Capital | Kuala Lumpur
Population | 28,728,607 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 329,750 SQ KM
Official Language | Bahasa Melayu
Holidays | Independence Day 31 August (1957) (independence of Malaya); Malaysia Day 16 September (1963) (formation of Malaysia)
Currency | Ringgit (MYR)
Time Zone | UTC +8
Best Time to Visit | May to September (the dry season)
Connecting with the Culture | Balancing on the creaky canopy walk over Taman Negara National Park. Snorkeling with Technicolor fish in crystal-clear waters off the Perhentian Islands. Sipping a freshly snipped brew of full-bodied Highlands tea in the Cameron Highlands. Climbing the challenging craggy peak of Mt Kinabalu. Haggling for bargains under the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur’s night markets.
Read | Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim- adventure on the South China Seas and the real-life story of Raja Brooke of Sarawak; The Return by KS Maniam- contemporary Malaysian fiction exploring the Indian Malaysian experience.
Listen | to traditional Malay gendang (drum) music; kampong-style world music by Zainal Abidin; KL alternative rock band Flop Poppy.
Watch | Mahadi J Murat’s Sayang Salmah (1995), a taut family drama set in post-independence Malaya; Guardians of the Forest, a documentary account of the plight of indigenous Orang Asli people, directed by Alan D’Cruz (2001).
Eat | the stinky but delicious durian fruit; laksa (spicy coconut noodle soup).
Drink | air kelapa (coconut water); tuak (Borneo rice wine).
In a Word | Jalan-Jalan (I’m just travelling around).
Characteristics | Orang-utans; tea plantations; Mahathir Mohamad; colonial remnants; Petronas Towers; jungle tribes; logging and dams; tropical islands; hawker food; gleaming mosques.
Surprises | Malaysia is well on the way to achieving its goal of becoming a fully industrialized nation by 2020; nine state sultans still reign, and they take five-year turns at being yang di-pertuan agong (chief sultan of Malaysia).