Malaysian Culture: What You Need to Know as a Visitor

malaysian culture

Malaysia draws in visitors from all over the world due to its fascinating landscape, welcoming inhabitants, and intriguing ancient culture. It is considered a perfect holiday for many who stopover in bustling Asian cities, such as Singapore, before arriving in peaceful harmony in tranquil villages, lush jungles, and soothing beaches. Adventurers can seek whatever their heart desires in Malaysia while those more interested in ancient history and culture can absorb Malaysia and its wonderous customs.

While it is a fantastic place for travelers to explore, it should also be noted that customs and rituals in Malaysia will be different or unusual to those of a different culture. Be it the religion, culture, customs or even food eaten, there are plenty of things to take into account when visiting Malaysia. Read up on the following Malaysian facts in order to prepare adequately for your trip.

Main religion in Malaysia

Given the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population of Malaysia, there is a unique cultural identity in this country and as a consequence, Malaysian religion is diverse. The official religion is Islam although other religions and beliefs are practiced freely.

Immigration from countries such as India and China means that Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions such as Taoism, a traditional Chinese religion, are present throughout the population, as well.

Meeting and Greeting in Malaysia

If you would like to know how to meet and greet in Malaysia, the following information will be useful to you:

  • Malaysian people are aware of Western traditions and therefore, handshakes are accepted. However:
    • Women may be less likely to shake hands with men.
    • Men may choose not to shake hands with women and instead may bow whilst placing their hand on their heart.
  • Chinese handshakes are also common. They are light, although may be longer. Bear in mind the following:
    • Women usually extend their hand first if they wish to shake a man’s hand.
    • Many elderly Chinese people might choose to lower their gaze as they shake hands. This is a sign of respect.
  • When greeting Indian communities, there may also be a handshake involved. However:
    • Handshakes are usually with those of the same sex
    • Nodding your head and smiling is sufficient when greeting people of the opposite sex

Giving Gifts in Malaysia

Giving gifts to hosts, friends or people you have met whilst traveling Malaysia is welcomed and is a good way of expressing appreciation. Malaysian culture welcomes gifts but visitors should note the following advice:

  • When invited for dinner, chocolate or pastries are common gifts
  • It is not advised that visitors gift alcohol
  • Be aware of colors:
    • White represents death and grieving
    • Yellow represents royalty
  • Dog or pig-related gifts such as toys for children should not be gifted
  • Make sure all food is halal (suitable for Muslims)
  • Any gifts made from pigskin are unsuitable
  • Gifts are usually given with the right hand, or both hands if the present is big
  • It is not usual for gifts to be opened immediately once received

This advice is particularly useful to those who would like to gift something from their home country. While gifting a bottle of local wine from your region or a national drink might seem like a good idea, it will not usually be welcome amongst locals in Malaysia.

Interesting Facts for Tourist about Malaysia

Aspects that tourists should take into account when traveling to Malaysia include the following Malaysian facts:

  • English is spoken widely in Malaysia
  • Avoid PDA as even intense embrace or kissing can lead to a visit to the police station
  • While many aspects of Malaysian life are modern, there are still things travelers may not be used to, such as squat toilets
  • Shoes should not be worn indoors
  • Family is the center of Malaysian life for many locals
  • Respect for elders, loyalty, and unity is highly valued
  • Face is a concept used to describe personal qualities and can be lost, earned, given or taken away
  • Eat with your right hand (it is normal to eat with your bare hand)
  • If visiting religious sites, be sure to dress appropriately as this can be seen as disrespectful

The above information is designed to help those who plan on traveling to Malaysia with the visa, as many people who visit Malaysia come from an array of cultural backgrounds with different customs and traditions. It is advised that travelers respect the customs of Malay people whilst in Malaysia and explore this beautiful country all the while bearing in mind that certain rituals may differ to those practiced at home.

Fun Facts and Stats about Malaysia

  • Malaysia has hundreds of islands and 2,905 Miles (4,675 kilometers) of coastline. Pulau means island in Malaysian, and most of the islands include this in their name.
  • The Mulu Caves on the Borneo side of Malaysia is one of the largest cave systems in the world. In fact, the Sarawak Chamber which is part of this system holds the official title as the world’s largest underground cave chamber.
  • Malay is the official language, but there are more than 112 indigenous languages spoken throughout the country. Malay and English are spoken in public schools and the younger generation is also learning Mandarin and Tamil.
  • Borneo Malaysia is home to the revered Orangutans and Proboscis monkeys. There are opportunities to see Orangutans and Proboscis monkeys in the wild, as well as many rehab and reserve centers which are always in need of volunteers.
  • Malaysia is also the home to the Malayan tiger, which is the national animal of Malaysia. Nowadays, it is extremely rare to spot one in the wild and conservation efforts are focused on reducing poaching and mitigating human to wildlife conflict.
  • The distance covered by the highways in Malaysia is longer than the circumference of the earth. Many of the roads are toll roads in order to maintain this impressive network connecting the country.
  • The Malaysian Peninsula was first documented in A.D. 150 in a book by Ptolemy. He gave it the name ‘Aurea Chersonesus’ which means ‘peninsula of gold.’
  • There is evidence of human habitation on the Malaysia Peninsula from 40,000 years ago! Since then, there has been a constant flow of people through the Malaysia Peninsula. The first inhabitants came from the regions of modern-day China and India. Later came the colonialization era of the Portuguese, Dutch, the British, and occupation by the Japanese. Malaysia finally gained its status as an independent country in 1963.

Most Popular Things to See and Do in Malaysia

  • The capital city of Kuala Lumpur is not to be missed. It is full of colonial-style buildings and modern skyscrapers. The iconic Petronas Twin Towers are best seen at night. While in Kuala Lumpur, take a trip to the Batu Caves, a Hindu site of cave networks and cave temples.
  • Penang (also known as Georgetown) is considered the food capital of Malaysia. The local food has Chinese and Malay influences but has a unique style itself called Nonya. The city of Penang is a colorful mix of British colonial buildings and Chinese-style markets, with a thriving street art scene.
  • Langkawi Archipelago – there are 99 small islands off the Malaysian north-western coastline called the Langkawi Archipelago. The main island is famous for the skybridge and beautiful white-sand beaches.
  • Cameron Highlands – escape the heat and head into the hills to see the rolling tea plantations. This region is located a couple of hundred kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur and is a great place in Malaysia to experience the rainforest climate.
  • Visit the island of Borneo and the states of Sabah and Sarawak. Wildlife can be found in abundance but this region is best explored with a guide. Make a stop at one of the Orangutan rehab centers or the Proboscis monkey center to see how conservationists are helping these native species.
  • Go diving. Sipadan island in Malaysia is consistently rated as one of the world’s best diving spots. It lies in a biodiversity hotspot and offers the chance to see whale sharks, sea turtles, and a thriving coral reef ecosystem.

When visiting Malaysia, you may need to check if you are eligible for a travel visa to enter the country. There is now a fast and easy way to obtain the right travel authorization through the Malaysia eVisa online platform which means travelers from all over can apply quickly and simply through the digital portal and get their travel visa within a few days.