Fun fact about Malaysia: You WILL burn your ass on the hood of a car if you sit on it.
My last few blogs have been about pretty important stuff. I know it’s essential to learn all the great reasons to visit Malaysia and the coolest places to go in the country. But I also realize there is a lot more to this country than beautiful islands and rich cultural diversity. There are some extremely interesting facts about Malaysia (*insert snarky tone here*) that are equally as important for you to know… like where the word ketchup comes from and the toilet habits of newlyweds. THESE are important facts, people, I mean critical. Okok, maybe not critical, just cool random facts.
Read on for the weird, wild, and downright bizarre things that make this beautiful country tick. At the very least, you’ll have a better chance of winning bar trivia or one-upping that know it all in the HR department.
Anyway, just read on.
1. What’s in a name?
The word ketchup comes from ke-tsiap, the name of a sauce the Chinese merchants brought to Malaysia (back then it was Malaya). It was fermented and tasted similar to soy sauce, and the English sailors loved it. They brought it back to their homeland, and then over time the recipe was tweaked, probably because they couldn’t replicate it. Tomatoes, which were plentiful, became the main ingredient and it evolved into what we know today as ketchup.
2. You spin me right round
The largest roundabout in the world is located in Malaysia. Persiaran Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah roundabout is in Putrajaya, just 30 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur. It has a diameter of 3.5km (2.2 miles). Ok, this might not be THE most interesting fact about Malaysia but it still a claim to umm, errr, fame.
3. Never-ending highways
While we are on the subject of roads… the total length of the highways in Malaysia is longer than the earth’s circumference. The country has 65,877 km in highways, and the earth’s circumference is only 40,075 km.
I am positive 60,000 of those kilometers are in Kuala Lumpur. I am forever getting lost on the highways there; even a GPS can’t plan my escape route from the never-ending highway system.
3A. Four sounds like death
Some buildings in Malaysia don’t have the fourth floor. They believe the number four in Mandarin sounds like the word for death and thus brings bad luck. So now we have 3, 3A, and 5.
5. Creep crawly cave
Ok, this may not be the most interesting fact about Malaysia, but def the grossest.
Gomantong Cave in Sabah, Borneo has the greatest number of cockroaches in the world. The cave is home to millions of bats that brings tourists flocking (pun totally intended) for their nightly mass exodus. As if millions of bats flying around isn’t horrifying enough, they’ve left a giant pile of s**t for the cockroaches to feed on. And by giant, I mean more than 100 feet high. Mmmm, dinner.
There are so many cockroaches that the walls and floors appear to be moving. Thankfully they built a walkway so that visitors can pay RM30 ($7.20) to visit a stinky, skin-crawling cave…just for fun.
6. This cave is more my speed
Like caves but not interested in cockroaches or giant piles of poop? You’re in luck. Malaysia has that too! Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Borneo, has the world’s largest underground cave chamber. It was discovered in 1981, with a surface area of 1.66 million square feet. The cavern is long enough to park five rows of eight 747 airplanes parked nose to tail.
7. Rainforest in the city
Smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, a bustling city of 1.75 million people, is a tiny protected tropical rainforest reserve. It’s the oldest, founded in 1906, and the smallest at only 9 hectares, in Malaysia. The rainforest is squished between the high rises of the city. One minute you can be in the treetops and the next you can be at a rooftop bar overlooking them. Betcha didn’t know that interesting fact about Malaysia!
The local time in peninsular Malaysia has changed eight times. Definitely an interesting fact about Malaysia.
The first time was in 1932 when the clocks were advanced by 20 minutes to lengthen daylight. Then again in 1941, another 10 minutes. In 1942 it was increased by two hours to coincide with Tokyo’s time. Then in 1945, it went back to the time observed in 1941. Lastly (maybe), in 1982 it was brought forward 30 minutes to sync with Malaysian Borneo time.
9. Youngest Pilot
In 2013, 21-year-old Captain James Anthony Tan flew solo around the world. He flew a 30-year-old Cessna 210 Eagle 40,000 km (22,854) miles) in 50 days.
10. Fly me to the moon
Datuk Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor was the first Malaysian astronaut to fly into space. His flight took place during the month of Ramadan, so he had to celebrate from space. And since it was the first time a Muslim was in orbit, everyone was watching to see how he was able to pray at zero gravity, find Mecca, and fast all day long.
Malaysia made a guidebook for future Muslim astronauts titled, “Guidelines for Performing Islamic Rites at the International Space Station.”
