Surrounded by beautiful beaches, lush greenery, towering skyscrapers and bustling urban life, Malaysia is a wonderful multicultural paradise for all types of travelers. Because of its rich cultural history, Malaysia is famous for its cuisine that blends Chinese, Indian and Indonesian traditions.
If you’re planning your first trip to Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia, these tips from locals will help you get ready for the perfect trip.
When they say Malaysia is a multicultural country, it doesn’t just mean that there are different locations
Malaysia is made up of 3 main ethnic groups – Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous peoples. Now that doesn’t seem so different from anywhere else in the world. However, in Malaysia, the nation’s multicultural and multi-ethnic background is celebrated by all Malaysians.
In this country there are national holidays for Eid (an important Muslim religious holiday), Chinese New Year, Diwali (Hindu festival), Thaipusam (festival dedicated to honor and worship). Hindu god Murugan) and Christmas. The Malls display decorations and cultural wishes for all different cultures and religions throughout the year.
Because of the mix of cultures, Malaysians pride themselves on having great food, buildings with beautiful, unique architecture. And ornate temples of different religions.
Malay or Malaysian?
It all gets quite confusing and the locals expect you to understand this better. So here are a few general definitions:
“Malaysia” refers to nationality.
“Malay” refers to the ethnic group. It also refers to the Malay language used in Malaysia.
So if you wanted to know someone from Malaysia, regardless of their ethnicity, you would ask them if they are Malaysian or not. If you ask a Malaysian, “Are you Malay?” and they’re Malaysian but not ethnic Malay, they’ll say “No.”
The same goes for food and language. If you want to try food from Malaysia, you will ask “Where can I try Malaysian food?” If you ask a Malaysian “Where can I find Malay food?” they will show you dishes that belong only to Malay heritage and not necessarily all Malaysian dishes.
English is the common language of communication
English is widely spoken in Malaysia, especially in cities. You’ll find many people fluent in English in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, although Malay (or Bahasa Malaysia) is the country’s official language. All Malaysians will be able to speak Malay because the public school system is taught in the official language. But due to different racial backgrounds, you will find that in the city, English is often the language spoken among ethnic Malaysians. Only when you move to smaller towns will Malay become the preferred language and you may have to rely on Google translate a bit more.
Muslim country, but an open Muslim country
This is especially the case in big cities. Just go around Kuala Lumpur during Christmas, Chinese New Year or any other festival and you won’t even realize that you are in a predominantly Muslim country. In cities, you can wear what you feel comfortable with and don’t have to worry about being offensive. Of course, keep in mind that you should dress modestly if visiting religious centers or mosques.
About food – bacon is not really bacon
The majority in Malaysia are Muslim, and many restaurants and cafes serve only “Halal” or no pork. That means no bacon with your breakfast. Although it is often still referred to as “bacon”, it has actually been replaced by beef bacon. There will be restaurants and Chinese street food and hawkers, so you can buy pork from these places.
Use Grab instead of taxi
Grab is very popular in Kuala Lumpur and many major cities in Malaysia. All rides can be paid for by credit card through the app or cash paid directly to the driver. Here’s what locals want you to know before traveling to Malaysia: most locals will take a GrabCar instead of a taxi. The only thing about GrabCar is that you need an internet connection to book a driver.
If you must take a taxi, know that many taxis do not follow the meter but will instead give you the price of the leg. Prices are often high and difficult to bargain. This is especially difficult when you are in a tourist area, during rush hour or when it rains.
Alcohol in Malaysia ở
Since Malaysia is a Muslim country, alcohol is not served at all restaurants. Ask to see their drink menu before choosing a restaurant if you want to drink. Note that the price of alcohol is quite expensive compared to other countries.
It is still possible to travel to Malaysia during Ramadan
The month of Ramadan is widely celebrated throughout Malaysia. Non-Muslims in Malaysia are not expected to follow this diet. So, unlike some other Muslim countries, restaurants, cafes, shops and businesses remain open as usual in Malaysia during Ramadan. Note: consider dressing a little more modestly during Ramadan out of respect for the Muslim population.
Hopefully these small “tips” will help you be more confident to plan a trip to explore the beautiful country of Malaysia.