Malaysia packs sheer diversity into its borders: ancient rainforest, pinprick paradisiacal islands, gorgeous shorelines, and exceptional national parks. Look around though, as you arrive at Kuala Lumpur’s airport, and you’ll see a wholly different side to the southern Asian country – a gleaming, squeaky clean, air-conditioned airport that runs like clockwork.
To get into Kuala Lumpur, your best bet is to board a train. They’re modern, fast and clean and will whizz you into the city in less than half an hour. Kuala Lumpur is a switched-on city with several faces: where towering skyscrapers nudge colonial shophouses and housing estates sit by manicured gardens.
The whole country is strained towards one goal: to integrate itself into the G20 international forum and be a part of the richest nations in the world. A goal that’s articulated across the city in hulking panels. And there’s no doubt Malaysia will get there.
As for religion, the Malay Republic guarantees freedom of worship. Islam is the official religion, but this being a multicultural country, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity are all practised. Malays, Chinese and Indians are the core ethnic groups. Malay people have a penchant for the good life, they love human interaction and relationships and are generally a carefree, laidback bunch. Respecting family elders is at the forefront of society, and politeness and manners are held in high esteem. That does not mean that everything is regulated, as in Singapore – far from it, in fact. But respect and tolerance are the basis on which this multicultural society was built.
Whatever your preconceptions, Malaysia is a modern country. It’s easy to pay using a credit card and to withdraw cash from ATMS. Phones work perfectly and the roads are in good condition. As in the UK, driving is on the left. You’ll discover ‘Protons’ on the road, a local automobile brand whose various models are seen across the country. If you’re hailing a taxi, always negotiate your price before getting in the car.
Also, you’ll need to watch the scales: eating is life in Malaysia with an incredible foodie scene and locals tend to eat five meals a day: two in the morning, one at lunch and then dinner and supper. It’s common to be given huge portions in restaurants – if this is the case, always ask for a ‘Ta Bao’ (a doggy bag). Chargrilled, skewered sticks of satay are definitely on the must-eat list. Everyone speaks English, and many speak Malay and Mandarin. There’s also ‘Manglish’ – an English-based creole. The most commonly used word is lah, meaning everything and nothing, used mostly to add emphasis.
The is a predominately Muslim country, so refrain from going topless on the beach and avoid revealing outfits, especially on the east coast. Always remove shoes before entering mosques and people’s homes and do not eat or drink in public during Ramadan. There is alcohol almost everywhere in the city, but it’s not always available to buy in rural areas.
Safety and security issues are not usually a concern, other than pickpockets at places of interest. And it’s rare to come across aggressiveness or violence: politeness is a way of life here. If you’re looking to buy crafts, there is all kinds of beautiful pottery for sale, plus batik textile art and leather puppets. It’s useful to know, too, that Langkawi is duty free - another of its charms. Every year, Kuala Lumpur hosts a handful of huge shopping sales across its malls and stores so you can pick up local souvenirs, cut-price techie items and branded clothing for bargain prices. Aside from the shopping bonanza, there’s also reams of food for sale, competitions and live music.
Colourful, dynamic, wild and phenomenally beautiful - Malaysia is one of those places that’ll always surprise and mesmerise. What are you waiting for?