Malaysia offers a wonderful opportunity to get a small taste of a wide range of cultures. From the tropical islands to buffet of foods to an international city centre – Malaysia is the whole holiday package deal.

In this post, we have Malaysia introduced from two perspectives: Fadhil Hamid, studying a Bachelor of Arts at UNSW Canberra, and Jenson Tang, studying a Bachelor of Commerce (International) at UNSW Sydney. Twice the insight means a long post, so buckle up and enjoy the read!

Disclaimer: These are personal opinions and perspectives of the interviewees and are not a perfect representation of the whole country/experience.

Edited by Megan Chen

How would you sum up Malaysia in a few sentences?

Jenson: To many people, Malaysia is just a country comparable to Indonesia – a hot and humid place with lands surrounded by palm oil trees. But if you go exploring deeper into the local streets, the buildings and citizens which make up Malaysia, there is much more than meets the eye. It is one of the many countries which hold a rich and diverse combination of multicultural races (Malay, Chinese and Indians). The combination of foods, experiences and cross-cultural ideas all make up for what we know as Malaysia.

Describe the Malaysian culture and the ways it’s different to Australia.

Fadhil: Respect and seniority are a large part of Malaysian culture. It’s customary to give your respect to those older than you regardless of their relation to you. If you’re ordering food from a stall, you would call the vendor ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’ even if they’re not your family. In Malaysia, everyone is your family.

Historically, the country was built on a convergence of different cultures and this is still prevalent today. It’s important to note that there are still different cultural aspects to the community because of the different religious beliefs, so travellers should be mindful of showing respect in culturally appropriate ways. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, so it leans more on the conservative side when it comes to public presentation.

On a different note, we do eat food with our hands. This is common to see across Malaysia. In fact, sometimes restaurants don’t have spoons or forks. 

Jenson: For the culture of the country, it draws many similarities to Australia; a democratic government, people go to work, school, and most similar of all, both nations are multicultural and hold many ethnicities which contribute to the values of their country. Furthermore, culture is very important and sacred towards Malaysians. Respecting each culture and their traditions is highly appraised here, something which Australia does not celebrate as much.

In Malaysia, it is relatively fine for an English speaker. English is one of the main languages spoken in Malaysia. However, speaking Mandarin/Cantonese is also applicable in many parts of Malaysia where there are Chinese around. Speaking Bahasa Melayu (official language) is the most common. It is relatively similar to Indonesian.

As Malaysia is a developing economy, the culture shocks, such as working with people who can’t speak English or only relatively speak Chinese, could occur to international students or foreign workers. Malaysians generally don’t like taking risks and associating with people who aren’t within their cultural circle.

What are some famous places or experiences in Malaysia?

Jenson: Some famous places in Malaysia to visit would be the Petronas twin towers, which is the trademark of Malaysia itself. Spending a whole day at the city centre can provide you with a lot of shopping and a taste of its people – (mostly everyone in the city will know how to speak English).

A tourist location which a lot of tourist go are Genting, which offers its own premium outlet, as well as a theme park, more shopping centres and casino on top of Genting.

Source: Jenson Tang
File:Genting Highlands theme park.jpg
Genting Highland
Source: Angcr (2008) Wikimedia Commons.

For more local experiences going to Batu caves and visiting the pink mosque, Masjid in Putra Jaya are great for scenic photographs and experiencing of culture in Malaysia. Penang island is also well-known in Malaysia, especially its rich culture, temples and amazing foods it has to offer. Taking a bus down to Johor Bahru offers many theme parks, such as LEGOLAND and of course, a one-hour drive with Singapore right across the bridge.

Since Malaysia relatively has the same weather all year round, most tourist places in Malaysia are open all year round but will only be subject to closure for religious purposes (i.e. Ramadan, Chinese New Year), where generally locals will all be on a public holiday.

Fadhil: In addition to the Petronas Towers, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) Park is also worth a visit.

Source: Fadhil Hamid

If you love nature, I recommend going to Taman Negara National Park as it is the one of the World’s Oldest Jungle. To gain some perspective, it is older than the Amazon.

There are a lot of natural waterfalls that form in the Malaysian tropic jungles. If you decide to go jungle trekking, there is a very high chance that you’ll stumble upon beautiful, naturally formed waterfalls.

Lata Tembakah Waterfalls, Terengganu
Source: Fadhil Hamid

Because Malaysia is mostly hot all year round, the tropical islands are a great spot to hit up. I suggest Langkawi Island and Perhentian Island if you get the chance. It’s amazing for a diving experience. This is located at Kedah and Pahang respectively on the Peninsula side of Malaysia.

View of the peak from Long Beach, Perhentian Island
Source: Fadhil Hamid

If you are on the Sabah side of Malaysia, you might want to visit Bohey Dulang Island, Sipadan Island and Semporna. I will let the pictures speaks for themselves.

Source: Fadhil Hamid

What are some must-try foods?

Jenson: Since there are three major races, they are many collaborations and influence between each of the cuisines, getting the best flavours of both worlds.

Probably the most common aspect when people think about Malaysian food is during Hawker centres or food courts. All three cultures provide delicious and collaborative foods which have been running from a single hawker stall for many generations.

