Kuala Lumpur, also popularly known as KL, is the bustling capital of Malaysia. The city is a fascinating melting pot of culture and tradition, with each community offering their own festivals, food, music, art and fashion
An illuminated Petronas Twin Towers lights up the Kuala Lumpur skyline at Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC)
To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia – a bubbling, bustling melting-pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony. Its multiculturalism has made Malaysia a gastronomic paradise and home to hundreds of colourful festivals. Malaysians are relaxed, warm and friendly.
Geographically, Malaysia is almost as diverse as its culture. Eleven states and two federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) form Peninsular Malaysia which is separated by the South China Sea from East Malaysia, which includes the two states (Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo) and a third federal territory, the island of Labuan.
Located between two and seven degrees north of the Equator, Malaysian time is eight hours ahead of GMT. The weather is wholly tropical with a year of sunny skies at best and rains during the monsoon season. Temperatures range between 21°C and 32°C.
One of Malaysia’s key attractions is its extreme contrasts which further add to this theme of ‘diversity’. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts while five-star hotels sit just metres away from ancient reefs.
Rugged mountains reach dramatically for the sky while their rainforest-clad slopes sweep down to floodplains teeming with forest life. Cool highland hideaways roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.
Malaysia is well-endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry and minerals
The landscape is complemented by traditional and bustling cities where the old and new exist side by side; modern skyscrapers gaze benevolently at dignified heritage buildings in many parts of the country.
The Sultan Abdul Samal building in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia’s economy enjoyed a six per cent annual growth in 2014 according to Deloitte University Press’, Asia Pacific Economic Outlook, Q4 2015. However, it lost its momentum in the second quarter of 2015, growing only 4.9 per cent over the year, marking the slowest growth since 2013.
Primary reasons for this slower growth include the introduction of the goods and sales tax (GST) in April 2015 and low prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG), one of Malaysia’s key exports, due to sluggish external demand.
Malaysia’s currency has also depreciated to levels not seen since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Foreign reserves have fallen by more than 25 per cent over the past year, indicating that the central bank has continually intervened in the foreign exchange market to limit further depreciation of the ringgit. Although the country is under severe stress, it is not frail yet and is expected to maintain a robust growth track.
Malaysia is well-endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry and minerals. It is an exporter of natural and agricultural resources, the most valuable exported resource being petroleum. In recent years, the country has diversified into manufacturing, emphasising the development of physical and intellectual infrastructures.
In an effort to diversify the economy and make Malaysia’s economy less dependent on exported goods, the government has pushed to increase tourism in Malaysia
In an effort to diversify the economy and make Malaysia’s economy less dependent on exported goods, the government has pushed to increase tourism in Malaysia. As a result, tourism has become Malaysia’s third largest source of income from foreign exchange.
The culture of Malaysia draws on the varied cultures of the different people of Malaysia. The first people to live in the area were indigenous tribes that still remain to this day; they were followed by the Malays, who moved there from mainland Asia in ancient times. Chinese and Indian cultural influences made their mark when trade began with those countries, and increased with immigration to Malaysia. Other cultures that heavily influenced that of Malaysia include Persian, Arabic, and British. The many different ethnicities that currently exist in Malaysia have their own unique and distinctive cultural identities, with some crossover.
Malaysia is a multi–ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society, and the many ethnic groups in Malaysia maintain separate cultural identities. The society of Malaysia has been described as “Asia in miniature”. The original culture of the area stemmed from its indigenous tribes, along with the Malays who moved there in ancient times.
While the official language is Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), English is widely spoken and used throughout the country. Other languages include numerous Chinese, Indian and indigenous dialects. While the official religion is Islam, other faiths are practised freely.
Transport in Malaysia started to develop during British colonial rule, and the country’s transport network is now diverse and developed. Malaysia’s road network is extensive, covering 144,403 km, including 1,821 km of expressways.
The main highway of the country extends over 800 km, reaching the Thai border from Singapore. The network of roads in Peninsular Malaysia is of high quality, whilst the road system in East Malaysia is not as well developed. The main modes of transport in Peninsular Malaysia include buses, trains, cars and to an extent, commercial travel on aeroplanes.
Transportation within the capital city is well-planned with ample bus, taxi and train systems to serve the growing population.
Malaysia Airlines commercial jet taxiing on an airport runway
The Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Selangor is a modern marvel that serves as the country’s main gateway. Other major international airports are located in Penang, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, and Langkawi.
Port Klang is the main entry point by sea. Other busy ports are Tanjong Kidurong, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Pasir Gudang, Penang, Sandakan, and Tawau.
The national flag carrier of Malaysia is Malaysia Airlines, while Asia’s leading budget airline AirAsia, which is homegrown, serves an impressive list of inbound flights and neighbouring countries.
Malaysians observe a number of holidays and festivities throughout the year. Some holidays are federally-listed public holidays and some are public holidays observed by individual states. Other festivals are observed by particular ethnic or religion groups, but are not public holidays.
An excellent opportunity for visitors to enjoy Malaysia’s diversity is to visit during one of the many major festivals. These events are ideal for visitors to learn more about Malaysia, in terms of its people, cultures, traditions, and cuisine. They are widely advertised, so even if you know no one there, you will make a lot of friends before you leave.
