The culture in Malaysia is as varied as the diversity of its people. Malaysians are viewed as polite and helpful people with a sunny disposition that matches the hot tropical climate. Visitors behaving courteously stand little chance of unintentionally giving offence, but if visiting rural areas and especially someone’s private home, it helps to know something about the local norms.
DO & DON’TS
Do smile when you greet people. It is normal to see people in the tourist industry to greet visitors by placing their right hand over the left breast. This gesture means: “I greet you from my heart”.
Do dress neatly when entering places of worship. It is advisable for ladies when entering places of worship to wear long sleeves and loose pants or long skirts.
Do pay careful attention to your attire if you’re female. Wearing hot pants and vests on the islands where Malaysians are used to foreigners has become accepted, but it may invite harassment elsewhere. At mainland beaches, bring a wrap-around as well as a swimsuit so you won’t feel conspicuous; Malay women usually go swimming fully dressed and some keep their scarves on.
Don’t bring up the topic of ethnic relations in Malaysia or the political system: They are both sensitive subjects. As a tourist, it is best not to criticize the government or the Malay royal families. You may hear Malaysians criticize their own government, but you do not need to take sides; just listen and feel free to talk about your feelings about your own government.
Do be wary that same-sex relationships are a taboo subject in Malaysia. Gay and lesbian travellers should avoid any outward signs of affection, including holding hands in public. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia.
Don’t even think about buying or transporting illegal drugs, there’s a mandatory death penalty for trafficking (possession of 200 grams of marijuana is considered to be trafficking). The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15g of heroin, 30g of morphine; 30g of cocaine; 500g of cannabis and 200g of cannabis resin. Possession of these quantities is all that is needed for someone to be convicted. For unauthorised consumption, there is a maximum of 10 years jail, a heavy fine, or both.