Why Malaysia?

During the past two+ years of traveling abroad, I have often researched what countries might be interesting to live in for a few months at a time. Of course, the first criteria is cost of living, as my income is limited (unless I’m working in the country, as I am currently in Indonesia). There are other criteria, such as political stability, my interest in the culture, climate, visitor restrictions (e.g., time limits to stay in country), places to see within a particular country.

Malaysia has been part of that research but I tended to favor Thailand as a relocation possibility, probably because I’ve been there three times. Malaysia and Thailand are connected, at the southeastern end of Thailand. My expectation was that the two countries would have similar characteristics, cultures, climate and living costs, although it looked like Malaysia might be a cheaper option.

Because of my current location in Indonesia, I am now able to take short trips to various Southeast Asia countries (and Australia) to get a better idea of the possibilities of living in any of them. Since I needed a break from work and was getting a little stir crazy, I decided a trip was in order. But which country to choose? There is plenty still to see in Indonesia, but doing so would ential a plane ride, as would any other country in the region, and I had already made one foray to Bali, so I thought another country was in order. Philippines? Myanmar (Burma)? Thailand? Australia? India?

Malaysia is the closest to my present location, which allows me more on-the-ground time once I arrive. More time on location allows more time for exploring. And while my trip this week will be more touristy than a “living” experience, I hope that six days in-country will provide many useful insights into Malaysian culture and living conditions for my readers.

My destination is the island of Penang (I love islands) at the northwestern end of the country, a short train ride from Thailand. I’ve heard and read great things about the cultural and culinary experiences possible in Penang and am looking forward to the trip.

Putrie and I will be staying at the Rainbow Paradise Beach Resort, a tall hotel on the beach in the Tanjung Bungah area on the north end of the island. The hotel is a short ways to Georgetown, the capital and central tourism area.

I’ve already posted some information about Penang and Malaysian food (taken from other Web sites) and here’s a bit about Malaysia itself:

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. It consists of 13 states and three federal territories and has a total landmass of 329,847 square kilometers (127,350 sq mi) separated by the South China Sea into two similarly sized regions, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Land borders are shared with Thailand, Indonesia, and Brunei. The capital city is Kuala Lumpur, while Putrajaya is the seat of the federal government. In 2010, the population exceeded 27.5 million, with over 20 million living on the peninsula. (By contrast, Indonesia has about 240 million people.)

Malaysia has its origins in the Malay Kingdoms present in the area which, from the 18th century, became subject to the British Empire. The first British territories were known as the Straits Settlements, whose establishment was followed by the Malay kingdoms becoming British protectorates. Since independence, Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia, with GDP growing an average 6.5% for almost 50 years. The economy has traditionally been fueled by its natural resources, but is expanding in the sectors of science, tourism, commerce and medical tourism.

The country is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, which plays a large role in politics. The government system is closely modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system and the legal system is based on English Common Law. The constitution declares Islam the state religion while protecting freedom of religion (much like Indonesia). The head of state is the King, an elected monarch chosen from the hereditary rulers of the nine Malay states every five years. The head of government is the prime minister.

Evidence of modern human habitation in Malaysia dates back 40,000 years. The first inhabitants are thought to be Negritos. Traders and settlers from India and China arrived as early as the 1st century AD, establishing trading ports and coastal towns in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Their presence resulted in strong Indian and Chinese influence on the local cultures, and the people of the Malay Peninsula adopted the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Malaysia is a megadiverse country with a high number of species and high levels of endemism. It is estimated to contain 20 per cent of the world’s animal species. High levels of endemism are found on the diverse forests of Borneo’s mountains, as species are isolated from each other by lowland forest. There are about 210 mammal species in the country. Over 620 species of birds have been recorded in Peninsular Malaysia, with many endemic to the mountains there. A high number of endemic bird species are also found in Malaysian Borneo. 250 reptile species have been recorded in the country, with about 150 species of snakes and 80 species of lizards. There are about 150 species of frogs, and thousands of insect species. Some of its waters are in the Coral Triangle, a biodiversity hotspot. The waters around Sipadan island are the most biodiverse in the world. Bordering East Malaysia, the Sulu Sea is a biodiversity hotspot, with around 600 coral species and 1,200 fish species.