Women clad in traditional attire perform a dance in Sandakan, Sabah
The biggest celebrations in Malaysia include Hari Raya Aidilfitri, celebrated by Muslims to mark the end of Ramadhan; Chinese New Year, celebrated to mark the first day of the Chinese Lunar calendar;and Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, celebrated by Hindus. Other major celebrations include Christmas Day and Gawai Dayak, the harvest festival of the Kadazans.
An excellent opportunity for visitors to enjoy Malaysia’s diversity is to visit during one of the many major festivals. These events are ideal for visitors to learn more about Malaysia, in terms of its people, cultures, traditions, and cuisine
The most widespread holiday is Hari Kebangsaan (Independence Day), otherwise known as Merdeka (Freedom), on 31st August commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaysia. During the whole month of August, most Malaysians can be seen expressing their patriotism and love towards their culturally-unique country by raising the Malaysian flag on their vehicles, balcony of their homes and even along the streets. It is also during this time that government buildings all over Kuala Lumpur and most shopping malls are hoisted with the Malaysian flag, Jalur Gemilang.
Malaysian food abounds with an assortment of flavours – from sweet and spicy, to fiery and tangy. Ethnically-influenced dishes are served besides fusion food offerings.
Whether it is at a posh hotel restaurant or at a street stall, there is always something unique to try. Dining at street stalls is a much-loved activity among Malaysians. Another favourable venue is the Mamak (Indian Muslim) stall or restaurant that serves a mixture of Indian and Malay dishes. 24-hour dining establishments are also scattered everywhere across the country.
While in Malaysia, you should sample what is considered a national dish – nasi lemak. It comprises fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk, served with fried peanuts and anchovies, half a hard-boiled egg, sliced cucumber, and a generous portion of sambal (chilli paste). For those with a heartier appetite, chicken, beef or squid can be added as a side dish. Originally a breakfast dish, it is now readily available throughout the day.
Another must-try dish is the famed satay: skewered marinated beef, chicken or mutton barbecued over a charcoal fire, served with ketupat (rice dumplings), sliced cucumber, and a sweet and spicy peanut sauce.
An additional local favourite is Indian cuisine, which is generally a spicy southern fare and the mild but rich flavours of northern Indian and Moghul food. Roti canai, an Indian-inspired dish and contender for national favourite, is kneaded dough that is stretched, flipped and folded before being toasted on a hot skillet.
This pancake-like dish is usually served with curried lentils and a dash of anchovy sambal. Other much-loved selections (also available at most Mamak stalls) are naan and thosai.
Those who would prefer something milder may find favour with Chinese food. While even this covers a variety of choices, the most popular are Cantonese, Hokkien and Hainanese dishes.
Local favourites include char kway teow (flat rice noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts, prawns, cockles, and chilli), yong tau foo (steamed or fried vegetables and beancurd stuffed with meat fillings), and steam boat (skewered meat, seafood and vegetables dipped into boiling broth until cooked and eaten with a dash of chilli sauce).
To supplement your main meals, Malaysia offers an amazing range of local fruits. Try the pungent but sweet durian if you dare, or opt for the more subtle subtle tastes of mangosteen, pineapple, mango, rambutan, langsat, guava, or starfruit.
Kuala Lumpur’s nightlife is well-known. Clubs, karaoke lounges, discotheques, pubs, and cineplexes are everywhere.
Some of the most popular nightspots are located around Jalan Ampang, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Bukit Bintang in the city, Chinatown on Petaling Street, and the suburbs of Bangsar and Desa Sri Hartamas.
The night scene in Pengang and Johor Bahru is equally exciting. If you care to see if Lady Luck is on your side, dress formal and head to Malaysia’s only government-approved casino at Genting Highlands. Muslims, however, are not allowed into the casino.
If loud and lively nightspots are not your scene, take a stroll around town and discover the joys of the pasar malam (night market). A wide variety of delicacies, crafts and interesting knick-knacks are sold at these open-air markets.
Malaysia is fast becoming a strong competitor in the global health and medical tourism sector. Given the potential of health tourism as a foreign exchange earner, the government has taken a series of proactive measures to enhance Malaysia as a preferred health tourism destination.
Given the potential of health tourism as a foreign exchange earner, the government has taken a series of proactive measures to enhance Malaysia as a preferred health tourism destination
Health tourism in Malaysia consists of two main categories: medical tourism and wellness programmes. Patients can opt for medical treatments in one of our internationally recognised hospitals, and stay on during the recuperation or recovery period. Or they can come for a holiday by exploring the various forms of wellness programmes that are available in Malaysia.
Malaysia offers a wide choice of state-of-the-art private medical centres boasting an impressive array of sophisticated diagnosis, therapeutic and in-patient facilities. These establishments are well-equipped and staffed to ensure the highest level of professionalism, safety and care to patients. Most private medical centres have certifications for internationally-recognised quality standards or have been given accreditation by the Malaysian Society for Quality of Health.
Most private medical centres in Malaysia also offer comfortable accommodation ranging from private rooms to suites for single occupancy or more. Room charges, inclusive of meals, vary at medical centres but are attractively priced. Some medical centres even provide highly-qualified and trained private nurses and personal butlers at a reasonable cost.
Copyright 2015 Borneo Bulletin Yearbook 2015 All rights reserved.