Malaysia covers an area of about 336,700 square kilometres. There are 13 different states, namely Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo, and three Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan. Malaysia has many seaports and international airports. It is situated in South East Asia; its neighbours are Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia. The country’s time is eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and 16 hours ahead of United States Pacific Standard Time.
Arrival by Air
As this conference will be held in Kuching in Sarawak, the main port of entry is through Kuching International Airport. Currently, you will be able to fly directly to Kuching International Airport from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru, and Kota Bahru in Peninsular Malaysia, from Sibu, Bintulu, Mulu, Mukah, and Tanjung Manis in Sarawak, from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, and internationally from Hong Kong, Singapore and Pontianak (Indonesia). The airlines serving the Kuching International Airport are Air Asia, Hong Kong Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Malindo Air, Silkair and Xpressair.
All passengers arriving at a Malaysian port of entry are checked through Immigration Control. Please make sure that you have the proper documents at the checkpoint. Information about the visa requirement for foreign delegates is available at the Immigration of Malaysia website.
Customs & Excise
When you arrive in Malaysia you will pass through Customs. You will have to pay charges on any items which exceed the Customs Allowances. If you have more than the Customs Allowances, you must declare them to a customs officer. Do not try to hide goods; anything which is not properly declared may be confiscated and severe penalties can be imposed on anyone breaking Customs regulations. Customs officers may stop travellers to carry out random checks. Prohibited and Restricted Goods that may not be imported into Malaysia include controlled drugs (such as opium, heroin, morphine, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines, barbiturates and LSD); firearms, ammunition and explosives; counterfeit coins and bank notes; indecent and obscene books, magazines, films and other articles; radio transmitters.
Do not attempt to smuggle drugs or any animal into Malaysia. Never carry bags through Customs for someone else. Be warned that Malaysia has very severe punishment for drugs trafficking which carries a mandatory death sentence.
A valid yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over 1 year of age who are coming from a yellow fever endemic country or have visited a yellow fever endemic country during the past six months. The period of validity is 10 years beginning 10 days after vaccination. Travellers without a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate will be quarantined upon arrival in Malaysia.
There is no limit to the amount of money you may bring into the country, however, any amount more than USD10,000 must be declared. The Malaysian currency is denominated in ringgit and sen. If there is difficulty to change money before entering Malaysia, bringing traveller’s cheques, credit cards, and some US dollars will ensure that money will not be a problem upon arrival in Malaysia. Credit cards are widely accepted in department stores, hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies. Coins exist to the value of 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen, and 50 sen (the 1 sen and 1 ringgit coin has been removed from circulation; do not accept it as a legal tender). Notes are to the value of RM1 (Ringgit Malaysia), RM5, RM10, RM 50 and RM100, (we used to have RM500 and RM1000 which have also been removed from circulation). They are in different colours and sizes for easy identification.
Travel from the Airports
From the airport, the easiest way to the City is by taxi. Purchase a fixed rate taxi coupon in the Terminal and board the taxi at the designated taxi area. Avoid touts who may be present to tempt you to use their ‘cheaper’ taxis. The conference venue, the Riverside Majestic Hotel is situated just around 10 kilometres north of the airport.
The electrical supply is 220-240 volts AC at 50 cycles per second. Generally, the plugs used here fall under two categories: ‘B’ Pattern – 2 round pins usually bathroom ‘shaver’ plugs and ‘C’ Pattern – 3 regular prongs. As such, you should check for compatibility before bringing your electrical appliances with you. If you buy or bring electrical appliances or equipment with you, make sure that they are connected to a plug fitted with a fuse of the correct rating.
An International Driving Licence will be required for foreigners to drive in Malaysia. You will need to read the Malaysian Highway Code and remember that in Malaysia we drive on the left and overtake on the right. It is compulsory for front and rear seat passengers to wear seat belts, and for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets. There are also strict laws about drinking and driving; so if you intend to drive it is best not to drink any alcoholic drinks for several hours before driving. Please obey the traffic laws and speed limits while driving as penalties include heavy fines and even jail sentences.
