A typical street scene in Malaysia

Malaysia, Asia for Beginners - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 24th November 2011

A Very Brief History of Malaysia

  • Malaysia was ruled by various Malay kingdoms, until it became subject to the British Empire, from the eighteenth century on,
  • Malaya was restructured as the Federation of Malaya in 1948 and achieved independence on 31 August 1957.
  • The independent Malaya united with the then British crown colonies of North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore, on 16 September 1963, to become Malaysia.
  • In August 1965, Singapore was expelled from the federation and became a separate independent country.
  • The ruling political coalition, Barisan Nasional, has been in power for more than 50 years.

Facts and Factoids

  • Malaysia is a federal connotational monarchy, divided into two regions: Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo's East Malaysia. These are subdivided into thirteen states and three federal territories.
  • Malaysia is a kingdom, but has a unique system where the king is elected every five years from one of the nine existing royal families.
  • The Name Malaysia means 'Land of the Malays', but in fact this is a very diverse population. About half the population is ethnically Malay, with minorities of Chinese, Indians, and indigenous peoples.
  • The country's official language is Malaysian Malay, whilst many people also speak English.
  • The currency of Malaysia is the Ringgit. The word ringgit means "jagged" in Malay, which refers to the jagged edges of Spanish silver dollars that were once used in the region.
  • Malaysia is one of 17 megadiverse countries on Earth. It is estimated that Malaysia contains 20% of the world's animal species. These include the orang utan. They can only be found, in the wild, here and in Indonesia.
  • It's not only the fauna that are diverse. Malaysia is home to the rafflesia, which has the largest flower in the world. It stinks. I can vouch for this - they grew one at Kew Gardens.
  • The Malaysian flag consists of 14 red and white alternating stripes, which represent the 14 states in the country, along with a crescent and 14-point star. The yellow crescent represents Islam, the official religion of the country, while the star symbolises the unity among the states here. It was designed for a competition.
  • Malaysia has numerous traditional (and delicious) foods, but the national dish is Nasi Lemak - fragrant rice which is cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaf.
  • The main exports are are rubber, palm oil, and cocoa. Tea is also grown, in the Cameron Highlands.
  • Malaysians have the highest number of Facebook friends, in the world, on average

What To See in Malaysia?

Malaysia is one of the most developed countries in Asia. A gentle introduction to Asia, a continent where cultural differences can feel overwhelming at first. It's very easy to travel in, most of the signage is in English. and is generally safe. (The FCO advice makes most countries sound highly risky.) As always, look after belongings, there is petty theft, if not much reported violence. Stay aware of the political situation. And note that Islamic insurgents have indulged in kidnappings off the remoter islands of Sabah.

This country is known for its gorgeous beaches, lush forests and historic cities teeming with colonial buildings and ornate temples. Read about my mainland travels here.

Or go to Borneo in search of long houses, stilt villages, coral islands, Mount Kinabalu and the orang utans.

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