Kuala Lumpur: 
Malaysia’s cultural melting pot

Kuala Lumpur's iconic Petronas Towers | Photo credit: Nate Robert

As Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur enjoys all the trappings synonymous with a major city – an impressive skyline, graceful parks, world-class shopping malls and numerous cultural institutions.

But what it also can boast of, and what is a uniquely different attraction to visitors, is a fascinating, multi-faith population whose rich histories inter-twine to create one of the most culturally diverse and interesting places in South-east Asia.

Although a Muslim country, Malaysia has a large Buddhist population as a result of an extensive migration of Chinese workers over the centuries. It also has healthy numbers of Christians and Hindus, and there are several other faiths added into the mix. Such a blend of religious and cultural traditions makes for exciting finds – there are temples, mosques and churches around the city; different religious celebrations each month and fusion cuisine that has been ‘imported’ from around the world.

Kuala Lumpur is situated midway along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, at the confluence of the Klang and Gombek rivers. It is approximately 35 km from the coast and sits at the centre of the Peninsula’s extensive and modern transportation network. Kuala Lumpur is easily the largest city in the nation.

Kuala Lumpur has its origins in the 1850s, when the Malay Chief of Klang, Raja Abdullah, hired some Chinese labourers to open new and larger tin mines. They landed at the confluence of Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang (Klang River) to open mines at Ampang. Sungai Gombak was previously known as Sungai Lumpur, which means muddy river. The city thus derived the name Kuala Lumpur which literally means “muddy confluence” in Bahasa Melayu.

In 1880, the state capital of Selangor was moved from Klang to the more strategically advantageous Kuala Lumpur.

In 1881, a flood swept through the town following a fire which engulfed it earlier. These successive problems destroyed the town’s structures of wood and atap (thatching). As a response, Frank Swettenham, the British Resident of Selangor, required that buildings be constructed of brick and tile. Many of the new brick buildings mirrored that of shop houses in southern China, with “five foot ways” as well as skilled Chinese carpentry. This resulted in distinct, eclectic shop house architecture typical to this region.

In 1896, Kuala Lumpur was chosen as the capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States.
During World War II, Kuala Lumpur was captured by the Japanese army on January 11, 1942. The city remained under occupation until August 15, 1945, when the commander in chief of the Japanese Seventh Area Army in Singapore and Malaya surrendered to the British administration following the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Kuala Lumpur grew through the war, the rubber and tin commodity crashes and the Malayan Emergency, during which Malaya was preoccupied with the communist insurgency.

In 1957, the Federation of Malaya gained its independence from British rule and Kuala Lumpur remained the capital through the formation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963.

The economic boom of the 1990s brought KL the standard trappings of a modern city, bristling with skyscrapers and modern transportation systems.

Kuala Lumpur is one of those cities which is short on must-see attractions: the real fun is wandering randomly and seeing, shopping and eating your way through the city.

Did You Know?

The KL shopping experience, Berjaya Times Square | Photo credit: Davidlohr Bueso

  • Kuala Lumpur means ‘muddy confluence’ and refers to KL’s location at the point where the Gombak and Klang Rivers meet.
  • Chinese tin miners founded Kuala Lumpur in 1857.
  • Attention K Mart Shoppers – There are more than 60 shopping malls in the city.
  • Since 2000, the Ministry of Tourism of Malaysia has kick-started a mega sale event for shopping in Malaysia. The event is held three times a year—in March, May and December—where all shopping malls are encouraged to participate to boost Kuala Lumpur as a leading shopping destination.
  • The inhabitants of this city are called KLites.
  • The daily English newspaper in Kuala Lumpur is The Star.

How to Get Here

The state-of-the-art Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) is the primary gateway of the country and is situated about 55 km from Kuala Lumpur.

Probably the most convenient way from the airport to KL is on the KLIA Ekspres train service. The KLIA Ekspres shares the line with KLIA Transit, which stops at all stations along the line. Both KLIA Ekspres and KLIA Transit services are often referred to by Malaysians as the ERL, or Express Rail Link.

Bus transportation is also available but not recommended.

Many hotels will arrange for, or provide a limousine service.

