Malaysia is divided into two regions: Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo (or East Malaysia), separated by the South China Sea. The country borders Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei. Malaysia also borders the Straits of Malacca, the popular international shipping route that contributes to the international trade in the country.
Ques. What time-zone does Malaysia lie in, and what's the climate like?
Ans. The MST or Malaysia standard time is calculated as GMT+8 and the Malaysian currency is called the Ringgit and denoted as RM. Check the exchange rate with your currency.
Situated on the equator Malaysia enjoys a tropical climate with a diverse range of flora and fauna and is considered one of the 17-mega diverse countries in the world.
Ques. What about the Malaysian people?
Ans. See our article Malaysian People & Lifestyle. The name Malaysia was derived from the country’s original name “Malaya” believed to have originated from the Melayu Kingdom that existed between the 7th and the 13th century around present-day Dharmasaya and Sumatera. It was then changed to indicate the extension of the country beyond the Malay Peninsula when 14 state federations were formed by the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak in 1963.
The native Malay people form about half the population while the aboriginal Malays or the Orang Asli, Chinese and Indians form the other main ethnicities in this multi cultural country. The beauty of the country is that all the ethnic groups enjoy the freedom to practice their own traditions and customs. The main religions practiced in Malaysia are Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, with a few other non-denominational minority religions.
Ques. What are the cultural differences between Malaysia and the West?
Ans. Malaysia as a whole is steeped in traditions and possess its own unique Southeast Asian heritage. Some aspects of its traditions and culture may seem alien to Westerners, but by and large Malaysians are very friendly and tolerant people!
In Malaysia, it is customary to use the right hand for greeting, eating food and exchanging gifts. Gifts are wrapped in cheerful colors like pink, red etc, It is considered bad luck to wrap gifts in black, white or blue.
While shaking hands is the most polite and safest way to greet anyone in the country, especially the Malay Chinese, there are some traditional greeting customs that are valued in certain parts of Malaysia that can help create a good impression if travelling alone or in a group.
You can never go wrong with a simple smile and nod of the head to greet the friendly Malaysians who are ever ready to strike a conversation with people from other countries.
However a “Salam” by touching the fingers of your right hand gently to the heart while greeting a Muslim; or a “Namaste” by folding your hands at mid-chest level, to greet any Hindu can work wonders. If travelling in a group it is proper that the oldest or most senior person comes forward to greet the local seniors followed by the others.
Shoes are not allowed inside any private home in Malaysia. Wearing shoes inside someone’s home is considered disrespectful in Malay and Hindu homes. This custom extends to the mosques and temples as well.
Ques. What is the attitude towards homosexuality in Malaysia?
Ans. Malaysia is a peaceful, tolerant and warm country that embraces diversity in many forms. One thing European and American travelers should take into account is that the country does also possesses its own set of traditions and values. Malaysia has a small (but largely dormant) gay rights society, however, homosexual acts are illegal under Malaysian law. Public displays of affection between same-sex couples should be avoided and reasonable reservation and respect for traditions should be observed. This same advice applies to large parts of Asia.
Ques. What's the best way to travel to Malaysia?
Ans. Travelling into Malaysia is a breeze with either its national carrier (MAS, Malaysian Airlines) or various budget airlines. Malaysian Airlines has a far reaching worldwide network covering Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States (from Los Angeles) amongst various other nations. Check flight routes, compare options and find great deals with MalaysiaExplorer.net's booking partner.
Most international flights also land at the International Airport in Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur. Some other states in Malaysia also have international airports. Travelling within Malaysia is easy with the majority of the airlines also operating an extensive range of domestic flights within the country.
Ferries are another very charming and scenic way to connect to the islands and ports in Malaysia. These ferries operate on a daily basis from countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Thailand and offer many choices between nominal boat rides to luxury cruises.
Ques. What's the best way to travel within Malaysia and its neighbors?
Ans. An extensive international railway network operates between Thailand and Singapore. Tickets purchased in Malaysia itself (or online) are usually cheaper (often almost half the price) than if purchased from Singapore. Most tourists also travel to Johor through the causeway and take a local bus or train to different destinations to save travel costs.
There are also coach buses that connect Miri and Limbang in East Malaysia to Brunei while direct buses operate from Pontianak (in West Kalimantan, Indonesia) to both Kuching and Sarawak in Malaysia. Several buses also operate between many cities in Malaysia to places in Thailand like Hatyai and Bangkok.
Taxis are easy to hire and they are inexpensive in Malaysia. They can be hired from the 24 hour travel desk at any airport terminal. It is advisable to rent taxis from within the airport terminal itself as these have standard rates and you can make sure that you are not being fleeced. Fares can be anywhere from 180 RM to a 350 RM depending on distance travelled. If not renting from the terminal it is advisable to get the advice of the locals or the concierge of your hotel to ensure you get a legitimate, licensed driver.
Rental car options are varied and high quality across all parts of Malaysia, however, for standardized and reliable service it is generally advisable to go with a major company based out of your airport of arrival.
Ques. What are the driving conditions like? How much does car rental cost?
