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Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is home to nearly 28 million people. The country is a federation of 13 states and is separated into two regions by the South China Sea: Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Its neighbors are Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and the state of Brunei.
A captivating history dating back to the 15th century, when Melaka (Malacca) was a vital world trading port, has turned Malaysia into a multicultural land of fascinating contrasts. At different points in time, parts of Malaysia have been under Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese and British rule, before the state achieved independence in 1957 and was fully united in 1963. In addition to that, there was significant immigration of the Chinese and Indians to Malaysia during the British rule. This has made for a unique fusion of Asia's oldest civilizations - Malay, Chinese, and Indian - with a distinct influence from old European cultures. The Malays, the country's largest ethnic group, practice Islam and speak the Malay language. But both the Chinese and southern Indians populating the country have kept their traditions very much alive.
Malaysia's multifaceted cultural landscape goes hand in hand with an astonishing geographical diversity. The country is home to million-year-old forests, beautiful tropical islands and beaches, and charming heritage and colonial buildings alongside breathtaking skyscrapers. It's traditional and modern at the same time, and with its rich cuisine (an enticing fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian dishes with a sprinkling of Indonesian, Thai and Portuguese), it offers a little something for everyone, from the history buff to the nature seeker to the foodie.
The capital city is Kuala Lumpur, located in Peninsular Malaysia, a sprawling city of about 1.6 million people. Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant metropolis, uniquely blending old world and modern charm with historical buildings and stunning skyscrapers, the most prominent one being the world's tallest Petronas Twin Towers.
Economically, from a country dependent on agriculture and primary commodities in the 1960s, Malaysia has today become an export-driven economy spurred on by high technology, knowledge-based and capital-intensive industries. Malaysia is host to more than 5,000 multinational corporations from over 40 countries. One of the largest trading nations in the world, Malaysia's major exports include electronics, oil and gas, palm oil, chemicals and furniture. Malaysia is the ninth largest economy in Asia and the 24th most competitive nation in the world.
Malaysia at a Glance
The island of Penang, just off the northwestern coast, boasts alluring beaches and a rich history (Penang was founded in 1786 by the British). Malaysia's rice bowl states, Perlis and Kedah, feature wondrous caves created within the limestone hills above rice fields.
Small towns, laid-back fishing villages and resort islands with crystal-clear waters and splendid marine life characterize the East Coast. This region is home Taman Negara, Malaysia's premier national park, and Redang Marine Park, consisting of nine idyllic islands.
Melaka (Malacca) is a famous historic port that was the center of the 16th century spice trade, with old buildings reflecting Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences. Johor, the southernmost state, has several fruit farms and plantations for two of Malaysia's biggest exports, rubber and palm oil.
This region, also known as Malaysia Borneo, consists of two states, Sabah and Sarawak. With dense, almost mystical rain forests, high mountains and numerous rivers, East Malaysia is a popular destination for mountain climbing, white-water rafting, diving and river cruising.