• Kuala Lumpur
• Petaling Street
• Central Market
• Masjid India
• Batu Caves
culture by locations
Your Short Introduction To Malaysia, Truly Asia!
Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a country composed of 13 states and 3 federal territories stretching across 329,845 square kilometres. Malaysia is separated into East and West Malaysia by the South China Sea—West Malaysia, also known as Peninsula Malaysia is located between Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, while East Malaysia, also known as Malaysian Borneo, borders Brunei and Indonesia.
12 states—Johor, Kelantan, Kedah, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu are found on Peninsular Malaysia, while West Malaysia consists only of 2 states, which are Sabah and Sarawak.
There are also areas not included in the 14 states which are collectively referred to as the Federal Territories, which includes Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia and also the largest city in the country, located on central West Malaysia within the state of Selangor. Putrajaya is the federal administrative centre of Malaysia located south from Kuala Lumpur, while the remaining Federal Territory, Labuan is located just off the shores of Sabah in east Malaysia.
Malaysia is home to an estimated total of about 28 million. As a multiethnic country, Malaysia has citizens that are of various races, culture and background. Of the 28 million people, Malays make up the majority of the population—about 50% of the Malaysian population are Malay. Other significant races are Chinese-Malaysians and Indian-Malaysians, comprising of a notable portion of the minority, at over 20% and 7% respectively. West Malaysia is also home to a significant amount of non-Malay bumiputras (indigenous peoples) such as the Ibans and the Kadasan-Dusuns, among others.
Despite only being officially established as a nation just slightly over 6 decades ago, Malaysia is home to a rich, vibrant culture. This undoubtedly is caused by Malaysia’s rich history which reaches back thousands of years ago. Records of civilisation dates back to the 2nd century where Indian and Chinese traders and settlers established trades ports and towns in Peninsular Malaysia.
Subsequently, Peninsular Malaysia fell under the power of the Srivijaya Empire, the Malacca Sultanate, the Portuguese colonists, the British and the Japanese before finally achieving independence on August 1st, 1957. Influences from these controlling powers, as well as Malacca’s and Penang’s traditional role as the region’s important ports left influences and marks in the culture of Malaysia that are clearly visible till now.
Along with the previously mentioned influences, the multiethnic and multilingual population forms a unique and charming multicultural identity for Malaysia.
Also, although currently Islam is the official religion of the country, the right to practice any religion one chooses is enshrined within the Constitution of Malaysia, resulting in a variety of faiths in the country and creating an atmosphere of religious and ethnic tolerance across Malaysia.
Bahasa Malaysia (the Malay language) is the official language of the country, but English is a compulsory subject in schools, making it the unofficial second language of the country that is widely spoken and used in commerce, industry and other areas. Malaysia’s rich history has also led to a great number of languages spoken across the nation, which includes Mandarin, Tamil, Hokkien, Cantonese, Iban and many more.
The rainforests in Southeast Asia are known as one of the oldest, famed for their amazing ecosystems and a biological richness and diversity difficult to find anywhere else. A major part of Malaysia—up to 70%—is included in this fascinating natural wonder. As stated in allmalaysia.info…“A total of 286 species of mammals, 736 species of birds, 165 species of amphibians, 300 species of reptiles, 300 species of fresh water fishes and more than 100,000 species of insects have been recorded in the country.”
With an estimated history of 130 million years, the richness of the complex ecosystems of the Malaysian rainforests is unrivalled anywhere else. It is home to 9% (15,000 species) of the world’s known flowering plants and trees and 16% (185,000 species) of the animals.
In an effort to share and preserve the natural heritage of Malaysia, the government has designated 1.2 million hectares of rainforests as Natural Parks, Game Reserves and Wildlife Sanctuaries and around 12.5 million hectares of rainforests as Permanent Forest Estate, ensuring the wonders of Malaysian rainforests will remain for everyone to explore and appreciate.
Among the well-known national parks include the Taman Negara ( largest national park in the country encompassing Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu) Endau Rompin National Park (south of Pahang) and Kinabalu National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) among many others.
Other than the rainforests, the flora and fauna of the mangrove forests and the Malaysian marine ecosystem are equally as fascinating, making Malaysia one of the must-visit destinations for any nature lovers.
