70 Interesting Facts about Malaysia

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published December 20, 2016
  • One of Malaysia’s oldest names, Aurea Chersonesus, means “peninsula of gold.” It was given by Greco-Roman geographer Ptolemy in his book Geographia, written about A.D. 150. Malaysia is actually more famous as the world’s second largest producer of refined tin.[13]
  • The name Malaysia may derive from the word Melayu, or Malay, that could come from the Sungai Melayu (Melayu River) in Sumatra. The river’s name is derived from the Dravidian (Tamil) word malai, or “hill.”[14]
  • Malaysia is the only country that includes territory both on the mainland of Southeast Asia and in the islands that stretch between the Asian continental mass and Oceania.[2]
  • Borneo is the third largest island in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea. Three countries share the island: the Independent Sultanate of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.[12]
  • Malaysia’s Kuala Kangsar district office is the home of the last surviving rubber tree from the original batch brought by Englishman H.N. Ridley from London’s Kew Gardens in 1877.[9]
  • Local time has been adjusted in peninsular Malaysia a total of eight times. The last adjustment happened on January 1, 1982, when Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, then prime minister, decided that the entire country would follow the time in Sabah and Sarawak. Before that, both islands were 30 minutes ahead of peninsular Malaysia.[14]
  • Malaysia's total highway length is longer than the Earth's circumference
  • Malaysia has 40,934 miles (65,877 km) of highway. This is more than Earth’s circumference of 24,901 miles (40,075 km).[3]
  • The biggest roundabout in the world is located at Putrajaya in Malaysia. It is 2.2 miles (3.5 km) in diameter.[7]
  • Tongkat Ali—a small tree with thick, deep, and straight roots and very common in the forest hills of Malaysia—is called Malay Viagra because it has shown to have a testosterone-like effect on mice. Extracts of tongkat ali are being used in “power drinks” combined with coffee and ginseng.[6]
  • The largest undivided leaf in the world, Alocasia macrorrhiza, comes from the Malaysian state of Sabah. A specimen found in 1966 measured 9.9 feet (3.02 m) long by 6.3 (1.92 m) wide.[3]
  • The Japanese invaded Malaysia on December 6, 1941, the same day they bombed Pearl Harbor. They landed at Khota Baru and stole bicycles in every town they took on their way to Singapore, making the trip in 45 days.[4]
  • Before the 19th century, the sultans of the Malay Peninsula would order some executions to be carried out using the kris, a ceremonial dagger. The executioner would stand with a long kris behind the condemned man. A small piece of cotton was placed on the shoulder of the condemned man to stop the bleeding. The execution would hold the blade of the kris perpendicularly and then drive it down through the collarbone into the condemned man’s heart. Death was almost instantaneous. The cotton wool was held in place as the blade was withdrawn.[4]
  • Found in 1991, Perak Man is the oldest (about 11,000 years old) and the only complete human skeleton to be found in Peninsular Malaysia.[1]
  • Malaysia’s currency is called the ringgit, which means “jagged” in Malay, and originally referred to the separated edges of Spanish silver dollars widely circulated in the region.[4]
  • Seventeen-year-old Kok Shoo Yin became the first Malaysia citizen certificate holder when he received his official documentation on November 14, 1957.[15]
  • Among the Iban community on Malaysia’s Sarawak province, before a newborn baby is named, they are affectionately called ulat (“worm”), irrespective of their gender. When the baby is named, they must be named after a deceased relative, for fear that using a living relative’s name might shorten the baby’s life. When the parents have chosen a few names, rice balls are made, each representing a name. The first rice ball pecked at by a manok tawai (fighting cock) determines the child’s name.[3]
  • Grapefruit is a cross between a pomelo and an orange
  • One of the indigenous fruits found in Malaysia is the pomelo (Citrus maxima), which is the largest citrus fruit in the world. It can reach the size of a small football and weighs from 2.2–6.7 lbs. (1–3 kg).[13]
  • Malaysia is reported to have more than 1,000 species of plants that have medicinal properties that are used for treating ailments from headaches to malaria and cholera. The Bintangor trees (Callophylum lanigerum var. austrocoriaceum), found only on Sarawak, are believed to have properties that could help cure the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.[12]
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has recorded 200 rainy days in a year. The city of Kuching in Sarawak holds the unenviable record of rainy days in a year with 253.[8]
  • In August 1997, a model of the Malaysian flag was completed out of 10,430 floppy disks.[8]
  • Caning is a common punishment under Malaysian law. The maximum number of strokes that can be ordered is 24. Women can never be caned, nor can boys under the age of 10 or men over 50, except for rape.[8]
  • The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were the world’s tallest buildings from 1998–2004. They are still regarded as the world’s tallest “twin” buildings. The two buildings are joined by a sky bridge at levels 41 and 41, which are 558 feet (170 m) off the ground.[9]
  • What is known as the “Sidek serve” in badminton was invented by the Malaysian Sidek brothers in the early 1980s. It caused the shuttle to move in a deceptively, erratic manner, and which confused both opponents and officials. It was later banned by the International Badminton Association.[3]
