Capital City: Kuala Lumpur
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.
Peninsular Malaysia (Malay: Semenanjung Malaysia) occupies all 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, its capital and largest city Kuala Lumpur, and is generally more economically developed. Within Peninsular Malaysia, the West Coast is more developed and urbanised, and separated from the more rural East Coast by a mountain range.
Some 800km to the east is East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), which occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Partly 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.
The terrain consists of coastal plains rising to hills and mountains. Peninsular Malaysia consists of plains on both the East and West coasts, separated from each other by a mountain range known as the Barisan Titiwangsa which runs from North to South.
Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays make up a 54% majority, there are also 25% Chinese (especially visible in the cities), 7.5% Indian and a miscellaneous grouping of 13.5% "others", such as the Portuguese clan in Melaka and 12% of indigenous peoples (Orang Asli). There is hence also a profusion of faiths and religions, with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and even shamanism on the map.
Most notably in Malaysia, unlike in other countries, the Chinese community is not assimilated and has managed to maintain a distinct cultural identity from the rest of the population. Many traditional Chinese customs, including some no longer practised in China itself due to the cultural revolution, are widely practised by the Malaysian Chinese.
One of the significant characteristics of Malaysian culture is its celebration of various festivals and events. The year is filled with colorful, exhilarating and exciting activities. Some are religious and solemn but others are vibrous, joyous events. One interesting feature of the main festivals here is the 'open house' custom. This is when Malaysians celebrating the festival invite friends and family to come by their homes for some traditional delicacies and fellowship.
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 Ramadan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset. People get up early before sunrise for a meal (sahur), 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 Eid ul-Fitr, known locally as Hari Raya Puasa or Aidilfitri, when pretty much the entire country takes a week or two off to 'balik kampung' or return to their home towns to meet family and friends, 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. Another important festival is the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Adha, known locally as Hari Raya Haji or Aidiladha. It is during this festival that Muslims perform the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. In local mosques, lambs donated by the faithful are sacrificed, and thier meat is distributed to all. These family reunions are also celebrated during other main festivals in the country. With people decked out in their traditional finery, these festivals are an integral feature of Malaysia society.
Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims traveling (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 travelers 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 traveler 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.
Other major holidays include Chinese New Year (around January/February), the Buddhist holiday of Wesak (around May/June), Deepavali or Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (around October/November) and Christmas (This is definitely on 25 December!).
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.
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that falls in January or February and is one of the must-see events. The largest procession in the country takes place at Batu Caves, north of Kuala Lumpur. Devotees carry decorated altars or kavadi up a flight of 272 steps towards the temple, all this while also having spears and hooks pierced through various parts of their bodies. This masochistic practice does not harm the devotees in any way! The ability is attributed to divine intervention and religious fervor.
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 is close to the equator, therefore a warm weather is guaranteed. Temperatures generally range from 32°C at noon to about 26°C at midnight. But like most Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia's sun-shining days are interrupted by Monsoon season from November and February every year, and night temperatures can hit a low of about 23°C on rainy days.
Temperatures tend to be cooler in the highlands, with the likes of Genting Highlands,Cameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill having temperatures ranging from about 17°C at night to about 25°C in the day. Mount Kinabalu is known to have temperatures falling below 10°C.