Malaysia

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Introduction to Malaysia

Malaysia is one of the most pleasant, hassle-free countries to visit in southeast Asia. It's buoyant and wealthy, and has moved towards a pluralist culture based on a vibrant and interesting fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures and customs.

Most visitors to Malaysia stick to the insane headlong rush of Kuala Lumpur, the colonially soothing Cameron Highlands Hill Station or the hedonistic torpor of Langkawi. However, the island of East Malaysia offers spectacular wildlife, longhouses and the awe-inspiring Mt Kinabalu.

Malaysia's love of Western-style industrialisation is abundantly clear in its big cities. Aside from the gleaming glass of the 21st Century, though, Malaysia boasts some of the most superb beaches, mountains and national parks in Asia.

Caution

Visitors are advised to be extra vigilant when travelling in eastern Sabah and to avoid altogether the islands off Sabah's east coast, including Sipadan and Pandanan, as there is a risk of kidnapping and terrorist attacks, particularly targeting foreigners.

Full country name: Federation of Malaysia

Area: 329,750 sq km

Population: 23 million

Capital City: Kuala Lumpur

People: 50% Malay, 33% Chinese, 9% Indian, plus indigenous tribes such as Orang Asli and Iban

Language: English, Tamil, Chinese, Malay

Religion: 52% Muslim, 17% Buddhist, 12% Taoist, 8% Christian, 8% Hindu, 2% tribal

Government: constitutional monarchy

Head of State: Yang di-pertuan agong (King) Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail

Head of Government: Prime Minister Abdullah bin Ahmad Badawi

GDP: US$99 billion

GDP per capita: US$4,530

Annual Growth: 2%

Inflation: 4%

Major Industries: Tin, rubber, palm oil, timber, oil, textiles, electronics

Major Trading Partners: Singapore, Japan, USA

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Commonwealth citizens and most European nationals do not need visas for visits of less than three months. Visitors are usually issued an extendable 30- or 60-day visa on arrival.

Health risks: dengue fever (Unlike the malaria mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of haemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever), hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures. All travellers to Malaysia should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A), malaria (If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), rabies (This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8

Dialling Code: 60

Electricity: 240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The major Islamic events are connected with Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. The major Malaysian festival is Hari Raya Puasa, which marks the end of Ramadan with three days of joyful celebrations. Hari Raya Haji marks the successful completion of the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) with a two-day feast of cakes and sweets. Chinese New Year, in January or February, is welcomed in with dances, parades and much good cheer. The festival of Thaipusam in late January is one of the most dramatic Hindu festivals (now banned in India) during which devotees honour Lord Subramaniam with acts of amazing masochism - definitely not for the squeamish. In KL, devotees march to nearby Batu Caves; in Penang, the event is celebrated at the Waterfall Temple. The Kota Belud Tamu Besar is a huge tribal gathering held in May at Kota Belud near Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. It includes a massive market, traditional ceremonies, ornately decorated horsemen, medicine men and tribal handicrafts. A smaller tamu is held in Kota Belud every Sunday if you're not visiting during May.

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Best time to Visit

Malaysia is hot and humid all year so you're going to have sunshine and sweat pretty much whenever you visit. It is, however, best to avoid the November to January rainy season on Peninsula Malaysia's east coast if you want to enjoy the beaches. The time to see turtles on the east coast is between May and September.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Malaysian Ringgit

Meals

Budget: RM11-15

Mid-range: RM15-35

High: RM35-55

Deluxe: RM55+

Lodging

Budget: RM30-75

Mid-range: RM75-200

High: RM200-300

Deluxe: RM300+

If you're travelling on a budget, you can get by in Peninsular Malaysia on about US$20-25 a day. This involves staying in cheaper Chinese hotels, eating in local restaurants or street stalls and travelling mainly by bus. If you're travelling with a partner, your accommodation expenses will be significantly reduced.

