Geography & Climate
Malaysia is made up of two regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, separated from each other by South China Sea in the center of Southeast Asia. The country is crescent- shaped, starting with Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) and extends to another region, Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia), located on the island of Borneo. The total area of Malaysia is approximately 330,400 square km, with most of it located on the island of Borneo. Peninsular Malaysia only comprises approximately 40% of the total area.
Malaysia's climate is hot and humid with relative humidity ranging from 80 - 90 percent, except in the highlands. The temperature averages from 22?to 33?Celsius throughout the year. The tropical climate is experienced year-round with the rainy season varying on the coasts of Peninsular Malaysia. The west coast has it's rainy season from September through December with the east coast ( Sarawak and Sabah) experiencing it's from October through February. East Malaysia (the northern slopes) get up to 5080 mm of rain a year versus West Malaysia's 2500 mm.
There are forests covering over half of Malaysia, with notable tropical forests in Sabah and Sarawak, the highest of which is Mount Kinabalu at 4,095.2 metres on the island of Borneo.
The National Language is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) but English is widely spoken, being a compulsory subject in schools and the main Primary 6, Lower Secondary and the local version of `O' Level examinations.
Other major languages used are Chinese and Tamil. The government has also been encouraging the front liners of hotels and tourism-related business people to learn other international languages.
|Population (In Million)
Malaysia Population (Updated 5 September 2008)
Malaysia's population comprises many ethnic groups, with the Malays and other bumiputra groups in Sabah and Sarawak making up the majority, at 65% of the population..The aboriginal groups like Kadazans, Dusuns, Muruts, Ibans, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Bidayuhs, Penans, and others are collectively known as Orang Asli.
27.6% of the population are Chinese, while Indian comprise 8% of the population. The majority of the Indian community are Tamils but various other groups are also present, including Malayalis, Punjabis and Gujaratis. Other Malaysians also include those whose origin, inter alia, can be traced to the Middle East, Thailand and Indonesia. Europeans and Eurasians include British who settled in Malaysia since colonial times, and a strong Kristang community in Malacca. A small number of Cambodians and Vietnamese also settled in Malaysia as Vietnam War refugees.
The population distribution is highly uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated on the West Malaysia, while East Malaysia is relatively less populated.
Malaysia is a multi-religious society and Islam is the official religion. According to the Population and Housing Census 2000 figures, approximately 60.4 percent of the population practiced Islam; 19.2 percent Buddhism; 9.1 percent Christianity; 6.3 percent Hinduism; and 2.6 percent traditional Chinese religions. The remaining was accounted for by other faiths.
Although the Malaysian constitution theoretically guarantees religious freedom, in practice the situation is restricted. Additionally, all non-Muslims who marry a Muslim must renounce their religion and convert to Islam.
Muslims are obliged to follow the decisions of Syariah courts when it comes to matters concerning their religion. The jurisdiction of Syariah court is limited only to Muslims over matters of Faith and Obligations as a Muslim, which includes marriage, inheritance, apostasy, religious conversion, and custody among others.
Festivals & Holidays
Hari Raya Aidilfitri
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the most joyful of Muslim celebrations celebrated after Ramadhan, the fasting month. Special prayers are held in mosques and it is a season when Muslims ask for forgiveness from their family members and friends. Muslims will be dressed in new traditional clothes and give “Green Pow”(money) to younger generation on this special day.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the time when you can meet the King and Queen of Malaysia personally. This is your chance to shake hands with them, as well as take pictures (and gawk) at the Istana Negara (the Royal palace) - the official residence of the King. Do drop in as well to the Prime Minister's official abode at Seri Perdana in Jalan Damansara. Dress code for those who wish to pay their respects to the King and the Prime Minister is either formal, smart casual or long-sleeved batik. It is an experience not to be missed.
Malaysians have this great tradition which is called "open-house", a warm showing of what is known as Malaysian hospitality. Doors are opened to friends and foes. It does not even matter if you do not know your hosts! Just wish them Selamat Hari Raya and enjoy the glorious feast prepared for this celebration.
Chinese New Year
This is the most important festival for the Chinese community. The festival begins with a reunion dinner on new year's eve, that is traditionally attended by every member of the family. The Lunar New Year is the time when spirits are appeased and offerings are made to the gods. During the joyous occasion, no member of a Chinese household is allowed to clean the house as spring cleaning is done during the last seven days of the old year. Brooms are stored away on the first day as the Chinese believe that sweeping the floor during the new year would mean sweeping away the good luck from the household.
