Malaysia, which celebrated 50 years of independence in 2007, is one of the rising stars of South-East Asian tourism, a nation looking to the future while cherishing the ways of the past. Centuries of trade combined with a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and tribal influence have created a mix of peoples and culture that make it a colorful and intriguing place to visit.
Below: A typical scene in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. Kuala Lumpur is an 80 minute drive along sealed roads from Peninsular's projects.
Tropical island resorts and endless white, sandy beaches offer a taste of paradise, while beneath warm coral seas, world-class dive sites await exploration. Orang-utans, the oldest rainforest in the world, cityskyscrapers and majestic mosques and temples, plus a gorgeous coastline, are enough to tempt even the most jaded visitor. And if that were not enough, Malaysia's culinary credentials are among Asia's finest.
The British were relatively late arrivals to the region in the late 18th century, following Portuguese and later Dutch settlement, but they played a key role following the European wars of the 1790s and, in particular, the defeat of the Netherlands by France in 1795. The Federated Malay States were created in 1895, and remained under British colonial control until the Japanese invasion of 1942.
After Japanese defeat in 1945, the 11 states were once again incorporated as British Protectorates and, in 1948, became the Federation of Malaya. In 1963, the Federation of Malaya merged with Singapore and the former British colonies of Sarawak and Sabah, on north Borneo, to form modern Malaysia. Singapore seceded to become an independent state in its own right in 1965, leaving Malaysia in its present form.
Its convoluted history highlights why Malaysia is so ethnically and culturally diverse. Even better, the magnificent landscape is no less fascinating - dense jungles, soaring peaks and lush tropical rainforests harbor abundant and exotic flora and fauna.
Malaysia is situated in central South-East Asia, bordering Thailand in the north, with Singapore to the south and Indonesia to the south and west. It is composed of Peninsular Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the north coast of the island of Borneo, 650 to 950km (404 to 600 miles) across the South China Sea. Peninsular Malaysia is an area of forested mountain ranges running north-south, on either side of which are low-lying coastal plains. The coastline extends some 1,900km (1,200 miles). The west coast consists of mangrove swamps and mudflats which separate into bays and inlets. In the west, the plains have been cleared and cultivated, while the unsheltered east coast consists of tranquil beaches backed by dense jungle. The major islands are Langkawi (a group of 99 islands), Penang and Pangkor off the west coast; and Tioman, Redang, Kapas, Perhentian and Rawa off the east coast. In Malaysian Borneo, Sarawak has alluvial and, in places, swampy coastal plains with rivers penetrating the jungle-covered hills and mountains of the interior. Sabah has a narrow coastal plain which gives way to mountains and jungle. Mount Kinabalu, at 4,094m (13,432ft), is the highest peak in Malaysia.
Malaysia Food & DiningIn multiracial Malaysia, every type of cooking from southeast Asia can be tasted. Malay food concentrates on subtleties of taste using a blend of spices, ginger, coconut milk and peanuts. There are many regional types of Chinese cooking including Cantonese, Peking, Hakka, Sichuan and Taiwanese. Indian and Indonesian food is also popular. Korean, Thai and western food are available in restaurants throughout the country. Although the country is largely Islamic, alcohol is widely available.
Things to know: Table service is normal, and chopsticks are customary in Chinese restaurants.Indian and Malay food is traditionally eaten with the fingers, but western cutlery is generally used. Set lunches, usually with four courses, are excellent value for money.
• Sambal (a paste of ground chilli, onion and tamarind) is often used as a garnish or dip.
• Char Kway Teow (a dish of fried rice noodles with meat or fish) is a very popular and cheap quick meal.
• Ikan bilis (dried anchovies) are eaten with drinks.
• Satay (consists of a variety of meats, often chicken, barbecued on small skewers and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce and a salad of cucumber, onion and compressed rice cakes).
• Gula Malacca (a firm sago pudding in palm sugar sauce).
• Locally brewed beers such as Tiger and Anchor.
• The famous Singapore gin sling.
• Sugar cane juice.
Tipping: 10% service charge and 5% government tax are usually included in bills, and added to the menu prices.
Kuala Lumpur has a good selection of reputable nightclubs and discos, most belonging to the big hotels. Nightclubs generally stay open until 0500 or 0600 and usually request a cover charge which includes the first drink free. Many of Kuala Lumpur's bars have a happy hour, offering two drinks for the price of one, between 1700-2000/2100. Bintang Walk is a lively spot and has a good selection of alfresco bars and coffee shops.
Penang is also lively at night, larger hotels having cocktail lounges, dining, dancing and cultural shows. There are night markets in most towns, including both Kuala Lumpur and Penang Chinatown. Malay and Chinese films often have English subtitles and there are also English films. The national lottery and Malaysia's only casino at Genting Highlands are government-approved and visitors are not supposed to gamble elsewhere.