Private tailor-made journeys of a lifetime 1 888 263 2574
USA
  • AUS
  • DEU
USA
  • AUS
  • DEU
Culture of Malaysia

Culture of Malaysia

With such an interesting history and so much influence from neighboring Asian countries and colonial rulers, you can expect much diversity in Malaysia – from architecture and religion to ethnicity of the country’s people. No wonder, tourism contributes more than 7% to the economy and the country is ranked 9th in all the world for tourist arrivals! With your expert local guides on hand, tailor your trip specifically to match your interests.

The people of Malaysia are a mosaic of Chinese, Indian and native Malay influence. The Malays make up the largest ethnic group, and tend to practice both Islamic and Malay traditions, and speak in the native Malay language. The Malaysian Chinese make up about 25% of the population, with three main dialects of Chinese languages being spoken: Hokkien, Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. The Malaysian Indians – who make up 10%, tend to be descendants of Tamil-speaking South Indians who were brought in under British colonial rule.

The traditional Malay people speak Bahasa Malaysia, which has its roots in an Austronesian language. The indigenous people of Malay, known as the Orang Asli or original people, are found in the Peninsular region and have several different groups with their own language and cultural traditions. The largest ethnic groups tend to live in Sabah, including the Kadazan Dusuns, who are typically farmers in hilly regions; Bajaus, a seafaring community; and the Murut, who also make their living from hunting, fishing and cultivation.

In Sarawak, you can find major ethnic groups known as Dayaks, the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu. Meanwhile, the Penang people are traditional nomadic people who move around the rainforest.

Excellent / 4.9 out of 5
Enchanting Travels Asia Malaysia Malacca (Melaka) Beca Melaka

Religion and Festivals

Witnessing a local festival is a great way to experience the culture of Malaysia. Most world religions are prevalent in the country including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Islam is the largest and official religion of the country. The Penang people used to practice animism although many have converted to Islam or Christianity.

All major festivals from Eid, Chinese New Year, Diwali, and Christmas are celebrated, as are several Malay festivals such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and Awal Muharram, as well as state specific festivals such as Sabah Kaamatan Festival and Sarawak Gawai Festival. In addition, the country also hosts several smaller religious festivals, such as the Hindu Thaipusam festival, which includes a procession from the heart of Kuala Lumpur that ends at the Batu Caves to the north of the city.

Culture of Malaysia - architectural wonders

Architecture

Much of Malaysia’s architecture was influenced by colonial rulers (British, Dutch and Portuguese). Head to George Town and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur to witness excellent examples of British architecture; and Melaka Town for 17th century Dutch and 16th century Portuguese influences. Chinese architecture can be found in many Chinese temples and heritage homes that date back to the 17th century, especially in Melaka and Penang.

Many modern buildings have Moorish design elements due to Islamic influence and beautiful mosques can be explored throughout the length and breadth of the country. The indigenous communities in Sabah and Sarawak boast wonderful examples of traditional Malay architecture that is constructed on stilts, to ensure houses are cooled and floods are avoided. Some traditional houses can still be seen that were built out of wood without any nails, such as the Old Palace of Seri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan.

Some communities continue to live in traditional longhouses that can house from 20 to 100 families, and water villages built along riverbanks and linked by walkways, with sampan or canoe being the local mode of transport.

Masks in a Malaysian market

Crafts, music and dance

The booming handicrafts industry is influenced by Islam, and much of the designs are influenced by nature. It is easy to purchase pottery, wooden crafts, bronze and brass work in most regions, and you can find everything from traditional silver jewelry to tribal headdresses! The native Orang Ulu are particularly noted for their artistic ability, with wood carvings, murals, and intricate beadwork, as well as spirit sculptures. Handwoven crafts made from local plant fibers, and traditional textiles such as batiks (dyed materials) and songket (woven with gold thread) are offered for everything from designer clothing to simple and colorful homewares.

Our private Malaysia vacations offer a host of opportunities to tourists for enjoying the diverse music and dance of the country. We highly recommend you discover gamelan and the nobat, the two traditional orchestras, as well as the rebana uni drums, the kompang (similar to a tambourine), and the sape, a traditional flute, for enjoying the native music of the region.

Popular music and dance of Malaysia:

  • Datun Julud: Hornbill dance performed by Sarawak’s Kenyah women
  • Joget: traditional lively dance with quick tempos
  • Kuda Kepang: traditional dance from Indonesia
  • Lion dance / dragon dances: energetic dance performed to celebrate Chinese New Year
  • Bharatanatyam / Bhangra: traditional Indian classical and folk dances respectively
  • Mak Yong: Thai-influenced dance to entertain the royal ladies, with much dance and drama.
  • Silat: Malay martial arts
  • Sumazau: Traditional dance of Sabah’s Kadazan people
  • Tarian Lilin: Delicate dance performed by women balancing candles
  • Zapin: Islamic devotional chanting

Malaysia Travel Guide: Top Tips – Culture

Greetings: Malay women do not shake hands with men, only women, while the Malay Chinese shake hands lightly and for a prolonged period. In terms of who to greet first, it is usually considered polite to greet the older people of a family first.

