Petronas Towers

Malaysia Quick Guide

  • Population: 29.1 million
  • Language: Bahasa Malaysia (official), English, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai (Note: in East Malaysia there are several indigenous languages; most widely spoken are Iban and Kadazan)
  • Government: Constitutional Monarchy
  • Capital: Kuala Lumpur
  • Currency: Ringgit
  • GDP: $278.7 billion (2011), ranked 35th in the world
  • GDP Growth Rate: 5.1% (2011 est.)
  • Size compared to US: Slightly larger than New Mexico
  • Religions: Muslim (official) 60.4%, Buddhist 19.2%, Christian 9.1%, Hindu 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6%, other or unknown 1.5%, none 0.8%
  • Ethnic Groups: Malay 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, indigenous 11%, Indian 7.1%, others 7.8%
  • Median Age: 27.1 years
  • Visa Information: US Citizens do not need a visa to enter Malaysia. The entry stamp is usually valid for 90 days. The immigration officer might as you a few simple questions like what your travel plans are, where are you staying etc, so just be prepared before going through customs. More information about entry/exit requirements can be found on the State Dept’s website.
  • Transportation: Malaysia has an excellent road network, with the exception of certain parts in the center of the country and in Malaysian Borneo. They have very modern coach buses and a lot of the major routes have highways. KL also has a good light-rail line called the LRT. It’s probably the cheapest and most efficient way to get around the city.We took a day trip to Melaka from KL (2 hours one way) on a coach bus, which was pretty simple. We used a tour company called ??? to get from KL to Taman Negara to Perhentian Islands. And we took an hour taxi ride to Kuala Besut’s bus station to get on an overnight bus to Singapore. Unfortunately the overnight bus was sold out so we had to take a bus to Melaka and then transfer to a bus headed to Singapore.
  • Weather: We were in Malaysia in early March and the weather was very tropical. It rained most days but only for a short period of time. I was expecting KL to be hot, humid and sticky but the temperature was pretty comfortable in the mid 80s. March/April is the end of the monsoon season on its eastern coast, but its the beginning of the monsoon season on the western coast. Take this into account if planning a beach getaway.
  • Food: The food is heavily dominated by a Chinese influence, but there are also some Indian and Thai qualities as well. Kuala Lumpur has excellent restaurants and a large Chinatown with many food stalls.
  • People: Once you get out of Kuala Lumpur the Malaysian people are very friendly. They’re not rude in Kuala Lumpur, but like any big city they’re not particularly warm either. Many people spoke english, even in non-tourist areas. I don’t think many American tourists visit Malaysia because people always seemed surprised when we said we were Americans. They also seem pretty prosperous, even in rural areas. The population in Malaysia is pretty diverse with many Chinese, Indian and Malays – this is why its known for having great Asian fusion food!
  • Dress: Most muslim Malaysian women wore headscarfs or western clothing. I saw very few burqas in Kuala Lumpur. It’s a little more conservative than neighboring Thailand, but it’s still fine for western women to wear shorts etc.