|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Pearl of the Orient
Malaysia, is in southeastern Asia, and shares borders with Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. Situated between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, Malaysia has traditionally been a meeting place for traders and travellers from the East and West.
The Malays are the people who inhabit the Malayan Peninsula and some of the nearby islands, including the east coast of Sumatra, the coast of Borneo and smaller islands that lie between.
The country is made up of two regions. Peninsular Malaysia, divided into the 'east coast' and the 'west coast' by the Main Range, and lies between Thailand and Singapore. East Malaysia is across the South China Sea on the island of Borneo. East Malaysia is rugged with a series of mountain ranges running through the interiors of both Sabah and Sarawak.
One of Malaysia's key attractions is its extreme contrasts. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts, and five-star hotels sit several metres away from ancient reefs. Malaysia is the perfect destination for a second home or to relocate.
Generally, Malaysia has two seasons. The dry season from May to September, occurs during the south-west monsoon. The rainy season from November to March occurs during the north-east monsoon. Malaysia is generally warm throughout the year with temperatures ranging from 21 to 32 C in the lowlands.
Malay culture has been strongly influenced by that of people of neighbouring lands, including Siamese, Javanese, Sumatran and Indians. Some Hindu rituals survive in Malay culture, as in the second part of the marriage ceremony and in various ceremonies. Malays have also preserved some of their more ancient beliefs in spirits of the soil and jungle, often having recourse to medicine men called (bomohs) for the treatment of ailments.
In the northern states of Perlis and Kedah, intermarriages with Thais were commonplace. The east coast state of Kelantan still has traces of Javanese culture that dates back to the era of the Majapahit Empire of the 14th century. As a result Malaysia has a multicultural and multiracial population consisting of Malays, Chinese, Indians and numerous indigenous peoples.
Although Malay is the official language, English is widely spoken, especially in business, and the English language is a compulsory subject in all schools. The official religion is Islam, but its people are free to observe any religion of their choice. At any place in Malaysia, it is common to see temples, mosques and churches located in close proximity.
Malaysia's rich historical heritage has evidently resulted in its exotic cuisine. In Malay cuisine fresh aromatic herbs and roots are used, some familiar, such as lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallots, kaffir limes and fresh chillies. Both fresh and dried chillies are used, usually ground into a sambal or chilli paste to add hotness to dishes. Dried spices such as cloves, cardamom, star anise, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cinnamon and nutmeg appear frequently in many dishes.
Malaysian cuisine is exciting, spicy and full of flavors. Coconut and tamarind are widely used especially in soup dishes. The unofficial national dish is Nasi Lemak and the perfect accompaniment is Sambal Udang, whole, spicy prawns cooked in a classic Malay sauce. Beef Rendang is a spiced coconut beef dish with nasi kunyit(turmeric rice). Penang is the hawker food capital and you can sample some amazing dishes.
Try Ayam Masak Merah (Red-cooked chicken), slowly simmered in a spicy tomato sauce, great with tomato rice. Malaysian chicken or fish curry is a typical curry cooked in almost all Malaysian homes served with Roti Canai Indian pastry pancake. For a hearty meal try coconut vegetable stew served with Malay rice cake, or BBQ fish such as skate wings marinated in spices then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over hot charcoals served with spicy sambal sauce and Roti Jala as an alternative to rice.
Kuala Lumpur, the capital, is affectionately known as KL. A delightful mix of cross-cultural influences and traditions, and radiates an exciting and enticing charm. Let the city's warmth embrace you as you lose yourself in its unique blend of tradition, culture, old world charm and new world sophistication. Explore its nooks and crannies, and you'll discover captivating sights, sensational sounds, aromatic smells and fantastic people.
KL has a lively nightlife scene and a fascinating art and performance culture, which blends contemporary and traditional styles from many backgrounds. There is the widest range of sporting activities available with state-of -the-art facilities to impress any sporting enthusiast.