About two thirds of Malaysia is covered in forest, with some forests believed to be 130 million years old. Lowland forest occurs below 760 meters (2,493 ft), and formerly East Malaysia was covered in such rainforest, which is supported by its hot wet climate. There are around 14,500 species of flowering plants and trees. Besides rainforests, there are over 1,425 square kilometers (550 sq mi) of mangroves in Malaysia, and a large amount of peat forest. At higher altitudes, oaks, chestnuts, and rhododendrons are dominant. The forests of East Malaysia are estimated to be the habitat of around 2,000 tree species, and are one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, with 240 different species of trees every hectare. These forests host many members of the Rafflesia genus, the largest flowers in the world, with a maximum diameter of 1 meter.

Malaysia is a relatively open state-oriented and newly industrialized market economy. The state plays a significant but declining role in guiding economic activity through macroeconomic plans. In 2010, the GDP (PPP) was $414,400 billion, the 3rd largest economy in ASEAN and 29th largest in the world.

A dirt track with rows of palm trees on either side

An oil palm plantation, from which palm oil is extracted.

In the 1970s, the predominantly mining and agricultural-based economy began a transition toward a more multi-sector economy. Since the 1980s, the industrial sector has led Malaysia’s growth. GDP per capita is $14,800. The Chinese make up about one-third of the population but accounts for 70 per cent of the country’s market capitalization.

International trade, facilitated by the adjacent Strait of Malacca shipping route, and manufacturing are key sectors of the country’s economy. Malaysia is an exporter of natural and agricultural resources, the most valuable exported resource being petroleum. At one time, it was the largest producer of tin, rubber and palm oil in the world. Manufacturing has a large influence in the country’s economy, although Malaysia’s economic structure has been moving away from it. Malaysia remains one of the world’s largest producers of palm oil.

Tourism has become Malaysia’s third-largest source of income from foreign exchange, although it is threatened by the negative effects of the growing industrial economy, with large amounts of air and water pollution along with deforestation affecting tourism. Knowledge-based services are also expanding. The country is one of the world’s largest exporters of semiconductor devices, electrical goods, and information and communication technology products.
The official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia, a standardized form of the Malay language. Historically, English was the de facto administrative language, with Malay becoming predominant after the 1969 race riots. English remains an active second language. Malaysian English, also known as Malaysian Standard English, is a form of English derived from British English. Malaysian English is widely used in business, along with Manglish, which is a colloquial form of English with heavy Malay, Chinese, and Tamil influences.Malaysia has a multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society. The original culture of the area stemmed from indigenous tribes that inhabited it, along with the Malays who later moved there. Substantial influence exists from Chinese and Indian culture, dating back to when foreign trade began. Other cultural influences include the Persian, Arabic, and British cultures.

A cook making Murtabak, a type of pancake, in an outdoor stall. He is pictured leaning over his custom-made flattened wok filled with pieces of murtabak.

A cook making murtabak, a type of pancake mixed with eggs, small pieces of meat and onions, in Kuala Lumpur.

The infrastructure of Malaysia is one of the most developed in Asia. Its telecommunications network is second only to Singapore’s in Southeast Asia, with 4.7 million fixed-line subscribers and more than 30 million cellular subscribers. The country has seven international ports, the major one being the Port Klang. Fresh water is available to over 95 per cent of the population. The telecommunication network, although strong in urban areas, is less available to the rural population.

Malaysia’s road network covers 98,721 kilometers (61,342 mi) and includes 1,821 kilometers (1,132 mi) of expressways. The longest highway of the country, the North-South Expressway, extends over 800 kilometers (497 mi) between the Thai border and Singapore. The road systems in East Malaysia are less developed and of lower quality in comparison to that of Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysia has 118 airports, of which 38 are paved. The country’s official airline is Malaysia Airlines, providing international and domestic air service alongside two other carriers. The railway system is state-run, and covers a total of 1,849 kilometers (1,149 mi). Relatively inexpensive elevated light rail transit systems are used in some cities, such as Kuala Lumpur. The Asean Rail Express is a railway service that connects Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, and is intended to eventually stretch from Singapore to China.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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