  • Malaysia’s national dish is Nasi lemak, a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk, often served wrapped in a banana leaf, and usually eaten for breakfast.[9]
  • Malaysia is the only place in the world where the war against Communism was won. The 12-year guerrilla warfare conducted by Communist forces was finally put down in 1960. This period was known as the Malayan Emergency.[9]
  • According to a survey in 2010, Malaysians had the highest number of Facebook friends, with an average of 233. The Japanese were the pickiest with only 29 friends.[7]
  • Petronas is the only Malaysian company in the Fortune Global 500. One of the most profitable companies in the world, it accounted for about a third of the Malaysian government’s estimated RM 183 billion (US$55 billion) revenue in 2011.[9]
  • The largest cave chamber in the world by area is the Sarawak Chamber in Gunung Mulu National Park in Malaysia’s Sarawak. It is often claimed that the corridor of Deer Cave, a 1-mile-/1.6-km-long passage of the caves, could house five rows of eight Boeing 747 jetliners parked nose to tail.[10]
  • Malaysia boasts some of the largest and longest caves in the world
  • The Sultanate of Kedah on the Malay Peninsula is one of the oldest in the world, established in A.D. 1136.[13]
  • Some buildings in Malaysia do not have a fourth floor. They are replaced by “3A” as the sound of four (sì) is similar to the sound of death in Chinese (sĭ ).[7]
  • Malaysia has nine distinct royal families, or hereditary state rulers, the highest number in the world. The Malaysian king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is elected from these for a 5-year term as ceremonial head of state.[13]
  • Bario, in Sarawak’s Kelabit Highlands, is the most isolated settlement in Malaysia, There are no roads available in this remote corner and everything has to be transported by airplane.[7]
  • Covering only 27 acres (11 ha), Bukit Nanas, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is among the smallest patches of rainforest in the world. It is Malaysia’s oldest nature reserve.[4]
  • In Malaysia, a heart bypass surgery can be done for approximately US$9,000. The same operation costs around $130,000 in the U.S.[7]
  • Malaysia’s Kinabalu National Park is home to the parasitic Rafflesia arnoldii, or corpse flower. It totally embeds itself into the host plant and the only part that is visible is the flower. Its bloom can be up to 3-feet (1-m) wide and weigh 15 lbs. (6.8 kg).[13]
  • Malaysia’s Taman Negara (literally, “national park”) is one of the oldest rainforests on Earth. At 130,000 million years, it is older than the tropical rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo Basins. It supports more than 10,000 species of plants, 1,000 types of butterflies, 140 types of animals, 350 bird species, 100 kinds of snakes, and 150,000 kinds of insects.[4]
  • The diversity of trees is higher than almost any other site in the world
  • According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Malaysia has developed into the ninth most visited country in the world, with 23.6 million visitors in 2009.[13]
  • Malaysia is the world’s third largest natural rubber producer. In 2011, the country produced 996,673 metric tons of rubber. It is also famous for being the world’s largest supplier of rubber gloves.[13]
  • Malaysia boasts being the home of the world’s tallest tropical tree, the Tualang, which has a base diameter of over 10 feet (3 m) and reaches heights of around 262 feet (80 m).[13]
  • Orangutan, or “man of the forest” in Malay, is humans’ closest relative and Asia’s only great ape. Orangutans can be found only in the wild in Borneo and Sumatra.[13]
  • Malay Muslim children traditionally kiss their parents’ hands and beg their forgiveness for any offences the previous year on Hari Raya Puasa, which is the celebration at the end of Ramadan (Muslim fasting month). This practice is called salam.[13]
  • Traditionally, pregnant Malaysian women may not kill, tie, or mangle anything, for this may result in birth marks or a deformed baby. They also may not carry fire or water behind their backs or look at anything ugly or frightening.[13]
  • Malay brides wear their engagement rings on the fourth finger of their right hand. The ring is placed there by a senior female relative of the groom, instead of the groom himself.[13]
  • The Malay Chinese often follow the Chinese lunar calendar. They celebrate the beginning of the new moon by lighting incense sticks (joss sticks) or burning “hell money” in big-bellied incinerators. Hell money is the term for banknotes of huge denominations (not real), sold for a few dollars per bundle, that humans use to pay Celestial debts.[13]
  • A bomoh is a shaman in Malaysia, known for his healing powers, protective magic, and knowledge of medicinal herbs. Many kampong sports teams employ magic to help them win. A bomoh blows holy smoke over the team’s soccer boots or equips them with amulets. If he can get to the field before the match, he may also plant a little charm near the goalposts.[13]
  • Malaysians keep careful watch over a body before it is buried because it is believed that if a cat happens to jump over the coffin, the corpse will come back as a ghoul. Chinese Malays are also known to visit graveyards in the dead of night bearing offerings in the hope of receiving lucky lottery numbers from dead relatives.[13]
  • Muslims make up 61.3% of the Malaysian population
  • Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, mainly practiced by the Malays. Non-Malays mainly follow the religions of Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism.[13]
  • Bahasa Malay, the official language of Malaysia, has no written script of its own. Islamic missionaries brought with them the Koran and a system of writing that could be used to transcribe Malay quite accurately. This script is known as jawi and is still used for some religious and formal purposes.[13]
