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Malaysia Travel Guide
'Selamat Datang' is the traditional Malaysian greeting that welcomes visitors to this vibrant and exotic country. Ethnically diverse cultures share the same lush landscape and create a fusion of cultural styles, cooking and religions that is distinctly Malaysian. Festivals throughout the year mark the Malay, Chinese and Indian holidays, as well as those of the indigenous Orang Asli and the tribes of Sabah and Sarawak.
Malaysia is a country with two distinct parts. Peninsula Malaysia constitutes the long fringe of land, extending down from Asia, which borders Thailand and Singapore. The South China Sea separates the mainland from the less populated East Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak. The dense jungles of Sabah and Sarawak support abundant plant and wildlife and Mt Kinabalu in Sabah stakes its claim as the highest peak in South East Asia.
It is the Peninsula that seems to attract the most visitors, probably because of the diversity it offers in the way of people, activities and climates. The highland regions offer cool relief from the clinging humidity of the mainland, while Langkawi is the popular choice for sand and surf enthusiasts. The east coast, particularly the northern Kelantan province, offers the chance for an interesting cultural exploration of traditional Malay life. The city of Kota Bharu and its surrounds is possibly the most fascinating part of the peninsula, and the least visited, with a remote beauty and rich culture.
The west coast is favoured for historical interest, and is where Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur can be found; it is the icon of Asian prosperity and the meeting point for expats and city slickers who enjoy the energy of urban life. The city is a powerful mesh of tradition and technology, vying for equal status.
Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style three-pin plugs are used.
The Malaysian Ringit (MYR), also referred to as the Malaysian Dollar, is divided into 100 sen. Malaysian banks charge in the region of US$2-3 for foreign exchange transactions. Moneychangers are generally quicker to deal with and do not charge commission; their rates however are variable. Pounds or dollars are the easiest to exchange. Travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks and some hotels. All major credit cards are accepted at upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants. ATMs are widely available.
Bahasa Melayu is the national language, but English is widely spoken and is the language of business. Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka are spoken by the Malaysian Chinese population and Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi among the Indian population.
Although tipping is not customary in Malaysia, the more expensive hotels and restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to their bills and further gratuity is unnecessary. All hotel rooms are subject to a 5 percent government tax, though many cheaper hotels quote a price inclusive of this tax.
Some tropical illnesses are prevalent in Malaysia and travellers should seek medical advice regarding any recommended vaccinations before travelling. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are common, as is dengue fever, which has no vaccination or immunisation. There has been an increase in cases of dengue fever in the last several years. Malaria risks are isolated to the inland regions; the exception is Sabah, where there is an all-year risk. Travellers older than one year coming from infected areas require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Visitors may also be advised to get vaccinations for rabies, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis, depending on their travel itineraries in Malaysia. Visitors should stick to bottled water and avoid uncooked meat, fish and vegetables, unpeeled fruit, ice and salads. A further health hazard in Malaysia is smoke haze and air pollution, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, which has one of the worst air qualities in Asia with very high Benzene pollution levels. This could aggravate cardiac or respiratory problems.
The hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and other cities are of a high standard but medical facilities may be lacking in rural areas. Medical insurance is recommended.
Malaysia shares with the rest of South East Asia a threat from terrorism, and this threat extends to places frequented by tourists and expats. The US State Department stresses that extra caution should be taken in the troubled eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and the eastern islands, where the risk of kidnapping is high. Terrorists are believed to be planning to kidnap foreign tourists from the islands and coastal areas of eastern Sabah and boats travelling to dive sites and between the islands are possible targets. Tourists wishing to visit the resorts and islands in the state should stick to larger resorts and exercise extreme caution. Visitors should be aware that street crime such as bag snatching, pick-pocketing and scams are a problem; most crimes against foreigners are petty and the normal precautions against crime should be taken. Stay alert, don't display conspicuous wealth, make use of hotel safes for valuables, duplicate travel documents, don't walk alone at night or in dangerous neighbourhoods, and be extra cautious when using public transport.