Destination Malaysia

This page is divided into two sections. The first section contains general information about Malaysia, like history, description of culture, currency, visa, ravel to and in the country and crime / safety. The second part contains information about all the cities I have been to. 

General information about Malaysia
Malaysia, for most visitors, presents a happy mix: there is high-tech infrastructure and things generally work well and more or less on schedule. Malaysia is a federation of 13 states and three federal territories. These are divided between two regions, with 11 states and two federal territories on Peninsular Malaysia and the other two states and one federal territory in East Malaysia. Peninsular Malaysia is divided into two by the Titiwangsa Mountains. The capital city is Kuala Lumpur, while Putrajaya is the seat of the federal government. Malaysia has never recognised Israel and has no diplomatic ties with it. Malaysia is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Malaysia's foreign policy is officially based on the principle of neutrality and maintaining peaceful relations with all countries. Malaysia has its origins in the Malay Kingdoms present in the area which, from the 18th century, became subject to the British Empire. Before the rise of the European colonial powers, the Malay peninsula and the Malay archipelago were home to empires such as the Srivijaya, the Majapahit and the Melaka Sultanate. The Srivijaya and Majapahit empires saw the spread of Hinduism to the region, and to this day, despite being nominally Muslim, many Hindu legends and traditions survive in traditional Malay culture. Mass conversion to Islam only occurred after the arrival of Arab traders during the Melaka Sultanate. This was to change in the 16th century when the Portuguese established the first European colony in Southeast Asia by defeating the Melaka Sultanate. The Portuguese subsequently then lost Malacca to the Dutch. The British also establised their first colony on the Malay peninsula in Penang in 1786, when it was ceded by the Sultan of Kedah. Finally, the area was divided into Dutch and British spheres of influence with the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. With this treaty, the Dutch agreed to cede Malacca to the British and in return, the British ceded all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch. The line which divided the Malay world into Dutch and British areas roughly corresponds to what is now the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. The country is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, which plays a large role in politics. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler, who is "elected" by the sultans for a five-year term from among the nine sultans of the Malay states, though in practice the election usually follows a prescribed order based on the seniority of the sultans at the time of independence. This gives Malaysia a unique political system of rotational monarchy, in which each of the sultans would take turns to be the king of Malaysia. The current king, from Kedah, was sworn in on 13 Dec 2011. Malaysia's government is largely based on the British Westminster system, consisting of a bicameral national parliament, with each of the states also having their own unicameral Dewan Undangan Negeri (State Legislative Assembly). The lower house, known as the Dewan Rakyat (Hall of the People) is elected directly by the people. The legal system is based on English Common Law. The constitution declares Islamthe state religion while protecting freedom of religion. Malaysian citizenship is not automatically granted to those born in Malaysia, but is granted to a child born of two Malaysian parents outside Malaysia. Dual citizenship is not permitted.

Peninsular Malaysia occupies all of the Malay Peninsula between Thailand and Singapore, and is also known as West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat) or the slightly archaic Malaya (Tanah Melayu). It is home to the bulk of Malaysia's population, its capital and largest city Kuala Lumpur, and is generally more economically developed. Within Peninsular Malaysia, the West Coast is more developed and urbanised, and separated from the more rural East Coast by a mountain range - the Titiwangsa. Some 800km to the east is East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), which occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Partly covered in impenetrable jungle where headhunters roam (on GSM networks if nothing else), East Malaysia is rich in natural resources but very much Malaysia's hinterland for industry and tourism. The terrain consists of coastal plains rising to hills and mountains. Peninsular Malaysia consists of plains on both the East and West coasts, separated from each other by a mountain range known as the Barisan Titiwangsa which runs from North to South. Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays make up a 52% majority, there are also 27% Chinese (especially visible in the cities), 9% Indian and a miscellaneous grouping of 13.5% "others", such as the Portuguese clan in Melaka and 12% of indigenous peoples, named Orang Asli. People in Malaysia are pretty. There is hence also a profusion of faiths and religions, with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and even shamanism on the map. The sole official language of Malaysia is Malay, often called Bahasa Malaysia or colloquially, Bahasa Melayu. The Indonesian language is largely based on Malay. Some parts of Malaysia near the Thai border, most notably Kelantan, have dialects of Malay which are nearly incomprehensible to speakers of standard Malay, though most people in these areas will be able to converse in standard Malay if needed. English is compulsory in all schools and widely spoken in the larger cities, although in rural areas a little Malay will come in handy. Malaysians will almost always try to speak 'standardized English' when approached by Western travellers. In general, police stations and government offices will have English-speaking staff on duty. Arabic is taught to those who attend Islamic religious schools, and many clerics as well as other very observant Muslims will have a functional command of Arabic. However, it is not widely spoken, though the Malay language does have a large number of loan words from Arabic. Malaysia is a predominantly traditional Muslim country and you should dress respectfully, particularly in rural areas (wearing trousers or a long skirt, not shorts, and covering your shoulders is recommended but not essential). In more metropolitan areas such as Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Penang, and Ipoh, as well as East Malaysian states (Sabah and Sarawak) with a significant non Muslim population, attitudes are more liberal. All ethnic Malays are considered Muslim by law of the Constitution. As a tourist, it is best not to criticize the Government or the Malay royal families. You may hear Malaysians criticize their own government, but you do not need to take sides; just listen and feel free to talk about your feelings about your own government. When entering a home or a place of worship, always take off your shoes. Also, never eat with your left hand, or give a gift with your left hand; and never point with your forefinger (you may use a closed fist with the thumb instead), point with your feet or touch a person's head. Public showing of affection in larger cities is tolerated but might invite unnecessary attention from the public. In more rural areas it is frowned upon and is to be avoided. Same-sex relationships are a taboo subject in Malaysia. Gay and lesbian travellers should avoid any outward signs of affection, including holding hands in public. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia.