  • In Malaysia, it is generally considered rude to point at people or things with the index finger. A bent index finger or thumb is used to point—or, rather, to knuckle—in the right direction.[13]
  • A traditional form of Malaysian entertainment is the pantun, where men compose humorous quatrains to challenge the women. One of the women answers, usually with a stinging response. Another man then speaks up, and another women rebuts. This merry exchange goes on until dawn and is enjoyed by Malaysians both young and old.[13]
  • The history of Malaysia has been recorded in Seharah Melayu (The Malay Annals). It begins with Alexander the Great, who is said to be the ancestor of Malay royalty.[13]
  • The Malaysian sport sepak takraw (“hit the ball”) resembles volleyball. Originating in the courts of Siam (Thailand) and Melaka, it used to involve two or more players who formed a circle and kicked, shouldered, and headed a hollow rattan ball to one another. The object was to keep the ball from touching the ground. Players can use everything but their hands to keep the ball in the air. Exact rules were drawn up and the game was formally introduced in the Southeast Asia Games in 1965.[13]
  • Malaysians consider themselves either Bumiputra or non-Bumiputra. Bumiputra means “son of the soil.” Indian Muslims are Bumiputra, but Malaysians with ancestors from other places such as China are not.[9]
  • During the Hindu festival of Deepavali (Festival of Light) in Malaysia, some devotees impose various forms of self-torture upon themselves by passing a Vel Kavadi, or piercing, through their cheeks and mouths. Amazingly, the Kavadi bearers claim to be in a trance and do not bleed or feel any pain.[9]
  • The largest insect egg in Malaysia comes from the 6-inch (15-cm) Malaysian Stick Insect (Heteopteryx dilitata), which lays eggs that measure 0.5 inch (1.3 cm), making them larger than a peanut.[2]
  • The fish spas found in Malaysia bring a new meaning to the phrase “feeding the fishes.” Customers immerse their feet into a tank filled with small Garra rufa and Cyprinion macrostomus, also known as Doctor Fish, which gently nibble away at the dead skin on their feet.[9]
  • Malaysia has one of Asia's largest populations of King Cobras
  • Malaysia is home to one of the world’s largest populations of king cobras (Ophiophagus Hannah). They are the world’s longest venomous snakes with lengths up to 18.8 feet (5.7 m). The longest known king cobra was kept captive at the London Zoo and grew to around 18.8 feet before being put down at the outbreak of World War II.[16]
  • The Gomantong Caves are Sabah’s most famous source of the swiftlet nest, used for the rarest, most revered, and ‘strength-inducing” of Chinese dishes, Birds’ Nest Soup. Swiftlets make their nests out of their own dried spit, which is the main ingredient in the soup. When added to the broth, the swiftlet spit dissolves and becomes gelatinous. There are two types of swiftlet nests, black and white. White are more valuable because they are made entirely of spit. A kilogram of white swiftlet spit can bring in over US $4,000.[9]
  • The English word “ketchup” is thought to be derived from the Hokkien word ke-tsiap, which describes a fermented dish sauce brought by Chinese traders to Melaka, Malaysia, where it was first encountered by Europeans.[9]
  • The Malay word laksa is thought to derive from the Persian word for noodle, lakhsha (slippery). The Oxford Companion to Food speculates that pasta was introduced to Indonesia and then Malaysia by Arab traders or Indian Muslims in the 13th century.[9]
  • Betel nuts, the dried seed of the Areca or Pinang palm tree, are prized for their mildly narcotic and supposedly aphrodisiac qualities. Chewing it is said to freshen the breath, relax the mind, and stimulate passion. The ritual chewing of this nut used to be common across Malaysia, but is mainly confined to rural areas today. In the past, brides would chew betel nut to blacken their teeth, considered an attractive sign of status. Today, betel nut decorations are still presented at weddings and festivals as a gift.[4]
  • Malaysia’s national drink is teh tarik (“pulled tea”), which is tea that is thrown across a distance of about 3 feet (1 m) by Mamak men, from one cup to another, with no spillages. The idea is to let it cool down for customers, but it has become a Malaysian art form.[5]
  • The ultimate sunken treasure trove lies in what remains of the Flor de la Mar at the bottom of Malaysia’s Strait of Melaka. The Portuguese vessel, captained by Admiral Alfonso d’Albuquerque, is thought to be the richest ship ever lost. In July 1511, the ship capsized in a storm off the northeastern coast of Sumatra, along with its spoils taken from Malacca over a course of eight years. The wreck was discovered in 1989 by an Italian specialist in underwater wrecks and an Australian marine historian. Sotheby’s of London valued the treasure recovered from the Flor de la Mar at US$9 billion.[5]
  • Sarawak’s capital is the city of Kuching, which means “cat” in Malay. Local legend has it that James Brooke, the first of the White Rajahs, pointed toward the settlement across the river and asked what it was called. Whoever he asked mistakenly thought Brooke was pointing to a passing cat. Or, Kuching may have been named after the wild cats (kucing hutan) that were commonly seen along the banks of the Sarawak River in the 19th century. Most likely, the town may have been originally known as Cochin (“port”), a common word used across India and Indochina.[5]
  • Known as “condominiums of the jungle,” the average Malaysian longhouse may have 20 to 25 doors, and some have as many as 60. Each door represents one family, and many families may share one longhouse.[5]
