Although regarding tourism, Malaysia has been stepping it up a notch, it’s still by far not as overrun by travellers as other Asian countries.
Besides a fascinating mix of religions and cultures, you find unspoiled nature and empty beaches on the Malayan Peninsula between Thailand and Singapore.
Although there is a clear hierarchy – stemming from colonialism and historic development, the different ethnicities still live together peacefully – which is already not so bad in these time. The population – about 32 million people – is mixed from almost 70 % Malay, 23 % Chinese, and 7 % Indian. Although these ethnicities do live next to each other peacefully – there is a Street of Harmony in many cities – i. e. a neighborhood or street where a Hindu Temple, a Buddhist Temple, and a Mosque are standing wall to wall – they do not really live together. I think the very different philosophies and rules of the religions that have a strong impact on everyday life would make assimilation pretty difficult.
Anyway, it’s interesting and inspiring this way: You can plunge into totally different cultures staying at the same small town.
The reason why Malaysia’s population is this diverse lies, of course, in its history and mainly in the colonial past.
Already in the very early years, namely the first century, Chinese and Indians began to establish trading ports and coastal towns in Malaysia which, of course, has also a strong influence on the local culture and religions.
With the hegemony of the Majapahit empire, Islam began to spread in the 14th century, and in the 15th century, the Malacca Sultanate was founded, becoming an important trading place.
Malacca was first conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century and eventually taken by the Dutch.
I’m referring to this hegemony in the following section about the Malayan and Indonesian language.
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.
Till 1909, the four northern states Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu were controlled by Thailand.
In WWII, the Japanese Army invaded i. a. Malaya. During this time, ethnic tensions and nationalism grew so that the post-war British plans to unite the administration of Malaya under a single crown colony were strongly opposed. Also, suspicion towards the Indian population grew since they were considered being the British protegees. On the other hand, the Chinese were envied for their relative wealth. The worst ethnic conflicts happened in 1969 during 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, consisting of nine Malay Sultanates, as well as the Straits Settlements Penang and Malacca, had gained independence.
There are two excellent books dealing with these topics – the most complete one being The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess. The other one is called The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell. While the first one deals with the Malay ethnicities and rather sociological aspects, the latter describes the life of the British colonialists.
Both are a gripping read.
Since 1975, the Malay Dollar is officially called Ringgit – and can be divided in 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 and credit cards are widely accepted.
The official language in Malaysia is Malay, often referred to as Bahasa – which translates to language. It is extremely similar to Bahasa Indonesia.
I gained some basic knowledge before going to Bali for the first time and I was amazed at how easy it is – especially since the Latin alphabet is used.
It’s very interesting that there are still remains from Portuguese – like sepatu (shoe) or meja (table), but mostly from Duch such as gelas (glass) or handuk (towel) – and 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 learning….on babbel!
Yes, Indonesian is actually one of the languages babbel offers – still don’t get why.
However, as usual, the first lesson is free and supplies you with the most important words to interact with people.
Getting There and Around
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 heritage and the fact that many people from Indonesia are studying or have relatives in the Netherlands – and Malaysia is a convenient stop-over.
On the Malayan peninsula, there is a very good and reliable train going from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth on the mainland across from Pulau Penang. If your destination is on this route, it’s highly recommendable.
There is an excellent bus system reaching every hidden corner. The quality of the vehicles, however, is very different – from new, modern, and climatized to pretty shady. The quality of the drivers is always…questionable.
They are often pretty rude, do whatever makes them happy and comfortable, and 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 made my blood freeze.
However, since I’m obviously not the only one who is not happy sitting in big clouds of smoke while flying pretty low over the highway: Since Summer of 2017, the Malaysian Road Transport Department (JPJ) wants the public to report reckless bus drivers exceeding the speed limit of 90 km/h, 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, but in this case, it could save lives.
Besides the regular public transport, there are many private companies offering shuttles between the most important touristy places such as Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, the national park Taman Negara, Kuala Besut – which is the port for the Perhentian Islands and more. This service is a bit more expensive than the regular buses, but much more efficient and comfortable – and faster, which is not necessarily a good thing as you can read above.
Especially if you have a limited time to spend on the peninsula, you might wanna consider using these private companies – especially since most of the time it’s a door to door service.
This is the route I travelled…
….and these are the places I visited
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