Complete Guide to MALAYSIA, Asia’s Melting Pot

Here comes a complete guide to Malaysia, Asia’s fascinating melting pot. The Malayan people consist of various ethnicities and different religions.

When it comes to tourism, Malaysia has been stepping it up a notch. Still, it’s by far not overrun by tourists.

Mardaka Square, Represetning MALAYSIA - a Complete Guide to Asia's Melting Pot
At the Merdaka Square, the colonial past and today’s modernity come together.

Apart from a fascinating mix of religions and cultures, you find unspoiled nature and empty beaches.

Ethnic Mix

However, Malaysia’s strongest suit is the diversity of its people.

The different ethnicities live together peacefully. After all, there is a Street of Harmony in many cities. Those are streets where a Hindu Temple, a Buddhist Temple, and a Mosque are found wall to wall.

Actually, I think the very distinctive philosophies and religious rules make assimilation difficult.

The population is a mix of almost 70 % Malay, 23 % Chinese, and 7 % Indians. In total, Malaysia is inhabited by approximately 32 million people.

Group of Dancers reprsenting MALAYSIA - a Complete Guide to Asia's Cultural Melting Pot
Malaysia – Truly Asia is the tourist board’s slogan insinuating profound harmony.
Here, dancers performed traditional dances of the different cultures settled in Malaysia.

For the visitor, it’s interesting and inspiring. You can plunge into totally different cultures staying in the same small town.

Malaysia’s History

The reason why Malaysia’s population is this diverse lies, of course, in its history and mainly in the colonial past.

Early Settlers

Already in the first century, Chinese and Indians began to establish trading ports and towns in Malaysia.

With the hegemony of the Majapahit empire, Islam began to spread in the 14th century. Eventually, in the 15th century, the Malacca Sultanate was founded. Quickly, it became an important trading place.

Malacca was first conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Eventually, the Dutch took over.

I’m referring to this hegemony in the language section below.

The British Take Over

End of the 18th century, the inevitable British Empire took over and with it the infamous British East India Company.
Penang, Malacca, Singapore, and Labuan became the Straits Settlements.

However, until 1909, the four northern states Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu were controlled by Thailand.

In WWII, the Japanese Army invaded also Malaya.
During this time, ethnic tensions and nationalism grew quickly.
Consequently, Britain’s post-war plans of uniting the administration of Malaya under a single crown colony were strongly opposed.

Also, suspicion of the Indian population grew. Indians were seen as the British’s protégés. This, by the way, is disturbingly similar to the root of ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the Chinese were envied for their relative wealth.

The worst ethnic conflicts happened in 1969 during the post-election riots. The number of fatalities during these conflicts differ very strongly depending on the sources. Therefore, I don’t quote them.

However, on August 31, 1957, the Malaya Federation gained independence. By then, it consisted of nine Malay Sultanates as well as the Straits Settlements Penang and Malacca.

There are two excellent books dealing with these topics. The most complete one is The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess. It deals with ethnic and sociological aspects.

The other one is The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell and focuses rather on the life of the British colonialists.
Both are fascinating and educational reads.

Practical Information

Money

Since 1975, the Malay Dollar is officially called Ringgit. One Ringgit is divided into 100 Sen.
The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 4,36 MYR current rate resp. 1 €UR = 4,71 MYR current rate (as for April 2020).

There are ATMs practically everywhere. Credit cards are widely accepted.

Language

The official language in Malaysia is Malay. It’s often referred to as Bahasa – which translates to language. It is extremely similar to Bahasa Indonesia.

I gained some basic knowledge for my trip to Bali. I was amazed by how easy it is to learn. Especially since it’s written in Latin letters.

Tourists from Indonesia in Kuala Lumpur
Just some simple phrases in Bahasa made these visitors from Jakarta our friends – selfies included.

It’s very interesting that there are still remains from Portuguese. For instance, sepatu for shoes or meja for table. But mostly there is a strong Dutch influence such as gelas for glass or handuk for towel. These words are also very similar in German.

Everything related to time like hours and weekdays is, obviously, deriving from Arabic. As a language aficionado, I loved diving into these structures and enjoyed studying.

Yes, Indonesian is actually one of the languages babbel offers – still don’t get why.

However, as usual, the first lesson is free. It supplies you with the most important words to interact with people.

Getting There…

There are many airlines flying relatively cheap to Kuala Lumpur. From Europe, KLM has often unbeatable prices. I don’t know if it’s the colonial past or that many Indonesians are studying or have relatives in the Netherlands. Be it as it may, Malaysia lies conveniently within the route.

…And Around

On the Malayan peninsula, there is a very good and reliable train going from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth. If your destination is on this route, it’s highly recommendable.

From Butterworth, you can quickly cross to Pulau Penang by ferry.

Kuala Lumpur Sentral - the largest railway station in all of Southeast Asia.
Kuala Lumpur Sentral – the largest railway station in all of Southeast Asia.

There is an excellent bus system. The quality of the vehicles, however, differs strongly. From new, modern, and climatized coaches to pretty shady ones. The quality of the drivers is always…questionable.
They are often pretty rude, do whatever makes them happy and comfortable. If they like to smoke while driving, they are smoking and respond pretty indignant if you ask them not to.

I’ve had my generous share of arguments – you can read about it in an earlier post.

Also, they seem to be always in a rush. Why else would they speed like they do, the wheels barely touching the ground?!
Some rides actually made my blood freeze.

This proves that there are more people not happy sitting in big clouds of smoke. Or flying pretty low over the highway.

