Situated at the heart of Southeast Asia, since its inception in the 1960s, the country has become one of the world’s most frequented Asian destinations. Known for iconic Petronas Twin Towers and mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences as well as its beaches, mountains, tropical rainforest and jungles. Malaysia has it all. Plus, food is not just first class—its world class.
Malaysia is ranked the 2nd most popular destination in Southeast Asia, connected to a plethora of reliable budget airlines. Despite recent mishaps, and unlike its neighbours that attract a backpacker crowd, surprisingly tourism continues to thrive.
Among these, medical and educational tourism are building an international reputation. In the near future, Malaysia’s rising medical tourism industry is expected to rival that of Singapore and Thailand. A number of foreign universities, notably from Australia, have been established off-shore campuses. Moreover, the country remains the most affordable of three places in Asia (others being Singapore and Hong Kong) to buy freehold property. This means that Malaysia is a viable option for considering a second (holiday) home or even retirement.
Malaysia is a melting pot of Asian culture. Everywhere you look, there are influences from China, India and the rest of Southeast Asia. Tourists can savour a delicious variety of flavours and many hybrid dishes, admire Catholic churches, Chinese temples, Islamic mosques all within a short walk of each other; all attributes makes it a fascinating place to visit.
Because locals are friendly
Malaysians are known for their welcoming hospitality and broad smiles. People are remarkably friendly, open-minded and even in a multi-ethnic society, there is a feeling of being safe, all the time. Locals are carefree, happy to chat and help. Also, there is no fear of being scammed or cheated like other places in South East Asia.
Because locals speak English
Most tourists may think it is not a bad idea to learn a few words of Malay before visiting. But as a former British colony, English is commonly used. Signage and menus are bilingual. The level of spoken English is much higher than most of Asia. If you intend to venture ‘off the beaten track’, however, knowing a few local words, especially (names of) dishes may not be a bad idea.
Because it is Halal sensitive
Malaysia is a multicultural and multiracial society, celebrating various cuisine and heritage. Malay Muslim predominance. The country's rich Islamic heritage also makes it a top Muslim destination. In the future, it is expected that the Islamic population will be 30% of the world's travellers by 2025; and as the world becomes even more connected through tourism, Malaysia is expected to become an even more attractive destination for Muslim tourists coming to Asia.
Because it has good weather
Malaysia is hot (or summer) all year round. The temperature stays constant at high 20s ℃ all year round. Monsoon season brings more rain (November to March), which is also welcomely refreshing. It is no surprise that the beach under the tropical sun is ever so popular!
Because it is value for money
Malaysia may not be the cheapest destination in South East Asia ; it is not as cheap as Thailand, but it is not that much more expensive either! And as one would expect, the infrastructure (transport system) is better. Still, the price, in comparison to Western standards for accommodation and transport, is considered excellent value. With the recent drop of the Ringgit, it is a good time to exchange.
Malaysian food reflects the country’s multiethnic, multiracial nature. It is a melting pot, famous for its authentic tastes, flavours and variety--a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cooking with influences from Middle East as well.
As tourists, we seek the distinctive “terroir” of a country’s history, culture and traditions; food that sells the culture and identity of a destination. So food tourism is not just about consumption but also about experiencing new and interesting kinds of food. Searching for local cuisine has become an important motivation and a pastime of above-average income couples. After all, taste leaves us with lasting memories. It is no surprise that local food and drinks are of interest to repeated travellers.
Where to go and for what?
Simple. Fresh. Novel. These are all words to describe Malaysian cuisine. Most of all, food in Malaysia is readily available and affordable. While rice is a staple, there is an insatiable appetite for red chili. Street food is taken in open air food stalls.
Malacca: we find a fusion of Indonesia Nyonya and Eurasian "east-west" cooking.
Penang prides its cooking on Thai inspired Nyonya and Muslin India Nasi Kandar.
The most notable product of Perak is Tempoyak. Made with durian, an unusual scented fruit known as the “King of fruits”, that is consumed as a gravy with freshwater fish. Guava and pomelo are other local seasonal treats.
