Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. It consists of thirteen states and three federal territories and has a total landmass of 329,847 square kilometres (127,350 sq mi) separated by the South China Sea into two regions, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Land borders are shared with Thailand, Indonesia, and Brunei, and maritime borders exist with Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The capital city is Kuala Lumpur, while Putrajaya is the seat of the federal government. In 2010 the population exceeded 27.5 million.
Malaysia has its origins in the Malay Kingdoms present in the area which, from the 18th century, became subject to the British Empire. The first British territories were known as the Straits Settlements, with the other states forming protectorates. The states on Peninsular Malaysia, then known as Malaya, was first unified as the Malayan Union in 1946. Malaya was restructured as the Federation of Malaya in 1948, and achieved independence on 31 August 1957. Malaya united with Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore on 16 September 1963, with 'si' being added to give the new country the name Malaysia. However, less than two years later in 1965, Singapore was expelled from the federation. Since independence, Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia, with GDP growing an average 6.5% for almost 50 years. The economy has traditionally been fuelled by its natural resources, but is expanding in the sectors of science, tourism, commerce and medical tourism.
The head of state is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, an elected monarch chosen from the hereditary rulers of the nine Malay states every five years. The head of government is the Prime Minister. The government system is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system and the legal system is based on English Common Law. The country is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, factors that influence its culture and play a large role in politics. Islam is the state religion, although freedom of religion is protected by a secular constitution.
Malaysia contains the southernmost point of continental Eurasia, Tanjung Piai, and is located near the equator and has a tropical climate. It has a biodiverse range of flora and fauna, and is considered a megadiverse country. It is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Non-Aligned Movement.
There are various beautiful national parks in Malaysia. There are many different types of expeditions available, ranging from those where you hardly lose sight of the hotel to those where you are fully immersed in the jungle with only the guide and yourself if you are willing to pay the money! Tours vary from about 4 days to 2 weeks or more. It is very unlikely in most of the national parks for you to see a tiger or an elephant as it is really likely only if you are going to be staying for longer than a few days, i.e., for a couple of weeks at least. One of the most common forms of wildlife that you will encounter in the jungle however are definitely leeches! In the rainforest it is very, very humid but actually it is not incredibly hot. This is because of the large amount of shade afforded by the canopy created by the interlocking trees. Shop around for deals of getting into the jungle and make your decision based on what type of person you are. If you are going to enjoy a lot of hiking without seeing any other people for days or even weeks then you can have that choice, alternatively you can have a much more 'packaged' tour in which you will probably stay in a very built up tourist town which has probably just grown out of the demand for people wanting to stay in the jungle.
To escape from the muggy tropics, do as the English did and head up to the cooler highlands of West Malaysia.
If zoological exhibits are more your thing or you are visiting with children there are several well-maintained zoos all over Malaysia that are worth a visit or two, most notably Taiping Zoo, Kuala Lumpur 's Zoo Negara and Melaka Zoo.
Holidays and festivals
Malaysians observe a number of holidays and festivities throughout the year. Some are federally gazetted public holidays and some are observed by individual states. Other festivals are observed by particular ethnic or religion groups, and the main holiday of each major group have been declared a public holiday. The most observed national holiday is Hari Merdeka (Independence Day) on 31 August, commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957. Malaysia Day on 16 September commemorates federation in 1963.Other notable national holidays are Labour Day (1 May), and the King's birthday (first week of June). Muslim holidays are prominent as Islam is the state religion; Hari Raya Puasa (also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Malay for Eid al-Fitr), Hari Raya Haji (also called Hari Raya Aidiladha, the translation of Eid ul-Adha), Maulidur Rasul (birthday of the Prophet), and others being observed.Malaysian Chinese celebrate festivals such as Chinese New Year and others relating to traditional Chinese beliefs. Hindus in Malaysia celebrate Deepavali, the festival of lights, while Thaipusam is a religious rite which sees pilgrims from all over the country converge at the Batu Caves.Malaysia's Christian community celebrates most of the holidays observed by Christians elsewhere, most notably Christmas and Easter. East Malaysians also celebrate a harvest festival known as Gawai. Despite most of the festivals being identified with a particular ethnic or religious group, celebrations are participated by all Malaysians in a custom known as "open house".