Taxis are readily available but ensure that you use a licensed taxi. Taxis can be found just outside of Arrivals.

A limited number of nationally known, and several local car rental agencies, have counters on the Arrivals level.

The currency is the Malaysian Ringgit. One of the easiest ways to get cash (at a fair exchange rate) in the local currency is to use ABM machines, which are widely available throughout Kuala Lumpur. You might be charged a fee by your bank, and you may need a new PIN number, so contact your bank before you travel to make sure you’ll be able to access your funds.

For locations of ATMs you can visit these VISA and MasterCard Web sites.

Traveller’s cheques are accepted in larger establishments around the country, and can be changed at banks and some hotels. US funds is usually the most widely accepted currency.

Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, shops and restaurants. Incidences of credit card fraud have been reported, so watch your card activity closely. Be aware you may be charged a fee to use your credit card abroad. You should let your issuing company know what countries you are travelling to, as their fraud departments can sometimes freeze cards used in foreign countries.

What will the seasonal weather be like?

Kuala Lumpur is located just north of the equator, and always is warm and tropical tropical. The weather is hot and humid throughout the year with rainfall, the intensity of which depends on the time of the year.

Temperatures generally range between 29 C – 35 C during the day and 26 C – 26 C at night. It may get colder after periods of heavy rainfall. As it is shielded by mountainous valleys on many different sides, Kuala Lumpur is relatively cooler than most places in Malaysia while being one of the least affected by monsoon winds coming from the east or west.

Rainfall occurs mostly between October through March while May through July are generally the drier months. Kuala Lumpur usually has heavy sunshine during the mornings lasting till the afternoons, while the evenings may see rain and occasional thunderstorms. The balance of calm weather makes Kuala Lumpur one of the more stable regions to visit at any particular time.

Getting Around

Buses are an inexpensive method of travel around the city. There are bus stops located in every nook and cranny of Kuala Lumpur that will take you to a variety of places, including adjoining areas in Selangor state. However, during the morning and evening rush hour, buses can get cramped. Rapid KL is the main bus service provider in the city. Other private companies serving some routes around KL are Metrobus and Setara Jaya. These use the traditional conductor who goes around the bus collecting fares and dispensing tickets according to destination.

Trains are an integral part of the city’s transport system. Most of the train systems connect in KL Sentral, Malaysia’s central railway hub located in Brickfields.

Cabs, which are coloured red and white, can be flagged down from almost every point in the city. There are the normal taxis and premier taxis. Taxis are required to use a meter to charge passengers, but you will find that in KL, not many cabbies adhere to the rule. The premier taxis, on the other hand, do stick to the correct meter charges. Be aware of overcharging and insist on the cabbie using the meter.

Hiring a car is possible in KL, if you can tolerate the traffic. Maps are available from a car rental agency or the Malaysia Tourism Centre. If you do intend to hire a car, it might be a good idea to have a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions. GPS systems also feature points of interest that are nearby, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in a foreign country.

What not to miss

Kuala Lumpur Railway Station | Photo credit: McKay Savage

World Heritage Site(s)

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. Currently, there are three World Heritage Sites in Malaysia.

To describe Kuala Lumpur is like opening a book that has various exciting chapters. Once one visits this contemporary city, it is difficult to imagine that this city was a region of tin mines hardly 160 years ago.

Kuala Lumpur City Centre, abbreviated as KLCC, is acclaimed to be a city-within-a-city. KLCC is the commercial as well as the entertainment hub that is nothing short of full-fledged city in Kuala Lumpur. Located in the Ampang district, KLCC is where you will find the most illustrious buildings (You can’t miss them), clubs, shopping malls, banks and restaurants in Malaysia. KLCC is known to be amongst the largest real-estate developments in the world.

The Petronas Twin Towers (Which by now you have already noticed) are acclaimed to be the tallest twin buildings of the world. Located at KLCC complex in Kuala Lumpur, the Twin Towers are undoubtedly are the pride of Malaysia. These buildings were officially opened in 1999. They were the world’s tallest structure from 1998 until 2004. Cesar Pelli, an Argentine-American architect, designed these towers that were tallest in the world on the date of completion. Petronas Towers are a glistening example of modern hi-tech architecture and reverence of established religion, as the facade bears motifs found in Islamic art. The towers encompass a skybridge between the two towers on the 41st and 42nd floors, making it the world’s highest 2-story bridge. The bridge is 170 m above the ground, 58 m long and weighs 750 tons. The same floor is also called Podium because the visitors, wishing to go to the higher levels, have to change elevators here. It is open to all visitors, though entry is limited to 1700 people per day. The skybridge is closed on Mondays. Free passes to visit the towers are available on first-come, first-served basis.