Gift giving: Bring chocolate or pastries when invited home, and do not give toy dogs or pigs to children, alcohol or flowers and avoid leather products. Only offer gifts with the right hand or both hands, and don’t expect the gift to be opened in front of you. A gift may be refused before it is accepted by Malay Chinese.

Dress code: Western clothing is popular and acceptable, and there are no rules to be followed but do be respectful and we recommend you avoid clothes that are overly revealing when leaving urban cities and venturing into more rural and traditional regions.

Experience the authentic culture of Malaysia on a tailor-made tour with us. Get in touch for your obligation-free itinerary.

from the blog
Buidlings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
By: Prathima Rijhwani
5 min

Explore Expert Secrets for a Perfect Malaysia Vacation!

Senior Travel Consultant for Asia, Prathima Rijhwani, describes her experiences on a Malaysia tour with Enchanting Travels.

READ POST

Top Festivals in Asia You Just Cannot Miss! - Best time to travel to Thailand
By: Saon Bhattacharya
4 min

Top Festivals in Asia You Just Cannot Miss

Get up close and personal with fascinating cultures by attending these top festivals in Asia.

READ POST

Asia Street Food Vendor
By: Prakriti
9 min

Southeast Asian Street Food Diaries: The Best ‘Pho’ on the Go

Brace for a delectable journey as we take you on the trail of some of the best Southeast Asia street food you can possibly have.

READ POST

popular trips to malaysia
Enchanting Travels Malaysia Tours

Mesmerizing Singapore and Malaysia

19 Days: $ 6,990 / person
This private Malaysia and Singapore trip offers something for everyone. The verdant rainforests and exotic animals of Borneo appeals to nature and wildlife enthusiasts, vibrant Penang and Kuching appease the culture and heritage lover in you, while Langkawi offers crystal clear waters and soft white sands.
Details Inquire
Enchanting Travels Asia Malaysia Sabah he Bajau House

Nature, Wildlife and Adventure in Borneo

16 Days: $ 5,990 / person
Venture into the wild heart of Borneo. Verdant rainforests, exquisite natural wonders and exotic wildlife await you on this private Malaysia tour.
Details Inquire

Discover Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia

19 Days: $ 3,990 / person
Combine your Malaysia tour with a delightful Singapore sojourn. With a vibrant melting pot of culture, heritage, cuisine and natural beauty, and unique experiences curated by our destination experts, there are charming surprises awaiting you around every corner.
Details Inquire
THE ENCHANTING DIFFERENCE

Authentic Experiences

Our award-winning, licensed expert guides providing local insights and insider tips. Their passion is enchanting our guests.

Freedom & Flexibility

Fully customized private trips based on your interests and preferences made possible through deep destination expertise.

Safety & Security

We work exclusively with licensed chauffeurs tested for skill and the highest standards of safety. All vehicles are safety-tested.

100% Financial Protection

We are bonded members and license holders of all leading travel organizations. Your booking is completely secure.

Quality & Comfort

Personally tested accommodation and restaurant recommendations. We select comfortable, high-quality vehicles.

Never Feel Stranded

Your dedicated, destination-based trip coordinator is reachable 24/7 and we offer mobile phone access during travel.

WHAT OUR GUESTs SAY

One of the very best travel experiences I have ever had. We even got updates once at 3 am! He also made one change in one day’s itinerary to accommodate our wishes which was very wonderful. For business, I have traveled to Europe, Russia, all over Asia and South Africa but was blown away by all the beautiful sites in Argentina and Chile.

Rating 5/5
Enchanting Travels- Chile Tours Fishing boat and old Dock, Puerto Natales, Antartica Mexico holiday

Joseph MatheyUSA

All the little touches made by our Enchanting Travel consultant, Amelia Edwards, were noticed and recognized by my wife and I. Thank you for making our milestone trip (25th wedding anniversary) such a memorable one! We look forward to engaging Enchanting Travels again for our next South American adventure!!

Rating 5/5
Buenos Aires Sehenswürdigkeiten: Kongressgebäude Mexico holiday

Raymond SuireUSA

This was my first adventure as a solo traveler. But while I may have traveled on my own, I was never alone. I was well taken care of by a superb team of planners, trip coordinators, guides and drivers.

Rating 5/5
Bolivia - Uyuni - People & Car standing in Salt flats

Lori McCarneyUSA

Do you have a vacation in mind? Personalize your itinerary with our Trip Builder.