Malaysia’s Do’s and Don’ts

When visiting Malaysia, the visitor should observe local customs and practices. Some common courtesies and customs are as follows:-

 

Malaysia Travel Dont’s

  • Do not touch the head of an adult. Touching people on the head is considered rude.
  • Do not point forefinger at things. Instead, the thumb of the right hand with four fingers folded under is the preferred way.
  • Do not pound your fist into the palm of the other hand, which is considered an obscene gesture to some people.
  • Do not point your feet towards people or sacred images.
  • Do not wear hot pants and vests at mainland beaches if you are female. Topless sunbathing is a no-no. Malay women usually go swimming fully dressed and some keep their scarves on.
  • Do not kiss in public. Public behavior is important in Malaysian culture. Most Malaysians refrain from displaying affection such as embracing or kissing in public.
  • Do not ever touch or hand a monk something if you are a woman. Even accidentally brushing against their robes requires that they fast and perform a cleansing ritual.
  • Do not be offended if your offer of a handshake is not reciprocated by a Muslim who is of the opposite sex. In Islam, physical contact between the opposite sex is discouraged.
  • Do not be embarrassed for burping. In Malay dining etiquette, burping or belching after a meal is acceptable.
  • Do not discuss ethnic relations or the political system. They are both sensitive subjects.
  • Do not drink alcohol. The country’s large Muslim population does not drink alcohol.
  • Do not ever involve in illegal drugs. There is a mandatory death penalty for trafficking.

Malaysia Travel Dos

  • Do shake hand with men for greeting, but not women unless they offer to do so first. The traditional greeting or salam resembles a handshake with both hands but without the grasp. People greet visitors by placing their right hand over the left chest to mean I greet you from my heart.
  • Do remove your shoes before entering a Malaysian home or temples and mosques. It is customary to remove and leave footwear outside the house. This practice is also applicable when visiting religious buildings.
  • Do use right hand to receive or give something. The right hand should also be used for eating. It is considered discourteous in Malay custom to use your left hand when you hand over or receive things.
  • Do carry essential travel documents and have your health insurance and health certificates ready before your travel.
  • Do be aware that the cameras, watches, pens, portable radio-cassette players, perfume, cosmetics and lighters are duty-free in Malaysia. If you are bringing in dutiable goods then a deposit is required for temporary importation, which would be refundable on departure.
  • Do convert most of your currency in Malaysia. There is restriction of bringing large amounts of ringgit (Malaysia’s currency) into or out of the country.
  • Do follow simple rules when visit a Buddha temple. Show respect and remove your hat and shoes, Dress conservatively, no shorts. When sitting, never point your feet at a person or image of Buddha. Stand up to show respect when monks or nuns enter.
  • Do enter the shrine with your left foot first, and exit by leading with your right foot. This gesture symbolically represents a whole.

 

Culture & Heritage

The mix of cultural influences in Malaysia is the result of centuries of immigration and trade with the outside world, particularly with Arab nations, China, and India. Early groups of incoming foreigners brought wealth from around the world, plus their own unique cultural heritages and religions. Further, once imported, each culture remained largely intact; that is, none have truly been homogenized. Traditional temples and churches exist side by side with mosques.

Likewise, traditional art forms of various cultures are still practiced in Malaysia, most notably in the areas of dance and performance art. Chinese opera, Indian dance, and Malay martial arts are all very popular cultural activities. Silat, originating from a martial arts form (and still practiced as such by many), is a dance performed by men and women. Religious and cultural festivals are open for everyone to appreciate and enjoy. Unique arts and traditions of indigenous people distinguish Sabah and Sarawak from the rest of the country.

Traditional Malaysian music is very similar to Indonesian music. Heavy on rhythms, its constant drum beats underneath the light repetitive melodies of the stringed gamelan (no relation at all to the Indonesian metallophone gamelan, with its gongs and xylophones) will entrance you with its simple beauty.