Do you want to explore the magnificent beauty of Malaysia? Find about the dos and don’ts of travelling to Malaysia in this guide.
Malaysia offers so much for tourists who want to experience the diversity of destinations and the multicultural city scenery. The famous Petronas Twin Towers defines Kuala Lumpur as the country’s symbol of growth and stability with all types of industries. Malaysia also has ancient rainforests and pristine beaches that most people around the world would want to see. The country also offers unusual activities from its natural parks and the excellent Sipadan dive site in Borneo.
Tourism in Malaysia is steadily growing, and more people want to see for themselves the wonders of the country. If you plan to visit Malaysia, here are some tips and reminders to make your travel go smoothly.
Most people around the world observe their table manners. In Malaysia, food and dining etiquettes are more detailed because of its mixed culture society. They have their ways of handling their food, and guests should also apply the practice when eating in Malaysia.
Malaysian home architecture is fascinating, and most houses are on stilts, that requires a flight of stairs going up to the house. You should take off your footwear at the entrance and clean your feet. A typical home has a sizeable wide-mouthed earthenware jar (tempayan) with water for you to use for washing your feet.
Malaysians serve their food all simultaneously, accompanied by a ketor (a jug with water for cleaning your right-hand fingertips) and a large bowl to catch water drippings. You will use your right hand for eating and not with your left hand all the time. You cannot use your left hand to eat.
Steamed rice is the usual main dish, and there will be three or four side dishes for serving. Meals that have separate sauce have spoons for scooping. For dry foods, you may simply tear a piece of that food from the shared dish. You also have to observe how you should sit when eating. Men cross their legs while women fold their feet on one side.
Here are some traditional rules to follow:
Most Asians consider each grain of rice as sacred. You must only scoop the right amount of rice that you can finish and prevent from having leftover rice on your plate. If you tasted something you didn’t like, simply put it on the side of your plate and never put it back at the communal dish.
A basic etiquette that most people follow where you should only take small bites and prevent talking while chewing.
There are instances where two people will reach for the same food on the table simultaneously. As part of Malaysian’s etiquette for eating, the elder would be the first to get the food as the other will give way.
The inedibles such as shells and bones shall be on a separate platter or put on the side of your plate.
In every meal, drinks are offered all the time. It is recommended that you should only drink after you finish your meal.
Men are allowed to belch, but they have to cover their mouths. Everyone is not allowed to fart.
Malaysia had very few alcohol consumption and production before the Europeans came to the country, which was caused by their strict adherence to Islamic law. It prohibits the intake of such intoxicants. People in Sarawak are exempted from this practice because they consume their production of rice wine, also known as tuak. When Malaysians interacted with the Europeans, they slowly embraced an interest in alcohol. The Chinese community also ventured in brewing, making Malaysia one of the biggest international brewers and distillers in the world.
Malaysia’s cultural diversities means the country cannot identify its drinking culture as a whole. Malaysians of Indian and Chinese inheritance are the ones who intake alcoholic drinks. Muslims follow their religion by abstaining from drinking alcohol, and the government does not allow the selling of liquor to them. There are parts of Malaysia where there is absolutely no drinking culture, but in a lot of urban areas, there are a lot of stores where people can drink. The Malaysian law states that any area that has more than 50% Muslim population will only allow the selling and purchasing of alcohol in designated places.
If you are a tourist in Malaysia and made friends with locals, you will get invited to their house for lunch or dinner. It would be best that you know about some practices when visiting a Malaysian home.
Making an appointment for your visit to a Malay friend will show your politeness towards them. You should at least let them know half a day or one full day notice. This rule applies almost to all nationalities in the world.
Giving and receiving presents is part of Malaysian culture and tradition. Your Malay friend-host will appreciate your gesture of bringing something for them. A simple cake would be enough to make them happy. But if you are bringing a dish, be sure that it is halal.
As a visitor, you should also dress up appropriately when visiting a Malay friend’s house. Your clothing should be appropriate with the occasion and try not to wear fit clothes. Men should wear long pants, and a simple short-sleeved shirt or a T-shirt will do. Women should consider wearing a top with sleeves, and skirts should be lower than knee level. Wearing long dresses is recommended to show respect to the hosts. Wearing shorts and other clothing that bears too much skin like their legs, shoulders, and cleavage.
If you plan to visit one Malaysian house, be sure that they are also available for your visit. Any day of the week would be fine, but the weekends are better. It is recommended that you visit not earlier than 9:30 am and not later than 10:00 pm.
Pro-Tip: If there is any chance that you should bring your children for the visit, make sure that they are also appropriately dressed, and try to control them not to make any noise. You may bring your child’s favorite toy to keep them busy.
Male guests are allowed to shake hands and hug with a Malaysian, but they should keep their distance from a female Malaysian. They are not supposed to make any physical contact unless they are the ones who extend their hands first. This practice is based on their religion, where Muslim women have to adhere to religious rituals.
As discussed earlier, you should remove your footwear, clean your feet before entering the house, and clean your feet with water. This ritual would mean a show of respect for the hosts and prevent dust from coming in.
You should keep in mind all these pointers to show your respect and be courteous to your Malay friend. Greeting phrases will also be your big help for this event. Try not to interrupt conversations of older people, wait for your turn to speak and say ‘Minta Maaf’ (excuse me).
Now that we've covered the dos and don'ts of travelling to Malaysia, let’s take a look at the common myths about travelling to Malaysia and discover if there are some truth these claims.
The Truth: Malaysia has a multicultural society, and the majority of its people are Muslims. Most restaurants in the country are not serving any pork dishes, as well as alcoholic drinks. But you can find Chinese restaurants and food stalls that have pork on their menu, and they serve beer also. Some western food establishments also have pork and beer that attracts tourists as well. You also need to consider knowing these :
Popular fast food chains like KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, and most restaurants in hotels are all Halal.
The Truth: Most Indian and Malay foods are spicy but with some exceptions. Chinese and Western cuisines are not spicy. So, you can still find foods that would suit your taste. Plus, you can also request the cook to do away with the chili.
The Truth: Yes, most Malays still practice their tradition when dining with their hands. But there are also plenty of Malaysians who use spoon and fork, and chopsticks for eating. Some restaurants will not serve utensils unless you ask for a pair in the counter. If there aren't any, it means they will take it as an offensive gesture to ask for utensils.
The Truth: You are allowed to wear sleeveless and shorts in Malaysia. But you should dress appropriately if you are going to any government office and most notably in the mosques. You should keep in mind that wearing sleeveless and shorts is not recommended if you are visiting Kelantan and Terengganu states. Travelling to Malaysia means adhering and respecting their cultures and beliefs.
The Truth: If you do not make a plan for your vacation trip in Malaysia, you will surely feel that you are spending too much during the tour. Hotel accommodations in the country are expensive, but the food is considered cheap compared to other Asian countries.
The Truth: Most Malaysians can speak and understand English. But if you are planning to stay or live in Malaysia for an extended period, learning a few phrases can help make your time worthwhile. Plus, you can also prevent some locals from scamming you.
You are now set to travelling to Malaysia after reading this. Be sure to make some notes about the things that you need to bring and a list of itineraries for your vacation. You will surely have a grand time in Malaysia.