Malaysia has always been a popular tourist destination for Australians, but just how much do you know about the country? We tasked our resident Malaysian writer Jasmin Osman to school us, and she has delivered these seven things you probably never knew about the iconic Southeast Asian country.
1. You can tell the significance of a city in history by the presence of colonial buildings.
A lot of people may not know that Malaya (what Malaysia was called back then) was a British colony and a very important port. The Malacca Strait became the gateway between China and the west as it served as a safer route compared to taking a ship around the Indonesian islands.
Penang, Malacca and Singapore (before separation) were the three major port cities of Malaya and their significance can still be seen today. Kuala Lumpur was the centre point of these three cities and became the central government of the British colony of Malaya.
2. Malaysia could have been a Dutch or Portuguese colony.
Malacca is basically the starting point of Malaysian history and before it was traded to the British for the Indonesian Sumatra island, it belonged to the Dutch who sieged the state from the Portuguese. All three influences can still be seen to this day.
Portuguese influence can be seen in the little remains of the A Famosa Fort, which was built in 1511. Dutch influence can also be seen in the way buildings are built long, rather than wide. During Dutch rule, land tax was based on the width of property rather than the size as a whole. The locals found this loophole and decided to build long buildings to avoid paying a lot on taxes. This can also be seen in many Indonesian buildings.
Look out, too, for Dutch influence in the distinctive red buildings and red church in the centre of the old city, known as the Stadhuis (state house/city hall) in Dutch.
3. The Malaysian peninsula is only one half of Malaysia.
There are two states and one federal territory on the island of Borneo, named Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan, respectively. These three places surround the little country of Brunei and border the Indonesian state of Kalimantan.
Sarawak and Sabah have some of the best nature tourism in Malaysia with an abundance of nature reserves and animal sanctuaries. Sabah is quite well known locally for its diving sites and the tallest mountain in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu, standing at a height of 4,095 meters.
Sabah was the inspiration of the book Land Below the Wind, written by American author Adnes Newton Keith, wife to British forester, Harry Keith, which a species of the largest flower in the world (the Rafflesia) was named after, Rafflesia keithii.
4. Malaysia shares a lot of traditions with its neighbour, Indonesia.
The Malay women’s traditional dress, called baju kebaya in Malay, is also the national costume of Indonesia. While the Malaysian national costume, called baju kurung, can also be seen worn by Indonesian women.
The traditional Malay buildings share similarities to traditional Indonesian buildings, especially seen in the shape of their roofs.
Batik is a “wax-resist” cloth dyeing technique shared by Malaysians and Indonesians alike. Though they share similarities in technique, the Malaysian and Indonesian batik patterns are quite distinct.
5. Malaysia is not all about the Malay community (Surprise!).
Although a majority of Malaysians are of the Malay ethnic background, the British only allowed independence if the Malays, Indians and Chinese ethnic groups of Malaya were able to work together on the policy of equal citizenship.
On that note, besides Aidilfitri (or Eid al’Fitr, the day marking the end of Ramadhan, the Islamic fasting month), Chinese New Year, Diwali and Christmas are also widely celebrated occasions in Malaysia, all four being national public holidays.
6. Amusement parks!?
Malaysia is home to the first Legoland in Asia, which opened in September 2012 in the southern state of Johor, stately neighbour of Singapore. It consists of 40 attractions alongside a Lego-themed water park and hotel. Japan had only opened its own Legoland in April of this year.
And that’s not all. The world’s first 20th Century Fox World is set to be opened in Genting Highlands sometime this year. Based on the announcement press conference, there will be about 25 attractions based on popular movies such as Planet of the Apes, Alien vs Predator and Titanic.
7. Malaysian food is amazing because of its history as a port-state.
If it wasn’t for being the Asian epicentre of the spice and tea trade, Malaysian food probably wouldn’t be the mouth-watering cuisine it is known as today.
Laksa, possibly the most famous Malaysian/Singaporean food out there, is the love-child of the Chinese Peranakan people, the name given to the Chinese merchants who settled in the port cities, who blended their ancestral culture with the local culture of where they settled.
Malaysian Airlines, AirAsia and Qantas all fly direct from Australia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Photo Credit: Tourism Malaysia