Travel to Malaysia
National carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has extensive worldwide network coverage and regularly ranks high in airline quality assessments, while low-cost carrier AirAsia and her sister company, AirAsia X, now covers an ever-expanding set of destinations worldwide. Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), although AirAsia flights use the LCC terminal, a 20km road transfer away from the main KLIA terminal. Direct sleeper train services operated by the State Railway of Thailand connect Bangkok and Butterworth near Penang, while Malaysian Railways runs trains between Hat Yai in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur. Singapore is the southern terminus of the Malayan Railway network. Comfortable overnight sleeper and somewhat misnamed daytime "express" trains connect Singapore with Kuala Lumpur and Tumpat, near Kota Bharu. Tickets purchased at the Singapore station are twice as expensive as those purchased in Malaysia; you can save quite a bit by taking the train from Johor Bahru instead. Another option is to buy your tickets online at the cheaper rate, but you must book at least 48 hours in advance. Long-distances coaches into Malaysia run from Brunei, Indonesian Borneo, Singapore and Thailand. Land crossings are possible from southern Thailand and Singapore into Peninsular Malaysia, as well as from Brunei and Kalimantan into Sarawak. An International Drivers Permit is required. Ferries connect various points in Peninsular Malaysia with Sumatra in Indonesia and southern Thailand, Sarawak with Brunei, and Sabah with East Kalimantan in Indonesia and Mindanao in the Philippines. Luxury cruises also run from Singapore and sometimes Phuket to Malaysia.

Travelling within Malaysia
Largely thanks to budget carrier AirAsia, Malaysia is crisscrossed by a web of affordable flights with advertised "promotional" prices starting at RM9 for flights booked well in advance. Flying is the only practical option for traveling between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, as well as reaching some of the more remote outposts of Borneo. State carrier Malaysia Airlines also has competitive fares which now offers equal or even lower priced tickets if booked in advance through the internet, with sustaining class of hospitality. And their offshoot Firefly has a handy network radiating out of Penang previously, has also began operating from the Subang airport. Long-distance trains in Malaysia can rarely match road transport in terms of speed, but state operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) provides relatively inexpensive and generally reliable services around Peninsular Malaysia. The main western line connects Butterworth, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, while the eastern line runs through Gua Musang and the Taman Negara National Park to Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands. Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway along the West Coast from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. For those thinking of using GPS, the Malaysia maps can be downloaded for free from Garmin user lucky enough to have another choice from Both party maps is contributed by the amazing non-profit group of people who share a common passion to make a gps maps of Malaysia. While driving quality and habits in Malaysia are better than most of the rest of Southeast Asia, it is not necessarily great, especially if for travelers coming from a Western country. Traffic in Malaysia drives on the left, a legacy left by the British. It should be advised, beware of reckless motorcyclists, especially during the night, and especially if you are a pedestrian: locals typically disregard a red light for left turns, putting pedastrians at risk. As a motorist, at traffic lights, they will accumulate in front of you - let them drive away first to avoid accidents. The cheapest way to travel in Malaysia is by bus. All towns of any size have a bus terminal offering connections to other parts of the country. There are many companies of varying degrees of dependability, but two of the largest and more reliable are Transnasional and NICE/Plusliner. If travelling on holidays or even over the weekend, it is advisable to reserve your seats in advance.