The other building you will also have noticed is Kuala Lumpur Tower. Formally called Menara Kuala Lumpur, The Kuala Lumpur Tower is the fifth tallest telecommunication tower in the world. The tower head has the public observation platform and revolving restaurant, together with the telecommunication and broadcasting stations. While constructing the KL Tower, the contractors took special care to raise a retaining wall around a century-old Jelutong tree (Dyera Costulata). To evade damaging the huge tree, the tower was moved at a cost of RM 430,000. The KL Tower was the site of the first pit-stop in Amazing Race Asia 1, and is also known for having the highest McDonalds in the world.


The Sultan Abdul Samad Building was built in 1896 and named after the reigning Sultan at that time. A historically-significant building, it was used to house the Federal Court before it was relocated. The building’s architecture reflects Moorish themes and copper dome minarets. A 40-foot clock tower rests in the middle. During National Day, the building is often a backdrop for the parades that take place past Dataran Merdeka, just opposite the building. Today, it is no longer used for official purposes but is an important attraction and historical landmark in KL.

The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station was built in 1911 and was once the central point for Malaysia’s railway networks. The Moorish-styled building is located along Hishamuddin Street and during its heyday was a busy transportation hub. Today though, its role has been superseded by KL Sentral, the high-tech and modern railway station in Brickfields and remains solely as a visitor attraction.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Memorial As the title suggests, the Memorial was established in memory of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the leader who freed the nation from the colonial power. Sprawled in 3 hectares of well laid-out gardens, the memorial was opened in 1994. It represents the nation’s gratitude towards the great statesman. This permanent exhibition provides visitors a valuable insight into the life of the prodigy, whose resolve continues to inspire the present generation.

If you have ever wondered about the oil business, you will have an opportunity to gain some insight at the Petrosains Discovery Centre. The Petrosains Discovery Centre is a high-tech interactive gazebo that conveys the story of the petroleum industry in an amusing way. The centre features some 150 exhibits, which not only concentrate on petroleum science but also comprise other aspects of general sciences. This modern museum is designed to facilitate visitors to interact with the exhibits on display.

The National Museum or Muzium Negara is located just outside the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens, and is Malaysia’s main museum. The building itself is a mix of traditional Malay and modern architecture, built in 1963. Outside, a restored old railway train greets visitors along with other old transportation vehicles such as the very first Proton Saga car, bullock carts and a vintage automobile. The museum consists of two wings that house a variety of exhibits, dioramas and galleries which include historical relics and artefacts, cultural items, arts and handicrafts, flora and fauna, weapons and currencies. From time to time, there are special theme exhibitions.

The National Museum of History, called Muzium Sejarah Nasional in Malay, is the second national museum of Malaysia.Located along Jalan Raja opposite Dataran Merdeka, the museum features numerous artefacts that reveal the human history of Malaysia. Initially the building was built with wood and bricks to house a commercial bank in 1888. A.C Norman, a British architect who used to work in the Public Works Department, designed this inspiring building using a blend of typical Moorish and Islamic architecture. 
The building was also utilized by the Japanese Telecommunication Department during the Japanese occupation.


The Balai Seni Lukis Negara, literally the National Art Gallery of Malaysia, is one of the most established art museums in South East Asia. Located along Jalan Tun Razak, it was established in 1958 under the initiative of Tunku Abdul Rahman – the first Prime Minister of Malaysia. The gallery was started with just four donated works of art in a rented space at the Dewan Tunku Abdul Rahman, which was Malaysia’s first House of Parliament. Today, it’s an agency under the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Tourism of Malaysia. Along with a permanent collection of over 2,500 pieces of artworks, the National Art Gallery is sited in its permanent building which was formally inaugurated in 2000 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohammed.