The Petronas Twin Towers stand majestically at a height of 451.9m, and is the tallest building in the world. The refreshing enclave of the Lake Gardens is where you can enjoy verdant greenery, orchid & hibiscus gardens, deer park, Butterfly Park and Bird Park.
Istana Negara is the official residence of his Majesty the King of Malaysia and is a stately mansion set within a beautifully landscaped garden. The daily changing of the guard attracts visitors. Merdeka Square is an important heritage site in the city. The Union Jack was lowered here on 31 August 1957 marking Malaysia's independence from colonial rule.
The most distinguished mosque in KL is the Masjid Negara; it has a unique stylised star-shaped dome representing the 13 states of Malaysia and the five pillars of Islam. The Sze Ya Temple is the oldest Taoist temple in the city dating back to 1864, and one of the most elaborate Hindu temples in the country is Sri Maha Mariamman Temple.
KL is a veritable shopping paradise with a wide range of establishments catering to every taste and budget. For bargain hunters Petaling Street is not-to-be-missed, and the Central Market is a bazaar-styled art and craft centre. Visit the Craft Complex which is like a Malay village with ethnic crafts, museum, food court and traditional Malay house.
Penang, often referred to as the Pearl of the Orient, is one of the most picturesque and romantic cities in all of Asia. This tropical island lies in the Indian Ocean, just off the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is a bustling metropolis reflecting a uniquely exotic blend of East and West. Penang is connected by a road bridge and also by ferry.
On Penang Island sits the capital, Georgetown, a city steeped in history and tradition yet sparkling with progress and modern development. Certain sections of Penang present a quaint picture from the past where narrow side streets, trishaws, temples and traders plying their goods, seem to belong to a forgotten era.
Ker Lok Si Temple is reputed to be the biggest Buddhist temple complex in Southeast Asia, the temple stands majestically on a hill in Air Itam. Fort Cornwallis, built on the site of Sir Francis Light's historic landing in 1786, was originally a wooden stockade and now houses a history gallery, cafe and souvenir centre. The War Museum is built around the remnants of a British Fort and contains several installations, above and below ground where old war relics are stored.
Chinatown is large and well-preserved, its numerous clan houses, shop houses and temples provide a fascinating insight into the lifestyle of early Chinese immigrant settlers who came here in the 1800s.
Little India is a quaint Indian town dating back over two centuries and it is worth browsing here the pre-war terrace buildings which house restaurants and all manner of shops. Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram is a unique Buddhist temple and houses the gold-plated reclining Buddha said to be one of the longest in the world.
Penang Hill is Malaysia's first hill station, 830m above sea level. Ascend to the top by hiking up or by travelling in the funicular train which has been operational since 1922 and enjoy the cool climate as well as the fantastic view at the summit.
The city of Melaka is divided into the new and old sections. The older part of the city is fairly compact and has many historical and cultural attractions tucked into the nooks and crannies of its narrow streets. Chinese Hill was the official settlement of the entourage that arrived with the Chinese Princess Hang Li Po who was sent by the Ming emperor to marry the Sultan.
Melaka has many museums; the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum is filled with 15th century artefacts related to the Cheng Ho and Ming Dynasty. Traditional Melaka houses can still be seen in rural communities with the most famous located in Bukit Paloh.
Jonker Street in the older section of the city is a haven for antique collectors and bargain hunters, and artefacts some dating back as far as 300 years, can be found among the interesting collectables.
Outside Melaka are some nice beaches and a cluster of islands. The largest, Pulau Besar is livelier and Pulau Upeh is a quiet island getaway for nature lovers where it is possible to see the rare Hawksbill turtle.
Off the coast of Kedah is a cluster of 99 islands with beautiful beaches, mangroves rich in flora and fauna and fascinating legends. Rent a car to explore the beautiful island of Langkawi. Visit a paddy field, pass small villages with wooden houses framed by palm trees, and experience the local life among the farmers and fishermen.