The Chinese New Year celebration lasts for 15 days beginning from the first day
of the Chinese lunar calendar. A visit to the temple to seek the blessings of the
God of Prosperity and giving of 'ang pow'(money) by parents to their children or
among relatives and well wishers are also the order of the day. This practice coupled
with the giving away of mandarin oranges is intended as a symbol of prosperity and
good luck for the recipients. Another feature is a traditional lion dance.
Open houses are also held during this happy celebration. If you are in Kuala Lumpur at this time drop in at two major open houses held by two main political Chinese parties in Malaysia - the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Parti Gerakan. You will get the chance to meet most of Malaysias's top Chinese politicians and leaders.
And remember red is the colour of the day. Red is most auspicious because it symbolises luck and prosperity. Don't wear black because it is usually associated with mourning.
This is a Hindu festival of light. Homes of Hindus are lit with little lights to signify the victory over darkness for the Hindus believe that this is the day when the forces of good overcame the forces of evil.
On the eve of Deepavali, prayers are held both at home and in the temple. Traditional Hindus start the day by having an oil bath before sunrise, praying at home and burning incense before going to the temple. A show of respect to the elder members of the family is followed by "open houses" for relatives and friends, where a wide variety of delicious traditional Indian delicacies are served.
This is one of the most colourful Hindu festivals in the country. Although a religious festival, its gaiety sometimes reminds one of the "Mardi Gras" in Rio De Janeiro.
It is said that on this day the stars, Pusan and Brihaspati, are united into one. The Hindus believe that by celebrating Thaipusam, they are cleansed from all sins and that their sins can be redeemed in many ways.
Thaipusam is celebrated in honour of Lord Muruga, a popular Hindu deity. Since the traditional abode of Lord Muruga is the hill, the celebration is held in hilly areas. The festival is celebrated on a grand scale at Batu Caves in Selangor. Before the actual day, Hindus taking part in the ceremony prepare themselves by fasting, dieting on certain food and maintaining self-discipline.
On the eve of the festival, the bejewelled image of Lord Muruga is taken on a grand procession in a silver chariot from the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Jalan Bandar in Kuala Lumpur to Batu Caves where it is placed in the temple area. In an atmosphere electric with drumming and chanting, holy water is sprinkled on the deity's route and thousands of fresh coconuts are smashed, symbolizing the washing away of sins.
Thousands of devotees converge on the temple grounds to pay hommage to Lord Muruga including penitents who carry 'kavadis' (ornate frames supported by metal spikes inserted in the bearer's body) and chant their way up the 272 steps of Batu Caves in fulfilment of their vows for favours received. The amazing sight is the ease with which the penitents carry the gaily decorated wooden or steel yoke anchored by hooked pierced into their body, with their tongues and cheeks also skewered with long metal needles - all without spilling a single drop of blood!
Another place where you can observe this religious festival on a big scale is the Waterfall temple in Penang.
Hari Raya Aidil Adha
Hari Raya Aidil Adha or better known as Hari Raya Haji in Malaysia is actually the most significant religious celebration for Muslims. It marks the end of the annual pilgrimmage or Haj to the Holy City of Mecca, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which all able-bodied Muslims are asked to perform at least once in their lifetime.
Hari Raya Aidil Adha is based on the concept of sacrifice, and it is during this occasion that Muslims all over the world are encouraged by their religion to slaughter cattle, sheep or goats as a token sacrifice - symbolic of bigger sacrifices they are asked to uphold the sanctity of their religion.
Sacrifices of cattle or goats are made to commemorate Prophet Abraham's test of
faith by God when he was asked to sacrifice his son. The meat from the sacrifices
is distributed to the poor and needy. Special prayers and sermons are held at mosques
in conjunction with the occasion.
Unlike Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Aidil Adha is not marked by the holding of "open houses" but is more of a solemn religious occasion. But like Hari Raya Aidilfitri, most Muslims make it a point to return to their home town for the celebration.
Wesak is celebrated by Buddhists to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha - all three events having taken place on the same lunar date according to Buddhist reckoning. Buddhists observe a vegetarian diet to 'cleanse' themselves prior to the occasion. Thousands of devotees gather before dawn at temples for prayers, offerings, meditation, chanting and alms giving. Doves and tortoises are also released in a symbolic gesture of liberating the soul and forsaking past sins.
Festival Known locally as Tadau Ka'amatan (Harvest Festival), this native festival of the Kadazan-Dusun, the largest ethnic group in Sabah is the grandest in the state. The annual festival in May is a timeless tradition in honour of Bambaazon, the spirit of the rice padi.
The Kadazan-Dusun community believes that his spirit is responsible for the growth and well-being of the padi plant, offering protection from natural hazards to usher in a season of bountiful harvest for their staple food. Ancient traditions, rites and customs are the order of the day.