If you want to stay in comfortable hotels with private bathrooms, eat out at mid-range restaurants and catch taxis to get about locally, expect to spend around US$65 a day. Those more interested in creature comforts than their credit card limit can live in relative luxury on US$100 a day. Note that Sabah is more expensive than Peninsular Malaysia, so add about 30% to your budget when spending time there.

Malaysian banks are efficient and typically charge around US$2-3 for foreign exchange transactions. Moneychangers do not charge a commission but their rates vary, so make sure you know the current rate before approaching one. For cash, you'll generally get a better rate at a moneychanger than a bank. Moneychangers are also generally quicker to deal with.

All major credit cards are accepted at upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants. If you have a credit card with a personal identification number (PIN) attached, you can obtain cash advances from ATMs. Banks in Malaysia are linking to international banking networks, which allow you to withdraw money from overseas savings accounts through ATMs. Check with your bank at home to see if you can withdraw money from your home account while in Malaysia.

Tipping is not customary in Malaysia. The more expensive hotels and restaurants add a 10% service charge to their bills. All hotel rooms are subject to a 5% government tax, though many cheaper hotels quote a price inclusive of this tax. Bargaining is commonplace in markets and in many tourist shops. Treat it as a polite form of social discourse rather than a matter of life and death.

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Attractions

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is an Asian tiger that roars: in 130 years, it has grown from nothing to a modern, bustling city of almost two million people. Take in its high-flying triumphs from the viewing deck of the world's tallest building, then dive down to explore its more traditional culture in the back lanes of Chinatown.

KL's boom periods have produced an intriguing mix of architecture throughout the city; elegant colonial buildings contrast with soaring modern edifices such as the twin Petronas Towers. Add the ground level bustle of the numerous street markets, and you have a city that rewards exploration.

Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands, in the centre of Peninsular Malaysia, comprise a series of hill stations at altitudes between 1500-1800m (4920-5904ft). This fertile area is the centre of Malaysia's tea industry and it's the place where locals and visitors come to escape the heat of the plains. Attractions include jungle walks, waterfalls, tours of tea plantations, beautiful gardens and plenty of wild flowers. The cool weather tempts visitors to exertions like golf, tennis, and long walks, normally forgotten at sea level - but this is really Malaysia's R 'n' R capital par excellence for those who don't like the beach and enjoy a bout of colonial nostalgia.

Georgetown - Penang Island

The 285 sq km (177 sq mi) island of Penang, off Peninsula Malaysia's northwestern coast, is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia and one of the country's premier resort areas. The island's beaches are touted as the major drawcard but they're somewhat overrated.

What makes Penang Island really tick is the vibrant city of Georgetown on the island's northeastern coast. This city has more Chinese flavour than either Singapore or Hong Kong, and in its older neighbourhoods you could be forgiven for thinking that the clock stopped at least 50 years ago.

Melaka

Melaka is an interesting blend of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences and is considered Malaysia's most historic city. It was once the most important trading port in the region, but is now little more than a sleepy backwater.

Ancient-looking junks still sail up the river, imbuing the waterfront with a timeless charm, and the city remains full of intriguing Chinese streets, antique shops, temples and nostalgic reminders of the now-departed European colonial powers.

Tioman Island

This picture-postcard island lies off the eastern coast of Peninsula Malaysia in the South China Sea. It boasts beautiful beaches, clear, coral-filled water, technicolour marine life, virtually unpopulated jungle highlands and the dramatic peaks of Batu Sirau and Nenek Semukut.

Tioman has been blessed with exotic place names like 'Palm-Frond Hill' and 'Village of Doubt' and is generally quoted as the setting for the mythical Bali Hai in the film South Pacific. The permanent population on Tioman is low, and locals are usually outnumbered by tourists. June and August are the peak tourist months, but during the heavy November to January monsoon the island is almost deserted.

The island's west coast is dotted with villages and is home to a classy resort. Pulau Tioman is the most popular travellers' destination, while Kampung Nipah is the place to go if you really want to get away from it all.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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