Take the cable car to the summit of Mount Mat Cincang, Langkawi's second highest mountain. Visit the Field of Burnt Rice, the Hot Springs, The Seven Wells and the Beach of Black Sand that blankets most of the island, or go on a boat tour of the mangroves.
Langkawi has a lingering legend woven into its history. Ask anyone in Langkawi about the tragic legend of a beautiful young lady named Mahsuri, and you'll hear a tale of love, jealousy and a curse that was placed upon the island by her for seven generations.
Today, the seventh generation of Langkawi's inhabitants has long come and gone, but people here still believe that the prosperity and blessings the islands enjoy today, and the passing of the curse, is not a pure coincidence. The mysticism of this legend can be felt in many parts of this island, especially at Makam Mahsuri (Mahsuri's Mausoleum) where the famous legendary figure is said to be buried.
The sprinkling of jade green islands that make up Pulau Payar lies just 30 km south-east of Langkawi, a one hour boat ride. Pulau Payar is the largest island and your base here is the floating platform moored off the island. Step into the underwater observation chamber to view the marine life surrounding a reef.
The 950m-long Tree Top Walk in the Sedim River Recreation Park is the longest canopy walk in the world. The spectacular view you get when you stroll through the jungle canopy is amazing and exciting.
Pekan Rabu is the pride of all Malay's in Kedah. Open every day this market is where you can buy traditional Malay foods such as serunding, dodol and kuah rojak or garam belacan The Paddy Museum is the first one in Malaysia and only the fourth in the world. The museum showcases the paddy cultivation process and displays all kinds of tools and equipment which have been used in the trade over the years.
Island hop to Pulau Beras Basah, Singa Besar and Pulau Dayang Bunting, or take an adventure through the jungle in Ulu Muda Forest. Around 20 kms from Kuah town is Dayang Bunting Lake. The island is moderately populated on one side and virtually uninhabited on the other where the lake is situated.
Legend says that the lake was the favourite bathing pool of a celestial princess named Mambang Sar. A prince, Mat Teja, fell madly in love with her and tricked her into marrying him. Sadly, their child died from a mysterious illness at the age of seven days. Distraught, the grieving Mambang Sari left the child's body in the lake and returned to her heavenly abode. Today, some believe barren women who bathe in this lake will be endowed with a child. Many have claimed to be successful.
Johor is Peninsular Malaysia's southernmost state and is linked to Singapore by a causeway and a bridge. The state capital Johor Bahru, is home to world-renowned golf courses and shopping establishments. JB, as it is more popularly known, is famous for its historical buildings and impressive architecture.
Johor's vast landscape is characterized by plantations of pineapple, rubber, coconut and oil palm on the fringes of which nestle tranquil kampungs and quaint fishing villages. Retaining much of its natural splendours, the state has miles of golden sandy beaches and beautiful offshore islands as well as lush dipterocarp forests.
There are many street stalls, food courts, fast food outlets and fine dining restaurants to choose from in Johor offering both local and international style cuisine. On top of the hill overlooking the Straits of Johor stands the magnificent Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in Malaysia.
Explore the vast wilderness rain forest of Endau-Rompin National Park, one of the peninsula's largest virgin lowland forests. At Buaya Sangkut you will be enchanted by the beautiful sight of a waterfall.
Kota Tinggi Waterfalls cascade from a height of 36m down a steep precipice into a pool deep enough for swimming. Danga Bay is a great place to unwind, relax and just watch the city go by. Sample the delicious fare available from the number of restaurants serving both local and international cuisine.
The state's beautiful islands are easily accessible from the Mersing and Tanjung Leman jetties. Aur Island, along with Dayan Island, Lang Island and Pinang Island are rated among the best diving destinations within the Johor Marine Park. These secluded getaways all boast beautiful beaches with shady cool trees and clear waters.