11. The lingo
(This is for sure the most useful fact about Malaysia)
“No Lah, Yes lah, OK, lah.”
Malaysians use the word Lah like Canadians use Eh.
It is best used to help express an exclamation or to make a point. Like “So expensive, lah. No lah, stop asking me.” Or my favorite, Aiyoh, big jam lah,” when referring to a major traffic jam. It adds emphasis to the statement, in a friendly way.
12. Very tall twins
(Ali Zifan-Wikimedia CC by SA 4.0)
Malaysia has the world’s tallest twin buildings in the world. In 1998 the Petronas Towers were the world’s tallest buildings at 452 meters (1483 feet). But since then, they have been dwarfed by the Burj Khalifa coming in at a whopping 828 meters (2717 feet).
Now they are considered the tallest twin buildings and are connected by a sky bridge on the 41st floor.
13. Malaysian Viagra
Tongkat Ali, a tree found in Malaysia, is supposed to have testosterone effects if taken as a supplement or tea. It is also in a lot of “power” drinks and coffee. I always see huge billboards advertising it in Penang.
It must be a magic tree because it also fixes headaches, intestinal worms, fever, and jaundice. Oh yeah, it’s also a fat reducer!
14. Eau de toilette-literally
The final days of the bloom we saw in the Belum Rainforest.
The Rafflesia is the world’s largest flower, coming in at a colossal 1 meter (3 feet) across and weighing in at a total of ten kilograms (22 lbs). Not only is the largest, but it’s also the stinkiest. It’s called a corpse flower because the stench is like rotting flesh. But it’s that funk that attracts insects which transport the pollen from the male to female flowers. No one is making a perfume out of this flower.
They are very rare and only bloom for a few days at a time. To get nutrients, it embeds itself into a host vine, and the only visible part is the actual flower. It has no roots, leaves, or stems.
15. World’s most foul-smelling fruit
From stinky flowers to smelly fruit; these are the most odiferous facts about Malaysia.
Durian, known as the king of fruit, is a delicacy in Malaysia. People have been known to pay hundreds of dollars for a fruit that smells so horrific it’s not allowed in hotels. But the Malaysians clamor for the stuff…and so do I.
There are two seasons in Malaysia. As soon as they start, you’ll see people lined up at street-side stalls buying the spikey fruit. If you go to a durian farm, you’ll see nets up to catch them because if one falls on your head, it could definitely kill you.
They are super sharp and whoever cuts them open has to wear gloves.
In all my excitement to eat durian, I grabbed it and forgot how painful those spikes feel. Thankfully that embarrassing moment was captured!
Once cut open, the inside is a yellowish lobe of fruit. Its texture is custardy; it tastes sweet, bitter, and savory at the same time. It culminates in a curious mash-up of weirdness. My favorite ones taste like roasted garlic and caramelized onions.
Anthony Bourdain summed it up, “Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” While I’m not sure I agree with that statement, I can kinda see where he’s coming from.
It’s def a love or hate kind of fruit. And now when I smell it, my mouth waters, and I pull over for a few lobes of it.
Real talk = durian burps. They’re a thing, and they are nasty. But this is still the most delicious of the interesting facts about Malaysia.
16. The original tea barista
Teh tarik, or pulled tea, is the unofficial favorite drink of Malaysia.
It is made with black tea and sweetened condensed milk. The tea is tossed from one cup to another, about one meter (3 feet) apart. It is rarely spilled in the process. The purpose is to cool it down and make it extra creamy and foamy on top.
Malaysia’s second favorite drink is Milo.
17. My peeps
The oldest Jewish cemetery in Southeast Asia is in Penang. It was established in 1805 and is located along Jalan Zainal Abidin road, which was initially named Jalan Yahudi.
David Mordecai, a former E&O Hotel manager, was buried there in 2011, just short of his 90th birthday. Considering that I think I am one of 10 Jews on the island, this is a very interesting fact about Malaysia!
18. One Big island
Borneo is the third-largest island in the world. Greenland and New Guinea are the first and second. Three countries share the island: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.
19. Sooo many days off (the most fun fact about Malaysia, literally)
With so much diversity here, there are 58 holidays to celebrate. That’s more than one per week! There are holidays for each religion (Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Buddhist, & Taoist). As well as holidays for the Sultans and Kings of each of the 13 states of Malaysia. Any reason to celebrate is a good reason, right?