Galeri Petronas is a popular gallery for artists to display their artworks, and fosters the budding interest of the Malaysians in visual arts. This novel gallery is spread over 2000 sq metres, providing larger space to extend activities for promoting and contributing to the development of art. There is always a dynamic program of exhibitions, including all forms and styles of art. Since its founding in 1993, the gallery has hosted numerous art exhibitions and has earned a credible reputation for its innovative exhibits.

And other sites to see

Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur | Photo credit: Nasrul Ekram

Masjid Negara is distinguished as the national mosque of Malaysia. Sprawled amongst 13 acres of landscaped gardens, the mosque is one of the largest mosques of Southeast Asia and can accommodate 15,000 people at a time. The National Mosque, originally built in 1965, represents the aspirations of a then newly-independent Malaysia. Its highlights are a 73-metre-tall minaret and an 18-point star-shaped central dome. The 18-point star represents the 13 states of the country and 5 central pillars of Islam; it makes the roof appear like a partly opened umbrella.

Taman Burung Kuala Lumpur, literally Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, is a unique habitat of birds in the capital. KL Bird Park is famous globally as The World’s Largest Covered Bird Park. In 1991, the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park was formally opened by Her Majesty Queen of Malaysia-Tunku Bainun. The Bird Park sprawls amongst 21 acres of lush valley terrain of Lake Gardens, and is home to over 5,000 birds of 200 species of local and international birds. Since the park has abundant floral and fauna, the birds get out of sight at times, so carry binoculars if possible.

The Taman Orkid, or Orchid Garden, is a must-see for all orchid lovers. Located next to Butterfly Park in the Lake Garden of Kuala Lumpur, this beautiful garden was inaugurated by the Late Dr. Siti Hasmah Binti Mohamad Ali in1986. Undoubtedly, this spectacular garden appears as a riot of colours amidst a marvellous range of orchids.

The crowded and colourful Chinatown area is a jumble of shops, food, smells and people. The central section of Petaling Street is closed at night to traffic and the street is transformed into an exciting, brightly lit experience. Vendors spread their wares onto the pavement and one can stroll along endlessly taking it all in. Merchandise ranges from jewellery to toys and t-shirts and bargaining for the best prices is accepted practice and part of the fun.

For the kids

Aquaria KLCC is a place where the underwater world is beautifully showcased. Located in the KL Convention Centre, the Aquaria has showcased some of the most entrancing aquatic creatures from all parts of the world. The park is sprawled in 60,000 square feet on two levels. 

The Aquaria is all about the journey of water from land to sea. So, get ready to go on a stimulating voyage from the majestic mountains where rivers originate and cascade to lower expanse, and then pass through green rainforests to the huge mangroves until they reach the colourful coral reefs and the portentous deep blue sea. Having more than 5,000 different creatures and the newest interactive technology, Aquaria KLCC will tantalize your senses and mind …

Desa Waterpark is one of the largest amusement parks in Malaysia. Located between the KL and Seremban Highways, the water park is built over an area of 12.6 acres and is bordered by 50 acres of lake. Due to a brilliant network of roads, Desa Water Park is easily accessible from most of the parts of Kuala Lumpur. It offers wholesome family entertainment and owing to its commendable features, it can be a different kind of fun day out with the kids.

The Sunway Lagoon theme park can also keep the family entertained for hours. It’s really five parks rolled into one – the Extreme, Amusement, Water, Wildlife and Scream Parks. So whether you want to cool down on the waterslides, get up close and personal with gibbons, pythons and monkeys, or engage in a game of paintball, you are bound to have a good day ….

Planetarium Negara Malaysia, literally the National Planetarium of Malaysia, is a centre for space science studies. Located atop a hill in Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens, the planetarium provides an insight of outer space – the evolving frontier. The planetarium was formally opened in 1994 by the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Sprawled in 32 acres of area, the National Planetarium is owned by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment of Malaysia.

This striking blue-domed structure offers electrifying exhibitions on astronomy. The planetarium’s structure is a rare combination of Islamic architecture and astronomy, which actually makes it appear like a mosque though with revolutionary looks. The building is connected by an overhead pedestrian bridge to the National Museum, so going to the planetarium, along with the museum, would be all the more beneficial and convenient.