Johor is a delightful place to shop. There is an immense variety of goods and the state is noted for ceramics and handicrafts as well. The Johor Bahru Duty Free Zone is located at the eastern waterfront and is the largest duty-free complex in Malaysia. There are also ferry links to Singapore and Indonesia from here, and immigration and custom facilities.
When the stress of life's hectic pace gets to you, rejuvenate your mind and body at Tioman Island, the largest of a group of 64 volcanic islands located 80 km northwest off Peninsular Malaysia's east coast. Blessed with miles and miles of soft white sand, swaying palms, wild flowers growing in vivid profusion and cool waterfalls cascading down green slopes, you can immerse yourself in the quiet and tranquil setting. Relax to the cool, refreshing breeze and soothing waves. Bask in the tropical sun or walk along the shores during sunset to experience the beauty of the island.
Enjoy the picturesque sight of rustic villages scattered around the island, where the people are charming, friendly and gracious. Tioman Island is accessible by boat from Mersing town, Tanjung Gemok, Rompin, or Singapore.
According to legend Tioman Island is the resting place of a beautiful dragon princess who, whilst flying from China to visit her prince in Singapore, stopped to seek solace in the crystal-clear waters of the South China Sea. Enraptured by the charms of the place, she decided to discontinue her journey. By taking the form of an island, she pledged to offer shelter and comfort to passing travellers.
Situated on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Terengganu is an ideal holiday getaway. It has the longest coastline in the country, with stunningly beautiful islands that sparkle like gems in the South China Sea. The state is characterised by a strong Malay culture, laid-back lifestyle, tranquil coastal towns and rustic villages.
Pahang, the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia, is endowed with a diverse range of attractions. Nearly two-thirds of the state is enveloped in verdant rain forest, making it a magnificent enclave of lush greenery, exotic wildlife and an abundance of natural attractions.
Kuantan, the administrative capital, is an interesting discovery of modern buildings and charming cottage industries. Pahang's majestic nature, beautiful beaches, bustling townships, quaint villages, friendly people, unique craft and delicious food make for mesmerising and unforgettable vacations.
Redang Island is an enchanting holiday paradise, offering breathtaking blue waters teeming with a wealth of marine life and corals. The enchanting Perhentian islands are made up of the larger Perhentian Besar and smaller Perhentian Kecil, and abound with exciting activities for sun-seekers. Go on a boat ride, swim, snorkel, dive or simply relax by the trendy beach side cafes.
Lang Tengah Island, hailed as one of the state's best kept secrets, has sparkling white sand and aquamarine waters. The varieties of hard and soft corals and prolific marine life make it a paradise for divers.
The tiny tropical gem of Kapas is well-known for squid fishing and nearby Gem Island is another splendid getaway. Tenggol, the furthest island from the mainland, is home to a kaleidoscope of colourful corals and marine life.
The mainland has some superb beaches. Tanjung Jara Beach is an excellent location for windsurfing, boating, kayaking, snorkelling and diving, Marang Beach is popular among photographers for its spectacular sunrise, Penarik Beach has picturesque traditional wooden homes of fisher folk, scattered along the palm fringed shores. An interesting sight here is fishing boats returning with their daily catch.
The multi-tiered Cemerong Waterfall situated in the Cemerong Forest Reserve, is truly a spectacular sight. It has four cascading rapids, the highest of which falls 600m. Also within the area is the biggest Chengal Tree in Malaysia, said to be 1,300 years old. The picturesque Kenyir Lake, surrounded by a vast tropical jungle, is the largest man-made lake in Southeast Asia. Sekayu Recreational Forest is the site of the seven-tiered Sekayu Waterfall. The natural pools are ideal for a refreshing swim amidst lush greenery.
Tanjung Mentong is the gateway to Taman Negara, Malaysia's premier national park. It has one of the world's most complex and rich eco-systems. Taman Negara straddles across Terengganu and two other neighbouring states. Traverse the Marang River to view a quaint village, mangrove swamps, animals such as monitor lizards and otters, as well as cottage industries.