Places to sleep In malaysia you have a variety of places to spend the nights. You may choose from enything from hotels, hostels, bungalows, monasteries and camping. You may sleep in a tent but restrictions may occur if you want to camp somewhere else than in public campsites. Check out as well.

Money and banking
The currency in malaysia is Malaysian ringgit, shortened MYR. In January 2012 1 US$ ~3 MYR. Banks in Malaysia do handle international transactions. These ranges from a nominal fee if you are an account holder to a slightly more expensive amount if you are only walking in to use a certain service. International banks such as CITIBANK & HSBC have their presence in Malaysia, with the latter having branches throughout the country. Local banking giants are MAYBANK & CIMB, & they are a very good alternative to the earlier mentioned banks, especially in terms of pricing,local knowledge & presence as well as international services available e.g. money transfers. For any enquiries and transactions, get a number, sit down and wait for your turn to be served. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9.30AM to 4PM and selected banks are open on Saturday from 9.30AM to 11.30AM except on the first and third Saturdays of each month. In the states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, they are open Saturday to Wednesday from 9.30AM to 4PM and Thursday from 9.30AM to 11.30AM. Credit card fraud is a growing problem. Use cards only in reputable shops. US Debit cards: Due high levels of fraud, many Malaysia ATMs do not allow you to withdraw using a US debit card. Numerous travellers have noted this on travel forums. This is unique to Malaysia and is not applicable to Thailand, Singapore, or Indonesia. If you call your bank or even Visa/Mastercard, they are often not aware because the transaction is declined by the Malaysia bank. Make sure to bring cash or other form of money in case your debit card is rejected.

Vaccine and health
Peninsular Malaysia is largely malaria-free, but there is a significant risk in Borneo especially in inland and rural areas. Dengue fever occurs throughout Malaysia in both urban and rural areas, and can be avoided only by preventing mosquito bites. The mosquito that transmits dengue feeds throughout the daytime, and is most active at dawn and dusk. If you experience a sudden fever with aches and lethargy, seek medical attention immediately. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be used until dengue fever has been ruled out. Mosquito repellents are widely available. Be careful with mosquito coils, which can easily start fires: set them on a plate or other non-flammable surface and extinguish them before going to sleep. Malaysia is largely free from earthquakes as there are no nearby faultlines, though tremors can occasionally be felt when a major quake occurs in neighbouring Indonesia. Typhoons also generally do not occur. However, the Nov-Jan monsoon season often results in flooding due to torrential rains, and landslides are known to occur, most notably on the East Coast. Tsunamis are a rare occurence, though Penang and a few islands on the north of the West Coast were hit by the famous tsunami in 2004. Government health care facilities are cheap but good, but many visitors prefer to seek out private medical care. Private medical costs can be high and having travel insurance is a very good idea. Note that a Yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from all visitors coming from or going to/through Yellow fever endemic countries. Visa Most nationalities can enter Malaysia without a visa, and they would be issued a 14, 30 or 90 day entry permit stamp on their passport at the border. This would indicate the length of stay granted. You dont have to fill a visa aplication form when entering the country. For more informatin about visa check out the webpage of the Ministry of foreign affairs. Note that a Yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from all visitors coming from or going to/through Yellow fever endemic countries.

