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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in malaysia
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Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia located partly on a peninsula of the Asian mainland and partly on the northern one-third of the island of Borneo. It shares borders with Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei and has a coastline on the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.
Peninsular Malaysia (Semenanjung Malaysia) occupies most of the Malayan Peninsula between Thailand and Singapore, and is also known as West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat) or the slightly archaic Malaya (Tanah Melayu). It is home to the bulk of Malaysia's population, including its capital and largest city Kuala Lumpur, and is generally more economically developed.
Some 800 kilometers to the east is East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), which occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Covered in impenetrable jungle where headhunters roam (on GSM networks if nothing else), East Malaysia is rich in natural resources but very much Malaysia's hinterland for industry and tourism.
Some of the most stunningly beautiful things about Malaysia are its tropical islands. And there's more to them than sun, sand and surf: particularly on the East Coast and Borneo's Sipadan there are coral reefs and hence excellent diving .
There are various beautiful national parks in Malaysia. There are many different types of expions available, ranging from those where you hardly lose sight of the hotel to those were you are fully immersed in the jungle with only the guide and yourself if you are willing to pay the money! Tours vary from about 4 days to 2 weeks or more. It is very unlikely in most of the national parks for you to see a tiger or an elephant, this is only really likely if you are going to be staying for longer than a few days, i.e. for a couple of weeks at least. One of the most common forms of wildlife that you will encounter in the jungle however are definitely leeches! In the rainforest it is very very humid but actually it is not incredibly hot. This is because of the large amount of shade afforded by the canopy created by the interlocking trees. Shop around for deals of getting into the jungle and make your decision based on what type of person you are. If you are going to enjoy a lot of hiking without seeing any other people for days or even weeks then you can have that choice, alternatively you can have a much more 'packaged' tour in which you will probably stay in a very built up tourist town which has probably just grown out of the demand for people wanting to stay in the jungle.
Malaysia is a mix of the modern world and a developing nation. With its investment in the high technology industries and moderate oil wealth, it has become a leader of the southeast Asian region. For the traveller, Malaysia for most part presents a happy mix: there is high-tech infrastructure and things generally work well and more or less on schedule, but prices remain reasonable and daily life far more vibrant than, say, sanitized Singapore.
Malaysia was formed in 1963 through a merging of the former British colonies of Malaya and Singapore, including the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo. The first several years of the country's history were marred by Indonesian efforts to control Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession in 1965.
Today's Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler (Yang di-Pertuan Agong), who is elected for a five-year term from among the nine sultans of the Malay states. In practice, however, power is held by the Prime Minister. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party and its National Alliance (Barisan Nasional) coalition have ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since its independence, and while periodic elections are contested by feisty opposition parties, the balance has so far always been shifted in the government's favor by press control and use of restrictive security legislation dating from the colonial era.
Malaysia's development has been fast but uneven, leading to the often used description of Malaysia, "First world infrastructure, third world mentality." Contributing to this is the bumiputra policy, or Malay-first policy, which provides privileges to the ethnic Malays at the expense of the (traditionally wealthier) minority Chinese and (traditionally less-wealthy) Indian populations. The resulting inequity has posed challenges in moving the country forward.
The climate in Malaysia is tropical. The northeast monsoon (October to February) deluges Borneo and the east coast in rain and often causes flooding, while the west coast (particularly Langkawi and Penang) escape unscathed. The milder southwest monsoon (April to October) reverses the pattern. The southern parts of peninsular Malaysia, including perennially soggy Kuala Lumpur, are exposed to both but even during the rainy season, the showers tend to be intense but brief.
The terrain consists of coastal plains rising to hills and mountains.
Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays and other indigenous minorities make up a 58% majority, there are also 24% Chinese (especially visible in the cities), 8% Indian and a miscellaneous grouping of 10% "others", many of them tribes from the jungles of East Malaysia. There is hence also a profusion of faiths and religions, with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and even shamanism on the map.
The locals are very very friendly especially towards foreigners and will usually go out of their way to help tourists find their way around.
Multicultural Malaysia celebrates a vast range of festivals, but the ones to look out for nationwide are Islamic holidays, most notably the fasting month of Ramadhan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset. People get up early to stuff themselves before sunrise (suhur), go to work late if at all, and take off early to get back home in time to break fast (buka puasa) at sunset. At the end of the month is the festival of Hari Raya Puasa, also known as Aidilfitri, when pretty much the entire country takes a week or two off to head back home to visit family; this is the one time of year when Kuala Lumpur has no traffic jams, but the rest of the country does, and traveling around Malaysia is best avoided if at all possible.
Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims travelling (musafir), are exempt from fasting but it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public. Many restaurants close during the day and those that stay open maintain a low profile. Business travellers will notice that things move rather more slowly than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave. The upside for the traveller is the bustling Ramadhan bazaars in every city and town, bustling with activity and bursting at the seams with great food. Hotels and restaurants also pull out all stops to put on massive spreads of food for fast-breaking feasts.