The island of Pulau Duyong is noted for its traditional boat building activities where local craftsmen make beautifully handcrafted vessels. Amazingly, these skilled builders work from memory and without any blueprint.
Kampung Cina is the town's main Chinese village. The preserved entrance is a richly decorated archway with protective dragons. Restoration of elegant homes in this district highlight the cement embossed wall patterns, and long wooden shutter windows.
The Elephant Conservation Centre is dedicated to rescuing and protecting the country's elephants. Take a close look at these friendly jumbos during their feeding times or watch the fun as they enjoy a muddy splash in the nearby river.
The largest hill resort in the country, Cameron Highlands is filled with sprawling tea plantations, terraced flower gardens, orchards and vegetable farms. Head up to the highlands for a refreshing cool retreat where you will be surrounded by undulating valleys and majestic mountains. It is here that Jim Thompson, the Silk King from Thailand went missing, never to be found.
A forty-five minute drive from Kuala Lumpur is the Genting Highlands, dubbed the City of Entertainment. This resort offers indoor and outdoor theme parks, an 18-hole golf course and a casino. Fraser's Hill is a quiet getaway akin to a little Scottish hamlet with granite-coloured mock-Tudor buildings dotting the landscape..
Often called the 'Land below the Wind' because it lies below the typhoon belt, Sabah occupies the eastern part of North Borneo and is East Malaysia's second largest state. Sabah is mountainous and largely carpeted by lush tropical rain-forests, its population of nearly two million is made up of 32 colourful ethnic communities. Kota Kinabalu, the capital, lies in a fertile lowland plain where most commercial and administrative activities are concentrated.
But the 'real' Sabah can best be found in its countryside. Kinabalu Park has been listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site, due to the diversity of plant and wildlife there. It provides a challenging climb amidst a lush virgin rain forest, where you can find hidden hot springs in cool high altitudes. The majestic Mount Kinabalu is one the highest peaks in Southeast Asia.
Sipadan Island off the south eastern coast of Sabah, is the jewel in the diving world, and has been one of the top five dive sites in the world for years. This is attributed to unique underwater geography that encourages proliferation of wildlife. Leather-back turtles, barracuda and white tipped sharks are a common sight while diving in Sipadan.
Mabul and Kapalai Islands, near to Sipadan are great destinations for macro-diving. Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is made up of five islands and is just 20 minutes by speedboat from Kota Kinabalu. Here you can sea-walk amidst colourful fish.
Sabah is famed for its splendid souvenirs including beads, accessories and bamboo products. The Sunday Gaya Street Market is the place to get handicrafts, local delicacies and fresh jungle produce. The Tamu Kota Belud is another popular Sunday market. The vibrantly Bajau horsemen ride gaily decorated ponies during ceremonial occasions. They are known as the Cowboys of the East for their horsemanship.
The Monsopiad Cultural Village takes you back in time to the era of the legendary Kadazan warrior Monsopiad. Founded by the direct descendant of Monsopiad, this living museum showcases traditional village houses, a sacred House of Skulls and several other attractions.
At the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre watch orang utans, known as the wild man of Borneo during the daily feeding sessions. Said to be the world's largest orang utan sanctuary, the centre serves to rescue and retrain primates for jungle living. Off the mainland, Turtle Islands Park is reputed to be one of the most important turtle breeding spots in Southeast Asia.
Situated in Malaysian Borneo, Sarawak is the largest state in the country. Its colourful history under the rule of the White Rajahs, rich tapestry of cultures and superb natural attractions make it a mesmerising holiday destination.
Kuching is situated just inland off the northwest coast of the island of Borneo and and is the capital of the state of Sarawak. Situated near the Equator in the northwestern part of Malaysian Borneo, the third-largest island in the world.