Weather and Climate
Located merely a few degrees away from the equator, Malaysia has a tropical, humid climate that averages around 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity about 75% to 80% throughout the year. Rain is also heavy in the region with it ranging from 200cm to
300cm on average. However, higher lands such as the Genting and Cameron Highlands have a lower average temperature range ranging from 16 degrees Celsius to 24 degrees Celsius.
The weather in Malaysia is heavily affected by seasonal monsoon winds for example, from November to March the northeast monsoon causes heavy rainfall in the east coast states of Peninsula Malaysia, while the west coast is affected by the southwest monsoon causing rain during the months of May to September.
With people of diverse cultures residing in Malaysia, it is no surprise that Malaysia offers an impressively wide-range of dishes. Each ethnic group in Malaysia have their own unique food, such as Malay food, Indian food and Chinese food. However, the cuisine found in the country is affected by the influences of the different ethnic groups in Malaysia, creating a truly unique range of food offered in the country.
With such a wide variety of food, as well as with worthwhile eateries in Malaysia ranging from the common hawker to high-class restaurants, it’s almost certain that you can find something you will like no matter your budget or tastebuds. Penang in particular is famous for its delicious hawker food, but good food can practically be found almost everywhere in Malaysia. There is no end to your gastronomic adventure in Malaysia!
Festivals and Holidays
Other than national festivals such as Merdeka (Independence Day), the Agong’s Birthday and others, each ethnic group have their own notable events and festivals. A multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious population means that a wide variety of fascinating and exciting festivals (both ethnic and religious) are organized in Malaysia throughout the year.
Due to the large population of Malay and Muslims in Malaysia, Islamic festivals are widely celebrated in the country, such as the Hari Raya Aidilfitri (known also as Eid al-Fitr), Awal Murharram (Islamic New Year), Maulidur Rasul (birthday of Prophet Muhammad) and others. Chinese festivals such as the Chinese New Year and the Indian Deepavali are also widely celebrated.
Other notable celebrations by many different ethnic groups in Malaysia include the Mid-Autumn Festival, Christmas, Thaipusam, Gawai, Kaamantan and many more.
When festivals coincide, Malaysians are encouraged to celebrate together. This has led to terms coined such as Kongsi Raya (when Chinese New Year and Hari Raya coincide) or Deepa Raya (when Deepavali and Hari Raya happen during the same time).
Malaysia’s Cultural Heritage
What makes Malaysia special is without doubt its multi-ethnic and multicultural make up. We have different religions and races living in a peaceful and harmonious country. These bring influences to our art and culture very much the same way it plays its part among Malaysia cuisines. Two staple aspects of Malaysian culture are dance and music performance. Both of these have evolved to a certain extent absorbing different art forms from different cultures.
Music & Drama
Traditional Malay music and performing arts are based on percussion instruments. Traditionally, the gendang (drum) plays the most important role in choreography and orchestration. On top of that, there are at least 14 types of traditional drums as far as we know from different ethnic origins. Besides drums there are other instruments like rebab, serunai, seruling and trumpets which are all widely used for traditional melodious story telling during festive seasons.
Another prominent art form among traditional Malay culture is the Malay drama performance known as mak yong. Performers sing, dance and act the heroic legends of their kings and princesses. It is considered as one of the most authentic performances backed up by traditional orchestras. Although there are traces of external influences in most Malay performances, the mak yong has stayed true to its originality and uniqueness with the passing of time.
Malaysia’s art of batik has never been successfully replicated anywhere in the world, allowing us to claim pride of it on the world stage. This textile art has its roots from the east coast of the country. The popular designs of batik are leaves, flowers and butterflies. Indonesia has its own Java Batik and tends to be more complex and dull in design and colors. In conjunction with “1 Malaysia”, the government has endorsed batik as the national dress while encouraging fashion designers to incorporate batik motifs iinto their latest creations.
Malaysia’s very own puppet show, the wayang kulit is a traditional form of theatre using shadows of puppets to narrate tales of the Ramayana and other legends. The shadow play is performed by the back-lighting effects of oil lamps against the intricately carved leather puppets as they engage in the epic struggle of good against evil. These narratives are usually in the form of parables out of which the puppet master, by expert manipulation of the puppets, weaves his tales with complete deftness and agility. Characteristically, both the protagonists and antagonists play out their roles expressing moral values embedded within the parables.
