Malaysia is made up of a peninsula and the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is well known for its lovely beaches, lush rainforests, exotic wildlife, charming small towns and modern cosmopolitan cities, and so much more.
There are many races in Malaysia; such as Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian. As such, much of their architecture, food, fashion, language, attractions, entertainment and lifestyle have interesting cultural influences.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia. It is a fascinating city with so much to offer. See our Things To Do In Kuala Lumpur for some of the interesting attractions such as Batu Caves and the iconic 451m-tall Petronas Twin Towers.
Where is Malaysia?
Just north of Singapore, above the equator, and south of Thailand is the peninsula that is West Malaysia. Across the South China Sea, part of the island of Borneo is East Malaysia.
Together, they form the entire country known as Malaysia.
West Malaysia is made up of many states, and has many interesting cities. There is the exciting Kuala Lumpur, the charming Ipoh, and fascinating Penang. Just to name a few.
East Malaysia has two well known cities. The main city is Kuching. And the smaller city is Miri.
Each of these cities have different sights to see. All very interesting. And each has different and very tasty food to offer.
Races, Culture & Religion
Malaysia is a country with many races. There are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, and many more.
Culture & Religion
Officially, the main religion in Malaysia is Islam. At the same time many other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity are accepted, tolerated and respected.
With all the different races – the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians – there is much diversity in customs and traditions that has gifted the country with a very colourful heritage.
Important festivals celebrated by each religion are proclaimed as public holidays. As everyone observes others’ practices, there is a feeling of understanding and respect for each other.
Festivals and Public Holidays
Here are some of the public holidays and festivals in Malaysia:
– Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Malay)
– Thaipusam (Indian)
– Chinese New Year (Chinese)
– Hari Raya Aidil Adha (Malay)
– Awal Muharram (Malay)
– Wesak Day (Chinese & Indian)
– Sabah Kaamatan Festival
– Sarawak Gawai Festival
– The Birthday of SPB Yang Di Pertuan Agong
– Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
– National Day
– Moon Cake Festival (Chinese)
– Deepavali (Indian)
– Christmas (Indian & Chinese)
Dates are not shown as some can change because they follow the lunar calendar.
Dress Codes & National Dress
Most Malaysians wear clothing that is of western influence. On special or major religious occasions, they will wear the traditional fashion and accessories.
Some Malaysians wear a form of a headscarf called Tudung. It is worn in accordance to Islam belief. It covers the hair, ears, and neck, leaving only the face to be seen.
As a visitor, please be respectful and do not stare when you see someone wearing the Tudung. Also, do not wear clothes that are too revealing or offensive in public.
Sepak Takraw. Heard of it?
This is Malaysia’s national sport. Players use every body part except their hands to get a ball over a net. The ball is made of rattan or woven palm stems. It is hollow on the inside.
This sport is also popular and played in many other Southeast Asian countries.
Currency in Malaysia
The currency of Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit. It is sometimes symbolized by RM. The currency code is MYR.
The Ringgit is used everywhere in Malaysia. It is rare that an establishment will accept any other currency.
Travel Tip: Get ready Malaysian Ringgit when you visit Malaysia
Weather in Malaysia
The temperate in Malaysia varies very little. It is usually around 30°C by day. It does get humid all year round, and that does make the air feel warm and uncomfortable.
The northeast monsoon ushers in the rainy season from the months of late November to early March. Driest months are usually May to August.
But it has been noted that the weather is a little different these days. There can be heavy rains or even torrential thunderstorms during June. So do check weather websites before planning to visit.
There is also another thing to look out for, and that is Haze. This can affect visibility, and as such ruin a good vacation. This is known to happen during the hot months. It can be any time from May to October.
If you have any conditions that affect your breathing or heart, try to avoid this period.
Travel Tip: Check the weather before flying to Malaysia. Especially for haze.
Things To Do in Malaysia
There is plenty to see in Malaysia, both East and West. Each city has something unique to offer, whether to see, play, eat and even stay.
Things To Do In Ipoh
Just a little away from the hustle and bustle of the city, there is the enchanting Kek Look Tong. A cave with a temple and many spiritual statues and artifacts. Plus, a hidden gem that is a paradise-like garden with lakes.
In recent years, the First Concubine Lane has been redesigned and given a fresh breath of life. The lane now hosts chic boutique hotels, local cafes that offer unique dishes and desserts, and retail stores with merchandise that is so different that you will want some.
Ipoh has a very rich culture and history. Both have inspired thought provoking museums. There are so many that you may spend an entire day museum hopping. I had time for only one – Ho Yan Hor Museum.
Things To Do In Kuala Lumpur
Travel Tip: Visit the Twin Towers during the day, and then the night. You’ll get 2 very different views of this awesome structure.
Then there is the famous Batu Caves. It is actually quite a distance off from Kuala Lumpur. But no worries. I have written a blog post on Getting to Batu Caves. The journey is really worth it. To see the giant Lord Murugan gold statue, the large and fascinating caves as well as the temples inside.