Malaysia treats drug offenses extremely severely. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 g of heroin, 30 g of morphine, 30 g of cocaine, 500 g of cannabis, 200 g of cannabis resin and 1.2 kg of opium, and possession of these quantities is all that is needed for you to be convicted. For unauthorised consumption, there is a maximum of 10 years' jail or or a heavy fine, or both. You can be charged for unauthorised consumption as long as traces of illicit drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove that they were consumed outside the country, and you can be charged for trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags that are in your possession or in your room, even if they aren't yours and regardless of whether you're aware of them - therefore be vigilant of your possessions. Never bring any recreational drugs into Malaysia, even as a transit passenger. Possession of even minimal amounts can lead to a mandatory death sentence. Do note that in Malaysia, certain crimes are punished with caning. Being convicted of rape, vandalism, illegal entry, bribery, overstaying your visa, and other certain crimes could get you caned. This is no slap on the wrist! Strokes from the thick rattan cane is very painful and can take weeks to heal, and even scar for life. Reports on Pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves have been sometimes heard in large cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Georgetown and Johor Bahru. As a general precaution, never carry your bags on the side facing the road & always walk facing the oncoming traffic. Additionally, walk a few feet deeper away from the roads. Women travelers should take extra precautions at night. Drunk driving is a serious offense and breathalyzer tests by the police are common. You should not offer bribes at all - if found guilty you can be sentenced up to 20 years in jail! Anyone who tries to bribe public officials may be arrested on the spot and placed in a lock-up overnight to be charged for the offence in the morning. If this happens on a Friday or on eve of public holidays, you will find yourself spending a few nights in the lock-up as the courts are only open Monday to Friday. Do not let this dissuade you from requesting help - generally Malaysian police are helpful to tourists.You should just accept whatever traffic summons you are being issued. Many taxis will refuse to use the meter, even though the official rate has changed recently and most taxis now have a sticker on the rear door that informs tourists that haggling is prohibited. Be aware that taxi drivers, sensing that you are a tourist, may drive around and take a very long route to reach your destination. If using a taxi late at night, it is best to use the dial-a-taxi service as there have been incidents where taxis flagged down during those hours being fake/unregistered. The unregistered taxi driver might then rob or assault their victims with the help of assailants. You are also more likely to get a metered taxi by flagging one at a street than a taxi stand. Public demonstrations are uncommon in Malaysia due to police crackdowns, but a number of anti-government demonstrations have been held recently. Should one occur it may be dealt with in a heavy-handed manner, so avoid them at all costs. When on foot, be careful when crossing the street. Vehicles will often ignore pedestrian crossings. However, reports of road bullying during accidents is still common so if you are involved in an accident be very careful when negotiating or dial 999 for help. Swastikas are commonly seen in Hindu and Buddhist temples, and are regarded as a religious symbol by these communities. It emphatically does not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism, so Western visitors should not feel offended when seeing it in the homes their hosts.

Malaysian cuisine and drink
Tap water is drinkable straight off the tap as it is treated, but even locals boil or filter it first just to be on the safe side. When travelling it is best to stick to bottled water, which is very inexpensive. Although Malaysia is recognised as an Islamic country, alcohol is available on licensed outlet for the consumptions of its non Muslim citizens & visitors. However, some states (notably Kelantan and Terengganu) ban alcohol. Malaysian cuisinereflects the multicultural aspects of Malaysia. Various ethnic groups in Malaysia have their own dishes, but many dishes in Malaysia are derived from multiple ethnic influences.

Cities I have been to in Malaysia
Duringg my visit to Malaysia I took a coach from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. It took almost 5 hours and took me through beautiful landscape. It reminded me about the Spanish "highlands"; the plateau in the heart of Spain. Even if the topography is similar peninsular Malaysia is a lot greener and covered in jungle.

Kuala Lumpur, or simply KL, is the capital in Malaysia. It is situated on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. In Malay the name of the city means "muddy estuary". It was founded as a Chinese tin-mining village and have become a bustling metropolis of around 1.8 million in just 150 years. Kuala Lumpurs residential suburbs seem to go on forever and thats one of the reasons why I didnt really get the grip on orientation and where things where situated compared to other places in the city. The city somewhy reminds be a bit about Berlin; there is no clearly defined city center or areas where people are gathered. The inhabitants where walking hastily from one place to another. I did spend only two nights in Kuala Lumpur so I imagine I would get another (and perhaps better) impression of the city. Kuala Lumpur can be very hot and humid. To keep your walks comfortable, avoid walking between 11 AM- 3 PM, when the sun is at its hottest. Wear comfortable clothing and carry water with you. There are generally many shopping malls in the Golden Triangle area so if your walk is planned around that area, the occasional stop in an air-conditioned mall to cool down will feel very good. Be careful when jaywalking on major streets, especially near downtown. The police occasionally crack down on jaywalkers in a public awareness campaign. Luckily, the on-the-spot fine is light and the whole process is over in a few minutes, but they will check your passport for travel documents. If you see large groups of traffic officers on both sides of a road, it's probably a smart idea to use the designated crossing areas. The city centre is a place you defintly have to visit. Thats is where the famous landsmarks, like Petronas towers and the Kuala Lumpur tower, the colonial district, Chinatown and the Golden triangle. The Golden triangle is where you find the shopping area and the KLCC-area where the Petronas towers are. In the city centre you'll also find Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), where Malaysia usually celebrates Malaysian independence day. Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is promoting itself as the "World's Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary" and worth a visit. The National Museum, Batu cavesthe KLCC Aquarium are also places worth a visit. You have to use a train to get to the Batu Caves but the caves are close to the last station. The metro in Kuala Lumpur consists of three lines and makes it easy to travel to different parts of the city. Connectivity between different lines is poor due to inadequate integration. You cannot buy a ticket to a different LRT line (i.e. you have to purchase it at the connecting station), and if it rains, you might get wet when travelling to the connected line because they are fully covered.