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Malaysia is a land with a rich mix of Asian cultures and diverse natural habitat. 


All About Malaysia

Malaysia is a country with a strong cultural identity, or rather, identities.  It is multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual with Malay, Chinese, Indian and over 40 distinct indigenous tribes. Each retains its proud heritage and some, like the Peranakan Chinese-Malay have developed a unique fusion culture.  


This mix of Asian cultures is vividly on show in Malaysia's food scene, in its streets and in its colourful festivals.  In fact, with so many cultures, Malaysia is the nation of festivals.


Malaysia is also a country endowed with palm-fringed beaches and lush rainforests.  Malaysian Borneo ("Eastern Malaysia") is home to exotic and endangered animals including the much-loved orangutan.  Borneo isn't just the forests. The waters off the coast hold some of the most diverse marine life in the world.  Borneo is also ground zero for conservationists as the country looks to more eco-sustainable industry practices and rehabilitation of wildlife and habitat. 

Marketing itself as "truly Asia", Malaysia is hard to beat when it comes to an environmental and cultural destination highlight of Asia. All it needs is great quality, low budget accomodation and easy-to-navigate transportation...but wait, it has all that too!


Malaysia's cultural diversity has its routes in trade.  The country's position in the Malacca Straits (which linked East Asia and the Americas to Europe, Africa and the Middle East) made it a popular trading port since antiquity.  


The Malay, who are indigenous to the Peninsula, are Muslim, having converted after encounters with Arab traders. Chinese, mostly Buddhists, and Indians, both Hindu and Muslim, began arriving as traders from the 1st Century AD and their presence grew under the colonising of the territories by the British and their British East India Company. As a result of these trade routes, Penang, Malacca and Kuala Lumpur have large Indian and Chinese Communities. Their diversity is richly represented in museums, religious sites, markets, festivals and the food scene.


Penang and Malacca are particularly known for their "Peranakan" culture.  The Peranakan are straits-born Chinese-Malays with a unique fusion culture. This culture, which is also found in Singapore, incorporates elements of language, design and food from both cultures. 


In Borneo, there are over 40 distinct ethnic groups, including the Penan, Iban, Kelabit and Bidayuh.  During the 19th and 20th centuries, Sarawak was privately owned by the British Brooke family (the White Rajahs) who later ceded their 'kingdom' to Great Britain. This British influence led to many indigenous Sarawakians following Christianity.  In Sabah, the majority of the indigenous population follows Islam.

Malaysia was part of the British Empire from the late 18th Century until 1957 and remains part of the Commonwealth. It is this retained connection, and the multi-ethnic / multi-lingual nature of the Malaysian population, that results in English being often relied on as a common language. 


Politically, Malaysia is a federation of 13 states and 3 territories.  It is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy where the head of state and paramount leader is a King who is elected, every 5 years on a rotational basis, from the hereditary rulers of the 9 Malay states.


50% of Malaysians are considered to be 'Malay' (as defined in the constitution). The remainder are Indigenous (10-15%); Chinese (25%); and Indian (8%). Although there is freedom of religion, many non-Malays claim that there is preferential treatment given to Malays and Indigenous persons in areas of employment, scholarship and government business assistance.


Malaysia is separated into two large island areas: Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo (East Malaysia). With its heavily forested mountains and surrounded by ocean, Malaysia is considered a 'mega diverse' country.  20% of the world's animals live in the Malaysian forests and seas, including, endangered animals like the turtle, pygmy elephant, rhino, orangutan and sun bear.

Although Malaysia has a national biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and has a number of protected NPs including 4 UNESCO natural world heritage sites, deforestation continues. 80% of Sarawak's forests and 60% of the Peninsular have been cleared.  Habitat destruction for Palm Oil plantations is the main practice people are aware of, but forests are cleared for other types of agriculture including rubber plantations, grazing and also for commercial logging.  Overfishing has been detrimental to ocean life as well as the hunting and trafficking of land mammals. 


The Malaysian government has taken steps to tackle poaching and habitat conservation. There are also a number of private and government-backed projects to rescue and rehabilitate animals. But this has been problematic in the face of strong economic and commercial interests.


It also can't be overlooked that Malaysia's ability to move from a developing to a developed nation is largely due to its reliance on its environmental resources. Infrastructure, education and health are all reasonably on par with developed nations and ahead of many of its Asian neighbours. Environmental sustainability will only occur with viable socio-economic sustainably and that means lucrative alternative sources of income.



Malaysia has a lot of positives for tourists. It has solid infrastructure, reasonable pricing, widely spoken English, diverse culture, resort beaches and the Borneo drawcard. Unlike some of its neighbours, it has avoided being included on the party backpacker circuit. But, it has also been unable to draw the large and booming tourism numbers enjoyed by Thailand or Vietnam, which is important for its development.

Tourism has grown in Malaysia and is now the country's third-largest source of income.  This is great news for the country and, importantly, the rest of the world.  By actively pursuing tourism Malaysia hopes to diversify its industries away from the more environmentally destructive mining and plantation agriculture.

For cultural and environmentally focused tourists, it's difficult to go past Malaysia. There are numerous forest-based activities to scout in Sabah and Sarawak, including learning more about conservation efforts. The environmental traveller shouldn't restrict themselves to being land-based either as the marine landscape offers pristine and uncrowded beaches and diving opportunities.


The cultural diversity of the population means the country is especially rich in festivals and cultural sites. From the 40-plus tribes of Borneo, to the Malay, Indian and Chinese populations a lot of effort has been put into showcasing culture, raising awareness and developing harmony. At the centre of this is a bonding notion of humanity and family. That despite differences and disparities, respect and understanding are encouraged as we are, in the end, much alike. And whilst this doesn't always translate over to the political and business aspects of life, Malaysians are, at least on a personal level, welcoming and enthusiastic of each others culture making it a fascinating place for cultural tourism. 


Various parts of Malaysia have, over the centuries, been occupied or colonised by Europeans including the Portuguese, Dutch and British. These ties are visible in the architecture of its UNESCO world-heritage cities Malacca and Georgetown. They host numerous well-maintained museums and sites and are lively cities in their own right; easy for the visitor to fall in love with. 



Malaysia is affected by two distinct monsoonal seasons, essentially meaning one half of the country will always be pleasant while the other half is not so much. The West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (including Penang, Cameron Highlands and Langkawi) is in the rainy season from April to October.   The Eastern Peninsular and Borneo suffer from the intense monsoonal season November - February / March.  Be aware that the intensity of the eastern monsoon means transport can be at a standstill and many lodges do close. 


Multicultural Penang has many cultural festivals throughout the year, with Chinese New Year being the biggest. It's a full two weeks of festivities as well as adding on the annual balloon festival. Most festivities are scheduled for the evening leaving the days free to relax on the island's beautiful beaches; visit museums and sites of the UNESCO World Heritage city Georgetown; and indulge in the first-class shopping and food scene. It's a fantastic time to visit and possibly one of the best places in the world to celebrate CNY. 



Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur airport is a major international hub.  Other airports in Penang, Sarawak and Sabah have connections within Asia.  

Peninsular Malaysia is serviced by comfortable and reliable trains and buses. Roads are in excellent condition and the drivers - even in the cities - are sedate compared to their South-East Asian neighbours. 


It is necessary to fly between Peninsula Malaysia and Borneo. Getting around Borneo may also require air transport. Malaysia Airlines flies its much smaller fleet in Borneo as MAS.  The means of transport around Borneo is individual to where you want to go. There are few public buses and some towns are only accessible by air or boat. Lodges will usually arrange transportation from the nearest town.

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