329,750 sq km (127,317 sq miles).
25.2 million (2008 estimate).
76.4 per sq km.
Population: 1.8 million (2007 estimate).
Constitutional monarchy since 1963. Gained independence from the UK in 1957.
Bahasa Melayu is the national and official language, but English is widely spoken. Other languages such as Chinese (Cantonese and Hokkien), Iban and Tamil are spoken by minorities.
Malaysia's official religion is Islam. The country also has a large Buddhist community. Other religions, including Christian, Taoist, Confucianist, Hindu and animist, are also practiced.
GMT + 8.
220-240 volts AC, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are generally used.
Head of Government
Prime Minister Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi since 2003.
Head of State
Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin since 2006.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was sworn in for a second five-year term in March 2008, two days after his coalition suffered its worst election result in five decades. The ruling National Front won more than half of all seats in parliament, but lost its two-thirds majority, its worst result since independence in 1957.
The dominant political organization in Malaysia has long been the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), which allied itself with several smaller formations to create the Barisan Nasional (NF, National Front). Between 1982 and 2003, Malaysian politics were shaped by the leadership of Mahathir Mohammed, a strident nationalist with an acerbic tongue and an intolerance of opposition in any form - something which saw him use the 9/11 attacks in the USA to demonise his Islamist opponents. His ruthlessness was exemplified when he framed his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, for alleged homosexuality (which is illegal in Malaysia) and corruption, sentencing him to 15 years in prison.
Some problems have arisen lately between differing ethnic groups, largely due to a marked wealth gap between them, but generally, the various communities live harmoniously.
Country code: 60. International calls can be made from public telephones with card facilities or at any Telekom office. Public coin-operated phones can be found in many areas, such as supermarkets and post offices. Cards can be purchased at airports, petrol stations and some shops.
Roaming agreements exist with some international mobile phone companies. Coverage is good.
There are numerous Internet cafes. Hotels offer Internet access.
Malaysia has some very tough censorship laws. Authorities exert substantial control over the media and restrictions may be imposed in the name of 'national security'. The government strives hard to shield the Malaysian population from foreign influences that are deemed 'harmful'. News is subject to censorship, as are other programs and films, particularly those showing swearing or kissing. Private radio stations broadcast in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and English. Newspapers renew their publication licenses annually, and the danger of suspension or abolition always lurks.
There are post offices in the commercial center of all towns.
Post office hours: Mon-Sat 0800-1700.
• English-language dailies include Business Times, The Edge, Malay Mail, Malaysiakini, New Straits Times and The Star.
• The major Malay-language newspapers are Utusan and Berita Harian.
• English-language newspapers available in Sarawak include the Borneo Post.
• English-language dailies in Sabah include the Borneo Mail, Daily Express and Sabah Times.
• Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) operates some 30 state-run radio stations across the country, plus an external service.
• Time Highway Radio is a private FM station in Kuala Lumpur.
• Era FM is another private FM station in Malaysia.
Below are listed Public Holidays for the January 2009-December 2010 period.
1 Jan New Year's Day.
26 Jan Chinese New Year.
1 Feb* Federal Territory Day.
9 Mar Mawlid al-Nabi (Birth of Prophet Muhammad).
1 May Labor Day.
9 May Wesak Day (Birth of Buddha).
6 Jun King's Birthday.
31 Aug Merdeka Day (National Day).
21 Sep Hari Raya Puasa (End of Ramadan).
17 Oct** Deepavali.
27-28 Nov Hari Raya Qurban (Feast of the Sacrifice).
18 Dec Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year).
25 Dec Christmas.
1 Jan New Year's Day.
1 Feb* Federal Territory Day.
14 Feb Chinese New Year.
26 Feb Mawlid al-Nabi (Birth of Prophet Muhammad).
28 Apr Wesak Day (Birth of Buddha).
1 May Labor Day.
5 Jun King's Birthday.
31 Aug Merdeka Day (National Day).
10 Sep Hari Raya Puasa (End of Ramadan).
5 Nov** Deepavali.
16-17 Nov Hari Raya Qurban (Feast of the Sacrifice).
7 Dec Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year).
25 Dec Christmas.
*Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Labuan only.
**Except Labuan and Sarawak.
(a) Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given above are approximations. During the lunar month of Ramadan that precedes Hari Raya Puasa, Muslims fast during the day and feast at night and normal business patterns may be interrupted. Some restaurants are closed during the day and there may be restrictions on smoking and drinking. Some disruption may continue into Hari Raya Puasa itself and Hari Raja Qurban may last anything from two to 10 days, depending on the region. (b) Buddhist festivals are also timed according to phases of the moon and variations may occur.
Malaysian High Commission in the UK
45-46 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QT, UK
Tel: (020) 7235 8033.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1200 (consular section).
