Traditions & Customs in Malaysia

AsiaMalaysiaTraditions & Customs in Malaysia

It is advisable to dress respectfully, especially in rural areas (wearing trousers or a long skirt, not shorts, and covering the shoulders is recommended but not essential). In urban areas such as Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Penang and Ipoh, and in the East Malaysian states (Sabah and Sarawak), attitudes are more liberal.

As in many countries, it is best if you, as a visitor, do not criticise the government or Malaysian royalty. You may hear Malaysians criticising their own government, but you don’t have to take sides; just listen and feel free to talk about your feelings about your own government.

When entering a house or place of worship, always remove your shoes. Never eat with your left hand, never give a gift with your left hand and never point at anyone with your index finger (you can make a closed fist with your thumb instead). Do not point with your feet or touch a person’s head.

Swastikas are often seen in Hindu and Buddhist temples and are considered a religious symbol by these communities. They explicitly do not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism, so Western visitors should not feel offended if they see them in the homes of their hosts.

As a predominantly Muslim country, Malaysia is rather conservative when it comes to sexuality. Public displays of affection are tolerated in the more diverse, larger cities, but could attract unnecessary public attention. In more rural areas and in very conservative states such as Kelantan and Terengganu on the east coast of the peninsula, it is frowned upon and best avoided.

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In big cities like Kuala Lumpur, there is quite an active gay scene and you rarely hear of gay bashing. However, same-sex relations are a taboo subject and “sexual intercourse against the order of nature” is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and flogging (for men only) under colonial-era laws that are not usually enforced against consenting adult heterosexuals. Various states can also impose consecutive Sharia penalties of up to 3 years and six lashes against Muslims of all genders.