Set in the Malay Muslim precincts of Kelantan and Trengganu Malay food is abundant. The long hot-dog like sausage “fish crackers” known as "keropk, keropok, leko and keropok gote" are most distinctive. Made of fish paste and dipped into a chili-tamarind sauce.
Peppercorn and sago, “edible pearls” are products of Sarawak.
Tiger prawns are grown in Tawau, Sabah. They are exported to Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.
For those who are reminiscent of the colonial era, a number of places offer high tea:
The St. Regis
The Orchid Conservatory, The Majestic Hotel
Carcosa Seri Negara (under renovation)
Taste of Penang: cheap street food
Lorong Baru (New Lane)--char koway kak (Chinese style noodles), otak otak (stream fish curry)
Gurney Drive, laska stores (at Ah Chye)
Esplande food Center, rojak (at Rojak Hoo Wei Jeng)
Joo Hooi Cafe
Lebuh Presgrave Hawker Stalls
Lorong Selamat Hawker Stalls
Your Malacca foodie menu
laksa – a regional spicy noodle dish, made of coconut and lemongrass
popiah-uber – spring roll suffered with shredded carrots, prawns, chili, garlic, palm sugar and more
cendol – an ice with jelly, syrup and coconut milk dessert, originally from Indonesia
Nyonya pineapple tarts – buttery, crispy flaking pastries with chewy pineapple jam
In the past, it was common to travel to developed regions for medical advice and treatment. But things are changing. Capitalising on latest technology and the globalisation of medicine, new conditions have made Asia an attractive destination for healthcare. Seen as a natural extension of spa and health tourism, the tenet of medical tourism is to maintain, improve or restore one's health.
Privatisation of healthcare, among other factors, has saw the rise of the "medical tourist". Coming mainly from "rich countries" where expenses are high, the medical tourist avoids paying high costs or waiting for non-urgent treatment.
Why Malaysia is like the West, but better?
While a late player, Malaysia has become an awaking giant in the game. Home to some of the world’s best doctors, still the challenge remains (much like elsewhere) is how to convince tourists that Malaysia is safe healthcare destination.
Doctors are trained in Australia, U.S. or the U.K, and comfortably converse in English. A product of colonialism means Western culture is embedded in the country—making it attractive to English-speaking tourists. In comparison, English is more widely spoken here in Malaysia than in Thailand, and infrastructure is better than India, and last but not least, the price: living and, more importantly, medical costs in Malaysia are cheaper than Singapore.
A hip replacement at Malaysia Mahkota Medical Centre (Malacca), compared to the same procedure in Singapore, is 65% the price! Furthermore, cheaper air travel, the stronger U.S. dollar, and the depreciation of the ringgit has made Malaysia a more attractive destination. Numerous hospitals in Penang and Kuala Lumpur are among Southeast Asia’s first recipients of the United States’ prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI) certification, hence, George Town and Kuala Lumpur have emerged as two medical hubs in Malaysia. Including one of best, The Lam Wah Ee Hospital (Penang).
After the financial crisis, Indonesians begun to turn to Malaysia for affordable price healthcare, then a potential industry surfaced. Today, 80 % of its tourists roam from neighbouring countries, including Thailand and Singapore, which have established themselves as Asia's leading medical destinations. Also, given its ethnic composition, Halal medicine is a specialty practice, with a Muslim majority Indonesia remaining a popular market. Beginning with medical screening, it has since expanded to cover cardiac, cancer and eye surgery as well as cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and dermatology. Furthermore, some hospitals have gone a step extra and are affiliated with specialist schools. For example, English and IT lessons have been popular means to keep children preoccupied while parents are undergoing treatment.
In a country with a high proportion of Malay Muslim, medical tourism is catering to a religiously group. Malaysia is expected to be a world hub for Halal practice. To cater to Islamic medical tourism, hospital staff need to be sensitive to Muslim preferences and understand their way of life, including concepts of modesty. A full range of halal services, including a prayer room, call to prayer, funeral preparation, food and female doctors and caregivers (to serve female patients) are required. Unnecessary touching and even avoidance of opposite sex staff ensures patients are not humiliated.