Kuala Lumpur has so many beautiful temples. Thean Hou Temple is no exception. In fact, this is a very popular temple and every tourist must visit.
For arts and crafts, go to the Central Market. The place has been refurbished and redesigned, and look splendid now. Watch for great bargains.
Speaking of bargains, Petaling Street is the place to go. Whether day or night, enjoy great food here. Night time is the best to visit this bargain hunting site. Read my blog post to know how to bargain here.
Things To Do In Penang
Penang is amazing! There are so many Things To Do in Penang! So many that I could not possibly do them all the last time I was there. There is the Street Art that is so famous, and is one of the reasons why Georgetown has been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Atop Penang Hill is the gorgeous Kek Lok Si Temple. Go here to get a superb view of Georgetown. Definitely a photo moment!
And there is the educational and entertaining Entopia Butterfly Farm. I never expected to enjoy this place so much!
I will be going back to Penang for more!
Places To Eat In Malaysia
There is a lot of really good food in Malaysia. For me, one of the many reasons to visit Malaysia is simply to enjoy the great tasting food. Here are some of them for each city.
Places to Eat in Ipoh
A small and charming town with some really big hitters in the dining category, some really Best Food in Ipoh. I heard so much about Lou Wong Bean Sprout Chicken that I must try it when I visited. And I did. Local die hards may say that this eating destination is no longer as good as before. But to me, it is still super. (do not that the locals have very high standards for local food, and for tourists like me this is still very good) Read More
Foh San Dim Sum is like an institution. Everyone knows about this place that serves outstanding dim sum delights. Competition has arisen, and there are a few new dim sum places that is giving Foh San a run for the money. Supposedly, the one opposite Foh San is now reputedly better. Still, locals throng Foh San since wee hours of the morning. Read More
Places to Eat in Kuala Lumpur
There are so many Best Places to Eat in Kuala Lumpur. It will take me years to cover them all. For now, these few will do.
Let us start with the DC Comics Superheroes Cafe and Store. A really fun and thrilling joint that serves food named with superheroes code names. And there is the store that sells really cool stuff from the world of comics and movies. Read More
Then there is the iconic Madam Kwan’s that serves street food in a restaurant setting. The dishes are really great tasting. It is no wonder there is always a long queue at any of the Madam Kwan’s restaurants. Read More
Places to Eat in Penang
Penang Food is well known to be super tasty. Many tourists visit Penang just to enjoy the famous and popular food. In fact, hotels have maps indicating where the Best Penang Food are located.
No visit to Penang is complete without having the famous Cendol (or Chendul) at Penang Road. I have tried it. And it is the best Chendol I have ever tasted. Careful as there are copycats. My blog post will show you where this one true stall is. Read More
There is a lot of hype about Gurney Drive. I remember how good the food used to be at this place when my parents brought me here decades ago. Today, sadly the food does not live up to the reputation. Find out why? Read More
Where to Stay in Malaysia
To be honest, Hotel Excelsior is a very old hotel. There are many new Ipoh Hotels you can choose from, where you can enjoy more contemporary facilities and amenities. So, why did I choose Hotel Excelsior then? Well, it is an institution. It was the first international hotel in this sleepy small town. Recently, they have also upgraded the hotel, and the rooms are refreshed with many new services. Read More
In contrast to Ipoh’s Hotel Excelsior, I decided to try a very new hotel among the range of Kuala Lumpur Hotels. When I stayed at The FACE Suites Kuala Lumpur, the car park area was still under renovation. Even the hotel signage was not complete. But the rest of the hotel was ready, and I had a really good experience here. One of the best features at this hotel was the Infinity Pool with a magnificent view of the city, and the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. Read More
Another hotel that you like to try in Kuala Lumpur is the Ramada Suites Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Nestled in the heart of downtown zone, this is ideal for those who wish to be right smack in the middle of the shopping belt as well as the drinking holes and fine restaurants. Read More
There are no short supply of all types of Penang Hotels; five star, four star, three star, boutique, budget, and the rest. I find it is all a matter of where you are going to focus on during your vacation. If you are there more for the beaches, then the resorts along the Batu Ferringhi stretch is ideal. If you are going to be in Georgetown, then there are the many choices of hotels that have history and culture or a budget one like Cititel Express Penang. Read More
Shopping in Malaysia
Whether it is in the larger cities or smaller towns, you can enjoy the shopping experience in shopping malls, charming small stores to street stalls at night markets.
The range of goods is extensive. Some malls are known for lower priced goods while there are luxury malls, too.
The best time to shop is during the 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival, which happens around June to September every year. Do check online for exact dates.
There is exemption of duty on a range of items such as cameras, watches, pens, cosmetics, perfumes, mobile phones, computers, cigarettes and liquor. Islands like Labuan and Langkawi offer goods that are duty-free.
Tip: It is all right to bargain at roadside stalls or night markets.
How to get to Malaysia?
Since West Malaysia is a peninsula, there are many choices on how to get to this part of the country. For East Malaysia, it is only by plane.