Tourism Malaysia in the UK
Malaysia House, 57 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DU, UK
Tel: (020) 7930 7932.
Embassy of Malaysia in the USA
3516 International Court, NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Tel: (202) 572 9700.
Tourism Malaysia in the USA
120 East 56th Street, Suite 810, New York, NY 10022, USA
Tel: (212) 754 1114/5.
Malaysia has a complex federal political system, with extensive local power still in the hands of nine hereditary sultans, who elect the head of state (entitled HM the Yang di-Pertuan Agong) every five years from among their number. There are 13 states plus two 'Federal Territories' (Kuala Lumpur and the island of Labuan). Legislative power is in the hands of the bicameral parliament, comprising the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) with 192 members directly elected for a five-year term, and the 70-strong Dewan Negara (Senate), of which 40 members are appointed by the Head of State and 30 members elected by the country's 13 regional assemblies. Executive power is held by the Prime Minister, who is formally appointed by the head of state but in practice by the leader of the largest party in the Dewan Rakpat. The Prime Minister governs with the assistance of an appointed ministerial cabinet.
A fully-fledged 'tiger' economy, from the 1970s onwards Malaysia's GDP grew rapidly at around 10% annually. However, in 1997 the Asian financial crisis brought this process to a shuddering halt. Malaysia has recovered reasonably well since then, although the headlong pre-1997 expansion has been replaced by a more measured pace of growth of around 4 to 5.5% each year, reaching 6.3% in 2007. Inflation was around 3% in 2007.
Healthy foreign exchange reserves, low inflation and a small external debt are all strengths that make it unlikely that a financial crisis similar to 1997 will re-occur. The Ringgit/US Dollar peg was abolished in July 2005. This has not resulted in any major change to the exchange rate.
Malaysia is a member of the Pacific Rim organization APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Forum), which is assuming an increasingly important role in the regional economy.
Tropical without extremely high temperatures. Days are very warm and often humid, while nights are fairly cool. The main rainy season in the east runs between November and February, while August is the wettest period on the west coast. East Malaysia has heavy rains (November to February) in Sabah and in Sarawak. However, it is difficult to generalize about the country's climate, as rainfall differs on the east and west coasts according to the prevailing monsoon winds (northeast or southwest). Average daytime temperatures in Kuala Lumpur are around 27°C (82°F) year round.
The following goods may be imported into Malaysia without incurring customs duty:
• 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 225g of tobacco.
• 1l of spirits or wine or malt liquor.
• Cosmetics, perfume, soaps and toothpaste up to the value of RM200.
• Gifts and souvenirs not exceeding a total value of RM200 (except goods from Langkawi and Labuan, up to a value of RM500).
• 100 matches.
• A total of RM75 for dutiable food preparations.
• A maximum three pieces of new wearing apparel, plus one pair of new footwear.
• One unit of each portable electrical or battery-operated appliance for personal care and hygiene.
It is prohibited to import any goods from Haiti. Non-prescribed drugs, weapons, any imprint or reproduction of any currency note or coin and pornographic material are prohibited. Drug-smuggling carries the death penalty.
Getting Around By Air
Malaysia Airlines (MH) (website: www.malaysiaairlines.com <http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/>) serves numerous commercial airports in Peninsular and Eastern Malaysia. Rapidly expanding budget airline Air Asia (website: www.airasia.com ) also operates a number of domestic and international routes within Asia and Australia.
Discover Malaysia Pass: available from Malaysia Airlines and valid for 28 days from the date of issue; pass holders can take up to three flights to any Malaysian destination. Available to overseas visitors only.
Getting Around by Water
Coastal ferries sail frequently between Penang and Butterworth (website: www.penangport.com.my ) and there is a scheduled passenger service linking Port Kelang with Kuantan, Sarawak and Sabah. Ferries also run between Kuala Perlis, Kuala Kedah, Penang, Satun and Langkawi. Regular boat services connect Lumut to Pangkor Island and Tunjung Gemak or Mersing to Tioman Island.
In Sabah, long boats connect Labuan to Menumbak. Small rivercraft often provide the most practical means of getting about in East Malaysia, even in the towns, and they are the only way to reach the more isolated settlements (unless one has access to a helicopter). In rural Sarawak the major means of transport are air-conditioned express boats. Boats may easily be chartered and river buses and taxis are plentiful.
Getting Around by Rail
Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM Berhad) (tel: (03) 2267 1200; website: www.ktmb.com.my operates train services in Peninsular Malaysia. The main line heads north from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand and south to Singapore. Another line separates from the west coast line at the town of Gemas and takes a northeastern route to Kota Bharu. There is also a passenger service to two of Malaysia's seaports - Penang and Padang Besar on the west coast.