Assigning single occupancy rooms to ensure privacy, a "knock-and-wait" before entry policy, provision of modest medical tourist gowns, as well as specialist amenities (prayer room, qibla direction, Islamic call to prayer, Quran and wudhu facilities). Plus medical staff should have in-house training to familiarize themselves and avoid cultural clashes.
Due to dietary requirements, doctors and pharmacists should proactively discuss non-halal medicines (containing pork derivatives) and procedures including blood transfusion from non-Muslims with patients and their families. Caretakers should respect patients’ religious beliefs and their need for quiet prayer time.
To ensure a halal friendly environment is maintained, strict standards are enforced. Adherence to Islamic medical ethics and standards are monitored by the Halal Industry Development Corporation, Islamic Tourism Centre, and Malaysia Department of Standards.
Total of 76 hospitals and 34 Islamic-friendly hospitals, they are concentrated in the following areas:
Malaysia is the centre of medical excellence and a world-class getaway. To continue to reap the benefits, including regional emergency, cases of by-passing conventional immigration control, cross the border treatments marks a new era for "flying ambulances" into Malaysia.
Certain religious practices are central to Muslims. These entails observing certain Islamic rules and regulations. From the beginning, religion and travel has been inter-connected. It includes visiting religious buildings, rituals and festival, such as the Hajj. According to the Koran, Muslims should travel, to get blessings from Allah (ibadah) by visiting their friends and relatives overseas, and learning history and appreciating the creation and beauty of God's world.
Reasons for Muslims to travel
something to talk about
indulge in luxury
meeting new people
going to place that peers haven't visited
escape from demands of home or a busy job
visiting places where family are from
being together with the family
Top tourist activities
natural ecological sites
wide-open spaces, away from crowds
wilderness and undisturbed area
availability of mosque
loud public pronouncement of Azan, indicating prayer time
placement of Qibla direction (arows towards Mecca) in hotel rooms
Provision of the Holy Qur'an in hotel rooms
availability of Halal food
Halal kitchens in hotels
segregated beach areas for women
banning of prostitution, and indecency and public display of affection
banning of adult scenes on television
banning of alcoholic drinks
banning of gambling
"Feeling at home" in Malaysia
Malaysia is the top long haul destination for the Middle East. What’s the attraction? The country's Muslim majority, makes it one sensitive to the needs of Muslim tourists. Its major strength is the infrastructure in place for Muslim overseas, leaving them alone to fulfill their religious needs. The availability of halal food and Muslim-friendly facilities are also major factors. Its top markets roam from its neighbouring "Muslim countries" -- Indonesia and Singapore. Singapore has the greatest market-share, over 50%, followed by Indonesia, then Thailand and China. An additional way to make a destination more attractive is to have restaurants menus and also information, brochures and newspapers in Arabic text. Further, the presence of a local Muslim community, especially mosques, also enhance the connectivity between "hosts" and "guests".
Religion fixes the tone of life for Muslims. Ignorance and insensitivity hinders tourism. Separated by language, economics and social factors is one factor, another is diversity among tourists themselves. Inter-cultural clashes include sun-bathing bikini babes, drinking cocktails or tourists making love on the beach.
Food, dress and also how to conduct oneself appropriately means repeated visit can happen when certain expectations are not met and the disparity is too wide. So, education of locals and tourists about cultural and religious sensitives are necessary to ensure culturally appropriate behaviours take place. Such include being sensitive to Muslim needs for alcohol-free accommodation, gender-segregated and strict dress code and "Islamic" entertainment programs. Avoidance of alcohol consumption, wearing scanty clothing, serving pork and sun-bathing should be noted.
