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Guide to Malaysia

Malaysia is located in Southeast Asia, and geographically divided into West Malaysia (Peninsular) and East Malaysia.

Our neighbours up north of the peninsular are Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. To the south lies the island nation of Singapore, joined to us by the Causeway. To the west is the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and to the east you will find the independent Sultanate of Brunei and the Indonesian state of Kalimantan.

Malaysia has good relations with all these countries and air travel is moderately priced.

Malaysian states:

  • Perlis
  • Penang
  • Kelantan
  • Terengganu
  • Perak
  • Negeri Seremban
  • Pahang
  • Selangor
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Melaka
  • Kedah
  • Sarawak
  • Sabah
  • Johor
  • Putrajaya
  • Labuan


Called KL for short by most everybody, Kuala Lumpur is about 20 kilometres from Bandar Sunway.

KL is the nation’s capital and home to all foreign embassies, the headquarters of most companies and most national museums and galleries. There are a lot of interesting places to visit and things to see in and around KL.

Other Towns
Like all capital cities, KL is not representative of the country as a whole. There are many other beautiful places to visit. These include Malacca; with its old Dutch and Portuguese architecture, Penang (an island also known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’), Perak, Pahang, Johor, Terengganu and of course the towns of East Malaysia, all of which are surrounded by breath-taking, unspoiled nature. Your classmates may come from some of these places.


Malaysia’s population mainly consists of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians & indigenous tribes. There are also many Indonesians and Filipinos here, along with people of all nations working and doing business.

The official language of the country is Bahasa Malaysia (which means the Malaysian Language) and English. However in some schools, Chinese and Tamil are also taught. Getting around using English is easy in Malaysia‘s larger towns. It’s not so easy in some of the more remote districts, and learning a few words of Bahasa Malaysia is very helpful.

Mandarin is taught in schools but in conversations people will also speak Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka and other Chinese dialects. The principal Indian language used here is Tamil.

Malaysia allows freedom of worship. The official religion and the one practiced by Malays is Islam. Among other races, you will also find Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and Sikhs.


The climate in Malaysia is generally hot and wet. Day temperatures are between 28°C and 35°C.

It is a little cooler at night and immediately after rain. Relative humidity is between 60%-73% year round. An umbrella is a must as rain can be intense. There is little seasonal change.

Malaysia's standard time is +8 hours ahead of Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). As the climate is stable all year round we do not observe Daylight Savings.


The unit of currency is the Ringgit Malaysia (nearly always abbreviated to RM, or sometimes MYR). 1 ringgit is broken down into 100 sen. We use RM1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 bills, and 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen coins. Malaysians sometimes refer to the RM as a dollar. Make sure you know which kind of dollar is being discussed!

New Currency Control
With the introduction of new currency control measures, travellers have to declare the money that they are bringing in or taking out of the country.

Under the new foreign exchange control measures, both residents and non-residents of Malaysia are allowed to carry ringgit notes amounting to not more than RM 1,000 into and out of the country. Non-residents are allowed to take out of the country an amount less than or equivalent to the sums they declared upon entry.

Everyone who enters Malaysia is required to fill in a declaration form known as the Travellers Declaration Form (TDF) and submit it to the immigration authorities when arriving in or departing from the country.


Roads in KL and between major city centres are excellent. Road signs are international but instructions are often in Bahasa Malaysia. Along with cars and taxis, motorbikes are also a favoured form of transport.

Public transport in KL is convenient. There is a suburban railway system (KTM), a city elevated rail system (LRT) and an extensive bus service. The bus services run on a somewhat informal timetable so check with a local classmate on how to get around on buses.

Taxis are also widely used and not too expensive. Keep the telephone number of a taxi service handy; they charge extra for pick-up, particularly after midnight (when the price is one-and-half times the normal) but it’s worth the call. Taxis are required by law to use their meters. Be wary of drivers who try to haggle fares.


You won’t find anything surprising about Malaysian laws. Capital punishment is in force here. Based on Section 39B (2) Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952, the punishment for dealing drugs is the death sentence. Refrain from offending anyone and behave well at parties and in public places: the guy who complains might just be sensitive to noise, but he could also be the Chief of Police.

Muslims in Malaysia have to adhere to the Syariah Law. This Islamic Law forbids a Muslim man and a Muslim woman to be alone together in a private place. This is called ‘khalwat’ (close proximity) and carries a jail sentence.

As this is an Islamic country, it is advisable to avoid any extreme public displays of affection such as kissing or necking. Again, the message is: err on the side of caution.


The food in Malaysia is amongst the most varied and interesting in the world. There are three main types of cooking: Malay, Chinese and Indian. It is easy for Muslims to find halal food in Malaysia – on packages, remember to look for a seal proclaiming the contents’ halal status.

Malaysia’s favourite dish is ‘nasi lemak’; ‘nasi’ means ‘rice’, and nasi lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk and served with various side dishes. A close second is ‘roti canai’, or ‘Chennai/kneaded bread’. A kind of grilled flatbread, it is an excellent breakfast served with lentil gravy (dhal) and other side dishes.

Rice is the local staple, although all local food types also use breads of different kinds. Noodles (mee) are also very popular.

More or less anything goes, but jeans and t-shirts are popular. Muslim ladies cover their hair with a scarf, especially when dealing with the public, for instance in a bank.

The academy requires you to look neat – just refer to your Student Handbook for the dress codes. In private houses, leave your shoes at the door. You may be required to do the same at certain places of worship, especially mosques and temples.


Malaysia has its fair share of creepy-crawlies like snakes and scorpions but you’re unlikely to meet them in town. Far more dangerous are the Hepatitis A and B bugs: make sure you’ve had your jabs.

Another local nasty is the mosquito, which is a vector for some serious diseases. The most famous is the Aedes mosquito, whose bite can carry dengue fever. Burn coils, use repellents, and make sure there are no pools of still water in and outside your accommodation where these critters can breed.