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Factsheet - Malaysia

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Quick facts

Population: 23.3 million
Capital City: Kuala Lumpur Pop.: 1.4 million
People: 66% Bumiputera, 26% Chinese, 8% Indian
Language: Bahasa Melayu - although many regional languages are also spoken
Religion: Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Shamanism
Currency: Ringgit
Time: GMT plus 8 hours
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
International Dialling Code: 60


These requirements can change regularly please see our trip notes for more up to date details at

Religion, customs & conduct

The Peninsula has a real mixture of religions. The Malays practice Islam, which is the state religion, the Chinese are mostly Buddhist however some are Christians and Taoists, and the Indians are Hindu or Muslim. There are also indigenous groups who have their own beliefs and practices. Although Muslim Malays are very tolerant of different people, they are very conservative, especially when it comes to dress. Long pants/skirts and sleeved shirts (T-shirts) are seen as appropriate. This is not to say you cannot wear shorts, but there will be situations where they are not appropriate, especially for females. It is highly offensive to the Malay people for women or men to wear singlet tops. Dressing conservatively will open more doors as will politeness and humility.

Remember that Asians have a much more laid back lifestyle than westerners. Things happen when they happen. It is most unlikely you will be able to hurry them along. Demanding "Orang Putih" (white people) do not get smiles or service. Becoming angry is useless and embarrassing to the people with whom you are dealing. They will not be embarrassed for themselves, but for you making a fool of yourself. "Keeping face" is important! Criticism should only be used when put among praise.

Best time to go/climate

The climate in Malaysia is generally hot and humid throughout the year. Temperatures do not fluctuate much and stay in the 30's (degrees centigrade) most of the year dropping back to the mid to high 20's at night. Humidity is higher during the wet season and can be quite oppressive. Rain often comes in short sharp bursts; usually in the late afternoon or evening leaving most of the day sunny and clear. The wet seasons change from coast to coast. During November to April the wet season hits the east coast of the peninsula and it is dry on the west coast. During May to October it is dry on the east coast and wet on the west.


Malaysia is very easy to travel through. The infrastructure of the country incorporates efficient buses and trains and good roads. The overnight trains we take in Malaysia have sleeper berths and are comfortable, clean and safe. A lot of our travelling on Intrepid trips involves charter vehicles. These are usually small mini-vans and provide us with a
bit more flexibility and comfort for longer journeys. Air conditioning in Malaysia is rare, so be prepared to put the window down! Some towns are home to bicycle rickshaws (trishaws), which is a great way to get around and to meet the local people.

Food & drinks

The variety and quality of food is quite outstanding. Malay food is rich and spicy, consisting of curries, satay and many rice dishes. Nyonya cuisine is a hybrid of Malay and Chinese food, and arguably the tastiest food available in Malaysia. It is often very spicy and consists of dishes such as the very popular curry laksa- a spicy coconut noodle soup. There is also a good selection of Chinese and Indian food, providing a  great variety for vegetarians. Being tropical, the Malay Peninsula boasts a terrific variety of fruits - rambutan, fresh lychee, fresh coconut, mangosteen, sapota, jackfruit and (if you are game) the king of all tropical fruits, the durian.

Soft drinks are safe and cheaper than at home. Beer is very easy to find and Tiger, the local brew, is very nice. The bigger towns are great places for a drink at one of the many pubs or nightclubs.  

Kuala Lumpur

Although Kuala Lumpur (commonly known as KL) is Malaysias capital city, its population is small compared with the other huge cities in Asia such as Jakarta or Bangkok. KL is a very modern and cosmopolitan city, a melting pot of Malays, Chinese, Indians and many western expats. KL has an impressive skyline, including the worlds tallest building, Petronas Towers. Places to see include Jamek Mosque, Masjid Negara (National Mosque), KL Tower - especially at night for fabulous views, a wander through the central market or Chinatown. If you have a bit more time them perhaps a day trip out to the spectacular Batu Caves.


Located at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore was a swampy island up until 1819. It was then that Sir Thomas Raffles arrived, looking for a site for a British post that would counter the strength of the Dutch in the area. Singapore prospered immediately and has continued to do so ever since. Today it is modern, western and incredibly clean. Walk around the city and you may bump into a small festival or a Chinese opera. The Chinese, Indian and Arab districts are always bustling and bargains can be found at the food stalls and shops in these areas. Take a wander around the harbour or even a cruise. A visit to Jurong Bird Park or the Zoological Gardens is also worthwhile.


A vibrant city rich in Thai and Buddhist culture with temples, markets, alleyways and canals that absorb even the most hardened international traveller. It is a city where poverty meets prosperity, where entrenched tradition embraces the global village. Many people leave Bangkok without being able to put their finger on why this city holds such an attraction. Bangkok can be as beautiful as it is bizarre and is one of Intrepid's favourite cities. Excellent places to see with fabulous unique Thai architecture are the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Po. If shopping is more your style and you are in town on the weekend then the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market is the place to go
- it has everything!! Go for a wander through Chinatown or simply explore life amongst the streets, lanes and canals. The Royal Barges are also worth a look and if all else fails remember you are on holiday! Indulge in a massage or eat your way around the street markets.

Recommended reading

  • Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei - The Rough Guide Penguin.
  • Culture Shock! Malaysia Times Publications.
  • Malay Phrasebook Lonely Planet Publications.
  • Turtle Beach Blanch d'Alpu get.

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Trip information

Further information specific to your trip is available on our website where dossiers are available for download. We recommend you print out a copy prior to departure on your trip so that you can see if there have been any changes. This does not occur often, however local conditions sometimes necessitate minor changes.