Malaysia’s national carrier is the Malaysia Airlines. AirAsia is its sister carrier that is no frills and a budget airline. Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
There are other airports in other states where more and more flights have access to. These are Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak), Penang, Langkawi and Johor Bahru.
From Thailand, you can take the national railway operator that is the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM, also known as Malayan Railways). This system used to travel to and from Singapore. But it has been closed. A new train system is now being planned to replace this route.
Bus and coaches are the best ways to travel to West Malaysia when you are arriving from neighboring countries such as Singapore or Thailand. There are many transportation companies that provide this service.
They have direct routes to various destinations such as Penang, Malacca, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, and even Kuala Lumpur as well as the smaller towns like Petaling Jaya.
One of the best bus operators we have experienced so far is Aeroline. We have used this luxury bus service often from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. The experience is very good. We will share about it in a blog post soon.
As mentioned above, there are buses and coaches that travel by road to many cities in Malaysia. This means that you can also drive into the country with a car.
Do note that you will need an International Drivers Permit (IDP) in order to drive into and around Malaysia. Do check with your car rental company for more details.
By Boat / Ferry
There are ferries that sail over the waters to various ports in East and West Malaysia from Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. Luxury cruises are also a choice if you prefer a more comfortable journey with all the facilities, amenities, great food and entertainment they offer.
Do check out the ferry and cruises sites for further information.
Walking into the island of Borneo is not possible. But you can enter West Malaysia from Thailand on foot. The entry points are at Wang Kelian and Padang Besar (both in Perlis), Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah), Pengkalan Hulu (Perak) and Rantau Panjang (Kelantan).
Getting to West Malaysia on foot from Singapore is not allowed.
Most nationalities can enter Malaysia without a visa. Depending on the country you are from, the length of stay permitted can be 14, 30 or 90 days.
To know whether you require a visa to visit Malaysia or not, please confirm with the Malaysian Embassy in your country. Better still, visit the Immigration Department of Malaysia website and the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for confirmation.
Do note that when you overstay in Malaysia, you are subjected to a possible fine. Currently, the rate is MYR30 per day.
Best time to go Malaysia
Almost every day is good to visit Malaysia. This is because the weather is almost the same throughout the year. The only concern is the monsoon that arrives at year end. It usually lasts till January, or latest February. And that can put a dampener on your vacation plans.
1st Low Season (Mar–May)
Weather gets a little warmer. Good news is it is not monsoon season. Also, fewer tourists than other months. Ideal period if you prefer to avoid large crowds, especially at tourist places.
1st High Season (Jun–Aug)
Singapore’s school holidays are during the month of June. Many Singaporeans too arrive in huge numbers to enjoy all that Malaysia has to offer.
From July to August, sometimes way into mid-September, there are many visitors from the Gulf region. Also, due to school holidays. Most are escaping the heat in their own countries.
2nd Low Season (Sep–early Nov)
September to November is less crowded, similar to the 1st Low Season from March to May.
2nd High Season (late Nov–Feb)
Late November to December heralds the school holidays in Malaysia and Singapore. Many Malaysians visit other towns and cities in their home country.
Then there is the New Year followed by Chinese New Year. Traffic can get quite bad during these months as many Malaysians travel from other countries to return home to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Do note that prices are known to escalate during the peak seasons. Even then, remember to book transportation and hotels in advance.
Also, do note that if you plan to enjoy water sports or beach activities, do not visit from November to March. This is monsoon season.
How to get around in Malaysia?
There are many ways to get around Malaysia – by plane, by train, by bus, by taxi, and by foot. When traveling between West and East Malaysia, the only option is flying. This is because the two lands are separated by South China Sea.
Travel between states in Malaysia is easy by plane. There is the carrier called AirAsia. This is a budget airline, and as such the flights are quite affordable. Another airline, Firefly, is also budget, and flies to certain states only.
This is a slower choice of travel compared to road transport, especially for long distances. For short distances, for example, Getting To Batu Caves from Kuala Lumpur, it is decent and fast enough.
There is the ETC (Electric Train Service) that runs faster, and is comfortable with cool air conditioning. It offers fast connection between destinations. This is for West Malaysia.
For East Malaysia, there is a railway line that runs from Tanjung Aru to Tenom.
Malaysia’s highway network is extensive and quite good. One can practically drive from one state to another easily. Do note that there are tolls along the way, each requiring different amounts of payment. Do get cash ready or get the infamous xxx card.
Within cities, with the help of maps, a car can get you around and about. Alternatively, you can hire taxis. Taxis are available almost everywhere in all the cities and larger towns.
Do note that you must negotiate the fare before getting into the vehicle. They rarely go by the meter. Recently, Uber and Grab have started in Malaysia. These services have been found to be cheaper than the taxis, most of the time.
This is the cheapest way to travel in Malaysia. There are many bus operators. The two most dependable ones are Transnasional and NICE/Plusliner. Do choose the 24-seater buses when traveling long distances.
When traveling during peak seasons, which are holidays or weekends, it is wiser to reserve your seats in advance.
If you have ANY questions about Malaysia, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.
Thank you for reading this.
Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,