Malaysia's Culture, Language & Geography

People & Culture

Malaysia has a combined population of over 20 million people. Because of its location between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, Malaysia has traditionally been a meeting place for traders and travelers from the East and West.

As a result, Malaysia has a multicultural and multiracial population consisting of Malays, Chinese, Indians and numerous indigenous peoples. Although Malay is the official language, English is widely spoken, especially in business, and the English language is a compulsory subject in all schools. With such a diverse ethnic composition, it is not surprising that many religions are practiced in Malaysia. The official religion is Islam, but its people are free to observe any religion of their choice. At any place in Malaysia, it is common to see temples, mosques and churches located in close proximity.

Ethnic Groups:
59% Malay and other indigenous race, 32% Chinese and 9% Indian.

Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil and other tribal languages.

Muslim (primarily Malays), Buddhism (Chinese), Hindu (Indian), Christianity, Taoism and tribal religions.

Local Customs

While Malaysia is a liberal and open society, it will be useful to know some local customs and courtesies.
They are as follows:-

Handshakes generally suffice for both men and women, although some Muslim ladies may acknowledge an introduction to a gentleman with a nod of her head and smile.

The traditional greeting of "salam" resembles a handshake with both hands but without the grasp. The man offers both hands, lightly touches the visitor's outstretched hands, and then brings his hands to his chest to mean, "I greet you from my heart". The visitor should reciprocate the "salam".

Greeting by hugging and kissing is not generally practiced in Malaysia. However this is becoming more common amongst the western educated and young.

Shoes must be removed when entering a Mosque or an Indian temple. It is also customary to remove one's shoes when entering a Malaysian home.

The right hand is always used when giving and receiving objects.  Pointing is normally done using the thumb as using the right forefinger is considered rude.


Kuala Lumpur is the capital city located in Peninsular Malaysia.

The country is made up of two regions. Peninsular Malaysia lies between Thailand and Singapore, and East Malaysia is across the South China Sea on the island of Borneo. The combined land area of both regions is about 330,400 sq km (127,000 sq miles).

The Peninsular Malaysia is divided into the 'east coast' and the 'west coast' by the Main Range, which runs from the Malaysian -Thai border in the north to the southern state of Negri Sembilan.

East Malaysia is geographically rugged, with a series of mountain ranges running through the interiors of both Sabah and Sarawak. The Crocker Range in Sabah is the site of Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia. Low's Peak, at 4,093 metres above sea level, is the highest point of the mountain.

Malaysia is generally warm throughout the year with temperatures ranging from 21° to 32° C in the lowlands. This can however be as low as 16° C in the hills and highlands. Annual rainfall is heavy at 2,500mm (100 inches). On a rainy day, thunder and lightning often accompany the heavy downpour which normally lasts for less than two hours. The humidity level is high at 80% throughout the year.

Generally, Malaysia has two seasons. The dry season from May to September, occurs during the south-west monsoon. The rainy season from November to March occurs during the north-east monsoon.

Most modern hotels and homes have air conditioning and ceiling fans. Otherwise choose your accommodation with good ventilation and plenty of windows for air circulation. Traditional Malay homes are built on stilts with large windows and attap roof for good air circulation and ventilation.

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