11 things to know about MALAYSIA before you visit

Malaysia is a country of contrasts. Modern cities punctuate ancient rainforests, and Chinese temples stand next to Hindu shrines and Islamic mosques. A mix of like idyllic islands, cosmopolitan cities and wild jungles, it is a country with cultures and customs that transcend its geographical boundaries. Where Chinese and Indian rituals melt into Malay beliefs and ideas.


Although situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia today is a fusion of colonial memories, vibrant multiculturalism and indigenous ways of life. The things that make Malaysia famous and unique can be surprising as four distinct but thriving cultures live here side-by-side. So if you are thinking of why visit Malaysia, and are in the process of doing your research, here is a list of 11 things that you should know about Malaysia, before you visit:


#1 – Malaysia is a country of two halves


Just look at the map and you will see that Malaysia is sliced in the middle by the South China Sea. Half of the country is located on the Peninsula sandwiched between Thailand and Singapore. And the other half which includes the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah – is located on the island of Borneo, sharing it with Indonesia and Brunei.


#2 –  Not all Malaysians are Malay


In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s biggest city, only 46% of the population is Malay. In fact, the Malays were not the first people to populate Malaysia. That honor falls to the so-called Orang Asli (or indigenous tribes). Malaysia was colonized (in parts) by the Portuguese, Dutch and British who all brought new cuisines, ideas and languages into the country. The British colonial period also opened doors for mass migration from mainland China and India.




Thanks to centuries of migration, Malaysia is now an incredibly multicultural country. The three main groups that make up the Malaysian Society today are Malays, Chinese and Indians. So be prepared to hear a cacophony of languages and taste flavors from all over the world once you are in Malaysia.


#3 – Malaysians ‘love’ food


When you arrive anywhere in Malaysia the locals will ask you if you have already eaten? If you meet any new Malaysians on your travels the first question they will ask you is what do you think of the food?



Malaysians are truly obsessed with food. Food is perhaps the one thing that indisputably unites the different ethnicities and religions in Malaysia. Hawker centers and food stores exist everywhere selling food 24/7 to hungry locals. You can buy food anywhere and at any time of the day. You must experience ‘Nonya food’ down in Melaka,  Indian ‘thalis’ in Little India and of course, try a traditional ‘nasi lemak’ for breakfast.


#4 – You can buy food and drink during Ramadan


Although Malaysia is a majority Islamic country, because of the significant Chinese and Indian populations, you won’t have any problem finding food during daylight hours throughout the Islamic fasting festival of Ramadan. In Kuala Lumpur and other big cities, the restaurants might be quieter but nearly all will still be open.




#5 – Plan your travels avoiding Malaysia’s monsoon seasons


Malaysia has a tropical climate. This means that there are monsoon seasons every year. When planning a trip to Malaysia, make sure that you have the best trip experience by considering the Monsoon months and avoiding them if you can. The monsoon season on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia and western Sarawak is between December and February every year. Many of the East Coast Islands like the Perhentian Islands are completely closed at this time of year.


#6 – Malaysia has 9 kings!


Did you know that Malaysia has 9 kings? Not one but nine! Only one sultan at a time is the official constitutional monarch and head of state of Malaysia. The crown changes hands every 5 years and one of the other kings becomes the head of state. There are 13 states in Malaysia only 9 of them have Royal families. To keep things fair and everybody united they keep rotating the crown. Of course, this means that there are lots of palaces to visit and plenty of extra public holidays!


#7 – Forget about Uber, get a Grab car.


If you don’t fancy driving in Malaysia, the public transport in KL is generally very good. However, you’ll find that it is much more convenient though to use the car-hailing apps. And even though a lot of tourists take a trip to Kuala Lumpur, which is the Malaysian capital, the country itself has many more places to visit and getting around is easy.



Uber no longer exists in Malaysia instead everyone uses Grab. Download the Grab app before you leave and you can use it to book rides throughout Kuala Lumpur and the rest of Malaysia. The best news for tourists is that you can pay the driver with cash meaning your Grab account doesn’t need to be linked to a Malaysian bank account or card.


#8 – There are festivals and holidays almost every week of the year!


In a country where so many cultures live side-by-side, you will find it difficult to find a day of the year when there isn’t a festival taking place. Each state has local holidays as well as the national ones. The major festivals every year are Eid Al Fitr, Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas, but there are scores of smaller ones as well.


Planning your travels so that you are are in Malaysia during a festival is easy and very rewarding. There are usually free events, concerts and get-togethers. However, it does mean that there are many days each year when museums and public buildings are closed and traffic is particularly heavy. On the plus side, if you’re working in Malaysia, it means that you get a LOT of public holidays!


#9 – Stunning Street Art


Malaysia is reinventing itself as a contemporary travel destination with street art. In the cities of Penang, Melaka, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh you’ll see bright and colorful wall murals everywhere. In Georgetown, Penang the famous murals by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic have become major tourist attractions in their own right.  The street art has breathed new life into crumbling cities and dark alleyways. In Georgetown, the murals have become a global Instagram sensation. Kwai Chai Hong in Chinatown, KL is a new addition to the Insta-worthy outdoor art scene.




#10 – Everyone is bilingual, lah!


In a country of so many different cultures, most people can speak more than one language. The official language in Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia. However, much of the population also speaks Mandarin, Tamil or a Chinese dialect such as Hokkien.


Before you go and take Bahasa lessons though, you should know that almost everybody speaks English. Those who don’t speak English fluently will be able to speak Manglish which is an interesting mix of English, Malaysian and Mandarin – where nearly all sentences end with the word ‘lah’!


#11 – There are still tigers and elephants in Malaysia


Taman Negara is the oldest rainforest in the world and is located on Peninsular Malaysia. It is Malaysia’s ultimate wildlife spot. This huge area of rainforest is believed to be over 130 million years old. Unfortunately, now that there is deforestation in the Malaysian rainforests and so much rainforest has already been destroyed in the region, Taman Negara has become one of the only places in Malaysia where Malayan tigers survive in the semi-wild. Along with tigers, the ancient rainforest houses a huge variety of exotic birds, insects and larger mammals. It’s a fantastic place to visit with river trips, jungle treks and canopy walkways.



The best place to see elephants is at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre in Pahang State. Over Malaysian Borneo, you may still be able to catch glimpses of wild Pygmy Elephants deep in the rainforest.



Author Bio: Kirsty is a British family travel blogger currently living in sunny Malaysia. She has travelled to over 100 countries including over 25 with her two young children. Her blog focuses on honest family travel with a twist of feminism exploring women’s history, rights and stories around the world. Find her at World for a Girl. Follow her adventures on social media on Facebook.


StreetTrotter is a Travel, Culture & Lifestyle blog, inspiring people everyday with real stories to look good and travel even better. Founded in 2012 by Shraddha Gupta, Founder & COO, this space is all about experiencing new things in life, be it a daring mountain trek, a frugal backpacking trip, a runway look made local, or simply anything that scares you enough to live a little more deeper.

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