  • The states of Sabah and Sarawak have their own immigration laws, so a passport is required for all Malaysians when travelling between East and Peninsular Malaysia.[13]
  • In Malaysia, there is no funny business while watching a movie
  • In 1997 , the Malaysian state of Kelantan decreed that the lights would be kept on in all movie cinemas in order to deter people from kissing and cuddling.[8]
  • Although headhunting has been largely stamped out in Borneo, there is still the odd reported case once every few years. Up until the 20th century, headhunting was commonplace among the many Dayak tribes of Malaysia, and the Iban were the most fearsome of all. The skulls they took were considered trophies of manhood. Many Dayak tribes continue to celebrate their headhunting ceremonially. For example, the Adat Ngayau ceremony uses coconut shells wrapped in leaves as substitute for freshly cut heads.[5]
  • One of the more exotic Malaysian features of upriver sexuality on Borneo is the palang (“penis pin”). The men entertain their women by drilling a hole in their organs, into which they insert a range of items, aimed at attracting and satisfying their partners. Objects ranging from pigs’ bristles and bamboo shavings to pieces of metal, seeds, and broken glass have been used. It is said many Dayak men even have the tattoo man drill a hole through their penises.[5]
  • Jimmy Choo, the world-renowned shoe designer, was born in Penang, Malaysia, in 1961. His creations were a favorite of the late Princess Diana. He was awarded an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.[14]
  • Important Dates[1][9][11][13]
    Date Events
    2000 B.C.Maritime trade links are established between India and Southeast Asia. Hindu influences begin to spread throughout kingdom.
    A.D. 1–99Kingdom of Funan is established in the lower Mekong Delta.
    150European knowledge of the Malay Peninsula is confirmed in Ptolemy’s book Geographia. It is likely that Romans visited the region during trading expeditions to India and China.
    200Langasuka, one of the first Hindu-Malay kingdoms, is established around the area known as Kedah. It lasts in one form or another until the 15th century.
    600From southern Sumatra, most likely around Palembang, the Buddhist Srivijaya Empire dominates Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Borneo for six centuries.
    1000With the arrival of Arab merchants, Islam spreads through the region.
    1303The Terengganu Stone records the establishment of Islamic law.
    1402Parameswara establishes the kingdom of Melaka.
    1409Parameswara marries an Islamic princess and adopts the Persian title Iskandar Shah.
    1442–45The Melaka ruler adopts Islam and takes title of Sultan.
    1450The Melaka tin coin, the earliest known indigenous coin of the Malay states, is minted.
    1511Portuguese Admiral Alfonso d’Albuquerque seizes Melaka.
    1641Dutch capture Melaka from Portugal.
    1786Sir Francis Light acquires Penang for the British East India Company.
    1826Having swapped Bencoolen on Sumatra for the Dutch-controlled Melaka, the British East India Company combines this with Penang and Singapore to create the Straits Settlement.
    1841James Brooke becomes the first White Rajah.
    1847Brooke puts down Chinese rebellion.
    1868Death of James Brooke. Charles Brooke become 2nd White Rajah. puts down Chinese rebellion.
    1874Treaty of Pangkor signed. Sir James Birch is installed as Perak’s first British Resident.
    1877Rubber tree is introduced to Malaysia via Brazil, Kew Gardens, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
    1888Sarawak and Sabah become British protectorates.
    1896Creation of Federated Malay States.
    1909Unfederated Malay States formed.
    1917Charles Vyner Brooke become the 3rd and last White Rajah.
    1926Singapore/Malay Union formed.
    1930sChinese begin to join the Malay Communist Party.
    1941Japanese invade Malaysia and Singapore.
    1945Japanese surrender. British reoccupy Borneo, Malaya, and Singapore.
    1948Federation of Malaya replaces the Malayan Union.
    1957Malaya gains independence. Tunku Abdul Rahman becomes the first prime minister.
    1959Singapore is granted internal self-government.
    1963Malaysia established. Brunei opts out.
    1965Singapore leaves the federation and becomes an independent state.
    1967Malaysia and Singapore establish the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
    1981Mahathir bin Mohamed becomes prime minister and remains in office for 22 years.
    1997Malaysia’s economy is hit in the Asian Economic Crisis.
    2001Malaysia’s worst ethnic clashes in decades occur between Malays and ethnic Indians.
    2004Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi wins landslide general election victory.
    2005Smoke from forest fires on the island of Sumatra engulfs central areas and prompts a state of emergency.
    2009Badawi steps down as prime minister and is replaced by Najib Abdul Razak.
    2010Malaysia Court allows non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. Religious tensions increase following this decision.
    2013Appeal court rules non-Muslims cannot use the word “Allah” to refer to God, even in their own faith’s practice, overturning 2010 ruling.
    2014In March, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 goes missing en route to China in unexplained circumstances. The plane is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, but an extensive search turns up no sign of wreckage. In July, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashes in eastern Ukraine, close to the Russian border. The incident and its aftermath spark international outrage and condemnation. Malaysia’s highest court rejects a challenge to the ban on Muslims using the word “Allah” to refer to God.
References

