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Malaysia: A Diverse Multicultural Landscape for Events

By Anne Thornley-Brown
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For event planners seeking truly unique experiences for conferences, meetings and corporate events, Malaysia is an affordable destination. Malaysia’s cultural diversity provides a range of festivals, attractions, and culinary delights to add variety to events. Visit ultra-modern urban areas and then, head to the highlands, rainforests, or the jungle.

Malaysia is known for its diverse ecosystems, unique venues, interesting itineraries, and variety of cultural experiences to enrich the attendee experience. In this post, we highlight cultural and historical attractions, venues, and hotels with meeting facilities.

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Malaysia: A Diverse Multicultural Landscape for Events

Malaysia at a Glance

Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia shares:

  • the Malay Peninsula with Singapore and Thailand
  • the island of Borneo with Indonesia and the Kingdom of Brunei.

Malaysia has over 875 smaller islands. Penang, Langkawi, Pangkor Laut Island, and Pulau Tioman are of the most significance for events.

This post is focused on event planning tips for Peninsular Malaysia. Here are some historical highlights.

For thousands of years, indigenous groups have lived on the Malay Peninsula and in Borneo. Successive waves of migration and colonization have shaped Malaysia’s cultural mosaic.

The Malay came from the Indonesian islands and gave Malaysia its official language, Bahasa Melayu. The Malay were converted during the 14th century. Today, Islam is Malaysia’s official religion. Subsequent waves of immigrants came from China and India.

Portugal colonized Malacca from 1511–1641. The area that is now Malaysia was colonized by Holland from 1641–1825. Great Britain colonized Malacca in 1825 and Sarawak in 1841.

Japan occupied Malaya, Sarawak, and Sabah from 1941 - 1944. When the area returned to British rule, the Malayan Union was established. In 1953, Singapore, Sarawak, and Sabah united with the Malayan Union to form the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore withdrew and became an independent nation in 1965. Today, Malaysia is a monarchy and a new king is selected every 5 years.

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12 Quick Tips for Event Planning in Malaysia

  1. Schedule your visit between mid-October and mid-June when temperatures are most comfortable.
  1. Avoid the summer due to the risk of haze.
    Haze, hyper-pollution, occurs when smoke from Indonesian plantations floats across the Malay Peninsula when the land is cleared by fire in preparation for planting season.
  1. For events in Kuala Lumpur, arrange arrivals for before or after rush hour.
  1. Take in a historical site.
  1. Incorporate local cultural experiences and cuisine.
  1. Extend your stay and split your itinerary between an urban setting and the jungle or one of the islands.

When planning events for local participants:

  1. Begin and end events in Kuala Lumpur later in the day to avoid traffic snarls. Consider ending with dinner to avoid rush hour.
  1.  Snacks are expected first thing in the morning and hot items are served at tea breaks.
    Notice they are called “tea breaks”, not coffee breaks. Sandwiches are fine for the afternoon tea break but they are not served for lunch
  1. Remember, the North American style working lunch is not a familiar concept.

If you are short on time, avoid buffets and consider these local alternatives:

  • Pass around lunch menus and ask guests to make their selections just before the morning tea break.
  • Steamboat lunches. (Similar to fondue. Meat is prepared in a hotpot in the center of the table.)
  • Pre-paid Lunch Menu Cards, with choice of appetizer, 1 of 4 quick to prepare entrees (meat, chicken, fish, vegetarian), dessert, a beverage, and coffee or tea.
  • Japanese Bento boxes
  • Japanese Teppanyaki
  1. Build prayer times into the schedule.
  1. Avoid Fridays.
    Muslim men attend services at the mosque for a few hours on Friday.
    This will take a big chunk out of agendas.
  1. Respect Muslim and Hindu dietary requirements.
    Serve Halal cuisine and never serve pork or alcohol. Avoid desserts or beverages prepared with gelatin. To accommodate Hindus, avoid beef when designing menus.

Close-up of West Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia)

Peninsular Malaysia has 11 states and 2 federal territories (Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and Selangor, the area surrounding Kuala Lumpur).

Peninsular Malaysia’s Multicultural Mosaic

The demographic profile of Peninsular Malaysia is:

  • Malay (50%): Important observances include Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. Congak, a traditional Malay game, is great for team challenges. (Interestingly enough, the same game is found in Africa, where it is known as Awari or Wari, and South America where it is called Mancala.)
    Menu Suggestions: Traditional Malay cuisine includes satay and nasi lemak, a steamed rice dish prepared with coconut milk.
  • Chinese (35%): The major linguistic groups are Mandarin, Hakka, and Cantonese. Kuala Lumpur has a vibrant Chinatown and Chinese New Year is an especially colorful time for events.
    Menu Suggestions: Popular Chinese dishes include sticky rice, Hainan Chicken Rice, and steamboat lunches and dinners.
  • Indians (10%): Most are Tamil who practice the Hindu religion and observe festivals like Thaipusam and Deepavali (Diwali) also known as the Festival of Lights.
    Menu Suggestions: Popular Indian dishes include curried chicken and mutton, naan (roti), and Tandoori chicken.
  • Orang Asli (0.6%): Orang Asli (meaning “original people” in Bahasa Melayu), is composed of 18 ethnic groups. 60% of the Orang Asli live in jungle or rainforest areas. Learn about the Orang Asli and their culture at the Orang Asli Museum in Selangor or through jungle excursions.
    Menu Suggestions: Orang Asli dishes include ketupat, rice cakes cooked in bamboo leaves, and bamboo chicken and rice (cooked in the ground in bamboo).

4 Ways for Groups to Explore West Malaysia

Here are 4 ways to explore Peninsular Malaysia.