Food and drinks
Food is the foremost priority in the life of a Malaysian. Instead of asking “How are you?” the Malaysians ask “Have you eaten?” You can choose from smart restaurants for special celebrations, informal cafés, western-style fast food outlets and roadside hawker stalls. Alternatively, you can phone for a pizza to be delivered to your door. To ensure that food is prepared in the Islamic way, check that the restaurant is certified ‘halal’. The average meal costs from RM 3 to RM 10.
The average Malaysian should be able to tell you where their favourite chicken rice, char kuey teow, roti canai, nasi lemak or asam laksa stall is situated. Malay and Indian food are hot and spicy while Chinese food is more delicate. As these foods are probably alien to you, do try them out when you come to Malaysia.
You will need to try this food before leaving Sarawak; Sarawak Laksa, mee kolok, midin, manok pansoh, kueh chap, manok kacangma, tomato koay teow, terung dayak, dabai, belacan bihun, or chien, kompia, kek lapis, mee sapi, sio bee, umai, bihun cangkuk manis, kampua mee, bubur pedas and nasik aruk.
As diversity is the name of the game, variety is the spice of life with foods from all over the world available within a stone’s throw. Malaysians are not a fussy lot when it comes to food so there are roadside stalls, 5-star restaurants, and everything else that comes in between.
Although Bahasa Malaysia is the official language of Malaysia, English is widely spoken and understood by most Malaysian. However, in Sarawak, they speak a special dialect of Malay. The other main languages spoken are Mandarin and Tamil.
The weather in Malaysia can be extremely changeable, wet and windy one moment, humid and sunny the next. You will need an umbrella, at all times of the year. Temperatures normally range from 22-32° Celsius. While the country experiences high temperatures, bring some sweatshirts or sweaters to keep you warm in the libraries or lecture theatres which can get quite cold, as these are fully air-conditioned.
Generally, light-weight clothes like short-sleeve shirts or T-shirts are used and cotton is most suitable. Minimise exposure of legs and arms in places of worship and rural areas. More formal occasions require the use of ties and jackets, or Malaysia’s official attire, the Batik.
Social Customs in Malaysia
Malaysia is proud to be multi-racial and multicultural. There is a diverse lot of people of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau, Bugis, Murut, Sikh, and many other ethnic origins. You will find that people generally respect each other and are aware of the different cultural practices. Get to know the different nuances of each race, as well as what has converged and come to be known as true Malaysian culture.
As a result of the different races gathered in this country, many different languages are spoken. Bahasa Malaysia (the Malay language) is the predominant language but English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Tamil and Hindi are also widely spoken. Also peculiar to Malaysians is “Manglish” or Malaysian English – a curious combination of all the different languages spoken in Malaysia and English.
Just as there are many peoples and languages, different religions are practised in Malaysia. The official religion is Islam but there are many Christian and Catholic churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples in addition to the mosques.
Generally, Malaysians are shy but friendly, tolerant and understanding, and have a long tradition of welcoming visitors from overseas. Developing close relationships may take some effort; Malaysians are usually quite willing to talk casually, but that does not imply a firm commitment to friendship. Women are independent and accustomed to entering public places unaccompanied. Men and women mix easily, although this does not necessarily imply a willingness to enter into a deeper relationship.
If you are invited into someone’s home it is usual (but not essential) to take a small gift such as chocolates or flowers or, even better, a souvenir from your own country. Try to arrive on time, as it is considered rude to be late, particularly if a meal is served. If you are unexpectedly delayed or are unable to attend be sure to let the host know. R.S.V.P. on a written invitation means that you are expected to reply stating whether or not you will be attending the function.
Smoking is banned in theatres, in most public buildings and public transport. Before smoking in public, it is advisable to check that smoking is permitted and that your companions do not object.
Malaysian common law guarantees due process of the law to all persons, including overseas visitors. Visitors to Malaysia are subject to the same laws as Malaysian citizens (with the exception of immigration, voting and citizenship) and are guaranteed the same protection of the law and the same civil rights. As a foreign student you have the constitutional right to express your views and to propagate and publish ideas (popular or unpopular) provided they are not illegal or an incitement to break the law and as long as you conduct yourself in a peaceful and orderly manner with due consideration for others.