Malaysian silat or silat melayu is said to have come about through the observation and imitation of animals including the monkey, eagle and tiger to form its distinct style of martial art. It is a highly stylized Malay art of self-defence and combines sequences of movements which enable a person to defend against attack. Silat has slowly evolved into an art of self defense among youngsters besides being just a performance.
Being blessed with the world’s largest reserves of tin, it seems reasonable enough that Malaysia produces what is being recognized as the world’s finest pewter products. Most of these come from our very own Royal Selangor Pewter which is located on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Up until now, Royal Selangor Pewter.
The jungle provides an abundance of materials for Malaysia’s weaving industry. The access to different types of wood is worked and woven into traditional crafts and furniture like chairs and tables. The practice was common even back then during British colonial times that even the English appreciated such art work. In Borneo for instance, the sago plant is dyed and woven into uniquely patterned jewelries, baskets, hats, handicrafts etc.
Heritage Buildings in Malaysia
Malaysia is an uncommon case for numerous colonization to happen, at least among countries in Asia. The leavings shown in buildings are apparent in reflecting different cultures and art forms from different colonies. As of today, these heritages left are treasures to be preserved while modern architectures take reference in designs. These could be largely found around temples, forts, museums etc. built back then. Up till date architectures, retail outlets, shopping malls, hotel and restaurants are reliving the past by incorporating designs from the past into modern architectures, crafting a gem of itself.
Heritage buildings in Penang are mostly results of post British colonial era, most apparently during the times of Francis Light. The buildings in Penang possess Georgian, Victorian, Chinese and also Art Deco and Anglo-Indian architectural styles. Among these, the oldest building that is recorded is Fort Cornwallis, located where the Esplanade stands today. The structure was originally made of wood and later replaced with bricks for preservative purposes. The multicultural heritage are often found in religious heritages around Penang, such as the famous Blue Mansion or Cheong Fatt Tze mansion, Khoo Kongsi Clan Temple, Cathedral of Assumption, Acheen St. Mosque, Kek Lok Si etc.
One of the many buildings that earned George Town its global heritage status is the Suffolk House, known as Penang’s first “Great House”. Designed in an Anglo-Indian garden house, this building represents one of the important heritage landmarks in the country. The structure was restored under a RM7 million plans completed in 2007 and is now managed by Badan Warisan, a heritage conservation body. Suffolk House itself won the Award of Distinction in the 2008 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The site of the house was formerly a pepper estate, owned by Light.
Architectures revolving around Malacca reflect strong resemblance of Portuguese designs and cultures. Although Malacca was taken charge by Parameswara, the Portuguese, Dutch and later British, it was the Portuguese that left biggest impact in architectures. The Portuguese retaliated and built a fort, the A Famosa or Fortaleza de Malacca to defend its territory from enemies. The fort had four gateways and is believed to be among the older surviving European architectural remains in Asia.
Among all, fort and old colonial architecture are remnants of the interesting, colorful and bloody past of Malacca. The multi cultural landscape has earned honors in the heritage and historical fields across the world. Areas such as the 17th century Dutch Stadhuys buildings, St Paul’s Hill, Jonker Street and its Dutch-era buildings, Kampung Morten and the Malacca River are all recognized as heritage sites as part of this prestigious title.
Batu Gajah has never been on top of the list in Malaysia’s most sought to visit list. However one can seek for endless treasures hidden when one is willing to explore. There is a lot more to the charming town, where Kellie’s Castle and Malay village near mukim Sungai Terap is apparent on map. The colorful history has left in well preserved architectural and historical buildings. Batu Gajah holds more than tourists’ eye candy, instead a sense of its past incorporated in local lifestyles could be found with patience. Any visit to Batu Gajah should include a driving tour the the heritage trail at Jalan Changkat’s colonial core. On top of these, other must-see spots are God’s Little Acre, Kinta Gaol and the High Court House, recently converted into a museum, and the Hospital District Batu Gajah.
Local Street Foods & Delicacies
Malaysia’s very own distinctive culinary tradition is the product of waves of immigration and settlement over decades. These have brought unique flavors from our multicultural Malay, India, Chinese, and Eurasian population.
Histories record where Malaysia was a major hub of spices in South East Asia. Merchants, Seafarers and traders would gather from different nations where they bring new culinary traditions. Among popular ethnic groups are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, Portuguese, Arab, British and Dutch influences that further blended into distinct flavors that represent Malaysia today. The major flavors around Malaysia today come from the Chinese, Malay and Indian spices. These further derived into hybrids from cross cultural influences like the renowned Mamak and Nyonya.