Ans. The other option is to drive into and within Malaysia in your own car. Most of Malaysia's main cities are well connected by a fantastic network of highways. You can rent a Malaysian Proton or Perodua for less than 150 RM per day to get the experience of driving on the country’s fantastic roads, winding along a spellbinding and picturesque landscape. It is important to remember that Malaysia (like most of Asia) practices driving on the left side of the road. Barring some traffic bottlenecks within Kuala Lumpur and George Town driving within Malaysia is orderly and a very pleasurable experience. Some toll roads even accept Singapore dollars but at a very low rate, therefore it is better to have enough Malaysian currency on hand.
Ques. What's the best way to find high quality, suitable accommodation?
Ans. Travelers are spoilt for choice when it comes to variety, class and value for money in the field of hotels and resorts across Malaysia. Our Destination Guides each feature MalaysiaExplorer.net's own 'Top-Pick Award' ( shown below), given to accommodation providers offering truly outstanding service. When you see this mark you can be sure that the resort/hotel has been hand-picked by our team for its unrivalled excellence in service, quality and various other characteristics. We recommend this as a good means of starting your hunt.
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MalaysiaExplorer.net's booking partner provide an outstanding range of options, from budget digs to luxury resorts and city-center hotels. They also provide detailed image galleries and verified guest reviews™.
Ques. Do I need a visa for my stay?
Ans. There are immigration checkpoints at the different ports of entry into the country. The Malaysian visa requirements vary from country to country. Most western countries including the commonwealth nations and nationals of Ireland, Switzerland, Netherlands, San Marino and Liechtenstein, do not require a visa to enter Malaysia. It should be noted, however, that citizens of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka do require a visa to enter. Citizens from most western countries can travel into and stay in Malaysia for 3 months for business or tourist purposes without a visa if travelling with a passport valid for at least 6 months from the entrance date.
Each visitor to Malaysia must, however, fill in a Disembarkation Card to be handed to the Immigration Officer along with the national passport on arrival. This is essential even while travelling between Sabah and Sarawak. Visitor passes issued in Sabah are not valid in Sarawak and vice versa. As of 2011 international arrivals will have their fingerprints taken as part of a wider security drive undertaken by the government.
Visas are issued by the Malaysian consulates through their agent representatives in the country from which the application is made. Visitors can check their exact visa requirements on the traveldocs website.
Ques. Is Malaysia really a shopping haven?
Ans. Malaysia offers visitors a myriad of opportunities to shop, from the latest designer brands and electronic hardware to elegant Malay garments and meticulously handcrafted wooden baskets. The best places to find bargains as well as high end shops are Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi. Malacca and the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia are good places to shop for antiques and artifacts.
Malaysian batik with its vibrant floral designs can be found in many local markets, handicraft stores and shopping malls. It is cheaper to purchase batik products here than in the shops that are part of tour packages.
Malaysia is truly Pewter paradise because of its rich tin oxide ores. Very good quality Pewter products can be found almost anywhere in Malaysia in central markets and craft shops. The Pewter here is priced lower and is lower in quality as compared to the national brand “Royal Selangor” that can be found in major shopping malls. The pride of Malaysia, Royal Selangor products are high quality and spectacular and unique only to Malaysia.
Ques. What is the food and drink like? Should I tip?
Ans. One can’t leave Malaysia without shopping for some local snacks. While each state has a local delicacy most snacks popular in Malaysia can be found in the nation’s capital with its range of delicacies, sweets and snacks unique to the different ethnic groups of the country.
A diverse population must mean diverse cuisines as well. Malaysia boasts a range of popular Indian, Chinese, Nyonya and Malay delicacies like Laksa, Nasi Lemak, rich curries with their coconut milk bases, Roti Pratas, fish ball noodles and much more. You can get a taste of this gastronomic array from a mere 3 to 4 RM per meal in the roadside hawkers to about 60 RM in restaurants. Most if not all restaurants in Malaysia have a 10% service charge included in the bill, so tipping is not necessary anywhere in the country. Of course you can always make an eager hawker stall owner or a waiter or cab driver happier by giving them a little above the ticket charge as a token of appreciation.
Although Malaysia is a self-proclaimed Islamic country, alcohol is widely available and can be bought from many licensed outlets barring some states like Kelantan and Terengganu that have a ban on alcoholic beverages. Liquor prices in most places in Malaysia are however comparatively higher. You could expect to pay about 7.50 RM ($2.30 US / £1.53 GBP) or even more for a can of beer in supermarkets or 7 elevens.
Ques. Is it easy to access the Internet in Malaysia? Will my mobile phone work?
Ans. Being connected is never a problem in Malaysia with its GSM mobile phone network. The top mobile companies in Malaysia are Celcom, Maxis and DiGi with extensive cell tower networks all around the nation. Most hotels in the metros are also wireless enabled. You can stay connected as long as you are not far away from the city or in dense jungles with only a guide to trust.
Ques. Is Malaysia safe?
Ans. Whether travelling in a group or alone, Malaysia is a safe and tourist friendly country with a respectable name for itself within Asia. Malaysia, as with much of Asia, is a lot more laidback than the West and this extends to most aspects of their everyday life. Malaysia is a very peaceful country, and most Malaysians are obliging, happy and pleasant folks!
Ques. Where can I find a tourist information office in Malaysia?
Ans. There are tourism information offices located in every state in Malaysia. They can provide assistance with travel and also help in emergency situations. Log onto http://www.tourism.gov.my for a detailed list of offices in each state.
A little bit of planning and healthy respect for the country’s traditional practices can go a long way in making your Malaysian holiday a truly memorable one.