Zoo Negara Malaysia, managed by the Malaysian Zoological Society, was established to create the first local zoo for Malaysians. Zoo Negara is now 45 years old and has matured into a well-known zoo all around the world. There is a total of some 5137 animals representing 459 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The zoo covers 110 acres of land which is situated only 5 km from the city. Over the years, the zoo has transformed itself to an open concept zoo with over 90% of its animals kept in spacious exhibits with landscape befitting its nature.


Kuala Lumpur is the nation’s most well-known shopping destination with several prominent malls and shopping areas. For budget to mid-range shopping, head to Petaling Street (in Chinatown) or Bukit Bintang to enjoy a wide range of fashion, electronics and other commodities. KLCC is an upmarket shopping location, known for the Suria KLCC mall nestled between the Twin Towers while Mid Valley is an exciting one-stop destination for shopping parked in a strategic area of Kuala Lumpur.

Petaling Street is Kuala Lumpur’s dedicated Chinatown zone, though you get people of all races and international visitors flocking to this area from afternoon till late night. The entire street is a night market that has a multitude of traders hawking all manner of goods, from food stuff to toys and fancy watches to bootleg fashion. This place is not to be missed for first-timers in Kuala Lumpur.

Bukit Bintang is one of the most famous places for shopping among locals. This area is so popular simply because it caters to almost every taste and budget when it comes to shopping. A variety of malls, specialising in different products, are found within walking distance of each other in the area. The most popular, and well-known of these, is probably Sungei Wang Plaza, followed by Lot 10, Bukit Bintang Plaza and Low Yat Plaza.

The Suria KLCC Shopping Mall lies between the Petronas Twin Towers, Malaysia’s highest man-made structures. Its strategic location in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and easy accessibility by subway trains from locations around Kuala Lumpur make this a popular, upscale shopping destination for both locals and visitors. Suria KLCC is also located in the prime commercial area of Ampang, which is in turn, a hotbed for nightspots and attractions.

Mid Valley Megamall has over 400 shops and outlets, and more are due in the future when the full Mid Valley City project is completed. In the mall, one can find everything under the sun, from fancy fashion outlets to inexpensive electronic goods and groceries to fast food outlets. So popular is Mid Valley for shopping that the mall features prominently as a major visitor destination and a definite stop-over during tours.

The Central Market, also called Pasar Seni or Pasar Budaya, is another primary shopping destination in Kuala Lumpur. This indoor marketplace is housed in an old building that was built by the British in 1888. During 1970’s, the Malaysian Heritage Society acclaimed the building as a ‘Heritage Site’ when its demolition was intended. Central Market was restored and reopened as the foremost Cultural Shopping Centre of Malaysia. Indeed, it is the best place to see and purchase Malaysian arts & crafts.

Kuala Lumpur after dark …

Kuala Lumpur plays host to a variety of exciting events in the arts and entertainment scene. You can enjoy musical concerts that range from local artists to international stars. The theatre is another vibrant attraction with frequent performances from overseas thespians and local actors.

Music has always been a key form of entertainment for people. In Kuala Lumpur, local artists share the limelight with international favourites. As Kuala Lumpur has a mixed society, you can find local Malay, Chinese and Indian singers holding concerts, some of them being famous enough to be recognised in other Southeast Asian countries that speak the same dialects in Malaysia.

On the other hand, world-famous pop and rock bands from America and Europe often hold concerts in Kuala Lumpur stadiums, attracting crowds in the thousands. Canto-pop singers from Hong Kong and Taiwan are extremely popular and make regular appearances in Malaysia, along with the occasional Indonesian or Bollywood group.

For something more refined, you can hear and see the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, which performs in the Petronas Twin Towers. With a world-class hall and a skilled group of musicians, the Philharmonic Orchestra holds chamber concerts regularly. From time to time, other classical virtuosos will make guest performances.

