangor eventually leads to some sight that is deeply connected to Malaysia’s development; a tin mine, an oil-palm or rubber plantation – for this reason, the state is often called “the heart of modern Malaysia.”
Selangor, with an area of approximately 8,000 sq. km, extends along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia at the northern outlet of the Straits of Malacca. Its advantageous geographic position and rich natural resources have made Selangor the most prosperous state in Malaysia. Today it has the distinction of being the most populated state in Malaysia, with about 3.75 million inhabitants. A large proportion of Selangor’s population lives around the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, though the balance is now shifting towards its new capital, Shah Alam
To call a Malaysian mobile number:
- From overseas dial the international access code, the country code for Malaysia, the mobile telephone provider’s code without the “0”, and then the telephone number.
- From within Malaysia dial the provider’s code with the “0”, and then the telephone number.
- From mobile phone to mobile phone within Malaysia dial the provider’s code with the “0”, and then the telephone number. Although you can drop the provider’s code if the two phones share the same provider, you will still get through if the provider’s code is dialled.
To call from Malaysia to another country:
- From a landline dial the international access code “00” followed by the country code and the phone number. For example, dialing the United States from Malaysia you would dial 001 followed by the US area code and phone number. On the Maxis network, take advantage of 50% IDD rates via IDD132, which doesn’t require any registration, just dial “132” prior to the the “00”.
- From a mobile phone same as from a landline (above). An alternative, and simpler, approach on many mobile phones is to press & hold the zero button to enter a “+” (plus sign) before the country code and phone number. The “+” represents (in any country) the appropriate international access code. On the Maxis network, take advantage of 50% IDD rates via IDD132, which doesn’t require any registration, just dial “132” prior to the the “00” and note that you do not use the “+” symbol using this method.
- If you are staying for a period, it is worth getting a Prepaid SIM card. Besides the big telco: Digi, Maxis, Celcom, there’s MVMO – Mobile Virtual Network Operator that ‘piggy back’ the big telco’s network but offer cheaper rates. eg U Mobile, Tune Mobile, Tron, etc. Most operators operate a tiered system where your credit is available a certain amount of days. eg RM5 lasting 5 days, RM30 lasting 50 days and RM50 lasting 75 days. An exception is the new MVMO, Tron, which offers 365 days validity on all balance. F
- oor rates comparisonComparison of Prepaid