Malaysia is a country split into two parts. Most of the population can be found in Peninsula Malaysia, which is the narrow band of land between Thailand and Singapore and the large number of islands off its coast. The larger part of the country, East Malaysia, is separated by the South China Sea and is made up of the states of Sarawak and Sabah on the northern part of the island of Borneo. It is a very culturally diverse country with large populations of ethnic Chinese and Indians, alongside the indigenous Malay. This can mainly be seen in the vast diversity of Malaysian cuisine, which includes everything from Chinese-style noodles and Indian influenced curries, through to the national dish, nasi lemak (fried rice) and satay. Islam is the major religion, but it is a relaxed, more private form that is followed, which sits well with the Buddhism practised amongst its neighbouring countries.
The capital Kuala Lumpur, which located in the middle of the peninsula, is the main transport hub of the country and is a great place to spend a few days to explore. “K.L.”, as it is known by the locals, is a balance between the old and the new, with modern buildings, such as the Petronas Towers, mixing with the traditional. Nowhere can this be seen better than at the National Mosque, where a modern design pays homage to this most sacred of Islamic buildings. Shopping and eating are two of the main pastimes and both can be found in the central area around Bukit Bintang. Malacca, situated on the south west coast, is a beautiful old port and its old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is well worth a visit, if only to experience Outside of Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, the other two main highlights of the mainland are visiting the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands and the jungle that covers most of the peninsula. Both are accessible from Kuala Lumpur by road or rail and are perfect for a short visit to complement your time there.
Most people that visit Malaysia come for the islands. Penang and Langkawi, found in the Andaman Sea to the west of the mainland, are the most popular. They are very different islands, with Langkawi being a relaxed, more secluded island, while Penang is a busy, non-stop place, mainly centred around the resort town of Batu Ferringhi and Georgetown, the historic former capital of British Malaya. However there are several others that have a lot to offer. The Perhentian and Tioman Islands have amazing snorkelling and diving, while the Pangkor Islands, made up of Pangkor Island and Pangkor Laut, are some of the most beautiful of all the Malaysian islands.
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- Georgetown, on Penang, is the old colonial capital of British Malaya and still has a lot of old colonial architecture
- Hawker food (street-food) markets are some of the best places to experience authentic Malaysian food. Jalan Alor, directly behind Bukit Bintang in KL, is the most famous, but they can be found in most towns and cities throughout Malaysia.
- The Cameron Highlands are a great place to get away from the heat, as the altitude means the temperature will be cooler