From the towering skyscrapers of the tallest building in
the world to the rustic kampongs of some of the most beautiful
beaches known to man, Malaysia offers practically all of the
attractions of South East Asia in one country. Its early embrace
of modernity, combined with the natural friendly and welcoming
attitude of its people, makes the country one of the easiest
places to traverse in South East Asia, and one of the most
Geography and climate
Malaysia's diversity is not limited to its people. A variety
of landscapes coexist across the region, including dense sultry
rainforests, cool floral hill stations, idyllic white-sanded
beaches and numerous exciting and varied townships. Its wealth
of natural beauty is overwhelming, providing much opportunity
for both active exploration and passive appreciation.
West Malaysia - or Peninsular Malaysia, as it is known
- houses the cosmopolitan capital city of Kuala Lumpur and
is the most modernised area of the country. Across the South
China Sea on the island of Borneo lies East Malaysia,
consisting of Sabah and Sarawak, which receives
fewer visitors yet boasts a wealth of natural delights and
some of the oldest, densest rainforest in the world. Sarawak
surrounds the small, independent, coastal sultanate of Brunei.
The east coast is most affected by the monsoon period of
Malaysia's typically tropical climate, so it's probably best
to avoid a trip to this area between November and February
if you're planning on making the most of the beaches. The
rest of the country enjoys a more stable climate, with warm
rain falling intermittently in short, sharp bursts throughout
the monsoon, drying up astonishingly quickly as the sun reappears.
Temperatures typically hover between 70F (21C) to 90F (32C),
even at night, with about 90% humidity.
Singapore was initially part of Malaysia when the
country was first officially established in 1963, but withdrew
just two years after joining. However, strong links between
the two countries remain and a visit to Singapore is often
seen as an intricate part of the Malaysian experience.
The original inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia are collectively
known as orang asli (translated as 'original peoples')
- indigenous tribes who have in recent years seen their land
threatened by development. The country has always attracted
traders, and settlers from overseas have been making the area
their home since as far back as 4,000 years ago -most notably
the Chinese and Indians. More recently, the west coast was
settled by the Portuguese for trade, followed by the British.
Malaysia finally received its independence in 1957.
Just under 50% of Malaysia's 24 million inhabitants are Malay.
The Chinese constitute about 33% of the population, Indians
about 10%, with Eurasians and indigenous tribes making up
the rest. Malays have benefited from various positive discrimination
measures since 1971, yet the Chinese remain by and large the
wealthiest ethnicity in the country, while Malays dominate
in the political realm.
Bahasa Malaysia is the official language, but people
of different ethnic backgrounds usually communicate with each
other in English, which is widely spoken throughout the country.
The state religion of Islam predominates, yet Christianity,
Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and various other religious sects
flourish within the country.
The official currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM), made
up of 100 sen. In 1998, financial concerns led the government
to fix the ringgit to the US dollar at a rate of 3.8. Current
approximate conversions are as follows:
£1 = 6 RM
$1 (US) = 3.8 RM
Euro 1 = 3.5 RM
For up to date currency information, check the Currency
Travellers' cheques in most major foreign currencies are
easily changed at any bank or moneychangers in Malaysia, although
British pounds and American dollars are preferred. Credit
cards are widely used by large organisations, hotels, restaurants
and so on, while ATM machines within major towns and cities
will provide you with cash as long as you have a PIN number
with your card.
Malaysians are highly used to modern fashions and have their
own designers competing in the western world of haute couture
- shoe designer Jimmy Choo and batik designer Eric
Tho being perhaps the most famous outside of Malaysia.
The humid climate and a general preference for modest behaviour,
especially outside the capital, means long, loose cotton clothing
is still your best bet for practical comfort. Remember to
dress with respect when visiting temples, especially Muslim
mosques, when you should remove your shoes, avoid wearing
shorts and women should cover their heads.
You'll see a variety of fashions on the street - jeans and
T-shirts, shawls, Indian saris and sarongs, Chinese cheong
sams, baju melayu (traditional Malay dress)
- and all are available to buy relatively cheaply throughout
Citizens of Commonwealth countries and Ireland, Switzerland,
the Netherlands, Lichtenstein and San Merino do not require
visas to enter Malaysia, with the exception of people from
Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. All passports should,
however, be valid for at least six months beyond the period
of your stay. Most other European nationals, Americans, Japanese
and South Africans do not require visas for limited periods
of stay. Most people are given a 30 or 60 day permit on arrival.
If travelling to Sabah or Sarawak, your passport will be checked
again and a new permit will be issued.
Kuala Lumpur is a modern city with few health risks. However,
visitors to Malaysia are recommended to take precautions against
malaria, dengue fever, rabies and hepatitis, especially if
visiting more rural areas. Mosquito repellent is advisable
and sun block a must, as the rays can affect you even when
the outlook appears hazy.
Malaysia has a strict line against drugs, with all offenders
considered equally culpable. Drug traffickers of all nationalities
receive the mandatory death sentence and leniency is not to
Kuala Lumpur's main international airport is located at Sepang,
a surprising 33 miles south of the city. Regular bus and train
services will drop you in the city centre, while metered taxis
are also available. Minibus taxis are a popular option for
large parties with plenty of luggage, as they will drop you
at the doors of your destination in the city centre for about
RM100-150 ($25 - $40).
Getting around the country is easiest by bus in Peninsular
Malaysia, and plane on the east coast. Trains are also efficient
and comfortable, but the network is limited. Rickshaws are
a dying breed, mostly replaced by taxis, which are all metered
in the Capital. The new efficient LRT is an excellent method
of transport around the capital, offering some respite from
the quasi-permanent rush hour that holds the city in gridlock.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Visas
Official guide to visa requirements for entering Malaysia
Malaysia's official government tourist website.