Festivals in Malaysia
The festivals in Malaysia are interesting enough to come to Malaysia on your bicycle. Malaysia has several really interesting festivals and when you travel around, make sure you get the dates of some of the festivals so you can enjoy them to the fullest.
Although Malaysia is a Muslim country it is tolerant to other religions. While you are traveling in Malaysia it is very well possible you will join in one or another festival.
What are the most interesting festivals to experience?
Thaipusam is the first Indian festival in the year in Malaysia. Although the festival is celebrated all over the country, the best places to enjoy the festival are the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur and around the Waterfall temple in Penang.
Thaipusam always take place in January, early February as the festival follows the Lunar calendar.
Kuala Lumpur, never a good city to cycle around will be even busier in the area of the Batu Caves and in Penang much of Georgetown will be packed. Best advise is to leave your bicycle in the hotel and either walk to the sites or take some public transport.
I have visited the Thaipusam in Penang and Sitiawan since 2007 every year. Here is more about my Thaipusam experience in Penang 2007
I've never visited the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur during the Thaipusam but it seems the festivities there are even more extensive than in Penang. You can visit the Batu Caves all your around with this tour
Chinese New year (CNY)
Chinese New Year is the first Chinese festival in Malaysia in the year. It is one of the most important events for the Chinese people all around the world.
Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, a date between January 21 and February 20, because the Chinese follow the Lunar Calendar.
Chinese will hang outside the house red lanterns usually a week before the the actual Chinese New Year is celebrated. The house will be cleaned and new clothes be bought. Some families and shops will have lion dances to clean the house from evil spirits.
Chinese New Year (CNY) can be best followed in Penang where about 50% of the population is Chinese. In 2009 most of the heritage part of Georgetown was reserved for all kinds of activities from the different Chinese groups (Hokkiens, Hakka etc.).
The Chinese New Year is a good moment to learn more about the Chinese culture in Malaysia. In 2009 there were many different performances including a concert, Chinese Opera, dragon dances and more.
Some years ago I was guest in Kuala Kurau. This little town is primarily Chinese and it was quite an even to experience how the Hokkien population celebrated their Chinese New on the 8th day of the festival. Chinese New Year in Kuala Kurau and more photos of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Kuala Kurau.
After several years ignoring Penang during the Chinese New Year I started visiting the festivities in Penang in 2010, here's the story with some great photos.
Ching Ming is the festival of remembering the ancestors. It is an incredible important festival for all Chinese world wide. While Chinese New Year can be celebrated with festivities, even though it is an important family event, Ching Ming is to be celebrated within the family only,
The family will visit the graves of the ancestors, sweep it and offer to the ancestors.
Offers can include paper money and burning incense as the believe is that the smoke rises to the afterworld and is useful for the ancestors. Families bring food and drinks like rice, wine and fruits.
When you are in Malaysia around this time, you will see many Chinese visiting the graveyards bringing the gifts for the ancestors. It is no problem to visit a cemetery during this period and talk to people. You might hear wonderful stories. One I heard was touching.
I was walking around while I saw a family cleaning up a small and old grave a bit in the back. Part of the family moved to another grave while I talked to a man. He explained to me the grave belonged to a niece of him who had died in the early 1970's due to cancer.
She has only been 17 years of age. No one of her direct relatives anymore alive since the early 1980's and no one would be able to take care of the grave. But his family came every year from Kedah (about 200km north of Seri Manjung) to clean the grave and pray.
If you have the chance, visit the graveyards and hear the stories people can tell you. They're worth to remember. I wrote a page for my Pangkor site about the Ching Ming with many more stories
Malaysia's Independence day is celebrated on August 31. Every year, a free open air concert is held on the eve of Merdeka (independence) to jumpstart the celebrations.
The Merdeka starts off with a grand parade. These events will take place in Kuala Lumpur. In other cities there will be similar event take place.
Ramadan and Hari Raya
Malaysia is a Muslim country. Every year the Muslims celebrate the Ramadan, the month of fasting. Muslims are not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset.
For cyclists on the east coast this might be they have to organize their food in advance as the Muslim restaurant (and even some hotels) will be closed during the day.
The month of Ramadan is a great opportunity to sample a variety of food special made for the Ramadan. You will not be disappointed!
The last day of the Ramadan is called Hari Raya and it's a great day to celebrate this important day for the Muslim population with some Muslims. It's very easy to find a nice place to find out how they celebrate the end of the Ramadan and how the Chinese and Indian join them in the celebrations.
Chinese and Indians are a little more reserved with eating in public not to offend the Muslims. However, Chinese and Indian restaurant are normal open.
The Moon festival takes place in early October. It is also known as the "Mid-Autumn Festival". Except the Chinese New Year there is no more important festival for the Chinese population world wide.
Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomeloes together.
In China it is one of the National Holidays and therefore very busy. In Malaysia the festival is mostly celebrated with the family, eating moon cake (here's more about mooncake). Other parts of the celebration can be lion dances, especially in Penang where the population is more Chinese.
Deepavali is the festival of light though the most significant spiritual meaning is "the awareness of the inner light". It is a 5 days festival usually held between October 13 and November 14. It is a National Holiday in many countries including Malaysia.
As most of the Indians in Malaysia are Tamils from the south, the actual day of the festivities is the third day. Hindus wake up well before dawn, as early as two in the morning, have a fragrant oil bath and wear new clothes. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams / rangolis outside their homes.
It is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges.
The best way to experience Deepavali is to be with some Indian friends. Many households will have extensive dishes prepared and will visit relatives.
Although Deepavali is not an extravert festival as Thaipusam, it is a great festival to get in touch with the local Indian culture. And as said, the best way to visit Indian families.
Nine Emperor Gods Festival
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is another important Chinese festival in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It celebrates
It's an amazing festival that starts with bringing the gods to the temple. During the period of the festival, many different activities can be experienced including firewalk, skewing with a 9 foot spear and the return from heaven to earth of the spirits of nine Emperors who are worshiped as one deity known as Mazu the Taoist goddess of the sea and queen of heaven who represents health, wealth and prosperity.
The Nine Emperor Gods are part of a spirit-medium cult known locally as Jieu Hwang Yeh. These nine deities are believed to dwell in the stars in heaven under the reign of Mazu.
I followed the festival in 2007 (and in later years) for some days. Here is my report of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
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Thaipusam, Penang is the most spectacular festival in Penang and Malaysia. I was in Penang in 2007 and 2008. Here's the story about 2007
Hotels in Malaysia
Cycling to Kuala Lumpur? Find the best hotel deals here:
And here are some of the best hotels in Penang