People & Culture:
The country of Malaysia, with a population of about 29 million people, is split into 2 significant areas:
• Peninsula Malaysia (also known as West Malaysia)
• Borneo Malaysia (also known as East Malaysia)
Peninsula Malaysia lies comfortably in-between south Thailand & Singapore. The peninsula is surrounded by the Straits of Malacca on the west coastline and the South China Sea on the east coast. The primary cultures found in Peninsula Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese, and Indians.
Borneo Malaysia is comprises the two states of Sarawak & Sabah and is located on the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia’s Kalimantan and the small nation of Brunei. Culturally, Borneo’s ethnic groups (Ibans, Kadazandusuns, Dayaks, and other smaller tribes) are the largest cultural group, although you can also find many Malaysia and Chinese in the states.
Officially, the national language is Bahasa Malaysia. However, due to the great diversity of cultures (each with their own unique language), many other languages are spoken. English, with its common roots in the country’s history, can be considered an unofficial second language and most Malaysia are able to converse in English, except in the remote areas.
That being said, Malaysian English (humorously referred to as Manglish) is practically a dialect onto itself. Grammar is often skewered as they have been influenced by their native tongues (none of which follow the same grammatical rules as English). Due to this, many Malaysians will speak an English sentence in the shortest possible way. The sentence ‘yes, I can’ could be reduced to a simple ‘can’.
Also, do not be surprised if you hear sentences partially in English and partially in some other language. Depending on how many languages a person can speak, it is entirely possible for a single sentence to comprise of 4 languages. (Usually we take the ‘easiest’ word from each language and just use that).
Temperate & Weather:
Malaysia experiences its monsoon season from the months of November to February. During this period, there is steady rainfall and choppy seas on the eastern coastline; however the central and western coast remains quite isolated.
Malaysia is located near the equator with steady temperatures throughout the year (between 21° t0 32°C, except in the cooler highlands) and the country can be extremely humid. Light clothing is recommended.
The official religion of Malaysia is Islam, however the country constitution allows religious freedom with citizens practicing their beliefs and customs common to their religion. The Chinese are primarily Buddhist or Christians, The Indians are mainly Hindu or Christian. Virtually all Malays are Muslim. The indigenous people of Borneo are usually either Muslim or Christian.
Forms of Respect:
When visiting temples and mosques, long sleeves and long & loose pants or skirts are necessary as a show of respect. Additionally, you may be required to remove your shoes when visiting temples, mosques, or homes.
For some beaches in Malaysia, a bikini is a rare sight. For other beaches, it is quite common. It really depends on the type of people that visit those beaches. For visiting women who might feel self-conscious, we would recommend to pack 2 sets: full and/or bikini. This way, they can just ‘go with the flow’. This is a country where some locals will be clad in bikinis, yet others will hop into the sea covered from neck to toe.
It is discouraged from discussing controversial ethnic, religious or political issues. These can be highly sensitive subjects with vastly different perceptions due to the great number of different races and religions.
‘Saving face’ (portraying a good self-image) is also very important to Malaysians. It may be difficult to communicate with a Malaysian if they do not feel they have a good image.
The local currency used throughout Malaysia is the Ringgit Malaysia (RM). It is rare to find retail merchants who accept currencies other than the Ringgit. RM1 roughly equals to 0,25 Euro or US$0.35. Malaysia has phased out usage of 1 sen coin (1 cent). Due to this, all receipts are rounded up/down to the nearest 5 sen.
Currency Exchange is constantly changing so for the latest rates, stay updated via websites as www.xs.com or www.oanda.com.
ATM machines are common in most cities and towns. Most hotels and major retail stores are able to accept credit cards; however, it is common for the machine to be ‘down’. Therefore, it is recommended to always have sufficient cash on hand or to confirm whether you can pay by card before ordering. ATM machines are rarely found on the small islands of Malaysia so be sure to bring enough cash before going to the islands.
Most accommodations provide bottled water in the rooms. The treated pipe water in Malaysia is general safe for washing and cleaning, but we recommend that visitors stick with sealed bottled water.
Mosquitoes are common to Malaysia. We highly advise all guests to bring along some mosquito repellent. Dengue fever is a health concern in Malaysia spread by mosquito bites.
Please check with your doctor for any other vaccinations to consider. It might also be useful to note that Malaysia has many GP clinics around.
Malaysia uses standard 3-pin square plugs & sockets, following a main voltage of AC 220-240 V.
Malaysia follows the time zone of GMT+8 hours. Most shopping complexes are open from 10:00 until 22:00. Banks are generally open from 10:00 until 15:30.
In terms of punctuality, most people in the tourism industry have learned to follow some kind of fixed schedule, however, in general, punctuality is not a common term to describe a Malaysian. The general rule of thumb is to make appointments as normal, but either party should expect the other to be late by as much as 15-30 minutes without a call. Fridays are holy days for Muslims with most Muslims taking a 2 hour lunch break for afternoon prayers. In certain predominantly Muslim states, the weekend fall on Friday & Saturday.
Unfortunately, petty theft (especially purse snatching and pick-pocketing) is a common crimes committed against foreigners, especially in major cities.
The most common method of purse snatching is by 2 thieves on a motorcycle (one to drive, one to grab). Such an occurrence is very fast and very shocking. It is advisable to wear bags slung across your back or torso so that it is not easily pulled off. Additionally, some snatchers may even be bold enough to snatch easily visible (and easily grabbed) necklaces from passing women; therefore, we recommend to refrain from wearing expensive necklaces too visibly.
Almost every Malaysian is a foodie. One of the most amusing cultural quirks of Malaysia is that instead of greeting another person with ‘How are you?’, many Malaysians will instead begin the conversation with ‘Have you eaten yet?’
The country’s rich and diverse ethnic background has led to a wide array of foods that has been influence and enjoyed by each culture. ‘Must try’ foods include satay (meat on a stick, what’s not to like?), char kuey teow (a type of flat fried rice noodle dish), nasi lemak (a rice cooked in coconut milk and served with spicy sambal sauce), nasi goreng (fried rice), or roti canai (an Indian-style bread).
Tropical fruits are a staple to most Malaysians. Rambutans, lychees, mangos and longans are sweet and refreshing. Durians are perhaps Malaysia’s most famous and favourite fruit with its rich stench (most foreigners cannot in close range of this fruit, let alone try to eat it). Most hotels do not allow guests to bring in durians (due to the smell) and mangosteens (their skins leave stains).
Certain countries may require visas in order to enter Malaysia. You may check your country’s visa requirement status on this website:
Borneo & Peninsula Malaysia often run separate customs & immigration departments. Therefore, you will be required to present your passport when entering/leaving Borneo.