Malaysia Life

Malaysia is a prosperous country of two parts, one on the Malay Peninsula and the other on the island of Borneo. Malaysia has a mix of cultures as well its own native Malay culture. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country although for the most part tolerant of other faiths and permissive of Western freedoms such as drinking alcohol and young people socialising. Life in Malaysia is, however, varies in this respect dependent upon which part of the country you are in. For instance, it is a lot more liberal in urban Kuala Lumpur than it is in rural parts of Kelantan State, where you would struggle to find somewhere to buy a beer and if you did find one you would not be advised to drink it in public.

Malaysian Culture

Malaysia is a very diverse country. The country is in fact split into two parts separated by nearly 600 km of open ocean. West Malaysia is located on the continent of Asia below Thailand, whilst East Malaysia is on the island of Borneo. The two parts of the country share a government based near Kuala Lumpur but little else in terms of culture and common heritage. Within both West and East Malaysia people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds live together.

The ‘indigenous’ peoples of both parts of the country only just form the majority with large numbers of Chinese and Indian people having settled in Malaysia during the time of colonial rule. Moreover, the ‘indigenous’ people of Malaysia are not in fact the original people of the country. In West Malaysia these are the Orang Asli who are a collection of ethnic groups who now live in the remote areas of the Malaysian peninsula. In East Malaysia the original tribes who inhabited that part of the island of Borneo were the Dayak people, who are best known for being head hunters. Most of the people who now live in East Malaysia emigrated there from the late 14th Century onward bringing with them the religion of Islam to an island were people worshipped trees, animals and mountains like the druids of early Western Europe.

Malaysia is very much a modern concept rather than country of people with a shared heritage, religion and ancestry. The country came together and has stayed together for shared goal of prospering following independence from the British Empire.

Travel in Malaysia

West Malaysia has fantastic transport links. The country has good roads, a well functioning railway network and a very modern suburban transport system in Kuala Lumpur. The railway network on West Malaysia has two lines. The busier line is the West Coast line which runs from  Padang Besar, near to the border with Thailand, to Gemas Railway Station in Negeri Sembilan State where the West Coast Line intersects with Malaysia’s East Coast line popularly known as the ‘Jungle Line’. The Jungle Line runs from Tumpat to Johor Bahru. Tumpat is near to the border with Thailand on the eastern side of the Malay peninsula and Johor Bharu is at the very bottom end of West Malaysia and the main crossing point to Singapore.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur
Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur

The transport infrastructure in East Malaysia is by comparison poorly developed. Many parts of East Malaysia are only accessible by boat or on foot. There have been notable attempts to improve the situation with the construction of sections of the Pan-Borneo Highway, major airports in Kuching, Labuant and Kota Kinabalu, and 134 km of functional railway line in the State of Sabah.

However, progress in further developing the infrastructure of East Malaysia has been slow with the proposed Sarawak Railway Line failing to materialise and the Pan-Borneo Highway falling into disrepair and awaiting completion of the all important final sections which will turn this road to nowhere into a ring road connecting the whole island of Borneo. East Malaysia has missed out on funding whilst West Malaysia is set to benefit from further mega project such as the Kuala Lumpur to Singapore High Speed Rail Link.

Food in Malaysia

Malaysian cuisine is perhaps the best and most varied in South East Asian and paradise for anyone with a genuine interest in food. What makes Malaysian cuisine so good is that it incorporates so many of the flavours if other cuisines of Asia. Malaysia is an ethnically diverse country and the groups of people who settled in Malaysia brought their own cooking styles with them and this has become part of mainstream Malaysian cuisine.

Consider for instance Malaysia’s national dish of Nasi Lemak. The steamed rice pre-soaked in coconut cream is a cooking method that you would associate with Thailand and Laos. The accompanying curry is heavily influenced by the flavours of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The sambal (a paste of chilli, vinegar and other ingredients) is very similar to the dishes you will find in Indonesia.

In addition to the Malay dishes you can also eat very good Chinese, Indian and Thai food all over Malaysia cooked in the way they are in China, India and Thailand. Best of all eating out on Malaysia is generally very cheap because of government widely subsidies food prices.

Religion in Malaysia

Around 60% of the population is Muslim, 20% Buddhist, 10% Christian, and 6% Hindu. People whom the Government of Malaysia classifies as Malay are required by law to be Muslim. Everyone is free to worship, or not worship, as they choose. However, it is worth noting that in certain states (such as Kelantan State where Kota Bharu is located) the state governments have heavily regulated the sale and consumption of alcohol, and other activities which are prohibited according to the Islamic faith.

Cost of Living in Malaysia

In terms of average incomes, Malaysia is the 3rd most prosperous country in South East Asia, behind Singapore and Brunei. The average income of a Malaysian is 1.6 times greater than in Thailand and 3.2 times greater than the average income in Myanmar. However, with the exception of rents and hotel prices, Malaysia is one of the cheapest places in South East Asia to visit. Food prices are controlled by the Government, as are fuel and transport costs at very affordable level. Expect to pay 4 to 10 MYR for a meal in a basic restaurant ($1 to $2.5 USD) which is slightly cheaper than you would expect to pay in most parts of Thailand. Similarly a 4 hours train journey in an A/C carriage will cost you around 50 MYR ($13).

Things to do in Malaysia

The three main tourist centres in Malaysia are Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and Penang Island. Kuala Lumpur has some great architecture, parks, museums, and other cultural treasures but the reason the majority of foreign visitors come to Kuala Lumpur is to go shopping. The range of shopping opportunities in Kuala Lumpur is staggering and its good value for money. There are are bargains to be had in Kuala Lumpur on both luxury items and basic everyday items, including electronics. The Malaysian Government is also permissive of visits by person banned from travelling to London and New York and this category of visitor with money from dubious sources is well catered for in the shopping centres of Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur also has the best nightlife in Malaysia with a fairly liberal attitude to the the consumption of alcohol and women going out without a male escort.

Penang is famous for its history, in particular historic Georgetown. Penang is also considered the culinary capital of Malaysia with the best food served in the Island’s restaurants and street stalls. Langkawi is popular as a beach resort and the recent addition of a cable car and elevated walkway.

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