Padi farmers from all over Sabah lay down their tools and converge in selected venues in the various districts to celebrate the festival. The highlight of the festival is usually held at the Hongkod Koisaan, the headquarters of the Kadazan-Dusun Cultural Organisation situated 8km from Kota Kinabalu, the state capital. Here for two days, cultural troupes from all over the state perform traditional sports like arm wrestling, blowpipe shooting, catapult contests and relay racing with sticks.
The 'Magavau', a cleansing and blessing ritual performed by the Bobohizan or high priestess, will keep you spellbound. In recent years, the harvest Festival has undergone some modification from its traditional rituals of appeasing the spirits to include additional events such as a Beauty Queen Contest, usually participated by some of the most beautiful Kadazan maidens.
During the festival, 'tapai', the intoxicating local rice wine or brew flows freely. Being the staple food and the main ingredient of 'tapai', rice is treated by the Kadazan-Dusun community with a respect which borders reverence.
Sarawak Gawai Festival
The Gawai Festival or Harvest Festival in Sarawak also marks the culmination of the harvest celebration. The official date is June 1 (but the celebration is on for a whole month). It is an occasion when the Dayak race renew their friendship, forget their worries of the past year and make amends for old quarrels. It is an opportunity for new friendships, family reunions and to pay respects to the elders and the departed.
The 'Miring' or ceremonial offering is especially fascinating. In this religious ritual, the Dayaks together with their guests would participate by placing several different kinds of foodstuff and 'tuak' (local rice wine), on plates as an offering to the gods. A special poem for the occasion is then recited and a cockerel is sacrificed.
Once the offering ceremony is over, the main celebration begins. It is best to watch this celebration at a longhouse, the traditional home of the community (sometimes 40 families living under one roof!), where there is virtually non-stop feasting, dancing and merry making, and of course the 'tuak' flows just as freely too. 'Tuak' consumed in abundance can knock you out flat without any warning.
In the city of Kuching there are a lot of festivities going on - including a beauty pageant and cultural performances at the Sarawak Cultural Village. Holding an open house is also the order of the day.
Moon Cake Festival
The Chinese mooncake festival had its origins during the Mongolian dynasty in China. The event is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth moon (August/September) with colourful lantern processions and the partaking of mooncakes.
Penang International Dragon Boat Festival
The Penang's first Dragon Boat Race was held in 1956 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Municipality of George Town. 10 years later the race was revived as part of the Pesta Pulau Pinang. The Pesta races was originally confined to participation from the local teams such as teams from Government Department, associations and commercial establishments.
Nine Emperor Gods Festival
The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods falls on the ninth day of the ninth moon in the Chinese lunar calendar. Devotees flock to the temples throughout the country for this religious festival. The Nine Emperor Gods are part of a spirit-medium cult known locally as ‘Jieu Hwang Yeh’. These Nine Deities are believed to dwell in the stars in heaven under the reign of ‘Thien Hou’ - the Queen of Heaven.
A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, take vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. A procession to send the Nine Emperor Gods home then takes place to complete the rites of this religious festival.
While westerners regard Christmas more as a family affair, Malaysian Christians hold open houses for their friends and relatives. It's a merry affair. Most of Malaysian regard Christmas is a party festival.
There is much joy and gaiety as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ with parties, carolling and evening mass. Streets, hotels and shopping complexes are decorated with brilliant lights and ornaments to create a yuletide atmosphere - the Malaysian way. The spirit of giving extends beyond homes and individuals as hotels, shopping complexes and corporate companies hold concerts and shows as well as organise charity drives.
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual society. The different races have their own traditions and customs which gives Malaysia a colourful heritage. The important festivals of each race is a public holiday in the country (so there are a lot of public holidays here!) and celebrated by all regardless of race and beliefs.
The lifestyle here is progressively becoming more and more modern with great exposure to the western culture. There are some native families who speak mainly English within their household. Many Malaysian youngsters do enjoy their night-outings to discos and bars, be it weekdays or weekends. And the scene may not be very much different from that of nightspots in other countries.
Baby boomers, Gen X and the dotcom generations of Malaysia are well-oiled for a corporate lifestyle. In Kuala Lumpur especially, road traffic, work ethics and common ambitions do not stray too far away from what is happening in the Western world now. But it is interesting to note the communicative easiness between contemporary and the devout Malaysian youth.
It is a common sight in Malaysia to find girls whose hair and upper torsos are covered.This piece of head covering is called tudung in the Malay Language, literally means "to cover". This is compulsory for Muslim women, but with a democratic government, they are given the freedom of choice.
