A Quick Guide to Malaysia

Petronas Twin Towers

Situated in South East Asia, Malaysia is a country with a rapidly emerging economy that offers much for the tourist.

The country is split in half, but only by the South China Sea.  Part of the Federation of Malaysia is located on the island of Borneo.  This region is called East Malaysia and is comprised of the states of Sabah in the North and East plus Sarawak in the South East of Borneo. The rest of Malaysia, and the bulk of the population, is located on the Malaysian Peninsular, bordered by Singapore in the South and Thailand in the North.

It is a predominantly Muslim country, but other religions also flourish, especially Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, which reflect the multicultural makeup of the Malaysian people.  This multiculturalism also has a significant impact of Malaysia’s cuisine, as there are many influences such as Chinese and Indian cooking, and the local speciality called Nonya, which has many influences. The food does tend to be spicy, such as Laksa soup, Rendang curry and Roti Canai, a flat bread that you dip into curry sauce.

The capital city is Kuala Lumpur, which is probably best known for its Petronas Twin Towers, which was, for many years, the world’s tallest building, but is now simply the world’s tallest twin buildings. Either way, it is quite spectacular to stand at the base of the towers and look up, as they do seem to pierce the sky. KL, as everyone calls it, is built upon an old tin mine and is quite hilly, so many of the roads are circular, meaning that you go a long way, but don’t actually travel very far.  KL has some really interesting architecture, and a good public transport network, which includes a monorail, from which you can enjoy great views of the city.

Kuala Lumpur also has one of the world’s most modern airports, and it really is a quick procedure to get through Immigration and Customs.  There are two parts to the airport, the main terminal buildings, and the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), that is located in a separate part of the airport, and it caters for the many budget airline flights which arrive in and depart KL.  The LCCT at the airport is the headquarters for Air Asia, which is one of the world’s best budget airlines.  It’s worth noting that Air Asia sometimes has some ridiculously low airfares to other parts of Malaysia and Asia, London and Australia, so it can be worthwhile making KL a base for other international travel around the region.  The airport if 70kms from KL.  There is a fast train from the main terminal, which only takes 27 minutes to reach the city, plus there are buses and taxis.  From LCCT there are several coaches into the city, which charge about 9 Ringgit, or about USD2.

Malaysia has many places for tourists to visit.  Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia both offer great jungle adventures, and both have great beach resorts.  The main city in Sabah is Kota Kinabulu, which is also the name of

Melaka River

South East Asia’s tallest mountain, not far from the city.  It is possible to climb Kota Kinabulu, and many people go up in tour groups to reach the summit in time to view the incredible sunrise. The main city in Sarawak is Kuching, the Malaysian name for “cat”, and it has a very interesting history as a trading port.  One of the most popular things to do in Sabah and Sarawak is to visit the Orang Utan Reserves.  The name Orang Utan is Malaysian for “jungle man”, and these amazing creatures are Homo sapiens nearest relative.

On the mainland there are the two historical centres of Penang and Malacca.

Penang is a large island close to the border with Thailand, and its position at the top of the Malacca Straits led it to become a major trading centre.  The Capital is Georgetown, which is UNESCO heritage listed, where much of the traditional areas and significant buildings have been restored to much of their former glory.  There is a popular resort area on Penang called Batu Ferringhi.

Malacca is on the South West coast, about two hours from KL.  It also is UNESCO heritage listed, and, in my opinion, much better restored and presented than Georgetown.  However, Malacca is also smaller than Georgetown, so much easier to negotiate by foot.

At the southern tip of Malaysia is Johor Bahru, which is located just across the causeway from Singapore.  It’s a bustling city, and popular with Singaporeans as many make the short trip there for cheap shopping.


There are also many island groups, which feature beautiful beaches and some fine snorkelling and diving.  The biggest of these is Langkawi Island, in the north.  There are 99 islands in the Langkawi group, of which only two are inhabited.  Langkawi is also a duty free port, so tends to be cheaper than other parts of Malaysia.

Off the East Coast there are also many islands groups, perhaps the best of which are the Perhentian Islands, which make up the Pulau Redang National Marine Park, and is home to a significant population of nesting turtles.  Close by is Redang Island, which is very popular with Malaysian visitors, and which also boasts many fine beaches and dive sites.

Two of the mainland tourist spots on the East Coast are Kuala Terengannu  and Pahang Province, which offers not only great beach holidays, but has tropical rain forests and caves to explore.

The inland of Peninsular Malaysia is quite mountainous, and there are two spots where locals and visitors head to escape the heat and humidity of the coast. One is the Cameron Highlands, home to many of Malaysia’s tea plantations, and the other is the Genting Highlands, a short distance from KL, and a place to which many Malaysians flee to enjoy the facilities at the Genting Highlands Resort for gambling and golf, and also to visit the various theme parks in the area.

Getting around Malaysia is very easy.  Firstly, internal flights can be ridiculously cheap, sometimes just a few dollars.  There is an efficient and cheap coach system.  Malaysia has a network of very good expressways, which makes coach travel a pleasure.  There is also a railway system, but I don’t believe it is as efficient as the coaches, so I would opt for them, or a flight instead of the train.  Hiring cars in Malaysia is easy, and not unreasonably priced.  There are plenty of taxis, but few use their meters and price can be by negotiation.  Make sure you establish before you travel how much you are expected to pay.  Although, at main tourist places, such as airports, rail and bus terminals, there is usually a taxi counter where you are charged a fixed price, and the driver cannot charge you more.

To get to Malaysia depends on where you travel from.  There are trains and coaches from Thailand and Malaysia, and ferries from Thailand and Indonesia.  Thanks to the few budget airlines which operate out of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, it is not prohibitively expensive to fly there.

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