• Indonesia!

    Indonesia: Lombok. Go Now!

    Indonesia
    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Nepal!

    Nepal: Phewa Lake. Go Now!

    Nepal
    This landlocked country mixes the cultures of the Indian sub-continent with the high Himalayas. Explore Nepal!

  • Mongolia!

    Mongolia: Desert. Go Now!

    Mongolia
    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

  • Qatar!

    Qatar: Dhows in Doha Bay. Go Now!

    Qatar
    Although little more than a deserted peninsula, Qatar has a thriving culture based on technology and immigration, with Doha (pictured) taking the lead. Explore Qatar!

  • Kyrgyzstan!

    Kyrgyzstan: Tian Shan Mountains. Go Now!

    Kyrgyzstan
    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Social Life in Malaysia

Behavior

In addition to dress restrictions (above), the greatest behavioral note to make is on dining in Malaysia. If eating in public or with Muslims, remember Islamic law forbids pork products and alcohol; however there is little expectation that you follow these rules unless you are in public with Malays. Due to the large Chinese population, whose main protein is pork, pork is readily available and the locals are used to seeing people eat pork and in large cities few take any offense at it. If dining with Malays though try to avoid the pork. Alcohol is also widely available to both the non-Muslims as well as to the tourists and again drinking alcohol is fine, but avoid drinking when in the presence of Muslims. Always consider the situation; on smaller islands where the overwhelming majority is Muslim, don't eat pork or drink alcohol, while in cities the population is more diverse and there is more flexibility on what you can eat or drink. If in doubt, don't order pork or alcohol. For more information on dining in Malaysia, see our Malaysia Food & Dining Page.

When in the presence of the Chinese, remember that they can be very proud people and insulting them or putting a person down in anyway can be very offensive as the person will feel "shamed." In much the same way, the Chinese will rarely give you critical advice or insult you in fear of "shaming" you; this is especially true in business. Turning down a business offer in the wrong way may, unknowingly be an insult and could force your contact to feel so shamed that he will actually quit his job; if all hope is lost on a deal, allow your Chinese counterpart to gracefully exit the situation so he can save "face." However, the opposite is also becoming more common and if you do (intentionally or unintentionally) insult another, that person may defend his honor by insulting you and will pursue a shouting match. Fortunately, this is more common among locals arguing over driving etiquette.

Dress

The traditional clothing of Malaysia was quite simple as it was made of any local material that could cover a person up; a tradition still used by some of the Orang Asal people. However, most common in the past was the use of simple fabrics to cover up, but the styles, designs, and colors of these outfits varied greatly from region to region. Indian, Chinese, and even Portuguese clothing made their way to the region as it became a center of trade, giving the people no single traditional outfit.

Over time the numerous ethnic groups began to wear their own styled clothing. The ethnic Malay women tended to wear the baju kurang, which is similar to a dress, while the men wore the baju melayu, which consists of a simple long-sleeved shirt and pants or a sampin, which is similar to a sarong worn in place of pants. The Chinese often wore changshan for men or cheongsam for women, single-piece outfits that often fit well as they show off a person's figure; they can come in numerous styles, but are similar to dresses and often have short sleeves. The Indian sari is often times a single piece of cloth wrapped around a woman's body to completely cover herself or can be multiple pieces of cloth and is generally very colorful. The dhoti kurta is a simple shirt (kurta) with basic loose-fitting pants (dhoti).

Malaysia, especially the capital and the resorts, may look and feel like any other country, but the majority of people are Muslim and, while quite liberal, there are a few dress restrictions for the visitor. Most local Muslims dress conservatively as they cover their arms and legs; few women cover their hair or faces, although some do and in some parts of the country women must cover their hair by law. Foreigners are treated quite liberally by the Malays and you are not expected to cover up as they do, but doing so will gain you a great deal of respect and doing so displays you as a sensitive and knowledgeable traveler. Having said that though, most resorts are private and most of the tourists arriving to these resorts arrive with the intention of sitting half naked on a beach with drink in hand. So long as you are at a private resort you may wear bathing suits, but nakedness and toplessness for women is strictly forbidden even in private resorts.

This page was last updated: November, 2013