For most Malaysian youth, family life is an important component that completes their daily lives. Despite their busy climb on the corporate ladder, the ambitious still has a stronghold on family values. Often, the juggle in prioritising is limited to family or work.
Malaysia is well-endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry and minerals. In terms of agriculture, Malaysia is one of the top exporters of natural rubber and palm oil, which together with sawn logs and sawn timber, cocoa, pepper, pineapple and tobaccodominate the growth of the sector. Palm oil is also a major generator of foreign exchange.
Tin and petroleum are the two main mineral resources that are of major significance in the Malaysian economy. Malaysia was once the world's largest producer of tin until the collapse of the tin market in the early-1980s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, tin played a predominant role in the Malaysian economy. It was only in 1972 that petroleum and natural gas took over from tin as the mainstay of the mineral extraction sector. Meanwhile, the contribution by tin has declined. Petroleum and natural gas discoveries in oil fields off Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu have contributed much to the Malaysian economy. Other minerals of some importance or significance include copper, bauxite, iron-ore and coal together with industrial minerals like clay, kaolin, silica, limestone, barite, phosphates and dimension stones such as granite as well as marble blocks and slabs. Small quantities of gold are produced.
Malaysia has many well equipped, modern hospitals with state of the art equipment and well qualified doctors and nurses. These are mostly found in the major cities and once you get into the countryside you cannot expect to find the same types of facilities. If proximity to good medical facilities is important to you then choosing to live close to a major city like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and Kota Kinabulu makes sense.
As a general rule you are advised to go to private hospitals as the free government hospitals do not always have the same quality and facilities. The cost of seeing a doctor is very reasonable and it is relatively easy to see a specialist and unlike some countries you do not require a referral from a General Practioner (GP) before you can get access to them. Charges for a consultation usually run around RM15 – RM50 for a GP and RM80 – RM300 for a specialist.
The advancement in facilities has reached a point where Malaysia actively promotes Health Tourism and it has slowly been gaining in popularity as word spreads about the quality of medical services available in Malaysia. There is active competition from neighbouring countries like Thailand and Singapore which have been promoting health tourism for a longer period but Malaysia has some advantages.
All private hospitals in Malaysia are approved and licensed by the Ministry of Health. Most of the private medical centres have achieved certification from internationally recognised quality standards such as MS ISO 9002. Many have also been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality Health (MSQH).
Many people are coming to Malaysia for elective surgery including plastic surgery. Europeans are finding the cost of treatment including a linked vacation package is cheaper than the medical costs they would pay back home.
Private hospitals are increasingly focusing on offering excellent accommodation and facilities. One hospital opened a special floor which resembles a luxury hotel more than a hospital. Their Presidential Suite comes with a living room, dining area, meeting room and even a waiting area. The facilities include refrigerator, microwave, fax machine and even Playstation. To ensure the perfect stay a dedicated butler service is included.
Full dental healthcare is also available including cosmetic surgery and dental implants. Foreigners are also attracted to Malaysia by the increasing number of health spas as well as other forms of medical treatment such as acupuncture, reflexology and chiropractic.
The wide spread use of English among the educated medical staff also makes getting treatment and explaining problems a lot easier for English speaking foreigners.
Malaysia's persistent drive to develop and upgrade its infrastructure has resulted in one of the most well developed infrastructure among the newly industrializing countries of Asia.
Malaysian has been the nation's persistent drive to develop and upgrade its infrastructure. Over the years, these investments have paid off and Malaysia now has one of the most well developed infrastructures among the newly industrializing countries of Asia.
Internal travel is relatively easy, comfortable and cheap. The major towns and cities are served by air-conditioned trains and buses and also by regular scheduled flights. In Sabah and Sarawak, travelling by four-wheel drive is recommended on unpaved roads, and many remote areas can only be reached by air or river boats. Travelling by rail is also highly recommended as you get a panoramic view of the countryside.
Driving in Peninsular Malaysia on the expressway is very pleasant. It's a wonderful experience as you can stop anywhere in your own time. The scenery is lush and green and you can always stop overnight at any of the towns as there are always a number of hotels available throughout the journey.
Almost 80 percent of Malaysian roads are paved. An overland journey from Thailand to Singapore can be made easily through Peninsular Malaysia by driving through the North-South Expressway on the west coast and through the East-West Highway to the east coast. Buses, taxis and coaches, both interstate and local, also ply between various destinations.
The speed limit on the Expressway is usually 110km/hr, but in some areas it is only 90 km/hr. Expressway users pay a toll based on the distance travelled and the type of vehicle. They collect a transit ticket from the entry toll plaza and pay the toll at the exit toll plaza.
