The country is divided into two specific regions, Peninsular Malaysia and the northern half of the island of Borneo.In Peninsular Malaysia, the capital, Kuala Lumpur has grown to be a modern, bustling city of well over a million people. Superficially, KL (as it’s almost universally known) may appear to be just another modern Asian city of gleaming skyscrapers, but it retains much of the character and local colour that has been so effectively wiped out in other Asian-boom cities such as Singapore. It has plenty of colonial buildings in the centre, a vibrant Chinatown with street vendors and night markets and a bustling Little India.Penang Island, off Peninsula Malaysia’s northwestern coast, is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia and one of the country’s premier resort areas.
The major attraction is the vibrant and intriguing city of Georgetown where you are certain to see beautiful old Chinese houses, vegetable markets, temple ceremonies, trishaws, mahjong games and all the other aspects of Asian street life.Malacca is an interesting blend of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences and is considered Malaysia’s most historic city.The Cameron Highlands, in the centre of Peninsular Malaysia, are a series of hill stations at altitudes between 1500m (4920ft) and 1800m (5904ft).
This fertile area is the centre of Malaysia’s tea industry and it is the place where locals and visitors come to escape the heat of the plains. Attractions include jungle walks, waterfalls, tea plantations, beautiful gardens and plenty of wild flowers.
The people of Malaysia are usually quite laid back. Handshaking is generally an accepted way of greeting each other, however the traditional greeting is when a person offers both hands, lightly touches the other person’s hands, then brings their own hands to their chest which symbolises “greeting from the heart”.
Shoes must be removed before entering a house or religious site and the right hand should always be used when eating or giving or receiving something. One should not point with the right forefinger, instead the thumb of the right hand should be used. When taking pictures, it is usually permitted, however it is always best to ask for permission first.
The dominant religion in Malaysia is Islam with approximately 60% of the population following it. The large Chinese population follows a mix of religions from traditional Chinese religions like Buddhism and Daoism. Hinduism is practiced by Malaysian Indians while some of the population on East Malaysia follow Christianity. Other minority religions include the Bahá’i Faith and Sikhism.
Bahasa Melayu is the national and official language. English is widely spoken in service and tourism industries and is now a compulsory subject in schools.
Malaysian cuisine is a mixture of hot and spicy influences including Chinese, Indian and of course, traditional Malay dishes. The best places to try real, local foods are in hawker stalls at the side of roads and in coffee shops. In these places, visitors will find cheap, but delicious menus to sample.
Popular dishes in Malaysia include:
Nasi Lemak: this is the most common breakfast food found in Malaysia. Rice is cooked in a light coconut milk with anchovies, peanuts, cucumber and a bit of chili.
Rengand: this dry curry dish is usually made with beef and consists of stewed meat in a spicy curry paste.
Chili crab: this dish is essentially what the name suggests, a whole crab that has been covered in sticky chili sauce.
Laksa: the exact recipe of this dish changes depending on region, but it usually just coconut served with seafood or chicken.
Bak chor mee: this is a noodle-based dish cooked in a chili sauce with minced pork, fried anchovies and vegetables.
It is best to avoid tap water in Malaysia and visitors should try to stick to bottled water. Coffee (kopi) and tea (teh) are popular drinks usually served with condensed milk. Visitors are encouraged to try “teh ais” which is an iced milky tea. Kopi tongkat ali ginseng is a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root and ginseng which is then served with milk. Locally brewed beer includes Tiger and Anchor while local brew is called tuak and is fermented rice wine that has been flavoured with either sugar or honey.
With a population of 30,496,000 people, Malaysia is located in Southeast Asia and is made up of two main regions: Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. Peninsular Malaysia is bordered by Thailand in the south and by Singapore to the north. Eastern Malaysia shares borders with Brunei and Indonesia. Malaysia also has many islands and reefs with Labuan being the largest island.
Much of Malaysia is mountainous with the country being divided in half by the Crocker Mountain Range in Sabah. Sabah is also home to the only active volcano in Malaysia, Bombalai Hill as well as the highest point in the country, Mount Kinabalu standing at 4,095 m (13,435 ft). Mount Kinabalu is located in Kinabalu National Park and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich wildlife which includes the world’s largest flower – rafflesia as well as orang-utans.