Some uniquely Malaysian festivals of note include the Harvest Festival at the end of May each year and the 'Pesta Gawai' in early June, both thanksgiving celebrations held in East Malaysia.
Other major holidays include Chinese New Year (around February), the Buddhist holiday of Wesak (around June), Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights (around November) and Christmas.
Most visitors can obtain an extendable 30 or 60-day tourist visa on arrival. See Immigration Department of Malaysia (http://www.imi.gov.my/ENG/im_page1.asp) for the current scoop.
Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), although there are also some regional flights to Penang, Langkawi, Johor Bahru, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, as well as the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (SZB) in Subang (the predecessor to KLIA).
National carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has an extensive network covering Asia and Europe and regularly ranks high in airline quality assessments, while Malaysia-based low-cost carrier Air Asia now covers an ever-expanding set of neighboring destinations including Bangkok and Jakarta.
Direct sleeper train services connect Bangkok (Thailand) and Butterworth near Penang (Malaysia), also Hat Yai (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). There is also a less used eastern route from Hat Yai to Sungei Kolok on the Malaysian border, but there are no through trains to the nearest Malaysian station at Wakaf Bahru (near Kota Bharu).
Comfortable night sleeper and somewhat misnamed daytime "express" trains also connect Singapore to Johor Bahru, running on to either Kuala Lumpur or Kota Bharu. Bizarrely, tickets from Singapore are twice as expensive as those to Singapore; you can save quite a bit by taking the train from Johor Bahru instead, or buying two separate tickets for the legs.
Land crossings are possible from Thailand and Singapore into Peninsular Malaysia, as well as from Brunei and Kalimantan (the Indonesian side of Borneo) into Sarawak. An international drivers' license is usually required.
Please see individual states for public transport details at these checkpoints.
Long-distances buses into Malaysia run from various points in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesian Borneo.
Major operators of international long-distance buses include:
Many also travel across to Johor Bahru and get a long-distance bus from there, which usually turns out to be cheaper.
From the Philippines
It is possible to walk across the Causeway from Singapore to Johor Bahru at the southern tip of Malaysia. You can also walk from or into Thailand at Wang Kelian, Padang Besar (both in Perlis, Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedaj), Betong (Perak) and Rantau Panjang (Kelantan).
Largely thanks to budget carrier Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com), Malaysia is crisscrossed by a web of affordable flights with prices starting at RM 9 for flights booked well in advance. Flying is the only practical option for traveling between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, as well as reaching some of the more remote outposts of Borneo. Departure and airport taxes (usually around RM15) are included in the ticket price.
Berjaya Air (http://berjaya-air.com/) also flies small Dash-7 turboprops from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to its own airports on the resort islands of Pangkor, Redang and Tioman. Prices are steep (from RM214 plus fees one way), but this is by far the fastest and more comfortable way of reaching any of these.
As is the case throughout South-East Asia, trains can rarely match road transport in terms of speed (notable exceptions being Kuala Lumpur's LRT (http://www.rapidkl.com.my) and monorail (http://www.monorail.com.my) systems, and the high speed ERL (http://www.kliaekspres.com) services between KLIA and Sentral Station).
State operator KTMB (http://www.ktmb.com.my/) provides relatively inexpensive and generally reliable services around Peninsular Malaysia (but not Sabah/Sarawak in Borneo). The main western line connects Butterworth (near Penang), Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, while the eastern line runs through Gua Musang and the Taman Negara National Park to Kota Bharu, near the Thai border and the Perhentian Islands.
There are several train types and fare classes. First and second class are air-con, third class has fans instead. For sleeper trains, KTMB's epitome of luxury is Premier Night Deluxe (ADNFD - between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur only) featuring individual cabins containing two berths and a private shower/toilet unit. More economical are the Superior Night (ADNS) sleeper cars, which have upper and lower berths along each side, each bunk having a solid partition at each end and a side curtain for privacy. The carriages shake and rattle quite a bit but are comfortable and clean.
The "Jungle Train" is a daily eastern line service which stops at every station (every 15-20 min or so) between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis and Jerantut. It's 3rd class only, meaning no air-con and no reservations, and some stops may be lengthy as it's a single line and all other trains have priority - hence the "Jungle Train" waits in side loops along the way so that oncoming or overtaking trains can pass. Tourists may use this service to travel to Taman Negara National Park (Jerantut) or the Perhentian Islands (closest station to Kota Bharu is Wakaf Bahru). Some find it to be a fascinating and stunningly scenic ride; others feel there's not much to see when you're in the jungle.
Eastern line night trains (for which reservations are possible and recommended) also have 2nd class berths and seats, and some have 1st class sleepers too.
Tickets can be booked and even printed online. 1 (http://220.127.116.11/E-Ticket/Register.asp?Tajuk=Register%20New%20User)
Major Station Telephone Numbers: 2 (http://www.ktmb.com.my/article.cfm?id=111)
Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. Gas is cheap at a little over 1.62 RM per liter, but tolls are payable on expressways.
Traffic drives on the left.
Beware of reckless motorcyclists, especially at night. At traffic lights, they will accumulate in front of you - let them get away first to avoid accidents.
In general, cars and motorcycles might not always indicate line changes and often change from the far right to the far left at the very last minute. Always be aware of what the cars in front are doing!
Its definitely unadvisable for tourists to drive in the larger cities like Kuala Lumpur. Suicidal motorcyclists, massive traffic jams throughout the day, bewildering roads especially in the older parts of the city where planning is virtually nonexistent, its just not worth the bother. Out of town however, cars are the best and frequently the only way to explore the country. Some of the more rural areas have motorcycles and scooters to rent for as little as RM30, a great way to explore the local area or larger islands like Langkawi.
The cheapest way to travel in Malaysia is by bus. All towns of any size have a bus terminal offering connections to other parts of the country. There are many companies of varying degrees of dependability, but two of the largest and more reliable are Transnasional (http://transnasional.com.my) and NICE/Plusliner (http://www.plusliner.com.my/). 24-seater "luxury" buses are recommended for long-distance travel. If travelling on holidays or even over the weekend, it is advisable to reserve your seats in advance. Note that air conditioning is extremely cold so don't forget to bring a good sweater, pants and socks !
Warning: Bus drivers often drive carelessly, speeding like maniacs, overtaking in blind corners, etc. A series of horrific accidents has, however, led to a crackdown and a nationwide hotline for reporting (also by SMS!), whose numbers are helpfully plastered on the back of every single large vehicle in the country.
The sole official language of Malaysia is Malay (Bahasa Melayu). English is also taught in schools and widely spoken in the cities, although in rural areas a little Malay will come in handy. The Chinese community in Malaysia speaks a wide variety of Chinese dialects including Cantonese, Mandarin , Teo-chew, Hakka, Hainanese, Hok-chew and Hokkien, while the most commonly spoken Indian language is Tamil. In East Malaysia several indigenous languages are also spoken, the largest of which are Iban and Kadazan.
The Malaysian currency is the ringgit, abbreviated RM or MYR, which divided into 100 sen. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 sen, as well as bills of RM1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100. Hefty RM1 coins are still in limited circulation, but will cease to be legal tender in December 2005.
Between 1997 and 2005, the exchange rate to the US dollar was fixed at RM 3.80 to 1, which due to the comparative strength of the Malaysian economy made Malaysian products quite cheap overseas. In July 2005 the exchange rate was floated again, following the lead of China's RMB. Due to the ringgit's strength and stability, foreign currencies are not generally accepted. The major exception is Singapore dollars, which are accepted by eg. train company KTM and toll roads, but at a highly unfavorable 1:1 exchange rate — interpreted so that if you pay a RM 1 toll with a S$50 note, you'll get back RM 49 in change, a loss of nearly 50%!
Tipping is not customary in Malaysia. More expensive restaurants, bars and hotels may use prices like RM19++, indicating that sales tax (5%) and service charge (10%) have to be added to the bill. Hotel tax of 5% may also be added to this.
ATMs are widely available in cities, but do stock up on cash if heading out into the smaller islands or the jungle. Cr cards can be used in most shops, restaurants and hotels, although cloning can be a problem in dodgier outfits.
Most visitors will find Malaysia quite cheap, although it is noticeably more expensive than Thailand to the north. You can live in hostel dorms and feast on hawker food for less than RM50 per day, but you'll wish to double this for comfort, particularly if travelling in more expensive East Malaysia. At the other end of the spectrum, luxury hotels and air fares are comparatively affordable, with even the fanciest 5-star hotels costing less than US$100/night.
Kuala Lumpur is a shopping mecca for clothes, electronics, computer goods and much more, with very competitive prices by any standard. Traditional Malaysian fabrics (batik) are a popular souvenir. The cheapest place to easily buy ethnic souvenirs (especially wood-based) is in Kuching, East Malaysia, and the most expensive place is in the major, posh KL shopping centres.
In general shops open from 10.30am till 9.30pm in the large cities and earlier in the more rural areas.
The crossroads of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, Malaysia is an excellent place to makan (eat in Malay). See Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine for an overview of what's available. Look out for regional specialities and Nonya (Peranakan) cuisine, the fusion between Malay and Chinese cooking.
Malaysians are very proud of their cooking and most towns or even villages have their own delicious specialities such as Kajang satay, Ipoh chicken rice, Kelantanese nasi minyak and many, many more. Most of them rely on word of mouth for advertising and are frequently located in the most inconvenient, out-of-the-way places so you might want to try asking the locals for their personal recommendations.
Generally, you can eat pretty much anywhere in Malaysia. Food outlets are comparatively clean - the only thing you should avoid is ice for your drinks, when you frequent the street or hawker stalls since the blocks of ice used there might not be up to your hygienic standards. In actual restaurants this is not a problem. Also you might want to avoid ordering water from hawker stalls or the mamak restaurants as they are usually unboiled tap water.
Where to eat
The cheapest places to eat are hawker stalls and coffeeshops, known as kedai kopi in Malay or kopitiam in Chinese. Despite the name, these usually sell a lot more than coffee! Particularly popular and tasty are mamak stalls, run by Indian Muslims and serving up localized Indian fare. Most hawker stalls stay open till late and some even operate on shifts so you can find the same stall offering different food at different points throughout the day. You can also do take away from any stall, just ask for bungkus (Malay) or ta pao (Chinese). A hawker meal will rarely cost you over RM5.
One step up on the scale is the kedai makanan or the more Western-style restoran. A type looking out for is the nasi kandar restaurant (also known as nasi campur or nasi padang), with a vast range of curries and topping to ladle on top of your rice.
Seafood restaurants (makanan laut) are comparatively pricy but still excellent value by most standards; do check prices before ordering though. Local prawns are gigantic, Chinese-style steamed fish is a treat and crab served with sticky chilli sauce is particularly popular.
Last but not least, some less adventurous options. Food courts in shopping malls are a good way to sample local delicacies in air-conditioned comfort, paying only a small premium over hawker prices. And yes, you can also find McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and the usual suspects plus imitators throughout Malaysia.
Malaysians like both coffee (kopi) and tea (teh), especially the national drink teh tarik ("pulled tea"), hence named after the theatrical 'pulling' motion used to pour it. By default, both will be served hot, sweet and with a dose of condensed milk; request teh o to skip the milk, teh ais for iced milky tea, or teh o ais for iced milkless tea. Drinking with no sugar at all is considered odd, but asking for kurang manis (less sugar) will ease the pain.
Another peculiar local favourite is the kopi tongkat ali ginseng, a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root, and ginseng served with condensed milk that's touted as an alternative to viagra and red bull combined and is usually advertised with a picture of a bed broken in half.
Other popular nonalcoholic options include the chocolate drink Milo and lime juice (limau). Freshly made fruit juices are also widely available, as well as a wide range of canned drinks (some familiar, some less so).
Topically and perhaps, rather un-PC, is a local drink comprised of white soya milk and black grass jelly (cincau) called a Michael Jackson and can be ordered at most hawker centers and local roadside cafes ("mamak")
Although Malaysia is a self-proclaimed Islamic country, alcohol is widely available, however some states (notably Kelantan and Terengganu) place considerable restrictions on sales by and to Muslims. With the exception of tax-free islands (Labuan, Langkawi, Tioman) and duty free shops (for example in Johor Bahru), prices are comparatively high, with a can of beer costing RM 4 or more even in supermarkets.
The choice of accommodation in Malaysia runs the gamut, ranging from RM20 beds in tribal longhouses to Pavarotti's favorite, the US$1000+/night luxury resort of Pangkor Laut.
Obtaining a working visa takes some effort. The easiest way to work in Malaysia is probably to work for an overseas company and get posted to Malaysia. The Malaysian Immigration Department website (http://www.imi.gov.my) has basic advice. In order to obtain a work permit, you need to have an offer from your future employer who will have to do the paperwork for you. It's very expensive and comes with many restrictions if a company wants to hire a foreigner and as such next to impossible. As stated above, a feasible way is to get transfered. Finding a job is otherwise unlikely unless you are getting married to a local and even then it remains difficult.
Crime levels are relatively low in Malaysia, but common sense precautions should be observed. Pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves ply their trade in Kuala Lumpur and large cities, and the security of cheaper accommodations may have room for improvement.
Cr card fraud can be a problem, so use plastic only at large, reputable retailers, and do not let your card out of your sight.
Public demonstrations are almost unheard of in Malaysia - should any occur, they may be treated with heavy handed tactics, so avoid them.
Tap water is drinkable but even locals boil it first just to be on the safe side. Otherwise stick to bottled water.
As in any predominantly Muslim country, you should dress respectfully, particularly in rural areas (wearing trousers not shorts and covering your shoulders is recommended but not essential). In more metropolitan areas such as Kuala Lumpur, attitudes are more liberal. As a tourist, it is better not to criticize the Government and especially the various Royal Families. When you enter a Malaysian home or a place of worship, you must always take off your shoes as a sign of respect. Also never eat with your left hand or give a gift with your left hand. Never point with your forefinger because it is very impolite for Malays. Don't point your feet at a person or touch a person's head because it is considered rude in Malaysia.