Located along the Expressway are several Rest and Service Areas with food stalls, toilets, public telephones, petrol stations and parking areas. There are also laybys with toilets, public phones and parking areas. If your vehicle breaks down or if you're involved in an accident, you can contact the 24-hour-service PLUSRONDA for assistance by using the Emergency Telephones placed every two kilometres on either side of the Expressway. Furthermore, the Traffic Monitoring Centre handles inquiries from Expressway users and can be contacted at 03-2920000.
To drive on Malaysian roads, you require a Malaysian Competent Driving Licence, Probationary Driving Licence or an International Driving Licence. To use a foreign licence, get it endorsed by the Road Transport Department. Please note that all vehicles move on the left-hand side of the road and that the use of safety belts by front passengers is mandatory.
Airports are also found throughout the country. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is the main airport of the country. Other important airports include Kota Kinabalu International Airport, Penang International Airport, Kuching International Airport, Langkawi International Airport, and Senai International Airport. There are also airports in smaller towns, as well as small domestic airstrips in rural Sabah and Sarawak. There are daily flight services between West and East Malaysia, which is the only convenient option for passengers traveling between the two parts of the country.
Malaysia is the home of the first low-cost carrier in the region, AirAsia. It has Kuala Lumpur as its hub and maintains flights to Southeast Asia and China as well. In Kuala Lumpur it operates out of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in KLIA.
Malaysia Airlines is the country's national carrier. Pelangi Air; Transmile, and Berjaya Air and other carriers operate charter flights out of the airport to various domestic island resorts and regional destinations.
In East Malaysia, apart from the regular services between major towns, Malaysia Airlines also operates its Rural Air Services which flies Twin Otters to a host of rural airstrips. Also, SEAGA Airlines has flights from Kuching, Sibu and Kota Kinabalu to Mulu National Park.
It is possible to travel by rail within and to Peninsular Malaysia via Thailand and from Singapore. Malayan Railways or Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM) connects all major towns in the Peninsular. First, Second or Economy Class air-conditioned coaches are available.
The northbound Ekspres Langkawi departs nightly from Kuala Lumpur to Arau in Kedah. Arriving in the morning, it then proceeds to Hatyai, Thailand before returning back to Arau in the evening.
Senandung Malam is a KL-Butterworth-KL and KL-Singapore-KL sectional nightly service. Sleeping berths are provided in the first and second class coaches.
All express services have a restaurant coach serving local and continental cuisine. Tickets may be purchased 60 days in advance from the date of travel. Children aged from four to twelve are charged half the adult fare whilst those below four travel free. Available to foreign tourists is the 30-day or 10-day Tourist Railpass which provides unlimited travel on KTM during that period.
Many popular island destinations like Langkawi, Pangkor, Redang and Tioman are linked to the mainland by regular ferry services. Other smaller islands are accessible by fishing boats which may be chartered. Ferry services are also available from Tanjung Belungkor, Kukup, Desaru, Johor Bahru Duty Free Zone and Sebana Cove (all in Johor) to Singapore and from Butterworth to Penang.
Malaysia has plenty to offer sports enthusiasts whether you like to watch or participate. If you prefer being a spectator then satellite TV shows many major sporting events live and has several dedicated sports channels. Many bars and even restaurants have large screen TVs for people who like company and some excitement when they watch big events.
Malaysia also hosts various major international sporting events including Formula 1 racing, power boat racing, horse jumping, squash, motor bike racing, yachting and world cup golf. There are also plenty of regional sporting events. For those who like to participate, particularly golfers, Malaysia has a lot to offer. There are many golf courses scattered across the country some offering fairly exclusive memberships and others open to anyone. The green fees tend to be much lower than other countries.
There are also many country clubs, in and around major cities which offer a wide range of activities. The waiting time to join can vary considerably but most will offer temporary membership to allow newcomers to visit, Malaysia has some of the best squash and badminton players in the world. They are also accomplished hockey players.
If you like being on the water then sailing is growing in popularity and the government allows boats to be imported free of any duty and mooring charges are very reasonable. More and more marinas are being built around the country. For divers Malaysia offers some of the best dive spots in the world and tourists regular visit for the superb diving off the coast of Sabah including Sipaden and Layang Layang islands.
Malaysian are great football fans and eagerly follow their own local teams. Many also avidly follow the UK teams. Their own players have not performed that well internationally but that has not diminished their enthusiasm for the sport.
If you enjoy going for a walk, there are several large scale walking events organized each year to support various charities.