Weather & climate

The total land area of Malaysia is 329,847 sq km kilometres (127,350 sq mi). It is the only country to contain land on both mainland Asia and the Malay archipelago. Peninsular Malaysia makes up 132,090 sq km (51,000 sq mi) or 39.7% of the country’s land area, while East Malaysia covers 198,847 sq km (76,780 sq mi), or 60.3%. From the total land area, 1,200 sq km (460 sq mi) or 0.37% is made up of water such as lakes, rivers, or other internal waters. Malaysia has a total coastline of 4,675 kilometres (2,905 mi), and Peninsular Malaysia has 2,068 kilometres (1,285 mi), while East Malaysia has 2,607 kilometres (1,620 mi) of coastline. Peninsular Malaysia is separated is separated from East Malaysia by 650 kilometres to 950 kilometres across the South China Sea

The west coast consists of mangrove swamps and mudflats which separate into bays and inlets. In the west, the plains have been cleared and cultivated, while the unsheltered east coast consists of tranquil beaches backed by dense jungle. The major islands on the west coast are Langkawi (a group of 99 islands), Penang and Pangkor islands and Tioman, Redang, Kapas, Perhentian and Rawa off the east coast. In Malaysian Borneo, Sarawak has alluvial and, in places, swampy coastal plains with rivers penetrating the jungle-covered hills and mountains of the interior. Sabah has a narrow coastal plain which gives way to mountains and jungle. Mount Kinabalu, at 4,094m (13,432ft), is the highest peak in Malaysia.

Best time to visit

The best time for beach holidays or scuba-diving will depend on which part of Malaysia you intend to visit. The country is affected by the south-west monsoon from May to September and the north-east monsoon from November to March, and different parts of the country have their dry and wet seasons at different times of year.

On the west coast, the wettest months are May to October, while on the east coast, the wettest months are September to December. Kuala Lumpur is wettest from March to April and September to November, while Malaysian Borneo sees its heaviest rainfall between November and February. The best time to visit for dry weather is June and July on the east coast, January and February on the west coast, April in Sabah and June to July in Sarawak.

Malaysia has the 29th longest coastline in the world. The two distinct parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both West (Peninsular) and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to hills and mountains.

Peninsular Malaysia covers the southern half of the Malay Peninsula, and extends 740 kilometres (460 mi) from north to south, and its maximum width is 322 kilometres (200 mi). It is mountainous, with more than half of it over 150 metres (492 ft) above sea level. About half of Peninsular Malaysia is covered by granite and other igneous rocks, a third more is covered by stratified rocks older than the granite, and the remainder is covered by alluvium.

Harbours are only available on the peninsula’s western side, and the most fertile land occurs when river valleys flow out to the sea. The coastal plains bordering the straits of Malacca are the most densely populated areas of Malaysia where Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur is located.

East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, has a coastline of 2,607 kilometres (1,620 mi). It is divided between coastal regions, hills and valleys, and a mountainous interior. There are only two major cities, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Much of southern Sarawak is coastal lowlands, which shifts to a series of plateaus going north, ending in the mountainous regions of Sabah.

The highest mountain range in Malaysia is the Crocker Range in Sabah, which divides the state in half. This range includes Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the country, as well as Mount Tambuyukon, the third highest in the country. Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095.2 metres (13,436 ft), is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and is protected as Kinabalu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mountain ranges in the East tend to follow north-south or northeast-southwest paths, and the highest ranges form the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. The mountains contain many jagged limestone peaks. The Trus Madi Range, also in Sabah, houses Mount Trus Madi, the second highest peak in Malaysia. Bombalai Hill in Sabah is the only active volcano in Malaysia.

Peninsular Malaysia contains numerous mountain ranges running parallel from north to south along the peninsula. The main mountain range is the Titiwangsa Mountains, which divides the peninsula between its east and west coasts. It houses Mount Korbu, the second highest peak in the Peninsular. These mountains are heavily forested, and mainly composed of granite. The range is the origin of some of Peninsular Malaysia’s river systems. To the east of this range is the Bintang Range. The highest peak in the Peninsular is Mount Tahan, located on the Tahan Range.

Land use

Large areas of land are used as palm oil plantations, rubber plantations, and paddy fields. Malaysia is the largest exporter of palm oil in the world producing 15.8 million tonnes of crude palm oil in 2007. Malaysia is also one of the largest producers and exporters of rubber and other rubber products.

As of 2011, the percentage arable land in Malaysia is 5.44%. Croplands consists of 17.49% while other land uses consists of 77.07%. As of 2009, irrigated land covers 3,800 km². Total renewable water resource total 580 cubic km as of 2011.

Human geography

Peninsular Malaysia is more populated than East Malaysia where 79.2% of the population lives in the Peninsular. In 2002, 59% of Malaysian population live in urban areas, while the rest live in rural areas. The largest city is Kuala Lumpur with a population of 1.89 million people in the city, and about 7 million in the metropolitan area known as Klang Valley. Other major cities include George Town, Johor Bahru, Ipoh, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu.

Political geography

Malaysia is divided into thirteen states and three Federal Territories. Eleven states and two Federal Territories are found in Peninsular Malaysia. While two states and one Federal Territory are found in East Malaysia. The states are further divided into administrative districts. In Sabah and Sarawak, they are first divided into divisions, then further divided into districts. There are separate subdivisions for electoral districts for polling purposes.

International borders between Malaysia and Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei are defined mostly by geological features such as the Perlis River and Golok River between Malaysia and Thailand; Straits of Johor between Malaysia and Singapore; and Pagalayan Canal between Malaysia and Brunei. However, borders that extends to the seas are defined by agreements such as Straits Settlement and Johore Territorial Waters Agreement of 1927 which defines Malaysia and Singapore water borders.

Border Disputes

Malaysia’s land borders are well established. The border with Thailand was established in 1909 when Siam ceded Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu to the British. Maritime border disputes between Brunei and Malaysia and a Bruneian claim on Limbang, Sarawak were resolved in an exchange of letters between the two countries on 16 March 2009 after 20 years of negotiations.

Malaysia and Indonesia have some overlapping maritime claims, notably in the area around Sabah. An ongoing series of meetings to resolve these claims has produced 16 border agreements (to September 2010). Malaysia and Singapore also have disputes concerning some maritime borders.

The Philippines has a dormant claim to the eastern part of the Malaysian state of Sabah. Malaysia is also involved in a dispute involving Vietnam, Brunei, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, and the Republic of China (Taiwan), concerning the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.