Hence, in 2017, the Malaysian Road Transport Department (JPJ) took measures. They encourage the public to report bus drivers exceeding the speed limit, smoking, or using a mobile phone while driving. The report can be submitted to the JPJ via WhatsApp +60 – 11 – 51 11 52 52.
I’m usually not a big fan of reporting people. However, in this case, it could save lives.

Private Transport Companies

Besides the regular public transport, there are many private companies offering shuttles. They travel between the most important touristy places such as Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, the Cameron Highlands, and the Taman Negara.
This service is a bit more expensive than regular buses. However, it’s much more efficient and comfortable. And faster.
Albeit, this is not always a good thing…

If you have limited time to spend on the peninsula, you might consider using these private companies. In general, it’s a door to door service.

The route I travelled…


….and the places I visited

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33 Replies to “Complete Guide to MALAYSIA, Asia’s Melting Pot”

  1. Great guide! I am planning a trip to Malaysia in the near future and this will definitely be helpful, thanks for sharing!

  2. I didn't see enough of Malaysia when I was there. Cameron Highlands is the place I really want to see, it looks so beautiful there!

  3. Sometimes it is not so bad if a countries not overrun by tourists. We have certainly met many friendly Malaysians who encourage us to visit. So good to know that there are buses that cover the whole country. Although I probably would prefer a private shuttle. Thanks for this guide to Malaysia. (LD Holland)

  4. I love this history about Malaysia. I would love to visit the country and hope to get there soon. I love taking public transportation as sometimes it gives you a peek into real life. Great to know they go all over the country.

  5. What a wonderful quick guide to Malaysia. I've never been there or read much about the country, so the history is fascinating.

  6. Great guide but yikes- I'm not sure I'd ride the bus system! Bummer that it reaches everywhere but the drivers are so bad!

  7. I'll be visiting Kuala in a few months, and this is giving me some serious wanderlust! I had considered visiting Langkawi and Penang in the past, so I'll have to get to those later.

  8. I've been to Asia but missed Malaysia, we should have included it when we went to Singapore as they are close. You really took your time visiting Malaysia, great tips on places to visit.

  9. I have yet to get to Asia in my travels but would love to go! Your guide is so complete, very extensive travels through Malaysia, I will bookmark this article for a great reference.

  10. Wow you sure covered a lot of ground in Malaysia! Love Perhentian, Penang and Malacca. I hope you ate yourself silly in Penang and Malacca. their peranakan cuisine is exquisite. You made me laugh about the drivers always being in a rush. Its those crazy freeway sin KL where there are no traffic lights. They literally fly!

  11. Thanks for such a great article, it's always interesting to find out a little bit of history of the country you travel to. While we've been to quite a few destinations in Malaysia, there is still so much to discover!

  12. I really like the books you recommended, I have read the Malayan Trilogy by Burgess and loved it. I think the book by Farrell is also a part of a trilogy including other countries but my memory is failing me. I am finally heading to Malaysia in March and will save your post!

  13. I've spent next to no time in Asia, so I'm always intrigued by how different it is from the places I've been in North America and Europe. What a great guide for anyone heading to Malaysia!

  14. Ever since I moved to Singapore, Malaysia is on my list. I will visit soon. Thanks for sharing the guide.

  15. Malaysia is one of the few places in Asia we're yet to visit. Sounds like you've had great travel experiences there. Thanks for pulling all the information together, I'm sure it will come in handy when we decide to go there.

  16. That's a very useful guide. Malaysia is such a great and multicultural place. I especially love KL.

  17. Your blog is very informative, meaningful and to the point. Being a traveller blogger i find you have a very good writing sense due to which you explain details about many destination perfectly, Your blog is like books of Lonely planet for various travel destination. If someone required destination information your blog is enough instead of searching anywhere. Keep it up your meaningful blog writing. I recently returned from an Amazing Indian Golden Triangle tour Package which was arranged by Ghum India Ghum, travel agent in Delhi, you can tie up with them if you want.
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  18. I would love to return to Malaysia again. Its one of few countries in the world I can visit visa free. Bookmarking your post as there is so much I still have yet to see in the country.

  19. Great guide and beautiful pics! We've been to some of these places recently but your post has shown me there's still a lot left to see and do!

  20. Somehow, I heard that Taman Negare is the best thing to see. I am not entirely sure why, but my friends told me it is one of the best natural objects.

  21. Ahhh Malaysia is just an amazing country! I love how detailed your guide is. It brought many memories back for me 😀

  22. Really nice and elaborate post. I had gone to Kuala Lumpur recently and I really didn't enjoy it. But now I know why.

  23. Oh man – I have been thinking about visiting Malaysia soon and your post decided it for me! I must go! Thank you especially for including the history and cultural information – always SO helpful and really intriguing to me!

  24. It's really good to know about different ethnicities living in Malaysia peacefully. I had recently been to Kuala Lumpur and visited a buddhist temple and a hindu temple which were located on the same street. It's a beautiful country for sure!

  25. Well, that's wonderful MEGA guide for Malaysia. Thanks for taking time to write it. In my opinion the most worth to visit places in the country are Cameron Highlands and Penang island, I would love to come back there! Also Borneo island is on my list as I haven't explored it properly.

  26. Vacation in Malaysia is always a dream. I am planning a solo Malaysia trip want to have a idea about all the places that i can visit. I found great
    Malaysia tour packages here ,even this can be helpful

  27. Thank you very much for your valuable information. can you help me in finding out more detail on Malaysia visa

  28. I am unfamiliar with Malaysia and had no idea they were so very culturally diverse. I love the integration and acceptance of multiple faiths with the larger communities.

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