Malaysia was inhabited by Stone Age hunter-gatherers as early as 8,000 BC. By the second to third centuries AD, the Malaysians, heavily influenced by India, become highly civilised. Both Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as trade goods and writing from India were all introduced in this time period. Trade with China and India became increasingly important, and the Srivijaya civilisation, controlling the strategic Straights of Malacca, rose in prominence. Increasing numbers of Malaysians converted to Islam, and by the 14th century, the mainly Muslim port settlement of Malaka was the dominant power, trading with Arab, Indian and Chinese ships. The great wealth and power of the city-state brought it to the attention of the Portuguese and in 1511 Malaka fell to their artillery. Much of the population and the son of the Sultan fled however, and founded the new city of Johor, which remained hostile to the Portuguese throughout the remainder of the 16th century. An alliance with the Dutch at the beginning of the 17th century saw the Portuguese eventually driven out, with the Dutch and Johor ruling the area, along with the kingdoms of Aceh and Brunei. An influx of Bugis people from Sulawesi upset the balance of power, and by the mid 1700's they emerged as the main power, maintaining the Sultan of Johor only as a puppet ruler. At the same time, British influence in the region was growing, with much of India firmly under the control of the British East India Company. Looking for a base to expand into Malaysia, in 1786 the British seized the island of Penang and founded the city of Georgetown. A treaty between the British and the Dutch in 1824 saw the British awarded the sole right to colonise Malaysia (in return the Dutch were given Sumatra). The British "Straights Settlements" of Penang, the coast of Malaysia and Singapore grew rapidly, partially due to a large influx of Chinese and Indian workers. However, the interior of the Malay Peninsula remained uncontrolled, and it was not until the early 20th century that all the states making up Malaysia in its current form came under British rule. Rubber plantations and tin mining produced great wealth for the colonialists, and the Chinese labour force increased exponentially during this time. In 1941, the Japanese invaded the Malay Peninsula and quickly overran Malaysia, Borneo and finally Singapore. After the war ended, Britain sought to unify all the Malaysian states, but faced stiff opposition, not least from a growing Malaysian independence movement. Malaysia became independent in 1957, and after being briefly joined by Singapore (which quickly declared itself an independent city state) settled into a stable country. Economic and social policies instigated during the 1960's, 70's and 80's transformed Malaysia from an agricultural economy to a modern industrial one, and dealt well with a period of racial tension between Malays and non-Malays. Today Malaysia is a prosperous nation with an extremely diverse population of around 30 million people.
Malaysia's interesting past has turned the country into a mosaic of cultures. Everything from its people to its architecture reflect a colourful heritage and an amalgamated culture. To understand Malaysian culture, you must first get to know its people. The largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. In Sabah and Sarawak, there are a myriad of indigenous ethnic groups with their own unique culture and heritage. Today, the Malays, Malaysia's largest ethnic group, make up more than 50% of the population. The term Malay refers to a person who practices Islam and Malay traditions, speaks the Malay language and whose ancestors are Malays. The Malays are known for their gentle mannerisms and rich arts heritage. The second largest ethnic group, the Malaysian Chinese, form about 25% of the population. Mostly descendants of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century, the Chinese are known for their diligence and keen business sense. Hokkien Chinese live predominantly on the island of Penang; Cantonese live predominantly in the capital Kuala Lumpur; and Mandarin-speaking Chinese live predominantly in the southern state of Johor. Malaysian Indians form about 10% of the population. Most are descendants of Tamil-speaking South Indian immigrants who came to the country during the British colonial rule. Lured by the prospect of breaking out of the Indian caste system, they came to Malaysia to build a better life. Predominantly Hindus, they brought with them their colourful culture such as ornate temples, spicy cuisine and exquisite saris. A number of indigenous ethnic groups make up the balance of the populations, and are mainly found in the less developed provinces of Sabah and Sarawak.
Laksa, Nasi Lamak and Char Kway Teow
Malaysian cuisine reflects the multi-ethnic makeup of its population. Malaysia's culinary style is primarily a melange of traditions from its' Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens, with heavy to light influences from Thai, Portuguese, Dutch, and British cuisines - to name a few! This has resulted in a symphony of flavours, making Malaysian cuisine highly complex and diverse. Because Malaysia shares a common history with Singapore, it is common to find versions of the same dish across both sides of the border such as laksa and chicken rice. Also because of their proximity, Malaysia shares culinary ties with Indonesia and both nations share certain dishes such as satay, rendang and sambal. Indian food in all its diversity is also common in Malaysia, as is traditional Chinese cuisine. Nonya cuisine, with it's roots in the intermarriage of Chinese and Malays, is a local specialty. "Hawker food" or street food is elevated to an art form in Malaysia, and many would argue that the country produces some the best and most diverse food in the world.
Located near the equator, Malaysia's climate is hot and humid throughout the year, with an average rainfall of 250cm per year and an average temperature of 27 °C. Local climates are affected by the presence of mountain ranges throughout Malaysia, and climate can be divided into that of the highlands, the lowlands, and coastal regions. The total land area of Malaysia is 329,847 km2. It is the only country to contain land on both mainland Asia and the Malay archipelago. Numerous limestone caves run through the Peninsula and the East, including the Mulu Caves, the largest caves in the world. Malaysia contains numerous islands, the largest of which is Labuan.
Plants and Animals
Malaysia is a megadiverse country, with a high number of species and high levels of endemic species. The majority of the country is covered in rainforest, which hosts a huge diversity of plant and animal species. There are approximately 210 mammal species, 620 bird species, 250 reptile species, and 150 frog species found in Malaysia. Its large marine territory also holds a great diversity of life, with the country's coastal waters comprising part of the "Coral Triangle". Tiger, leopards, sun bear, the Sumatran rhinoceros, Malayan tapir, several species of deer, the world's largest cattle species the seladang, pigs, guars and Asian elephants are all found in Malaysia. Probably the most famous animals are the wide range of apes and monkeys, including the Bornean orangutans, gibbons, macaques, proboscis monkeys, silvered leaf monkeys, langurs, and slow lorises. Fruit bats are also found throughout the country, with a high concentration in the Mulu Caves. Malaysia has thousands of insect species, with more being discovered every year. They include the large rhinoceros beetle, the giant stick insect, which can grow as long as a human forearm and the empress cicada, with a wingspan of 30 centimetres. About two thirds of Malaysia is covered in forest, comprising of rainforest, mangroves and peat bogs. The rain forests are particularly diverse, hosting many members of the Rafflesia genus the largest flowers in the world and large numbers of carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, and ant-house plants. Bordering East Malaysia, the Sulu Sea is a biodiversity hotspot, with around 600 coral species and 1200 fish species.
Scheduled Tours 2015 / 2016
Join Rush Expeditions Steve McHardy and popular food blogger Tania Cusack from My Kitchen Stories on this exciting culinary adventure to Penang, Malaysia. This fascinating tour allows you to explore the diversity of cuisine in the “food paradise” of Penang. Our professional, enthusiastic team of travel and food experts will help you get the most out of your experience in one of the most gastronomically diverse places on earth. Based in the world heritage site of Georgetown, enjoy learning about the different strands of history, culture and cuisine making up this melting pot of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European immigrants. Visit a spice garden, the heritage clan jetties, and Georgetown’s famous street art sites. You will eat at some wonderful restaurants, and also experience the wide range of famous “hawker food” available. There is also plenty of time to shop, visit the main tourist attractions and historical sites, revel in our “less ordinary” special experiences and relax into the holiday of a lifetime.
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