Hawker stalls are always the best source to hunt for authentic local delicacies. You could spot them easily all over the country, serving inexpensive and delicious food along the roadside.
Malay cuisines generally revolves around rice, accompanied with their signature dishes such as curry, mixed vegetables, sambals, fried chicken etc. That being said, Nasi Lemak is always a mainstay on malay menus with rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fried chicken, ikan bilis, sambal and sliced eggs. Some westerners might not like the extremely spicy pastes and curry condiments. As far as the variety grows, you won’t find pork in the menu due to the fact where all Malays are Muslims. Where mutton is listed, most times it is goat, which is preferred over lamb for its less musty taste and aroma. Satay is one of the most famous Malay dishes, delicious barbecued skewers of marinated chicken, mutton of beef served with peanut sauce.
Another interesting local variation to try is Malay cuisine influenced by Indian Muslim’s cooking and flavor. Walk down to any Mamak Stall and try out the Roti Canai, a fried pastry dipped in chicken curry or vegetarian curry; as well as bak which is fried bread with egg, onion and meat also served with curry sauce. Top up your meal with the tarik (frothy tea made with sweetened condensed milk) exclusively in Malaysia.
Ethnic influences to local cuisines
Malaysian Indian cuisine
Malaysia Indian Cuisine of the ethnic Indians was brought to Malaysia by Indian migrants back in the 19th century who came to work as labors in rubber estates and railway construction during the revolution era. Indian cuisines are primarily divided into 2 mainstreams – Northern and Southern.
Northern Indian cuisines are distinguished with the rich spices and meat as ingredients in their cooking. Ghee and Yoghurt are elaborated without being overly spicy in most of their dishes. Wheat flour pancakes are used sparingly to replace rice as their main course in Southern cooking as compared, while coconut milk, mustard seeds and chilies are used widely.
Spices are the language of Indian cooking. Spices are freshly grounded and added in many different combinations and the most commonly used are coriander, turmeric, cumin, chillies, fennel and fenugreek. Dishes are traditionally served on thali (metal tray with divisions for sauces), eaten with fingers. Banana leaves are often used in plates in which rice are served on top, followed by various curries and accompaniments which includes dried fish, pappadams (lentil wafers), fresh chutneys made from herbs, coconut, and acid fruits among others.
Malaysian Chinese cuisine
Chinese food was brought to Malaysia by waves of Chinese traders during the 19th century, bringing in workers who are then relocated and brought Cantonese style of Chinese cuisine. One of the most popular dishes that are brought in is Hainanese Chicken Rice and Steamboat. Just like anything else in the Chinese culture, it all revolves around the blance of Yin (cool) and Yang (heat). Therefore, Chinese cuisines are served within the perfect balance of ingredients. If one wishes to taste expensive delicacies you will not be disappointed with bird’s nest soup, abalone soup, shark fin soup, pun choy etc.
Malay food has been developed into a wide array for varieties compared to the traditional culinary styles. They are greatly influenced by other countries like Indonesia, China, India and other Middle East regions. Malay food is often recognized by their spicy spices and herbs. Malay cooking incorporates uncommon ingredients such as the likes of lemon grass, pandan leaves and lime leaves. On top of that, they never seem to forget traditional spices like pepper, cardamom, star anise and fenugreek, also fresh herbs like turmeric and nutmeg.
Essential guide to the country’s most famous dishes
If you are in a hurry with not much time to spare for reading, we have a brief list just for you.
Rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. Served typically on top of banana leaves; accompanied with Sambal Ikan Bilis, fried anchovies, cucumber, fried peanuts and eggs.
Barbequed skewered meat is famous across Malaysia. Tender and juicy Satay comes with variety of meat choices like chicken, beef and lamb. Fresh salads, onions and rice (ketupat) is served together with the spicy-sweet peanut sauce to dip into.
Traditional Malay spiced coconut beef, made with tenderly simmering meat balanced by tangy spices. Rendang is normally served on special occasion like weddings and festive seasons. It is made commercial due to popular demands, often accompanied with turmeric rice.
All time favorite Indian pastry that could be found anywhere in Malaysia’s mamak stall. They are often eaten as appetizers, served with chicken or vegetable curry for dipping.