Malaysia is divided between the northern third of the island of Borneo, including the states of Sarawak and Sabah and the federal territory of Labuan (East Malaysia), and the bulbous end of the Malay peninsula (West Malaysia). East Malaysia is primarily a destination for adventure travelers who want to experience the rain forest; West Malaysia is more suited to a relaxed holiday. The island resorts off the peninsula's west coast, Penang and Langkawi, boast some of the loveliest beaches in Asia. The nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur, sits in the west 25 miles inland from the Strait of Malacca. Most of peninsular Malaysia is developed for agriculture, but in its wilderness heart is Taman Negara, the nation's great wildlife preserve. To the northwest, perched in the cool uplands, are the hill stations, such as Bukit Fraser and the Cameron Highlands, popular destinations for those seeking to escape the tropical heat.
WHEN TO GO
The east coast can be very hot and wet from November to February. Avoid the change-over months of March, April, and October. July is a good time to go, when the average temperature is 81.5 degrees.
HOW TO GET THERE
Malaysia's international airport, at Sepang, 31 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, opened in June 1998 (60-3-8776-2000; www.klia.com.my). There are four other international airports at Penang (60-4-643-4411), Langkawi (60-4-955-1311), Kota Kinabalu (60-8-823-8555), and Kuching (60-8-245-4242), all share the same website www.malaysiaairports.com.my. There are no direct flights to Malaysia from the States, but seven airlines fly from LAX to Sepang with one stop, including Cathay Pacific, Delta, and American. Five airlines fly from JFK to Sepang with one stop, including Emirates, Cathay Pacific, and Thai Airlines.
Malaysia Airlines (603-7846-3000, www.malaysiaairlines.com) and AirAsia (603-7884-9000, www.airasia.com) link to many domestic airports, meaning that you can easily hop from one city to another by plane. Malaysia has good public transportation too: Its intercity coach system is extensive, reliable, and cheap; the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM) provides train service throughout peninsular Malaysia (www.ktmb.com.my).
You can also take special hired cars or "outstation taxis" between cities. Passengers set the rate with the driver at the beginning of the trip. In Kuala Lumpur, contact the Kuala Lumpur Outstation Taxi Service Station (123 Jalan Sultan, 603-2078-0213). You can also hire taxis within cities—feel free to negotiate the price, as they are un-metered.
If you want more flexibility, hire a car: The major car-rental services have desks at the international airports in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. For other outlets, contact Avis (800-230-4898) or Hertz (800-654-3131).
Before traveling to Malaysia you should make sure you are up to date with polio, typhoid, tetanus, and hepatitis A inoculations. If you are planning to travel in rural areas you must also be inoculated against hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies, and Japanese encephalitis (a mosquito-borne flavivirus that is closely related to West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis viruses). Wear plenty of insect repellent to protect against mosquitoes—they're known to carry dengue fever, which is a problem in Malaysia. Drinking tap water in Malaysia is not recommended. Drink (and wash fruit with) the inexpensive bottled water.
Menara Dato' Onn, 17th Floor
Putra World Trade Centre
45 Jalan Tun Ismail
Tel: 60 3 2615 8188
Fax: 60 3 2693 5844
NEED TO KNOW
Language: Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil
Capital City: Kuala Lumpur
Population: 24 million
Area: 127,000 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 60
Electricity: 240V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Malaysia Ringgits = $0.31 US Calculate Other Amounts
Malaysia does not require visas for citizens of the United States. A valid passport is sufficient for a three-month stay.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
Culture Shock! Malaysia: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, by Heidi Munan, takes a look at the customs, cultures, and lifestyles of the Malaysian people. In God's Dust, Ian Buruma examines the Westernization of Asia. Malaysia-based fiction includes Maugham's Borneo Stories, by Somerset Maugham, Anthony Burgess's The Malayan Trilogy, Paul Theroux's The Consul's File, and Blanche d'Alpuget's Turtle Beach.
With cuisine as diverse as the landscape, Malaysia entreats you to take your pick of Chinese, Nyonya (a local variation on Chinese and Malay food), Indian, Thai, Japanese, Indonesian, and Western cuisines. They're uniformly scrumptious (except for the Western), cheap (except for the Western), and available from both street vendors and restaurants (except for the Western). Typical Malay dishes include nasi lemak (steamed rice soaked in coconut cream and served with cucumber slices, small dried anchovies, roasted peanuts, stir-fried water convolvulus, hard-boiled egg, pickled vegetables, and hot spicy sauce), satays (meat kebabs in spicy peanut sauce), fried soybean curd in peanut sauce, sour tamarind fish curry, fiery curry prawns, and spiced curried meat in coconut marinade. The variety of wonderful tropical fruits available is mind-boggling, from the familiar mango to exotic durian, whose flesh smells of low tide and tastes like vanilla crème brûlée. Every culture has its own sweets, and Malaysia is no different. Two favorites are the coconut, sugar, and noodle concoction cendol, and ais kacang (beans and jellies topped with shaved ice, syrups, and condensed milk). Although the country is largely Islamic, alcohol runs freely. Local beers such as Tiger and Anchor are a heck of a lot better than Bud and Coors, and the famous Singapore Sling will keep you "happy, happy," as Emeril would say.
Shopping in Malaysia runs the gamut from expensive department stores to street markets where you can bargain your way to an incredible price. Kuala Lumpur is the major shopping destination, rivaling Singapore and Hong Kong. The islands of Labuan and Langkawi are duty-free zones, though cameras, watches, cosmetics, and electronics are available duty-free throughout the land. Malaysian specialty goods include pewter, silver, and brass.
Although some hotels and restaurants will add a ten percent service charge, tipping is not standard and no additional gratuity is required. Malaysia introduced a Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 2007.
January: 1, New Year's Day
June: 3, Head of State's Birthday
August: 31, National Day
December: 25, Christmas Day
Winter: Islamic New Year
Spring: Chinese New Year
Summer: Prophet's Birthday; Vesak
Autumn: Diwali; Hijra