There is plenty to see and do in Malaysia and more than 20 million tourists visit the country every year. Diverse wildlife, gorgeous beaches and teeming ocean life make Malaysia especially popular with international travellers but the diverse cultures and fantastic food are also major draws. So check out our fast facts about Malaysia.
Half the population of Malaysia are ethnic Malays who are all followers of Islam as defined by the constitution. There are many other races that constitute this remarkable country, but most prominent are the ethnic Chinese which make up one quarter and Indians who make up just under 10 per cent. Immigration from these countries were encouraged by the British during colonial rule of the 1800s to fill the need for workers for the tin and rubber industries. These significant minorities are concentrated along the peninsula’s west coast in areas such as Penang.
The nation of Malaysia was formed out of the union of three separate states, that of Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah. The Southeast Asian country stretches from peninsular Malaysia below Thailand to northeastern Borneo. Peninsular Malaysia (otherwise known as Malaya) features fertile western plains, a mountainous central region and narrow east coast with sheltered bays and beaches.
Sarawak and Sabah are part of the island of Borneo, verdant jungle-covered mountains and steamy swamps, with Brunei and Indonesia forming the other segment. Over two thirds of Malaysia is still rainforest with the highest point Mount Kinabalu measuring at 4,101m high in Sabah. The country’s longest rivers are the Rajang (350 miles) in Sarawak, the Kinabatangan (also 350 miles) in Sabah, and Pahang (200 miles) in West Malay.
Economy and industry
Malaysia is one of the largest producers of semiconductors, appliances and electrical goods in the world. Despite an extended period of economic prosperity, like most of Asia Malaysia suffered hard during the financial crisis that swept the continent during the late 1990s. Kuala Lumpur is a central prong in the nation’s technological fortunes, but with large planets near Penang as well. Rubber and palm oil palm manufacturing and petroleum production are the major industries of Malaysia with rubber, cacao and rice the staple crops.
Food in Malaysia
Malaysian Food is diverse and takes influences from the multi-ethnic populace of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, Eurasian, Nyonya and Indonesian peoples. Spice features heavily with some blisteringly hot curries and noodle dishes, as well as grilled meat satay skewers and a great deal of Thai influence.
Seafood is nearly always outstanding and while pork is nowhere to be found in traditional Malay neighbourhoods, the Chinese quarters are well stocked with many delicacies including roast duck and suckling pig.
The word ‘batik’ translates as ‘writing in wax’ and is used to describe the delicate patterns of traditional Malay textile work where an artist draws elaborate geometric patterns of animal shapes in wax on a garment. Then desired colours are dyed onto the cloth and the wax removed by steaming or ironing.
Batik can be found in many different forms all around Asia but is believed to come from ancient Egypt originally as there have been batik items found in tombs dating back two millennia. Some of the best examples come from Malaysia, however, and clothes with batik printing have recently been adopted as a national dress of the nation.
Straits of Melaka (Malacca)
The Straits of Melaka is a 550-mile channel separating the Malay Peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra with Singapore found at its southernmost tip. As this narrow split of sea offered ancient traders the the most direct route between China and India and the untold riches of the Orient, it captivated mariners for centuries.
All manner of commodities including rubber, spices, mahogany and tin were shipped through the area making it prime territory for lurking pirates. Indeed shipments of gems, gold, opium, gunpowder, slaves and opium financed early sultanates. Even today, ships are targeted by shadowy lanun desperate to seize precious diesel cargos worth millions on the black market.