Sarawak is bordered on the south by the Indonesian state of West Kalimantan and on the east by the tiny oil-rich country of Brunei.
The South China Sea lies directly to the north of Kuching and has 420 miles of coastline and an extremely rugged interior,much of which is covered in primary rain forest.
This is the land of endangered proboscis monkeys, orangutans, the world's biggest flower, and the elusive hornbill. Some of the world's largest remaining virgin rain forests can be explored in the many national parks just a short distance from the city.
However, this isn't about jungle living. Kuching is a pleasant and modern city. On your less adventurous days, you could relax on pristine beaches, be pampered in a Spa, play a round of golf, watch the latest Hollywood films, or enjoy a day shopping at one of the many malls and speciality shops in the city.
The name Kuching is derived from the Malay word for "cat," and feline lovers will find themselves in good company here. The city is proud of its cat statues and cat museum and seems to have a certain lazy and content feline quality about it.
Kuching itself, though, is a pretty city that presents a comfortable blend of neo-classical British colonial forts, museums, and government buildings, Chinese-style churches, shop-houses and temples, and unique Borneo-style arts and crafts. It's an eclectic mix.
It is one of the cleanest cities in Malaysia and has been recognised by the United Nations, the Alliance for Healthy Cities, and the World Health Organisation for this achievement. English speakers will have no problem communicating in Kuching, as English is an official language of Sarawak.
Negeri Sembilan is a small but interesting state with a rich culture and history. It is about 50km south of Kuala Lumpur. Negeri Sembilan is often identified with the pervasive influence of the Minangkabau culture. The Minangkabau people migrated across the Straits of Malacca from Sumatra centuries ago and their traditional houses consist of up swept roofs reminiscent of buffalo horns.
A unique feature of the state is the Adat Perpatih, a matrilineal social system practised by the present-day descendants. This system is evident in clan and marriage customs, property ownership and dance forms.
The oldest street in the city is Main Bazaar. Here the shop houses enjoy immense popularity for the bewildering variety of items, from ethnic crafts, textiles to bamboo mats and pottery. The Sarawak Cultural Village showcases the diverse lifestyles of the state's ethnic groups. Visit the authentic dwellings and view their crafts, household items and musical instruments. The lively cultural performance is a major highlight here.
At the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre enjoy the amazing experience of standing close to orang utans in their natural habitat. Watch them swing gracefully as they make their way here during the feeding times. At the Matang Wildlife Centre provides the opportunity to view animals in enclosures.
Welcome to a world dedicated to cats! Touted to be the world's first, the Cat Museum pays tribute to these adorable felines with a range of exhibits, photos, statues and souvenirs. Kuching means cat in Malay
Sarawak has many national parks, each teeming with a wealth of flora and fauna. Bako National Park is the states oldest, and home to the rare long-nosed proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques and various other animals. It serves as an excellent introduction to the rain-forest.
Visit the Gunung Gading National Park for beautiful cascading waterfalls, rare foliage and a chance to see Rafflesia, the world's largest flower. The Loagan Bunut National Park has a natural marvel. The lake is said to dry up and disappear during dry seasons. The Talang and Satang Island National Parks are turtle sanctuaries while Batang Ai National Park offers more jungle adventure.
Go on a river safari to visit the indigenous communities who live in longhouses along the Lemanak, Rejang, Skrang and Batang Ai Rivers. Watch how crafts are made or join in the cultural dances. Enjoy a round of golf in a pristine rain forest setting. Major golf resorts in Sarawak are situated in Kuching, Damai, Padawan, Miri, Sibu and Bintulu, and diving enthusiasts should not miss a trip to Miri, to explore one of the richest reefs in Malaysia. Belais Reef and Luconia Shoals are among the popular dive sites in the South China Sea.
Bario in the Kelabit Highlands is home to the Kelabit people, touted to be among Borneo's best farmers. Visitors will be awed by their culture and lifestyle.
To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia. A bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony.