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 within South-East Asia. 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.
Geographic coordinates:2 30 N, 112 30 E
Area: total: 329,750 sq km; land: 328,550 sq km; water: 1,200 sq km
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Government type: constitutional monarchy
Population: 24,385,858 (July 2006 est.)
Ethnic groups: Malay 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, Indigenous 11%, Indian 7.1%, others 7.8% (2004 est.)
Religions: Muslim, Buddhist, Daoist, Hindu, Christian, Sikh; note - in addition, Shamanism is practiced in East Malaysia
During the late 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain established colonies and protectorates in the area of current Malaysia; these were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo joined the Federation. 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 from the Federation in 1965.
Malaysia is a country in South-East Asia, located partly on a peninsula of the Asian mainland and partly on the northern third of the island of Borneo. West (peninsular) Malaysia shares a border with Thailand, is connected by a causeway and a bridge (the 'second link') to the island state of Singapore, and has coastlines on the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. East Malaysia (Borneo) shares borders with Brunei and Indonesia.
The climate in Malaysia is tropical. The north-east 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 south-west 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.
Malaysia, a middle-income country, transformed itself from 1971 through the late 1990s from a producer of raw materials into an emerging multi-sector economy. Growth was almost exclusively driven by exports - particularly of electronics. As a result, Malaysia was hard hit by the global economic downturn and the slump in the information technology (IT) sector in 2001 and 2002.
Healthy foreign exchange reserves, low inflation, and a small external debt are all strengths that make it unlikely that Malaysia will experience a financial crisis over the near term similar to the one in 1997. The economy remains dependent on continued growth in the US, China, and Japan - top export destinations and key sources of foreign investment.
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. There is also a colloquial form of English spoken among Malaysians in urban areas, not inappropriately known as Manglish, which takes a bit of getting used to if you intend to join in the conversation on local topics. Malaysians will almost always try to speak 'proper English' when approached by Western travellers.
The Chinese community in Malaysia speaks a wide variety of Chinese dialects including Cantonese, Mandarin, Teo-chew, Hakka, Hainanese, Foochow, Hok-chew and Hokkien. The most commonly spoken Indian language is Tamil; other include Malayalam, Punjabi and Telugu. In East Malaysia several indigenous languages are also spoken, especially Iban and Kadazan.
The Malaysian currency is the ringgit, informally known as the dollar (the M$ symbol can be seen on older notes) and abbreviated RM or MYR, is divided into 100 sen. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 sen (RM1 coins ceased to be legal tender in December 2005) as well as bills of RM1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100. The RM2 note is becoming rare and is usually in bad condition as new notes have ceased to be issued. 1 sen and 5 sen coins are mainly given as change in large establishments and supermarkets. Peddlers and street vendors might be reluctant to accept them.