20. It’s official
Malaysia declared independence from the British Empire on August 31, 1957. On November 14, 1957, 17-year-old Kok Shoo Yin was the first non-bumiputra (non-Malay) to receive official Malaysian citizen documentation.
21. Sunken treasure
The remains of the Flor de la Mar is at the bottom of the Strait of Melaka, off the coast near Sumatra. The Portuguese ship capsized in November of 1511 and could be the wealthiest vessel ever lost. When it wrecked, it was carrying the looted goods from the Sultan of Malacca’s palace back to Portugal.
It was discovered in 1989 and is still the cause for controversy. Portugal, Indonesia, and Malaysia all claim salvage rights. It was a Portuguese ship and captain, carrying goods stolen from Malaysia, and sunk near Indonesia.
22. No peeing allowed
The Tidong people who live in Sabah, Borneo, have a fascinating wedding ritual. After the ceremony, the happy couple is not permitted to use the bathroom for three days and nights. Yep, that means holding it! This is def the most difficult on my list of interesting facts about Malaysia.
Instead of getting fat on marital bliss and food, they barely eat or drink for those days so they won’t have to go. If they don’t practice this ritual, the couple will have terrible luck in their future: infidelity, death of children, a broken marriage. Could you do it?
Traditionally, Malaysian woman can’t leave the house for 30-44 days after giving birth. Mom and baby are isolated without visitors outside of the close family. Mom has to avoid any physical work. During the confinement, the mother or mother in law takes care of the new mom and baby, sometimes with the help of a confinement nanny.
Here are some of the rules:
- No sex
- No washing your hair (for a month, oh gross)
- No cold air from an a/c or fan
- Bathing with herbal infused water only
Mom learns how to care, nurse, and swaddle the baby. Some women get special stomach massages and wear a postnatal corset. Certain foods must be eaten to boost the immune system while others must be avoided. While it may not be easy to go without washing your hair for a month, the concept of confinement is seen as a luxury for many women.
24. Cats & coffins
Many Malaysians believe that if a cat jumps over a coffin, the deceased will come back as a ghost. There are a lot of stray cats in Malaysia, so people stand watch over the casket until it is buried–just in case. A superstitious but interesting fact about Malaysia.
25. That’s one ancient park
Malaysia’s Taman Negara (which means “national park”) is one of the oldest forests and rainforests on earth. It is 130 million years old, which means dinosaurs lived there! There are more than 3,000 species of plants, 479 birds, and 150 species of mammals including the rare Malayan tiger, clouded leopard, and Asian elephant. Can’t forget the 80 species of bats, 67 types of snakes, and more than I even care to think about, species of insects.
To put it into perspective, the Amazon Rainforest is a young 55 million years old.
26. The pain game
Two different festivals in Malaysia involve various forms of piercings and torturous rituals.
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival where some of the devotees pierce their cheeks and hang thick fishhooks off their backs. If that wasn’t enough, then they walk for miles barefoot carrying heavy kavadi, or large structures, on their backs. Oh yeah, those fishhooks? They have ropes attached to them so their friends can pull on them as they try to walk forward to a temple.
Watching the Taoist Nine Emperor Gods Festival is just as mind-boggling. The mediums allow the spirits to enter them and they pierce their faces. Then they hold blazing hot iron balls that have been sitting in a cauldron of embers and toss them. It’s like dodgeball but with blistering metal orbs. Good times.
In 2017, a devotee decided to get inside a massive steamer used for cooking buns and dumplings, to show he was immune to the heat. He was not. Sadly, he had a heart attack and died.
Up to a century ago in Borneo, the practice of headhunting was commonplace amongst certain tribes. Some tribes did it for the trophies, others to get permission to marry, and others did it to appease the spirits.
The Kadazan-Dusun collected heads from their enemies to pacify Mount Kinabalu. But to protect the spirit, the head had to be taken while the enemy was alive. Once they were dead, the soul had already departed and therefore was useless. By giving these offerings to Mount Kinabalu, it would safeguard their village against disaster. Read more about headhunting here.
Ready to book your tickets?
Okok, so maybe you aren’t ready to book, but you’re craving more interesting facts about Malaysia. Check out this Southeast Asia Quiz and brush up on all the good stuff.
Orrrrrr, maybe the mere thought of seeing a 100-foot pile of bat s**t has tempted you to pull out that credit card and get on a plane.
Either way, we’ll be here when you get here.
Which is your favorite fact? Tell me in the comments below.