Enhancing halal hospitality
Malaysia is keen to enhance its image by attracting Middle Eastern and Muslim tourists worldwide. The country plans to cater to this specialised market, allowing Muslims to enjoy the benefits that Malaysia has to offer: from duty free to affordable luxury shopping, healthcare to medical treatments, nature and cultural tourism. It even has constructed a shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur that appeal to Middle East visitors and a number of hospitals specially for Muslim patients. The development of more Muslim-friendly products, will further boost the image of Malaysia as a safe destination responsive to Islamic tourists’ needs. These products include halal services and products, such as a female Muslim taxi driver, halal airlines, as well as segregated beaches, gender-specific swimming pools and alcohol-free areas.
An affordable international education
Think of studying overseas? Travelling in search of knowledge is a well-known human phenomenon. Educational tourism allows international students benefit from a multi-cultural learning environment. Studying abroad, one is exposed to new experiences, another culture (or cultures) in a different environment. Parents who are paying will also find Malaysia a cheaper option for quality education.
An "international education" at a fraction of the price
Malaysia is re-orientating itself to be an education hub in the Asia-Pacific region. Capitalising on its English medium of instruction, public and private institutions are partnering with foreign higher institutions to entice international students to complete their studies in Malaysia. Due to the profitability and reputation of establishing an overseas base, international universities, such as those that have set up base aboard, franchised programs or “off-shore campuses” are part and parcel of establishing an international reputation. Three top "Australian" universities--Swinburne University of Technology (Sarawak), Curtin University (Sarawak), and Monash University (Malaysia Campus).
Originally, post-colonial Malaysia wanted to "let go" of its past, but English was considered too valuable to abandon. Adopting English as a medium of instruction, the nation building strategy was aligned to connect the country with global businesses to enable it to participate in the global knowledge economy. As an offset, international education benefits from both the use of English and a multi-cultural population in Malaysia.
The international student cohort are mainly from Asia, with Brunei, Canada, mainland China, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Mozambique, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore represented.
Why students study overseas?
A major advantage for international students choosing Malaysia is the relatively cheap cost of living. Students area also allowed to work while studying. The income derived from the part time work should be treated as pocket money. A monthly budget of RM1,200 (USD375) will cover a rather comfortable living in Malaysia. Other benefits are summarized below:
political stability and peaceful country
technological progress and research
low exchange rate
The University of Malaya, recognised as the nation's new number one institution. It is the first choice among Malaysia's top students. Dating back to 1905, the it was the first university established in Malaysia and is one of the oldest in South East Asian. Apart from this institute, other ‘local’ and ‘international’ options are available.
The deflation of the Ringgit will not leave your pockets empty. An Australian Bachelor's Degree can be earned without leaving the country. How? A number of “foreign universities” (off-shore campuses) have been transplanted here. Most of them are Australian.
The country serves over 40 airlines, including its own flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines. Most international flights land at the new state-of-the-art Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) at Sepang, Selangor. This is also the hub of Air Asia, a frequented low-cost carrier that provides cheap access across Asia. The old international airport, the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, now caters to domestic travel.
There are several ports of entries, namely Penang, Port Klang, Kuantan, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
Flying is cheap and easy on low budget airlines, such as Air Asia. Flying from KL to Langkawi, it takes an hour, the fare is under US$22. Buses can be are even cheaper, but slower. Trains are another option. The variety of transport make it easy to visit multiple destinations within a single trip by mixing and matching.
Roads usually well paved and is a good destination for cyclists. Should you wish to venture beyond the beaten track should, consider hiring a mountain bike. In KL, ordinary rental bicycles cost RM10 per hour. In Penang, a one-day hire is RM12.
Convenience and availability of buses means hitchhiking is not required. It is still done on the highways off the west coast, but it is down at the passenger’s risk.
The bus is the most common form of land transport. Both regional and long distance travel can be reached via major stations.
Most stops do not require advanced ticketing.
Local commuter buses can be full during peak hours—mornings and evenings. It is always advisable for first time visitors, enquire with the bus driver the routing and make your preferred destination known before taking a seat.