  1. Get off the Beaten Track

Team challenges during jungle trekking and jungle survival team building can include bamboo raft building, traditional firestarter and cooking challenges, and challenges with blowpipe, the traditional indigenous hunting instrument.

Teman Negara: In Pahang, Teman Negara, the world’s oldest rainforest, offers activities for all fitness levels. Shoot the rapids. Enjoy breathtaking views of the jungle along the world’s longest canopy walk which is suspended in the treetops and 1.2 miles long. At Kampung Orang Asli the indigenous lifestyle of the Batek and the Semokberi, who are of African descent, is preserved.
Places to Stay: Overnight accommodation ranges from open air campsites and chalets to luxury resorts including:

  • Mutiara Taman Negara
  • Xcape Resort,
  • Han Rainforest Resort.

Endau Rompin: Located in Johor near Pahang, Endau Rompin National Park is a protected 336 sq. mile area with jungle trails spanning 16 miles. At Jakun Village,lifestyle of the the Jakun is preserved. Descended from Chinese who migrated from Yunan Province 2,500 years ago, they eventually mixed with Malay to form the second largest Orang Asli group. Team challenges include weaving and fishing competitions.
Places to Stay: Rompin Beach Resort

Other rainforest resorts in Peninsular Malaysia include Tanjong Jara Resort, on the East coast, and Belum Rainforest Resort in Perak.

  1. Travel Back in Time

Melaka: Formerly known as Malacca, many countries vied for control of what was the East meets West crossroads on the Straits of Malacca. With the emergence of Singapore, Malacca escaped the runaway development that has transformed many destinations. At this UNESCO World Heritage Center, frozen in time, there are examples of Malay, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, British, and Japanese architecture.There is a full sized replica of the palace of Sultan Mansur Shah who ruled Malacca from 1456 to 1477.

Georgetown, Penang: Georgetown, in the state of Penang, is where, in 1786, Captain Francis Light set up the first British trading post on the Malay Peninsula. Old Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with perfectly preserved historical buildings British and Chinese buildings.
Places to Stay:

  • Eastern And Oriental Hotel
  • The Royale Bintang Penang Hotel

Learn about Malaysia’s history and culture at Muzium Negara, a great event venue in Kuala Lumpur.

  1. Explore an Urban Oasis

Kuala Lumpur: In this thriving modern metropolis, stay ahead of the curve and get a glimpse of the shape of things to come for technology and fashion. (Malaysia is a manufacturing hub. Many tech innovations and new fashions hit Malaysia long before they come to North America).

Tourism Malaysia event used 3D projection mapping to showcase some of Malaysia’s attractions:

Kuala Lumpur is a shopper’s paradise. Suria KLCC, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, and Lot 10, have the hottest fashions and technology. Browse for bargain hunters at Mid Valley Megamall, Asia’s largest discount shopping mall.

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Despite the technological innovations, nature is never far away. Relax at KLCC Park, in the shadow of Petronas Twin Towers. At the base of Menara KL Tower is KL Forest Eco-Park (formerly Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve), Malaysia’s oldest protected rainforest. Perdana Botanical Gardens is another ideal location for unwinding (previously called Taman Tasik Perdana - Lake Garden in English).

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Popular areas to explore include Chinatown, Brickfields, which is known as Little India, and Bangsar, a “happening” area with nightclubs, fashionable boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and a weekly night market.

Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), where the flag ceremony marking Malaysia’s independence took place, has historical buildings from the British colonial era.

Event Venues:

  • Kuala Lumpur Convention Center with a 31,856 sq. ft. of exhibition space and a theater with fixed seating and a capacity of 3,000
  • MINES International Exhibition & Convention Center with 180,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space
  • Restoran Seri Melayu. Patterned after a traditional Malaysian home, this dining establishment has a colorful evening cultural show based on a Malay wedding
  • Restoran Hakka, a large restaurant featuring Hakka cuisine

Places to Stay: JW Marriott, Royale Chulan, Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur, Palace of the Golden Horses.

  1. Head to the Highlands

Particularly welcome in the warmer months, the highlands offer cool comfort. There is a highland to fit every taste.

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Cameron Highlands: With an English flair, Cameron Highlands in the state of Pahang  is ideal for groups in search of peace and solitude. They will find tea plantations and greenhouses where strawberries and roses are available all year. Cameron Highlands is the perfect location for small executive retreats and  meetings. There are a number of golf courses.
Places to Stay:  

  • The Lakehouse
  • Cameron Highlands Resort
  • Copthorne Hotel Cameron Highlands

Genting Highlands: Travel, above the clouds, to Genting Highlands is by cable car. It offers the excitement of a casino, concerts, indoor and outdoor theme parks, and SnowWorld, a snowhouse. The outdoor theme park, which is currently under renovation, will soon be re-opening as The Twentieth Century Fox Theme Park.
Places to Stay:

  • Crockfords
  • Genting Grand
  • Awana, First World Hotel, the world’s largest hotel

Berjaya Hills: With a French architectural flair, Berjaya Hills (known locally as Bukit Tinggi) is also located in the state of Pahang. Attractions at this family-friendly destination include equestrian centers, rabbit farms, and a Japanese Village.
Places to Stay: Colmar Tropicale has cobblestone streets and buildings that are replicas of 17th century Alsace homes and shops.

This aerial tour of Malaysia features 30 attractions including some  highlighted in this post.

In Conclusion

Malaysia offers rich variety in culture and landscape for conferences, meetings, corporate events, and executive retreats. By dividing time between an urban area and the highlands or rainforests, participants will have unique experience that they will rave about for years to come.

Pictures courtesy of Tourism Malaysia.

about the author

Anne Thornley-Brown

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based management consulting firm specializing in team building and executive retreats.

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