Some foods which I highly recommend are:

  • Roti Canai
Roti Canai
Source: Alpha (2010) Flickr.
  • Nasi Lemak
  • Nasi Goreng
  • Prawn noodles
  • Asam Laksa/ Laksa
  • Char kway teow
  • Curry
  • Ayam Percik
Nasi Ayam Percik
Source: boo lee (2008) Flickr.
  • Rendang
  • Satay
  • Mee goreng

There are a lot of night markets around Malaysia known as ‘Pasar Malam’ these markets often sell cheap and affordable snack foods, such as Pandan cakes, Rojak, Satay, goreng pisang, ice-cream and durian.

Fadhil: Personally, my favourite is Nasi Campur (Mixed Rice). It has a satisfying portion of rice with your own choice of meats and vegetables – almost like a buffet on a plate. I could have this every day and never get bored of it. Plus, it’s cheap.

Nasi Campur
Source: Fadhil Hamid
Side Dishes that you can choose from for Nasi Campur (and many more)
Source: Fadhil Hamid

A note on alcohol: most restaurants don’t sell alcohol as drinking is not common. Some restaurants will sell it but don’t expect it in every place you visit.

Fast food in Malaysia is familiar but just that little bit better than what you might be used to. The Spicy Fried Chicken at McDonalds is a big deal. We also have special seasonal menus that are unique to Malaysia and are definitely worth the experience.

What are some local travel destinations that tourists might not typically go? 

Jenson: Some tourist destinations that tourists might not go would probably be in some states such as Malacca, such as Sarawak cities such as Klang, Muar, Segamat, Gemas. These areas are typically not known for their tourism and are more such residential areas for Malaysians.

Fadhil: Shopping malls. I know, it might seem strange at first, but once you go to a shopping mall in Malaysia you’ll know what I mean. The IOI City Mall in Putrajaya is a great example and is the largest mall in the Southern Klang valley. It has an ice-skating rink and an adventure park in the same place as all the biggest shopping brands you know.

Sunway Lagoon Water Park is a water theme park that has both outdoor and indoor activities. Along with the park, Sunway Lagoon also has amusement parks on offer, so this is an awesome place to have serious fun.

A bridge that hangs over Sunway Lagoon Water Theme Park
Source: Fadhil Hamid

What’s the best way to get around the place?

Jenson: The best way and safest way to get around Malaysia is by car. Even for tourists, the most convenient and safest way to get around is by car. However, the traffic jams in Malaysia are pretty bad, so using the subway systems during peak hour might be better. Taking the MRT (underground subway) is often a way many people travel from the City towards residential areas around KL.

Fadhil: Grab’ is also a useful app to have. Not only can you call taxis but get food delivered to your door.

If you are traveling interstate, go to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS). It is a hub for passengers travelling more than 150 destinations due south, east, and northern Malaysia.

Malaysia is still a mostly cash-based country. Cards are accepted but people prefer using cash. Keep this in mind when you’re travelling.

What is the weather usually like and how do you suggest dressing for it?

Fadhil: In Malaysia, we have four seasons: Hot, Hotter, Hottest and FREAKING HOT. It’s also quite humid so you’ll be sweating a lot. Forget about the winter clothes. In fact, you could just bring one outfit and buy the rest of your clothes in Malaysia because it’s relatively cheaper.

Jenson: It often rains anytime during the day or night, so bring an umbrella or raincoat. Visiting spiritual sites and tourist locations will often require both genders to wear long pants (religious purposes), so doing your research before visiting such places like a mosque or temple is required.

What are the most well-known universities in your country and what are they usually known for?

Jenson: In Malaysia there are not many well-known universities. The main one being University of Malaya, is only offered to 90% of Malay people only. Therefore, it is generally really hard for Chinese or Indians people to be accepted in so many Malaysian opt for overseas studying, such as Australia, America, London and Singapore.

UNSW Exchange Partner Universities: University of Malaya, University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus)

How is studying in your country different to studying in Australia?

Jenson: Australia only uses one main language which is English, whereas compared to Malaysia if you studied in an independent school, you would be subject to learn 3 languages: English, Malay and Chinese (mandarin). The school life and pressure in Malaysia is generally much more stressful compared to Australia as you would do exams in all 3 languages, e.g. History exam in all English, Malay and Chinese.

Fadhil: The biggest difference is the style of learning. In Australia, there is a high level of independence given to the student. The student is responsible for what they want to learn and how they want to learn, as long as they produce a final product. In Malaysia, you don’t have as much freedom or choice. You can choose, but there may be more mandatory classes to take and you’re told what to learn.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just changes where the motivation comes from. In Malaysia it’s more extrinsic (to achieve a good grade) as the system pushes you to do well. In Australia it’s more intrinsic as it encourages your desire to learn and your interests.

In the classroom environment, lecturers and teachers should be given the highest respect because they’re the ones imparting knowledge to you. You should greet them politely, be quiet and listen when you need to. When addressing lecturers and teachers, it’s good to be more respectful rather than using their first name.

What is your favourite part about your country?

Fadhil: The people. Malaysia is a very community-based society. There is a general sense of care and belonging amongst Malaysians, even if you don’t know everyone. We’re also quite altruistic who will gladly help anyone in need, kind and generous in nature. You’ll definitely feel like you’re a part of something bigger.

For more experiences in Asia, head to our Asia travel page!

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