1 Andaya, Barbara Watson and Leonard Y. Andaya. A History of Malaysia. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

2 Carwardine, Mark. Natural History Museum: Animal Records. London, UK: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2008.

3 Citrin, William et al. Malaysia at Random. Singapore: Didier Millet Pte Ltd., 2010.

4 DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia and Singapore. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley, 2013.

5 Gardner, Dinah. Malaysia and Singapore (Footprint Travel Guides), 5th ed. Bath, UK: Footprint Travel Guides, 2005.

6 Goreja, W.G. Tongkat Ali: The Tree That Cures a Hundred Diseases. New York, NY: Amazing Herbs Press, 2004.

7 Hari, Venkat. 501 Amazing Facts about Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Wit & Wisdom Press, 2012.

8 Hartston, William. “Top 10 Facts about Malaysia.” Express UK. September 16, 2013. Accessed October 24, 2014.

9 Lonely Planet Travel Guide: Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2013.

10 Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Brunei (World and Its Peoples). Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2007.

11Malaysia Profile—Timeline.” BBC News. July 22, 2014. Accessed October 25, 2014.

12 Mohanlall, Premilla. Green Malaysia: Rainforest Encounters. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2002.

13 Munan, Heidi, Foo Yuk Yee, and Jo-Ann Kee-Spelling. Malaysia (Cultures of the World). Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2012.

14 Munan. Culture Shock! Malaysia. Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, 2001.

15 Nadaraj, Vanitha. “Nine Malaysia Facts You Probably Didn’t Know.The Establishment Post. April 15, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014.

16 Wood, Gerald. The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. 3rd ed. Ljubljana, Yugoslavia: Mladinska Knijga, 1982.

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