Culture of Malaysia

Unique and diverse, the culture of Malaysia is a very different to that of its nearby neighbors. With a large population of Chinese and Indian immigrants, a multicultural society influenced by decades of openness, and a history as a British colony during the 20th century, Malaysia has a different 'feel' than its close neighbor Thailand, and one that's largely responsible for its appeal as a destination.

With a population that's both native Malay, Chinese, and Indian, along with hundreds of smaller ethnic communities, Malaysia is a relatively diverse country for the region. Malay popular culture, food, and entertainment are largely based around this multiculturalism, with TV shows and popular media available in Chinese, Malay, and English depending on their audience.

Malaysia's Chinese community makes up over a quarter of the population, and its influence is fairly visible in major cities and largely Chinese areas like Penang. From the flashy Chinatown district of Kuala Lumpur to smaller Chinese-owned businesses all around Malaysia, Chinese culture is a large part of Malaysian culture, and Chinese-speaking visitors will feel right at home in Malaysia.

This means that Chinese holidays, like the famous Chinese New Year, are celebrated widely in most of Malaysia. Chinese newspapers and magazines are widely available in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, both of which are home to a large portion of Malaysia's Chinese population.

Malaysia's smaller Indian community, which makes up around ten percent of the population, is also an important part of the country's culture. Indian festivals like Deepavali are celebrated in Malaysia, both by Malay Indians and by the larger population. Like many other holidays, they've largely been adapted – celebrating 'light' has turned into trading money and trinkets for most Malaysians.

Of course, Malaysia is primarily an Islamic nation, and most of the country's traditions are based on the Muslim calendar. The month of Ramadan is practiced throughout the country, during which any food and water isn't consumed during daylight hours. Non-muslim Malays and visitors will have no problem 'getting around' the practice, as most restaurants stay open to serve non-Muslims.

Modern and efficient, Malaysia is a country that combines fantastic transportation and convenience, particularly in cities like Kuala Lumpur, with prices that encourage even cash-strapped visitors. The many shopping malls of KL are a testament to the fact that Malays love to shop – from the high-end stores of Pavillion Mall to cheap trinkets in Petaling Street, shopping is a big part of Malay culture.

Likewise, Malaysian food is a huge part of national culture, and the many food courts and famous restaurants spread throughout the country make this no secret. National dishes like nasi lemak and laksa are served throughout the country, while Chinese dishes form the basis of Malaysia's banquet and gourmet food scene.

Just like nearby Thailand and Singapore, football is the backbone of Malaysia's sports scene, with everyone from schoolkids to professionals tuning in to watch national games. Other popular Malay sports include badminton and sepak takraw – a fusion of football and volleyball in which players use their feet to shoot the ball across the net, which is a popular sight in parks throughout Malaysia.

While Malaysia is home to several different languages – Malay, Chinese, and Hindi some of the most widely spoken – English is spoken by the majority of people in major cities. Visitors won't have any issues getting around speaking only English in most parts of Malaysia, and even rural areas will have at least a few English speakers working in tourist-focused businesses.

From its famous national food to its unusual and exciting national sports, the culture of Malaysia is a great reflection of the country's climate – hot, intense, and active. Whether you're visiting to shop, explore Malaysia's ancient culture, or enjoy multicultural cuisine, Malaysia is the type of country that will leave you feeling surrounded by an unfamiliar yet surprisingly comfortable culture.