Other mountain ranges include the Titiwangsa Mountains which begin in Thailand and then head south into Peninsular Malaysia. The highest peaks in the Titiwangsa are Mount Tahan which reaches 2,187 m tall and Gunling Korbu which reaches 2,183 m (7,162 ft). The Bintang Mountains are located in the state of Perak and are part of the Tenasserim Hills. This range begins in southern Thailand in the north and runs to south Perak. The highest peak in this range is Bukit Bokbak at 1,199 m (3,933 ft).
Eastern Malaysia is characterised by coastal regions, hills, valleys and a mountainous interior. Most of the population chooses to live on the coastal plains. East Malaysia used to be covered with trees, however, many forest areas have been cleared due to the increase in the logging industry beginning in the 1960s (over 80% of Sarawek’s forests have been felled).
There are only two natural lakes in Malaysia, while rivers are abundant. The largest rivers in the East are Ranjang River at 760 km (472 mi), and Kinabatangan River at 560 km (348 mi). The longest river on the peninsula is the Pashang River at 435 km (270 mi). Interestingly, the Mulu Caves located in the East are the largest caves in the world.
Archaeological findings suggest that the first inhabitants of Malaysia date back to around 40,000 years ago. Although little is known about prehistoric Malaysia, it is believed that people from Southwestern China probably began migrating to Malaysia approximately 10,000 years ago. Indian influence began by at least the 3rd century BC while trade with China began by the 1st century BC.
Despite many Malay kingdoms being established in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, for much of its early history, Malaysia was under the control of many different Southeast Asian empires. Between the 7th and 13th centuries, a great deal of the Malay Peninsula was under the Buddhist Srivijaya Empire. At the beginning of the 15th century, Cheng Ho, a Chinese general arrived in Malay with greetings from his emperor. The Siamese were becoming a threat in the north and Cheng Ho offered support. With the aid of China, Malay was able to expand its territory onto the Peninsula. Islam also arrived at this time.
The wealth and prosperity that Malay was enjoying at this time came to the attention of Western Europeans. They came looking for rich new spices with the Portuguese being the first to arrive in 1511. The Dutch established trading bases in the 17th century while the British came in the 18th century. The British were originally interested in the seaports that Malay offered which would help protect their trade routes, however, after the discovery of tin, this became the primary focus.
The British brought in Chinese immigrants to work in the tin mines, and brought workers from India to work in the rubber plantations. By the late 19th century, conflict between the Chinese and Malay population erupted causing civil wars. This, coupled with increased piracy on the western part of the peninsula forced the British to take a firm stand. They formed the Federated Malay States including Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan in 1896 and these states were led by a British general. Siam ceded control of the four remaining states to Britain in 1909.
During the Second World War, the US, Dutch and British governments prevented trading of essential goods to Japan, forcing Japan to look to Southeast Asia for supplies. They began bombing beaches in Malay and Singapore in 1941. The Commonwealth troops were expecting an attack by sea and were therefore not prepared. Japan was able to occupy Malay for three and a half years until their surrender when Britain came back to reassert authority.
After the Japanese left, the economy in Malay was suffering. As a result of this, Chinese guerilla fighters emerged from the jungle under Chin Pen to take control. This time in Malaysian history is known as “The Emergency” and lasted for twelve years. Intense fighting happened between British, British Commonwealth and Malay forces against Chin Pen and the Malayan Communist Party. The Emergency was the longest continuous Australian military commitment in Australian history.
In 1957 Malay was granted independence from Britain and became a centralised federation with a constitutional monarchy. In 1963, the north Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak along with Singapore, joined to create the country of Malaysia. Indonesia however was unhappy with the new arrangement and adopted a policy of confrontation. British and Commonwealth forces stepped in but the political differences that remained caused Singapore to choose independence in 1965.
Since independence, Malaysia has grown to become a powerhouse in the Southeast Asian economy. There are still internal power struggles, however, politicians of recent years have worked towards political reform and have improved the quality of life immensely for many Malaysians. Their goal is for Malaysia to be a fully developed country by 2020.