Kuala Lumpur has a bright and lively arts scene, run by old-timers and newcomers. Here, the theme of plays and musicals are often an interpretation of local life in Malaysia with the occasional adaptation of international classics. International performances also make their way here, such as those from Broadway, and West End. Performances take place at the Istana Budaya or Cultural Palace, which is a large state-of-the-art theatre that is aesthetically crafted with Malay cultural elements and motifs. The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, or Pentas Seni., is a large centre with two theatres and a resource centre for all things related to the stage.

The sophisticated city of Kuala Lumpur undeniably observes a loquacious and vibrant nightlife. In fact, the metro dazzles when the sun retires. And the nightclubs arrange their paraphernalia rightly to coax the masses. If truth is to be told, the entire city shrouds in pubs, lounges, bars and discotheques during the hours of darkness. The city centre of Kuala Lumpur, along with some choice urban spots, lights up with excitement at night as crowds take to the street and nightspots. The hive of activity usually begins from 10 PM onwards though some nightspots open earlier. You’ll have a range of places to choose from in Kuala Lumpur and the rest of the Klang Valley. From large, expansive discotheques to quite, fusion bars, there’s always something to cater to every taste.

Sports / Outdoor Adventure

Taman Negara rainforest | Photo credit: Javier Lastras

If you are a golf enthusiast, find a partner (Your hotel can probably make arrangements) and take advantage of an opportunity to play a course in Kuala Lumpur. The city has a wide array of golf clubs with large courses and pleasant greens. Over the years, premium golf resorts have sprouted up along with old, established clubs. You will find that each course you visit in Kuala Lumpur is unique with its own challenging obstacles and terrain.

If being under the water is more to your liking, Malaysia, with over 200 beautiful islands, is a good destination for diving and snorkelling, or just lazing on a beach. The beaches are carpeted with soft golden sand, and the islands are dotted with secluded bays and lit with spectacular tropical sunsets. The diversity of the marine ecosystem around these islands make them superb for underwater explorations From Kuala Lumpur, it is easy and convenient to reach many of these diving destinations.

Ecotourism in Malaysia is becoming increasingly popular. Taman Negara contains some of the oldest rainforests in the world and spans thousands of square miles of protected land. Its richly diverse fauna and flora have evolved over a staggering 130 million years. The best way to explore the diversity of plant and animal life is by ‘trekking’ along the jungle trails. Although seldom seen, a small population of nomadic Orang Asli people still live in the rainforest, their makeshift shelters appearing in places amongst the jungle growth. Besides trekking, the park’s other attractions are fishing, river rafting or bird watching and climbers can explore the Peninsula’s highest mountain, Gunung Tahan 2,187m. The best time to visit the park is between March and September.

Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve is known to be one of the oldest permanent forest reserves in Malaysia. Earlier known as Bucket Weld Forest Reserve, Bukit Nanas was declared as a forest reserve in 1906. In 1934, it got the recognition of being a Wildlife Reserve and Bird Sanctuary. Later, in 1950, its unspoiled section of about five hectares was declared as a Virgin Jungle Reserve. The Reserve, sprawled in 10.5 hectares, is a remarkable tropical rainforest near KL Tower in Kuala Lumpur. 

It is situated right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and can be easily accessed from Jalan Ampang, Jalan Gereja and Jalan Raja Chulan. While paying a visit to KL Tower, you can plan your time to include Bukit. A visit to this florally-rich sanctuary refreshes one to the core. The exotic variety of flora that thrives within the forest consists of rare herbs, creepers, ferns, and climbers.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Malaysia is a multi-cultural society. The main ethnic groups are the native Malays as well as large populations of Chinese, and Indians. When visiting the country it is clear that the ethnicities retain their religions, customs and way of life. Despite the ethnic differences there are commonalities culturally speaking.

The family is considered the centre of the social structure. As a result there is a great emphasis on unity, loyalty and respect for the elderly.

Malays, Chinese and Indians all strive to maintain face and avoid shame both in public and private. Face is a personal concept that embraces qualities such as a good name, good character, and being held in esteem by one’s peers. Face is considered a commodity that can be given, lost, taken away, or earned. On top of this, face also extends to the family, school, company, and even the nation itself.

The desire to maintain face makes Malaysians strive for harmonious relationships.

