Malaysia · Country Guide
Planning a trip to Malaysia? Then our Malaysia country guide page is a good place to start.
Kuala Lumpur skyline
Malaysia is a Southeast Asian country with a population of around 28 million. It consists of 13 states and 3 federal territories. The country has an elected monarch chosen from the hereditary rulers of the Malay states every 5 years. The government is headed by a Prime Minister and closely modelled on the UK parliamentary system.
Malaysia is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The state religion is Islam although Malaysia has a secular constitution. There are 2 main regions: Peninsular and East Malaysia.
- West Coast – the more developed region that covers Penang, the capital city Kuala Lumpur, Kedah (state of Langawi).
- East Coast – is made up of the states of Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu.
- South – has only one state, Johor (state of Johor Bahru), and two coastlines.
- Sabah – has a great scuba diving sight in Sipadan Island, and a small gay scene in Kota Kinabalu
- Sarawak – an area filled with national parks and forests.
- Kuala Lumpur – the capital city; home of the Petronas Towers.
- Langkawi – a group of 99 islands, famous for its beaches, mountains and unique nature; a duty-free island.
- Penang (Pulau Pinang) – a popular island formerly known as the “Pearl of the Orient”.
- Johor Bahru – the capital of Johor and the gateway to Singapore.
- Kuching – the capital of Sarawak.
- Malacca – “The Historic City” of Malaysia with colonial-style architecture.
Mosque at sunset moment, Kota Kinabalu
Gay Rights in Malaysia
Malaysia retains a British colonial era penal code criminalising gay sex. Potential punishments include fines, prison sentences or even corporal punishment. In reality, these laws are rarely applied. Muslim citizens may be charged in special Islamic courts. There is no official organisation pushing for de-criminalisation of gay sex or the establishment of LGBT rights in Malaysia.
The Government continues to ban events that attempt to raise LGBT issues – such as the “Queer Without Fear” arts festival (Nov 2011) that had intended to raise the issues of discrimination.
Malaysia attracted 24.6 million tourists in 2010 many of whom will have been gay or lesbian. We estimate that LGBT tourism is worth almost US$1 billion a year to the country.
Kuala Lumpur, which has a population of only 1.6 million, is the sixth most visited city in the world with almost 10 million visitors annually, many of whom will be gay or lesbian. We estimate that LGBT tourism is worth between US$300 – US$400 million per year to Kuala Lumpur alone.
Outside of Kuala Lumpur, there are very few openly gay venues. However, gay travelers can expect a warm welcome at most, if not all, holiday resorts and hotels.
Getting to Malaysia
Malaysia has a well-developed national transport infrastructure. Budget operator AirAsia has transformed air travel both within Malaysia and the region flying to and from a huge network of airports.
All international flights to Malaysia arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), located 50km to the south of the city.
Getting around Malaysia
Malaysia has a good highway network, and driving standards are above average for Asia. Traffic in Malaysia drives on the left hand side of the road (another British legacy).
Metered taxis are widely available in all cities and towns and are relatively cheap. In Kuala Lumpur, licensed taxis are usually coloured red and white or yellow.
When to Visit
Malaysia has a generally sunny tropical climate with plenty of rain showers. June and July are the driest months – although during these months, average rainfall can exceed 130 millimetres.
Most nationalities can enter Malaysia without a visa – the notable exceptions being citizens of Israel, Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro. Most tourists are issued with an entry stamp, valid for either 30 or 90 days.
Visitors with dual citizenship should enter Malaysia on the same passport that you exited your last country.
The official language of Malaysia is Malay. English is a compulsory subject in all schools and widely spoken in most cities.
The Malaysian currency is Ringgit. Banks open Monday to Friday, from 09:30 to 16:00. Some branches open on Saturday mornings. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted (except chip-less US debit cards).
Card fraud continues to be a problem in Malaysia so only use your plastic in reputable shops and hotels and do not let your card be taken out of your sight.
Most shops operate from 10:30 to 21:30 or 22:00, seven days a week.
What to Wear
Day Wear – shorts and tee shirts during the day. Exceedingly tight or revealing tank-tops or shorts are not recommended.
Eating Out – smart casual jeans and tee shirts or polo shirts.
Club Wear – jeans and tee shirts.
Sauna Wear – bring your own flip flops and condoms.
Tap water is drinkable but most people tend to boil or filter before consumption. Bottled water is very cheap and the best option for tourists.
Electricity sockets are “Type G” British BS-1363 type (three square pins). Electricity is supplied between 220 and 240 volts AC.
Malaysia treats drug offenses severely. The death sentence is mandatory for drug trafficking. The punishment for consumption is up to 10 years in jail. You can be convicted of illegal consumption if traces of illegal drugs are found in your system even if you can prove they were consumed before you entered Malaysia.
You can be convicted of trafficking if drugs are found in your hotel room – even if they are not yours. Be vigilant if inviting a guest back to your room for the night. Do not take chances.
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