Malaysia consists of two parts, with eleven states in peninsular Malaysia and the two states of Sabah and Sarawak in the northern part of Borneo. Northern Borneo, also called East Malaysia, covers an area of about 130,000 km2 and the peninsula, also called West Malaysia, covers an area of about 200,000 km2. They are separated by the South China Sea and are about 640 km apart. The total population of Malaysia is approximately 24 million.
Malaysia offers a wide range of landscapes. In West Malaysia the landscape varies from the ancient rainforests of Taman Negara and the white beaches of Tioman and Redang islands, to the cooler climate of the Cameron Highlands. In Sabah you will find Mount Kinabalu and the clear waters around Sidapan and Layang-Layang islands. Further Southwest, in Sarawak, you will find the world's oldest rainforests and the caves of Mulu National Park.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, and has a population of about 1.5 million. The city is located just above the equator, along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, approximately 50 km inland. Kuala Lumpur, when translated from Bahasa Melayu, means muddy confluence, referring to the meeting point of the Klang and Gombak rivers. Originally covered in rainforest, it has since been vigorously cleared, first for the purposes of tin mining and, more recently, for the building of high-rise offices and condominiums. There are still, however, many pockets of jungle left in the city, where monkey families can be found as well as other wild creatures.
Malaysia is located just above the Equator and has a tropical climate. It is hot and humid all year round. Temperatures range from 21°C early morning to 35°C in the afternoon. Short but heavy thunderstorms are experienced in and around Kuala Lumpur throughout the year. November and December tend to be very wet. However, it rarely rains all day.
The currency of Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM), which is divided into one hundred sen (cents). Notes are issued in the following denominations: RM1,000 (seldom used), RM500 (rarely used), RM100, RM50, RM20, RM10, RM5, RM2, and RM1. Coins are issued in the following denominations: 50sen, 20sen, 10sen, and 5sen.
The voltage used in Malaysia is 230/240 volts - 50 Hz. If your electrical appliance uses 110/120 volts, you need to use a transformer/converter to step down the 230/240 volts Malaysian voltage to your 110/120 volt appliance. Failure to do so will damage your electrical appliances. Malaysia uses the British Standard 1363 domestic AC power plugs and sockets.
Aboriginal Malays (Orang Asli) began moving down the Malay Peninsula from southwestern China about 10,000 years ago. The peninsula came under the rule of the Cambodian-based Funan, the Sumatran-based Srivijaya, and the Java-based Majapahit empires, before the Chinese arrived in Melaka (Malacca) in 1405. Islam arrived in Melaka at about the same time and spread rapidly. Melaka's wealth soon attracted European powers and the Portuguese took control in 1511, followed by the Dutch in 1641. The Sultan of Kedah granted permission to the English East India Company to establish a base for trade on the island of Penang in 1785.
The British established a thriving port in Penang in 1786 and took over Melaka in 1795. They went on to colonized the interior of the peninsula when tin was discovered. As the indigenous labor supply was insufficient for the needs of the developing rubber and tin industries, the British brought large numbers of Indians into the country, adding to the peninsula's racial mix. The Japanese occupied Malaya from early 1941 until 1945, after which the British once again regained control. Malaya achieved independence from the British in 1957. Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore combined with Malaya to establish Malaysia in 1963, but two years later Singapore withdrew from the confederation.
Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has been in power since 1974. Nine of the Malaysian states are headed by royal families and every five years one of the nine hereditary rulers, called sultans, takes his turn in the ceremonial position of Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king).
Malaysia is a multitcultural society with Malays (50%), Chinese (24%), and Indians (7%) living side by side with small tribal groups called Orang Asli (11%) and others (8%).
The national language of Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia, and is spoken by all Malaysians. However, many Malaysians are fluent in at least two other languages. The Chinese languages and dialects spoken include Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, and Foochow. The Indians are predominantly Hindu Tamils from southern India and speak Tamil. Other Indian languages spoken include Malayalam, Punjabi, Telugu, and Hindi.
English is widely spoken in Malaysia, especially in key cities.
The majority of Malaysians are Muslim, and the official religion is Islam. Other main religions practiced in Malaysia include Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Taoism.