Face can be lost by openly criticizing, insulting, or putting someone on the spot; doing something that brings shame to a group; challenging someone in authority, especially if this is done in public; showing anger at another person; refusing a request; not keeping a promise; or disagreeing with someone publicly. Conversely, face can be saved by remaining calm and courteous; discussing errors or transgressions in private; speaking about problems without blaming anyone; using non-verbal communication to say “no”; and allowing the other person to extricate themselves from a situation with their pride intact.

Meeting and Greeting

Greetings in a social context will depend upon the ethnicity of the person you are meeting. In general, most Malays are aware of Western ways so a handshake is normal. There may be slight differences though
Malay women may not shake hands with men. Women can shake hands with women. Men may also not shake hands with women and may bow instead while placing their hand on their heart. The Chinese handshake is light and may be rather prolonged. Men and women may shake hands, although the woman must extend her hand first. Many older Chinese lower their eyes during the greeting as a sign of respect. Indians shake hands with members of the same sex. When being introduced to someone of the opposite sex, nodding the head and smiling is usually sufficient.

The way names are used also varies …

The Chinese traditionally have 3 names. The surname (family name) is first and is followed by two personal names. Many Chinese adopt more Western names and may ask you to use that instead.
Many Malays do not have surnames. Instead, men add their father’s name to their own name with the term “bin” (meaning ‘son of’). So Rosli bin Suleiman, would be Rosli the son of Suleiman. Women use the term “binti”, so Aysha bint Suleiman is Aysha the daughter of Suleiman.

Many Indians do not use surnames. Instead, they place the initial of their father’s name in front of their own name. The man’s formal name is their name “s/o” (son of) and the father’s name. Women use “d/o” to refer to themselves as the daughter of their father.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gift giving to Malays

  • If invited to someone’s home for dinner, bring the hostess pastries or good quality chocolates.
  • Never give alcohol.
  • Do not give toy dogs or pigs to children.
  • Do not give anything made of pigskin.
  • Avoid white wrapping paper as it symbolizes death and mourning.
  • Avoid yellow wrapping paper, as it is the color of royalty.
  • If you give food, it must be “halal” (meaning permissible for Muslims).
  • Offer gifts with the right hand only or both hands if the item is large.
  • Gifts are generally not opened when received.

Gift giving to Chinese

  • If invited to someone’s home, bring a small gift of fruit, sweets or cakes, saying that it is for the children.
  • A gift is traditionally refused before it is accepted to demonstrate that the recipient is not greedy.
  • Do not give scissors, knives or other cutting utensils as they indicate a desire to sever the relationship.
  • Flowers do not make good gifts as they are given to the sick and are used at funerals.
  • Do not wrap gifts in mourning colours – white, blue, or black.
  • Wrap the gifts in happy colours – red, pink, or yellow.
  • Elaborate gift – wrapping is imperative.
  • Never wrap a gift for a baby or decorate the gift in any way with a stork, as birds are the harbinger of death.
  • It is best to give gifts in even numbers since odd numbers are unlucky.
• Gifts are generally not opened when received.

Gift giving to Indians

  • If you give flowers, avoid frangipani as they are used in funeral wreaths.
  • Money should be given in odd numbers.
  • Offer gifts with the right hand only or both hands if the item is large.
  • Do not wrap gifts in white or black.
  • Wrap gifts in red, yellow or green paper or other bright colors as these bring good fortune.
  • Do not give leather products to a Hindu.
  • Do not give alcohol unless you are certain the recipient drinks.
  • Gifts are generally not opened when received.

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Though it is a relatively young country, gaining independence from the British only in 1957, Malaysia provides visitors a rich and diverse travel experience.

Malaysia is a multicultural society, and developing quickly. It’s the diverse culture and modern developments that make Malaysia such a fascinating country to visit.

Kuala Lumpur is more than just the capital: it has become a monument to Malaysian ingenuity. KL has evolved into a 21st-century metropolis, dominated by the tallest skyscrapers in Southeast Asia and flush from the proceeds of international trade and commerce.

The Golden Triangle is where you will find the city’s better hotels, shopping malls and the world-famous Petronas Twin Towers. KL is a hub for cultural activities and events in Malaysia. Plan to spend time at the National Museum and National Art Gallery of Malaysia and see an arts performance at the Petronas Philharmonic Hall.

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