Light Rail Transit
One of the best ways to get around Kuala Lumpur is via Monorail. It passes several shopping areas as well as the CBD. For more information:
Taxis in Malaysia (red, green and yellow) run on metres, but many drivers often prefer to turn them off, and instead negotiate a fare. If this happens, simply flag down another. Another way around this issue is to buy a couponed fixed price taxi from KL Sentral or install the “MyTeksi” app. This on-demand booking app lets you connect with the nearest taxi and also estimate the fare, protecting passengers from unscrupulous drivers. To avoid haggling or taking the taxi altogether, tourists can travel by train or monorail.
Tourists should note, besides the metered fare, separate charges applies when:
luggage is placed in the boot
taxi is pre-booked
if three or more passengers are on board
Warning: Tourists should be wary that taxis parked outside luxury hotels are notorious for malpractice. Besides, many hotels have their own vehicles for hire, enquire within.
Trishaws are part of the traffic scene. Usually seating two, the fare is negotiable and should be agreed before departure. They are most abundant in the own towns of Penang and Melaka. Tourists should realise, they are paying for the experience more than anything else.
Motorcycle hire starts from RM30-40 per day.
1.8 m BC
Head axe found
Native ancestors settle in region
EARLY TRADE & MALACCA EMPIRE
Hindu Prince and pirate founds trading port of Malacca
Islam spread throughout the empire
Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho arrives in Malacca
THE PORTUGUESE & DUTCH
Portuguese conquest of Malacca
Dutch take Malacca from Portuguese
EAST INDIA COMPANY
British Capitan Francis Light occupies Penang
British takeover Malacca and Dutch Java
Malacca, Penang and Singapore to create the Straits Settlement
CHINESE TIN MINES
Tin rush attract Chinese miner influx
Chinese trader Hiu Siu appointed Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur
Chinese tin miners found Kuala Lumpur
Yap Ah Loy, third Kapitan Cina, known as the founder of Kuala Lumpur
Pankor Treaty and rise of British imperialism in Malaya
Movement of state capital to Kuala Lumpur
Botanical garden begins
Federated Malay State formed
KL regional rail hub completed
Battle of Penang
British discourage self-government
FEDERATION OF MALAYA
Straits Settlement dissolved, seek independence from Britain
Malayan Communist Park begins guerrilla war against British
British high commissioner Sir Henry Gurney assassinated
Independence declared in Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman is first prime minister
Sabah, Singapore, Sarawak join Federation of Malaya
Singapore leaves Malaysia
Race riots kills hundreds
Hussein Onn becomes third prime minister
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad introduces “Buy British Last” and “Look East” policy
Construction of new administrative capital at Putrajaya
Kuala Lumpur Tower is erected
ECONOMIC & POLITICAL CRISIS
Asian financial crisis and recession
Petronas Towers become tallest building in the world
16th Commonwealth Games held in Kuala Lumpur
Gunung Mulu National Park and Kinabalu Park becomes UNESCO world heritage
21st Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur
Mahathir retires, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Prime Minister
Barisan National win election
50 year celebrations, demonstrations against BN in KL
BN retains power but suffers defeat to Pakatan Rakyat
Historic Straits Cities (Penang and Malacca City) becomes UNESCO world heritage
'1Malaysaia policy' to build trust and respect among different races
Appoints first female judge
KL rallies for free and fair elections
Large street demonstration for electoral reform
Lenggong becomes UNESCO world heritage
BN hold onto power even when PR own majority
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappears and Flight 17 shot down in Ukraine
A basic estimate of daily spending (per person) is illustrated below.*
flash-packer or hostel
Food & Drink
hawker food or food court
bus, monorail and bicycle
luxury hotel or serviced apartment
Food & Drink
fine dining and wine
taxi or rental car
Total basic daily spending RM80 (US$ 20)
Total basic daily spending RM1040 (US$ 235)
*This excludes sightseeing, shopping and other personal tourism activities, such as beauty care and hiring eco-guides.