East Malaysia has one railway line, the preserved steam-operated North Borneo Railway (tel: (088) 263 933; website: www.northborneorailway.com.my . It runs on a scenic line along the coast from Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) to the town of Papar. There are no rail services in Sarawak.
KTM Rail Pass: available to foreign tourists and valid for five, 10 or 15 days. Passes permit unlimited travel on Intercity train services on the KTM network and into Singapore. Supplements apply for sleeping berths and on night trains. Passes can be purchased through agents selling rail tickets and at major railways stations.
Cheap fares: Children under four travel free; children aged four to 11 pay 50% of the adult fare.
Getting Around by Road
Traffic drives on the left. Most roads in the peninsular states are paved and signs leading to the various destinations are well placed and clear. The north-south expressway spans 890km (553 miles) from Bukit Kayu Hitam (on the Kedah-Thailand border) to Johor Bahru is the main highway.
Coach: Local coach networks are extensive, with regular services in and between all principal cities. 4-wheel drive vehicles are used in rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak. The main operator is Transnasional (tel: (03) 2273 6473; website: www.nadi.com.my/transportation_home.asp <http://www.nadi.com.my/transportation_home.asp>).
Car hire: This is available through international and domestic agencies.
Regulations: Speed limits are 110kph (68 mph) on expressways, 90kph (55 mph) on main roads and 60kph (38 mph) in urban areas unless otherwise posted. Seat belts must be worn at all times. The use of handheld mobile phones is prohibited when driving. Penalties for drinking and driving are severe.
Emergency breakdown service: The Automobile Association of Malaysia provides a 24-hour emergency breakdown service.
Documentation: An International Driving Permit is required. For UK citizens, a national driving license is sufficient, but it has to be endorsed by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles in Malaysia.
Getting Around Towns and Cities
Public transport services in Kuala Lumpur are provided by conventional buses (operated by Citylinker and Intrakota), 'Bas Mini' fixed-route minibuses, taxis and pedi-cabs (trishaws). Taxi drivers are usually not tipped. The two Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines, run by Putra LRT and STAR LRT, are a quick way to get around the city and provide links to the eastern and western suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. In addition, Keretapi Tanah Melayu operates two KTM Kommuter lines, electric trains which run from Sentul to Port Kelang and Rawang to Seremban, while the KL Monorail serves destinations from Titiwangsa in the north to a stop near Kuala Lumpur's Sentral Station and destinations in the Golden Triangle.
Taxis, city buses, the Georgetown shuttle bus and trishaws are all ways of getting around Penang.
Buses, taxis and trishaws comprise Malacca's efficient public transport system.
Most shops keep their own opening hours, usually within the range of 1000-2200.
Ringgit (MYR; symbol RM) = 100 sen. Notes are in denominations of RM100, 50, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 sen. The Ringgit is often referred to as the Malaysian Dollar.
The best currency for exchange is the Pound Sterling, but US Dollars are also widely accepted. All commercial banks are authorized foreign exchange dealers; major hotels are only licensed to buy or accept foreign currency in the form of notes and traveller's cheques. It may be difficult to exchange foreign currencies outside the main tourist centers.
Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted.
Accepted by all banks, hotels and large department stores. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Pounds Sterling, US Dollars or Australian Dollars.
Mon-Fri 0915-1630 (some branches open on Saturdays). Banks in Kelantan and Terengganu open Sun-Thurs 0915-1600/1630.
Most visits to Malaysia are trouble-free.
Malaysia shares with the rest of South-East Asia a threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate and against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.
It is believed that terrorists and criminal elements are continuing with plans to kidnap foreign tourists from the islands and coastal areas of Eastern Sabah. Action taken by the Philippines Armed Forces in January 2007 against terrorist groups in the southern Philippines may heighten this risk. Boats traveling to and from offshore islands and dive sites are possible targets. Travelers who wish to visit resorts on, and islands off, Eastern Sabah should exercise extreme caution.
Malaysia has periodic problems with air quality reaching hazardous levels because of smoke haze.
Travelers planning to travel over the border to Thailand should be aware that there has been a resurgence of terrorism in southern Thailand, particularly in the far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. All but essential travel to these Thai provinces is advised against. Travelers should also maintain high levels of vigilance when traveling to, or through, the neighboring province of Satun. There have been reports that Thai military presence in Satun is being increased due to insurgency fears.
Malaysia is a multicultural but predominantly Muslim country, and as such visitors should respect local social conventions. During the fasting month of Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims. As a courtesy, visitors may wish to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public places.
Travelers should not become involved with drugs of any kind: possession of even very small quantities can lead to imprisonment or the death penalty.