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January 12, 2008

Traveling to Malaysia: Fact File, Getting There, Accomodation, and Do's and Don'ts

Malaysia, Truly Asia
I get quite a lot of emails from readers of Rasa Malaysia and random visitors to this site about Malaysia tourism and travel-related questions about Malaysia. Hence, I have put together a quick guide (excerpt from Tourism Malaysia's brochure) about traveling to Malaysia--the place I call home.

Malaysia Fact File

Country: Malaysia comprises of Peninsula Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo.

Geograhical Location: Located between 2" and 7" north of the Equator, Peninsula Malaysia is separated from the states of Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea. To the north of the Peninsula is Thailand while its southern neighbor is Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak are bordered by Indonesia while Sarawak also shares a border with Brunei.

Area: 329,758 sq. km.

Population: 26 million

People: Malays make up about 57% of the population and are the predominant group with Chinese, Indians, and other ethnic groups making up the rest.

Language: Bahasa Melayu (Malay) is the national language but English is widely spoken. Malaysian also speak various dialects and languages.

Religion: Islam is the official religion, but all other religions are freely practised.

Climate: Malaysia has a tropical climate and the weather is warm all year round. Temperatures range from 21 Degree Celsius to 32 Degree Celsius and the annual rainfall varies from 2000mm to 2500mm.

History and Culture: Apart from the local Malays and the native groups, immigrants from China, India, Indonesia, and other parts of the world have all contributed to the multiracial composition of its population. Its interesting cultural diversity can be largely attributed to the country's long and ongoing interaction with the outside world and colonial rule by the Portugese, Dutch, and the British. The evolution of the country into a cultural melting pot is evident in the unique blend of religions, socio-cultural activities, traditions, languages, and food. The country achieved independence on August 31, 1957 as the Federation of Malaya and subsequently with the entry of Sabah and Sarawak in 1963, Malaysia was formed.

Entry Requirements: Visitors must possess a valid passport or travel document with a minimum validity of six months beyond the intended visiting period. Citizens of most countries do not require visas for social or business visits. For further information, please visit or call the nearest Malaysian diplomatic mission of Tourism Malaysia office. For the complete list of Tourism Malaysis overseas offices, click here.

Currency: The unit of currency is the Malaysian Riggit (RM). Foreign currencies can be converted at banks and money changers.

Time Zone: Malaysia is about 8 hours ahead of GMT, 16 hours ahead of US Pacific Standard Time and 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Electricity: Electricity is 220 volts at 50 cycles, although most first-class hotels can suppy an adapter for 110 volts , 60 cycles appliances. Plugs are of the British three rectangle prong type. Most island resorts are powered by 24-hour generators or have an electrical supply from the mainland.

Getting There

The main gateway to Malaysia is through the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at Sepang, which is located approximately 50 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur. Other major international airports that serve as entry points are located in Penang, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, and Langkawi.

Getting Around

Malaysia has excellent domestic air links and a well-developed and efficient public transportation system served by taxis, buses, and trains. The national air carrier is the award-winning Malaysia Airline, however, low cost carriers such as Air Asia and Firefly (a full subsidiary of Malaysia Airline) are exceedingly popular.

Accomodation

Malaysia has a wide range of accomodation with competitive rates. International standard, mid range, and budget hotels, youth hostels, and timeshare apartments are just some of the types of accomodation available. Click here for the complete list of boutique hotels and resorts in Malaysia, recommended by yours truly.

Do's and Don'ts in Malaysia

When visiting Malaysia, the visitor should observe local customs and practices. Some common courtesies and customs are as follows:
  • It is polite to call before visiting a home.
  • Shoes must always be removed when entering a Malaysian home.
  • Drinks are generally offered to guests. It would be polite to accept.
  • The right hand is always used when eating with one's hand or when giving and receiving objects.
  • The right forefinger is not used to point at places, objects or persons. Instead, the right thumb, with the four fingers folded under, is the preferred usage.
  • Shoes must be removed when entering places of worship such as mosques and temples. Some mosques provide robes and scarves for female visitors.
  • Taking photographs at places of worship is usually permitted but always ask for permission first.
  • Toasting is not a common practice in Malaysia. The country's Muslim population does not drink alcohol, however the Chinese and Indians do drink alcohol and toasting is not uncommon to them.

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